Monday, November 17, 2008

Count To Dumb

Personally, I blame it on the mangy-looking mother schlepping around the supermarket, routinely feeding her wailing brat Jaffa Cakes as she hacked some lethal strain of virus up and down the aisles. Of course she may have been perfectly blameless, but either way something had me shuffling around the apartment in my dressing gown, feeling utterly retched all weekend.

I should have repaired to bed with some hot lemon and a none-too-taxing book to read (or even colour in). Instead I slumped onto the sofa, hauled a duvet over me, and reached for the remote, deciding that a day or two of none-too-taxing television would suffice. Picking a DVD boxset off the shelf and utilizing the PLAY ALL button probably would have been the best bet in these circumstances. Instead, discovering Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers was on ITV I plumped for that instead, leading me down a path that would go from brilliant to bad to worse.

Come the evening, I had planned on watching Morgan Matthews’ documentary The Fallen, commemorating every British serviceman and woman who had died during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Given that it was three hours long and I’d already been zoning in and out during the day, I figured it would be best to catch it on iPlayer later in the week when all my synapses had at least some clue as to what they should be doing. Instead I watched The Transporter 2, which probably gives a fair indication of how unwell was feeling.

I’m sure there were a good many dumb movies released when I was a kid, but nowadays it seems to be a totally different kind of dumb, spurred on by wire work and computer generated imagery rather than a wobbly story and even wobblier special effects. Although I was an avid moviegoer in my teens, after we had moved from deep in the countryside to the south coast of Devon and the cinemas were easily accessible, I would still pick and choose as best I could rather than see any old twaddle. This was, after all, when stories were the key ingredient. Now that’s something of a novelty.

Back in the 1970s there was a great Walter Hill film called The Driver with Ryan O’Neal as a getaway driver, supposedly the best in the business, and Bruce Dern as the cop on his tail. It always stuck in my mind at the time, not only because it was one of the great modern day film noirs, but the characters were simply called The Driver and The Detective. It’s a shame Channel 4 hadn’t screened that instead because The Transporter 2 was complete nonsense.

Obviously I expected nothing less than nonsense, but this really went above and beyond the call. The whole thing was ludicrous, but then I suppose that was the point. Outrageous fight scenes, a hard-bitten bitch stripping down to her underwear before firing machine guns at everything in sight, mental car chases and a wafer thin plot that cobbled together sequences from earlier movies... I suppose this is what teenagers brought up on computer games rather than books want. Well before the credits rolled I felt old. Still, worse was to come.

Not every filmmaker wants to make Lawrence of Arabia or The English Patient, the same way that not everyone wants to see Lawrence of Arabia or The English Patient, or, for that matter, other movies that don’t involve a lot of sand. But there must be instances when, after the filming, editing and sound mixing, some directors look at the finished product and think: I spent all that time, money and effort on this? Then again, I spent the better part of a decade working on animated cat food, breakfast cereal and whatever else commercials, so I guess I’m not a fine one to talk.

Remember how if a kid fucked up somehow at school the teacher would say: “You’ve let me down, you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let the school down!”? It came to mind when, come Sunday night and still slumped on the sofa, I watched AVP: Alien vs Predator for the first time. I said in the last post that numerous horror movie franchises have worn thin. AVP is the result of grabbing hold of a pretty well respected movie franchise and taking a massive shit in its mouth. It looked like it was based on a video game but apparently it was a comic book, not that it makes it any better.

If I start in on this film we’re going to be here all night, suffice it to say that AVP was obviously intended for an audience still recovering from a massive brain trauma. I don’t think it was the aliens or even the predators that the characters should have been fearful of but the effects of global warming. After all, there they were, down in the Antarctic, where one character wandered around the abandoned whaling station without gloves off. After everything was blown to shit, the one survivor was back on the surface in a tee-shirt and cardigan. And at no point did you see misted breath.

Obviously there was also no point with any kind of characterization because everyone was simply there to be monster fodder, but I did like how the script valiantly struggled and spectacularly failed to give them some kind of quirk or personality rather than a bulls-eye on the forehead and a number on their jacket. Then again, I suppose this film was made for an audience that would be rocking back in their seats squealing: “Aliens duffing up predators and predators duffing up aliens!” before soiling their underwear with a sticky emission.

I did like how the woman hired to guide the team down to the mysterious pyramid under the ice was shown to have some sort of digital compass on her wrist. Given how it was flashed at the camera, and with all the various levels of the pyramid, rearranging themselves as walls and floors opened and closed, I expected it to be vital for finding away out. No such luck. In fact it only highlighted what an idiot she was.

When the team are in the “sacrificial chamber”, well before they get split up and picked off, one of the characters cracks a green cyalume stick and drops it down the central grate to the floor below. The guide checks there position and then half the team head off to investigate. When they get down to the lower level and start poking around, she checks her compass again and declares that they are directly below the chamber. Of course having that cyalume stick on the ground directly in front of her might have been a clue. Silly woman.

I suppose I shouldn’t too critical of this nonsense. After all, things like AVP are just the science fiction B-movies I watched as a kid but for a very different, more idiot-filled, generation. Catching these films, as well as the monumentally pointless remake of The Omen scheduled late on Saturday night, can be seen as a learning experience at the very least. I certainly know now that the next time I’m feeling under the weather, I’m heading straight for bed.


At 4:01 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

They are nonsense...but I can't be too hard on them. I got sucked into the vortex of an Alien/Predator marathon on Saturday on Super Channel. Predator I and II, Alien I-IV, and ending off with AVP and AVP: Requiem.

Okay....I didn't watch them all, but did see the first Predator and first Alien again, which still hold up incredibly well...and ended with Requiem, which was just silly, but whatever. The title may be similar, but it bears no resemblance to it's predecessors. It is what it is...just the difference between a good thriller/actioner, and popcorn.

At 8:01 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

That’s what I should have done! Having an Alien and Predator DVD marathon would have made for a far super Saturday, with no AVP in sight. Of course it would probably end up with me just watching the first three Alien movies and then getting caught up in the great documentaries on the 2-disc DVDs.

You’re spot on about Alien holding up. I still prefer the original theatrical cut over the newer version from a couple years back. And it was all made for what, $11 million? Obviously you have to adjust for inflation and whatever blah, blah, blah, but that it one hell of an achievement. And I don’t think Aliens cost all that much more. Less money always means everyone has to be more inventive.

Alien vs Predator was probably every (adolescent) fanboys wet dream, but once they had the idea, not much seems to have been done with it. It was simply one creature bashing the crap out of the other and a defrosted Alien Queen that made little more than a pointless cameo. It made me ask, is that they best they could come up with?

I love a good car chase that gets the heart racing, whether it’s in Ronin, The Bourne Identity, The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, or the sequence I remember in The Driver where O’Neal’s character trashes a Merc driving around a multi-story. What made them thrilling was that all of them just involved a bunch of expert stunt drivers going balls to the wall in real (controlled) locations.

The strange thing with The Transporter 2 was that the driving seemed tame by comparison. There was a dreadful scene where the hook on a crane was used to grab a bomb of the underside of the car that was just so stupidly over the top and a horrible piece of CGI. The car roll, done for real in The Man with the Golden Gun was better and that was what, made over twenty years earlier? It still goes to show that being inventive is better than resorting to CGI and I wish a lot of film makers would remember that.

The thing is, it’s two or three days after I saw both those films and I’m now trying to remember what was in them. I guess I just don’t eat all that much popcorn anymore.

At 11:48 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

Yes the original Alien and Aliens still really hold up...quite remarkable actually. And (guilty pleasure alert) the first Predator has always been a fave of mine. And a fanboy wetdream indeed when someone thought of pitting those two against each other...but then it just became a war movie, like a Godzilla vs. Kong...meh.

And I know exactly what you mean about Transporter 2 and the CGI...I lurves a good car chase, and yet it has to feel 'real'. When I even sniff some CGI I pull away. But I will still probably go see Transporter 3 when it opens soon. Sigh. Such a sucker...

But here we go on and on again...the muttering old crusties talking about 'the good old days' --- the kids must hate us.

At 1:22 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

I guess the really lucky thing with Alien and Aliens is they were made by directors with real vision. They really stood out then and now, but I guess things could have been so different. It’s the luck of the draw, I suppose.

Actually, it really is about time that I watched Predator again. You can forget how brilliant it is. I think what makes it work is that joining the Austrian Oak is a really good collection of personalities rather than just a bunch of empty characters with big guns. The same has to be said for Aliens - perhaps more so than Alien even – so that every death means something.

One of the failures of AVP for me is that the bunch of humans are pretty much blank slates so I couldn’t care less when they got picked off. It might have been better if, when the idea was pitched: “It’s Alien... vs Predator!”, instead of saying “Genius!!” the suit behind the desk had replied, “...And?” It’s a good initial concept, I can’t argue that, but it needed a whole lot more invested in the story. But then it was made for the fanboys who want to see a CGI smackdown and go home happy.

Interestingly, I’ve just watched Black Hawk Down again, with the very entertaining and informative Mark Bowden/Ken Nolan commentary on. Nolan talks about how he wanted to start the script in the thick of the action and flashback, Bruckheimer insisted that he had to establish the characters so when they’re all suited up in their camo gear and helmets and in the thick of it, the audience knows who they all are. They have to be more than pawns on the board.

I guess The Transporter 2 was another “pawns on the board” comic book movie. Jason Statham seemed to be channelling Yul Brynner from Westworld. While that provided a few chuckles, for the main part the unstoppability takes some of the excitement away. I’ve watched the trailer for the third movie on the Apple site and.... well, when it finally comes to the box I may have a look now that I know what to expect.

It may not seem like it but I really hate to sound like an old crusty harping on about “the good old days.” It’s quite maddening and frustrating that a lot of films lack intelligence, that money has become such a big factor, and that there’s a new generation ignorant of past achievements who just want to be bombarded with (empty) spectacle.

I guess if we didn’t have filmmakers like Paul Greengrass and Ridley Scott who can make great action movies without going way over the top, my head probably would have exploded by now.

At 8:26 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

One of the strengths of both Alien and Predator is that the monsters are revealed very late in the piece.

The filmmakers concentrated on building tension, and understood the need to leave something to the viewer's imagination.

I read somewhere recently that these days, when the Sci-Fi channel commissions a movie, it's a contractual condition that the monster is revealed in all his CGI glory within the first ten minutes of the film.

That's where we've travelled in twenty years - the people with the money don't understand the most basic elements of what makes a film work (as opposed to what makes it sell, which the only thing that matters now).

Of course, as you've pointed out before, GD, leaving something to the viewer's imagination rather depends on the viewer having an imagination in the first place.

At 9:52 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

leaving something to the viewer's imagination rather depends on the viewer having an imagination in the first place.

I think that absolutely nails it, don’t you? Maybe it’s because we’ve got a generation now that feeds on video games and DVDs at the expense of reading books. The kids I reluctantly encounter seem to have the imagination of a piece of grit. If they can’t see it they can’t formulate anything in their mind and simply don’t get it.

The best thing that every happened in the making of Jaws was that the prop shark didn’t work. So like the Predator the audience is presented with POV shots and the damage it inflicts. That really makes it the ultimate bogeyman.

On the newer cut of Alien that appears of the 2-disc DVD, when Brett goes into the ‘Undercarriage Room’ to get the cat, there’s a new scene inserted which shows the creature hanging upside down amongst the chains before it reaches down and grabs him. Seeing that for the first time, my initial reaction was, “NO!”

And as for the idiocy of the Sci-Fi Channel... Well, I suppose they have to cater for the audience they get. Obviously they deserve a pat on the back for producing Battlestar Galactica, but anything I’ve seen that has their name on it has been tripe.

At 2:09 pm, Blogger qrter said...

Right, I could really go off on one on the fankwank garbage that is AVP, but I won't - you've pretty much said it all.

I could also go off on one in the positive sense on Alien as it's one of my favourite films - it scared the living daylights out of me as a child (imagine being an 8 year old boy, accidentally seeing the sequence where John Hurt is walking around the egg chamber on the derelict ship and the hugging of the face.. oh the hugging! THE HUGGING!) and since then has only kept impressing me more and more.

At 2:10 pm, Blogger qrter said...

When I just typed 'fankwank', I think I meant 'fanwank'. I think.

At 2:50 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Alien vs. Predator vs. Ms. Pacman

...on ice. 3D.

...and the popcorn is laced with LSD.

...all to the hypnotic musical stylings of Captain Beefheart at twice normal speed and a volume so gargantuan it actually melts the faces of the front ten rows.

Now THAT is what I call a summer blockbuster!

At 4:41 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Fella, I know exactly what you mean. There are times when it’s difficult to remember when and where you first saw certain movies – whether it was on TV, VHS/DVD, or at the cinema. In the 1970s (and even early 80s) there were a lot of re-releases floating around so even relatively recent movies I sometimes caught after they had first come out.

The first James Bond movie I ever saw was Live and Let Die when it was released in the cinemas. The first Bond movie I saw starring Sean Connery was Diamonds are Forever, which was part of a double bill with the Roger Moore movie Gold a couple of years later.

As for Alien... that was the first 18 certificate (then of course X certificate) movie I saw at the cinema. I was a good three or four years underage at the time, so God bless the ticket office staff at the Torquay Odeon who were pretty strict about customers being the right age for the film’s certificate.

I had an idea of what the film was about, but it was an absolutely mind-blowing experience. Not only did it scare the bejeezus out of me with the facehugger and chestburster scenes but I was also completely and utterly bowled over by the production designs that really made the film come alive. There was nothing phoney about it at all. It looked like a real working space ship. The Nostromo and the alien ship with the space jockey were like nothing I had ever seen before.

Obviously we had had Star Wars a few years before, and I must have already seen Forbidden Planet on TV by then, but Alien still knocked them for six.

Of course there was also 2001: A Space Odyssey but I don’t think I saw that until a year or two after Alien came out, when it was shown on TV. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when I saw 2001 at the cinema, when the NFT screened a beautiful, spotless 70mm print.

So, yeah, Alien is really special to me as well.

Alien vs. Predator vs. Ms. Pacman

Not far off. Wasn’t there a version of Pacman where you could flip certain walls of the maze? AVP seemed to be influenced more by video games than the original films.

Rather than piss around at the beginning of the film introducing the non-entity human characters, AVP should have spent more time establishing the various levels of the pyramid structure so there was a better idea of where people were. That said, it probably wouldn’t have saved the movie from being a load of tosh.

One thing I hadn’t mentioned was the whole Von Daniken/Chariots of the Gods backstory that was crowbarred in. What a great pile of steaming horseshit that was.

Alien vs. Predator vs. Space Monkeys

That would have been more like it!

(Of course it would still need to be on ice, in 3D, and require popcorn laced with LSD. Captain Beefheart optional).

At 5:59 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Alright you grumpy ol' gits, did you miss me???

AVP is utter drivel. How come the predator didn't commit suicide like he was supposed to when he got facehugged?? MMMM? Because then the movie would be over! Rubbish! Also: why did the elders take the body on the spaceship when it was infected? Twats! Very disappointing.

That first scrap between the alien and the pred though was wick.

At 6:00 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

PS. I think we should have the aliens versus SEA MONKEYS next. Sea monkeys would win, natch.

At 6:29 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

A team deathmatch:

Team Splatter (Aliens, Predators, The Thing and the guy who makes people’s heads explode from Scanners)


Team HardcoreInsanityDeathFucker (Ms. Pacman, Space and Sea Monkeys and the cast of Button Moon all armed with bats from Pong)

Popcorn that randomly explodes and/or is made of polonium-coated razor wire, and seats wired up to the national grid.

I'm camping out for this one!

Yup, I thought AVP was ass-suckingly shite...

At 8:12 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

You're mad the two of you!

Yeah, cuddlebumps, I was surprised you hadn't made an appearance before now.

The cast of Button Moon? You've got to watch them when they kick off. I think such a contest would need Winkleman as referee.

At 9:27 pm, Blogger Lucy said...


I went on a date with a Mr. Darren Spoon, once. He was sadly not as interesting as his name and I had my friend call me from behind the bar apparently telling me my son was ill. He wasn't. I went home and had sex with my babysitting ex.

At 10:25 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Well... good for you.

Thanks for sharing that.


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