Human beings are a visual species. I’ve come to that conclusion for two reasons. One of them are German desserts, and the other one is Star Trek :* Into Darkness. For those of you who can’t easily outstrip my meager intelligence, I’ll provide the steps in between these two disparate things. People eat German desserts (in particular, Germans) even though German desserts are singularly the most disappointing things you can put in your mouth, and yes I’m including those things you did your first year in College that you try not to think about. The reason is that German desserts, imprisoned between polished sheets of glass in a delicatessen, are the most alluring-looking objects. You salivate, you hand over your hard-earned money, you feel that erotic moment when you know a lust is about to be fulfilled, and you bite down. And poof! It disappears. It was never there. German desserts are based on smoke and mirrors and cream. Lots of cream, and cream cuts no mustard, yo. German desserts are essays in disappointment, and yet, there’s another one! Let’s pin it down with cash! Maybe this one will be different!
Advanced screenings and critical reviews, to move onto my second point, have more or less confirmed my worst fears about Star Trek :* Into Darkness. Words like “visually spectacular”, “thrillride” and “written by Damon Lindelof” sound the death knell of my interest in a film. I will not be attending screenings, and so you won’t see a review here. I know what film it is. Star Trek :* Into Darkness is a German Dessert.
Some films are visually stunning but utterly unsatisfying to the mind. There is much to recommend the films listed below, sure – the technical levels achieved in realising a film, the art departments, cast, hell, even the story, but something resists the mind’s urge to chomp down and chew into the sweet interior. The film we thought we’d love turns out to be a meringue.
This is the second time I’ve mentioned the films of Kurt Wimmer in recent posts, and while it’s an open secret that I love Equilibrium and think it deserves great praise for a number of reasons, Ultraviolet is another matter. Milla Jovovich plays a sexy ass-kicker (doesn’t she always?) who’s also a vampire in a world under martial law. She blah,blah,blah blah blah. Doesn’t matter. Inconsequential. This movie almost deliberately flirts with nonsense, and there’s nothing I can say to redeem it. It fits on this list because for pure visual style, Ultraviolet is a masterpiece. Nanotechnology rules the day, so Milla can with a flick of a button change her hair colour, her clothes, and engineer a samurai sword out of thin air. In a sense, it’s a shame that a device like that ends up in a film like this, because a better plot would have made more use out of a heroine who can produce a burning sword out of nothing. The colouring of each scene subtly (or not so subtly) matches Milla in a way that is both disorientating and immensely pleasing to look at (at bit like Jovovich herself, who is hot but looks like a human from 50,000 years in the future). If you’re going to watch Ultraviolet, turn the sound off. The plot you come up with will be better than the one actually in this movie.
Life of Pi (2012)
Those who remember reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in 2001 after it became massive will remember a story about a boy on a boat, and there’s a tiger. Life of Pi won the Man Booker Prize,an accolade that’s screamed “Mediocrity!” since 1987 (this date is significant, Keri Hulme’s grand and wonderful The Bone People won it in 1986) and was discussed over coffee by lots of people who wouldn’t know a decent story if it gave them a papercut. There the story might have ended, if Ang Lee hadn’t brought it back as a movie last year for no reason that anybody can explain. So instead of a book that’s mainly a psychological story about a boy dealing with aloneness, the immensity of the world and the pressures of survival, we have a sprawling epic about a boy in a boat and, ooh, look! Whales! Gosh. Isn’t it amazing what they can do with cgi these days.
If the book had anything going for it, it was that Pi’s loneliness was at least graspable. in a film reduced to special effects (that bankrupted the studio [http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/feb/25/oscars-protest-life-of-pi] that created Babe the pig, Lord of the Rings, and The Golden Compass, apparently) but without a complex story to hang it all on, life of Pi falters and stumbles through elaborate set pieces as it circles the drain.
[Can I just get something off my chest when it comes to rendering animals – are you listening, Hollywood? To me and a few others, no matter how “realistic” you make your animals, they look fake. The reason is that your animals look too damn good! We remember real tigers in the zoo, on TV, and sometimes in person. They don’t look at beautiful, elegant and majestic as you make your tigers look. You need to work on that. You’ve, in essence, outstripped reality. That is why you fail.]
I bang on about Avatar more than I probably should, but I have a lot of bile for bad movies that make money, because they encourage Hollywood to make even worse movies, and Avatar is a bad movie that somehow managed to make a billion dollars. I’ll give you the rundown and reserve from making overly negative comments because you know what’s coming. Those brave few who could tear their eyes away from the screen for the half a second required experienced great searing waves of Deja Vu. The older among us knew Avatar was Dances with Wolves. The younger knew it was Pocahontas. And all the special effects didn’t distract from that once it was known and realised. We had paid to see a movie we’d seen before – almost word for word – covered in sequins.
Sure, you can argue that Avatar was a visual extravaganza, regardless of plot, but let me say this : if I want stunning pictures without plot, I’ll go to an art gallery and look at some Van Goghs or Vermeers or Mondrians, thank you very much. I go to the movies for plot, character depth and all that emotional junk. Don’t hand me wallpaper and tell me it’s cash.
A movie about a series of cartoons designed around a set of toys produced by a company that also made My Little Pony, directed by a man who turned a tragic event of the Second World War into a love story involving Ben Affleck back when he thought he could act, executively produced by a man who hasn’t made a decent film since Schindler’s List.
I mean, am I going to say anything else? I don’t have to. In fact, I refuse. I’ve said all I need to say. We can just sit here while they make ANOTHER SEQUEL.
John Carter (2012)
John Carter deserves special mention for being a film so totally forgettable that I forgot who was in it while it was still playing. I tried to get up but couldn’t. John Carter hoovered all the energy out of my body and made me inert. I tried to speak but my lungs wouldn’t work. I tried to scream but there was no air in the room. I motioned to my friend but he couldn’t see me. I was alone. Alone with John Carter. Alone with a movie that so desperately wanted to be an epic that it made me disillusioned. so disillusioned, in fact, that I could hear my cells dying from boredom. I sometimes wake up and look around me, just to make sure it’s not playing somewhere. If John Carter had been anywhere near anything that anybody would have even wanted to consider thinking about watching at some point, it might have been a salvagable movie. Hell, if it had discarded its fervent reverence for its source material and just sold out a la Disney, it might have been watched. It could even have made its budget back. But it was so deeply, absurdly in love with the side project of an author only remembered for Tarzan that it failed. You know how in Family Guy Peter argues that he doesn’t like The Godfather because it “insists upon itself”. John Carter insists upon itself so hard it makes you not want to live any more. It wants you to like it so much that it’s the creepy guy who likes your Facebook photos from three years ago.
The Pirate of the Caribbean quadrilogy (2003, 2006, 2007 & 2011)
Firstly I’d like to make the point that I had, until I googled it, forgotten about the fourth film despite having seen it and I had a moment of panic like when you sometimes wake up and don’t remember who you are. I’d also like to say that Pirates of the Caribbean is the absolute stupidest, most asinine and half-baked series in the history of film. Starting reasonably enough with the semi-believable Curse of The Black Pearl, which featured moments of genuine thrill, Pirates of the Caribbean became the opposite of a series of diminishing returns because not only did each film earn more money than the previous, but somehow became bigger, like a bacterial culture growing on a piece of steak. There is one problem,as far as i can see, with this series : it’s horseshit. And that’s not a pejorative term. Many great movies have been built on horseshit – after all, movies themselves are an essay in lying because fiction is the un-truth, and the difference between good horseshit and bad horseshit is something called “the suspension of disbelief”. The first movie managed this…barely. You sort of get the idea that there’s a cursed ship, because why not. It’s only until the second film when Bill Nighy appears with his squiddy face, and then there’s a voodoo woman who grows huge, and…you know what, whatever. It was unbelievable, and for a movie based on the conceit of pirates who sail ships, that’s not a good thing. If you’re going to create a movie that throws even basic realism to the wind and depends on the manifestations of Johnny Depp (ugh) then you might as well set the film inside a giant eyeball rotating around an ice-cream cone and have Johnny Depp come on dressed as a gay Hitler, because you’ll get better material out of it.
*Colon added because it’s missing from the title where it should be. You know, it’s amazing that hundreds of cast and crew, producers, studio executives and promoters have failed to point out there should be a colon between “Trek” and “Into”. Declining standards, people.