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Funny Games (2007)
When I heard Michael Haneke was re-making Funny Games in America I wondered why: what purpose could it possibly serve? The set-up to both versions is simple in that a bourgeois family is subjected to a torturous ordeal by a couple of ever so polite psychopaths. Moreover, like the original the re-make is a cruel exercise in exposing our fascination with the violence depicted in the media - the "our" specifically meaning the middle classes, comfortable in our existences and oblivious to the horrors of the world.
However, Haneke is on record as saying that he always considered Funny Games to be an "American story", as he regarded the use of violence as a form of entertainment to be a specifically American phenomenon. No matter that this is a bit of a flawed viewpoint: having the aggressors seem straight out of the O.C. gives the impact of their sadistic actions an even more discomfiting air. Michael Pitt (charismatic and barbarous) and Brady Corbett (seemingly dopey but utterly vicious) are both excellent, but their performances leave one feeling a bit um "seen it all before".
Which takes me back to my first thought: what is the point? Cosmetics aside this is exactly the same film, right down to the assumption that the well to do like to listen to classical music and that the audience may be unsettled by playing them some thrash metal. Haneke even has Pitt address the camera and manipulate the film, so re-using the trick about playing with reality and focusing the viewer on what actually counts as real. It is just that this playing around does not carry the impact it did 10 years ago.
In fact, due to the unconventional nature of the film and the vast disparity it offers with reality it's hard to care much at all. Yes what happens is horrible, but it does not feel at all real. I'm waiting for someone to point out that, that is Haneke's point, but frankly, I don't care. No amount of intellectualising can make this watchable.
You would think Haneke would know better too. His most recent film Hidden took a genre film and flipped it about to deliver one of the most surprising and intellectually challenging thrillers of the decade. By stringing the audience along and offering some sense of catharsis and understanding of character motivation he offered a way in. Funny Games U.S. offers no such intrigue or tension and is ultimately a big step backward. He may see it as an American story, but it worked better as a small Austrian film, set in anywheres-ville Europe.
The Constant Gardener (2005)
A damming indictment of multinational pharmaceuticals
Fernando Meirelles's follow up to City of God is proof that that powerhouse chronicle of life in the favelas was no one of. Shot with an extravagant eye for detail and scented with a noble poignancy, The Constant Gardener (based on John Le Carre's acclaimed novel) follows Terry George's Hotel Rwanda as the next important document of the troubles and tragedies of Africa.
Following the discovery of the body of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) by the idyllic surroundings of northern Kenya's Lake Turkana, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) sets out on a quest to understand the side of Tessa he never knew. As a British diplomat, his marriage to her modern day "revolutionary", seems at first glance a strange one, but the story elaborates on their relationship, shown through a series of flashbacks as Justin remembers the tender moments they shared and the great joy they obviously brought each other.
The memories however, are underscored by unease as her humanitarian activities, in association with Hubert Kounde's Belgian doctor, create tension within the diplomatic service ranks. There is a suggestion that the two may have been engaged in an affair (Tessa's murder is even initially assumed to have been a crime of passion).
As Justin digs further his own life is put in danger, as he realises his wife was trying to fight for a just cause. We learn that there is a sinister side to the British (Western) presence in Kenya and their relationship with giant multinational drug corporations who exploit poor Africans desperate for treatment. When I think about recent scandals involving large pharmaceutical companies and their reluctance to manufacture cheap retrovirals to supply third world countries, such a scenario seems frighteningly realistic. The film brings home the horrible reality of such dubious dealings as demonstrated by the appalling treatment of a sick young mother.
Meirelles shoots this with a vibrancy and life that those familiar with City of God will be au fait with. The Kenyan slum is evinced as a place of sparkling colour (scenes in Kibera Africa's largest shantytown are full of bright oranges and reds sets against dark red earth and endless corrugated iron). The photography also encompasses staggering images of flocks of flamingos, bright blue lakes and flowing savannah as we leave the city.
This is in stark contrast to the dark grey backdrop to the European locations. London seems very drab and rigid by comparison. There is perhaps an artistic point to this, as a growing darkness becomes more apparent in the story during the section where Justin travels back to London and on into Germany.
Fiennes exudes graciousness and stoicism throughout, as he bravely tries to piece together the events. He manages to also convey Justin's gradual release of emotion, culminating in a heartbreaking moment of recollection of happier times (Meirelles cutting from a broken Justin to an image his beaming wife).
His performance is strongly backed up by Weisz's contrasting turn. She vivacious and radical while he toes the line. However, the further Justin heads on his pursuit (always realistic and never taken over by any overblown heroics), the more impassioned Fiennes's performance. An important scene has him angrily questioning a South African doctor (Pete Postethwaite in a small but influential effort) all the while maintaining a dignified air, as chaos descends around them.
The story welds together romance and intrigue in a potent formula. It contains the ingredients for an epic tale like the English Patient, but is concentrated more towards the machinations and movement of a fast paced thriller like the Bourne Identity. Each minute builds the sense of conniving on a grand scale and the plot is complex, but never impossible to fathom. Furthermore, a level of social conscience underscores it together with an understanding for the problems of Africa Bob Geldof could never hope to impart with his superficial ranting. The Constant Gardener is a triumph on every level.
The Incredibles (2004)
With The Incredibles Pixar have made a big departure from their standard story lines of cute critters on a voyage of discovery. With its opening pastiche of 40s comic book serials through to the Bondian stylings of the set and the super heroics of the finale, for me it was clearly aimed as being an action-adventure for the family, more Indiana Jones than Woody and Buzz. As such I think it succeeds wonderfully.
The opening sets the tone with a night in the life of Mr Incredible, as he foils bad guy after bad guy and even saves an elderly woman's cat! It manages to throw in a bit of satirical humour too, as Mr Incredible saves a man attempting suicide, he is thanked with a lawsuit, leading to a surge of lawsuits against crusaders, in a clever dig at "compensation culture".
15 years on we find ourselves in the suburban lives of the Parr's, headed by Mr Incredible himself Bob Parr and his wife Helen, formerly Elastigirl, as they pretend to be "normal". Seeing Parr at work as a pathetic insurance clerk grounds the movie with a glimpse into the mundane reality of his new life, as he tries (and fails) to forget the glories of his past. There is a Nietzchean undertone to this passage of the story, with a hint of Professor Charles Xavier's school for gifted children and the hounding of masked vigilantes from Watchmen. Why be normal when you can be special, why be a desk clerk when you possess superhuman abilities. The unfairness of having to hide what you really are, whilst being hounded from town to town to hide one's anonymity. He can't even get angry for fear of giving himself away by revealing his super strength. In a philosophical moment, his son Dash, banned from using his super speed, bemoans the fact that if everyone is special then no-one is.
The plot switches up a gear as a mysterious benefactor requests Mr Incredible's help, to subdue a giant robot running amok on his desert island. The classic Bondian set design of genius Ken Adam is strongly evoked by this setting. Mission accomplished Parr soon finds events taking a dangerous turn.
The movie does drag a touch during this section, before the family Incredible team up for the non-stop finale. However we do get the hilarious costume designer Edna Mode to give our ribs a tickle, in a treat of a scene, as she demonstrates the dangers of wearing a cape for superheros. It's actually pretty dark humour, as a succession of heroes are seen in flashback meeting untimely deaths due to their flowing apparel.
In fact there are plenty of laughs to be had throughout, if not of the belly ripping variety, they help keep the mood light. I particularly enjoyed Sam Jackson's Frozone, reminiscing as to how his life was saved by a "monloguing" villain. Anyway I feel it's become a trend for movies to have a few set piece moments, either comedic or action packed, to help carry them, something the more evenly enjoyable Incredibles does not do.
Overall I'd probably agree it does not quite enter the class of the Toy Story movies. There perhaps is a certain amount of charm lacking, but that's not to say the characters are dull, far from it. The genial and likable humanity of the Parr's makes that so. It establishes strong central character's by showing them going about there everyday lives and as far as superhero, action-adventure movies go it's all the better for it. Movies like this do or die on whether you care for the characters, and this set are strong enough to sustain the necessary hold on the audience, young and old. It's one the most enjoyable movies I've seen this year, I'd say up there with the web slinger. Overall 8 out of 10.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Blockbuster of the year?
Going into Spider-man 2 I was somewhat dubious about the hype surrounding it. I was a tad unimpressed by the first film, it never surpassed X-Men IMO, at times it felt a bit artificial and the time elapsing device seemed to miss out a lot of key events and just assumed we'd guess what happened since they left college. The action was pretty special at points, but somewhat marred by the CGI, which I was never convinced by.
Spidey Mk 2, welds the story far more convincingly together, managing to deal with all the various plot strands, character development and adding some very humorous moments (I'm still guffawing at the lift scene, the busker was a most amusing bit of in jokery, and Bruce Campbell would get an Oscar if there was one for hilarious cameos), all the whilst delivering awesome action. The attack on the bank and the train sequence are big screen action to the max. I was literally gasping at points there. Best of all is probably the operating theatre, as Doc Ock's tentacles kick in to life, with devastating effect.Sam Raimi's roving camera adds to the experience, the camera zooming in to detail the key action.
There are some smartly directed little moments to, like Peter running across the rooftops trying to recover his powers (a wonderful flipside to his "discovery" in the first film) which are filmed with real pizazz. There were a few other moments where the camera pans round in such a way as to be in itself exciting. Kudos to Bill Pope for helping bring the cinematography to such an exciting level. I'll need to see it again just to remember all my favourite bits.
I guess the sheer scale and scope of the movie will diminish on the small screen. What makes both movies so great is the way you are sucked into this take on New York, the world of Spidey. Something all great movies do and it's best represented on a mega mutha of a screen.
This is one of the best blockbusters in recent years, up there with Mr Jackson's masterpiece. It delivers everything a film should laughs, emotion and excitement, a genuine hero. There are some thought provoking messages too, the idea that in everyone there's a hero, it's inspirational stuff. I think people will still be warming to Spider-Man 2 for years to come. Nine out of ten.
I, Robot (2004)
Smart blockbuster with its fair share of thrills
I, Robot comes across as a movie that very much fits the idea of three separate acts. Act one establishes the situation, act two is a conventional whodunit with act three an all action climax. The first two thirds of the movie actually throw up some interesting ideas, the concept that artificial intelligence can evolve to become more human, and tries to fathom what it means to be a robot or indeed to be human. Pretty deep ideas for a summer blockbuster, and perhaps that in the end, is too much for it. It's a nice try all the same and allows for some entertaining set pieces.
Alex Proyas manages to keep his eye on both the excitement and thought side of things, introducing us to the world through the eye's of Will Smith's Del Spooner. He very much helps ground the film, a sci-fi cop that was born outside of a time that would've suited him, i.e. the present. As he is told by one character, "The kind of guy that would've stopped the internet to keep people going to library's" (or words to that effect). Smith is a likable presence, and though some may not have warmed to his portrayal, I thought it helped keep the film "human", without his easygoing charm it could have been too detached to be likable. However I would certainly say that his back story felt very much "been there seen it", surely there could've been a better explanation for why he didn't like robots. I did also feel some of the support characters seemed superfluous (what's with the kid?).
The conspiracy underpinning the plot is involving enough, and kept me hooked till the conclusion. Why would a giant robot producing corporation allow have conspired in the murder of their greatest inventor? Or was it suicide? And who's trying to "accidentally" kill Spooner and to cover what?
While figuring this out we are treated to the sight of Smith escaping from gigantic demolition robots, robots leaping out of trucks in a high speed car chase and finally scores of the blighter's storming the robotics lab. The CGI is very good, perhaps some of the best I've seen and Proyas directs the action with some zip, without over editing.
The script probably aspires to more than what it eventually delivers, but as far as blockbuster cinema goes this is a superior effort. Overall for the cool vfx, enjoyable action set pieces, the engaging Big Willie performance and the engrossing murder mystery suspense plot with a dash of philosophical robotics theorizing, I'd give it eight out of ten.
21 Grams (2003)
Great performances, nice cinematography, but what happens?
21 Grams is a hard film to like. The first half hour or so is inaccessible and at points the editing leaves one bewildered. You don't get a chance to know or engage with the characters because you are buffeted between stories at an incredibly fast pace. I'm just about to learn about Jack Jordan's faith then I'm suddenly thrown into Paul Rivers's marital strife. At times this works well, like the cut from Jordan giving his son a slap, into Cristina Peck's kitchen where she is baking a cake with her kids. There is a certain fluidity to it that makes sense, aside from the fact that those events are actually taking place in the same time frame.
Ah the time frames. As I said at times the cutting between them is quite bewildering, but then I stopped to think what the movie would be like without them, as in the editing cleverly disguises what it really is. Yes it could have been a feature length episode of British hospital drama Casualty, with superior acting. Seriously, we've got the family of to meet mummy, the guy who's just been sacked and the guy who needs a heart transplant, what catastrophe will it take to get them all in the ER room? And that in my mind is where it all falls down, this is just a bit of melodrama, that is technically brilliant, contains powerful performances, but is at best a very dull story.
That's not to say I disliked it. The pay off at the end is very good, and seems to provide a philosophical twist to events, and gives Rivers a noble slant to his character's arc. Sean Penn IMO gives the stand out performance, measured, calm, at times enigmatic and never showy. He makes Rivers feel genuine. I believe in him when he 'stalks' the wife of his heart donor. Del Toro's Jordan is very good, he conveys the genuine anguish of his character, as he falls from the born again Christian he has fought to become. Watts as Cristina I felt was the weak link. There are moments where she gets angry, that I felt were incredibly contrived. For example when Paul first hits her with his revelation, her explosion felt stagey. I've seen angry, I've been angry, and know what it should be like. Melissa Leo as Jordan's wife is very good in the scenes she gets, but again it's a character conveying anguish. There's a lot of that in this film.
The director says it's a hopeful film, and I'd agree to an extent. The ending offers some hope for the characters, as they resume their lives. I don't think life is as simple as that though, they've seen and lived some pretty bad sh*t and I imagine they'd be scarred no matter how they approach the future.
I did like some of the symbolism Inarittu finds with some of the cuts. For instance there's a shot of Jordan leaving his truck, and as the camera lingers it captures in the frame a number of religious symbols in his car. Then when Cristina leaves her kids' room after she gets the call, the camera focuses on a mobile hanging. In each case it lingers for a second or so, giving one the chance for some reflective thought.
Overall it's an interesting film, it will make you think, but whether it will really engage your emotions I don't know. Certainly didn't engage mine and left me pretty cold. It's hard to find specific things to criticise it on, I suppose if I was struggling to say why I liked something I'd say it was the 'je n'ai ce quoi' so this is reverse 'je n'ai ce quoi' if you like. That and the fact that it's a glorified version of a bit of British kitchen sink drama!
Van Helsing (2004)
Silly, lacking in plot, but good fun
It's big, it's dumb, it's cheesy as hell, but I found it to be enormous fun. This was made to be a roller-coaster ride and by that token it should be judged.
Actually after the opening pastiche of the Boris Karloff Frankenstein movie, I thought this had the potential to be a 5 star movie. It was very atmospheric and had me hooked. However the film never really captures any sense of magic from there onwards.
The main body of the movie does go on a bit, and it could have done with some attempt to create engaging characters. Plot and story are not always necessary for fun movies, but you do need characters with a level of interest to capture the mind, otherwise you tend to find yourself not giving a s**t. I felt Van Helsing did verge into this territory, but for the most part it's so fast paced this doesn't matter so much. The points where it does try to introduce plot are the moments where it really does fail. In fact there is too much going on that is never really explained, and I think it would've been better not to have bothered at all, than use the nonsense Sommers resorts too. For example the attempts at backstory to Van Helsing. Better to have one of those interlude chatty scenes you have in the Indy films, where it establishes he's a dude, rather than the poor attempts at angst and pathos. Really bad was the moment he gets upset over Frankie's Monster. What the hell was that all about?
Hmm maybe I took that a bit seriously, but the movie knows what it is, why try be something else. I also thought that that masked ball sequence was a natural conclusion, the eventual finale at the castle felt like an add on, which lacked any real punch.
Far better was Van's introduction to Transylvania, with the benefit of some neat angles and panning shots, the crossbow battle with the brides was cool. The coach chase was exciting without being exhilarating, but kept the flow going, so it's a shame some more bad plot gets thrown in, especially when it was involving the underwritten Velkan. That's the film's main problem - overkill of characters, with little space given to any of them to evolve.
Finally a word on the CGI. I thought it was very good, especially the morphs that were used. The very first moment Drac starts to turn made me jump a touch, and when the vampires turns into their fanged, contorted state it looked pretty scary to me. The wolfman transformation, with the ripping flesh looked genuinely painful. At this point I was thinking the CGI was genuinely stunning. I'd have preferred the finale if it had just been Van vs Drac though, having CGI characters fight felt uninvolving, and Drac in snarly state was far better than the beast he turns into.
This is a movie to genuinely switch of the brain and enjoy. At times there's too much going on and perhaps a bit too much swinging about for my liking, but it's an adrenaline filled ride. I'd probably give it 7 out of 10.
Shi mian mai fu (2004)
Almost a great film
Zhang Yimou set a new benchmark for martial arts movies with Hero. Visually both inventive and dazzling, whilst having a strong thematic thread, it still managed to kick ass, with energetic fight sequences. He continues in the same vein with House of Flying Daggers, with love and romance replacing Hero's chivalry and honour. It is at times as blisteringly exciting and exquisite to view, but there are a few problems.
Set in a similar time to Hero, the plot revolves around the mysterious House of Flying Daggers, a group of assassins leading a rebellion of sorts, against the rulers of their land. News has reached the local military captain Leo (Andy Lau) that the leader of the House can be found plying their trade in the local brothel. Sensing that this could be the key to ending their resistance he sends one of his men, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), to infiltrate the establishment posing as a customer. This soon leads him to the beautiful blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who may just be the daughter of the assassinated former leader of the House. What follows is his journey with edit her, through forests and meadows, as he vies to gain her trust, all the while intent on leading the army to their destination in an attempt to discover the leader of the House.
The plot is actually far more complicated than my short synopsis could come close to. We are treated to a twisty turny adventure, punctuated with set pieces of (excuse the tired terminology) balletic grace. Yimou sets a number of scenes within symmetrically perfect backgrounds, the picture set up like a work of art. We find ourselves in a dance hall encircled with drums, where the camera moves with a sense of fluidity, as though part of the dance, as we see Mei play a game of "echoes" with the Captain. Each time he hits a drum with a flicked nut, she follows, striking it with her flowing robes. The scene has a steady tempo, finally hitting a crescendo as the whole bowl is flung, nuts flying everywhere like missiles striking every drum. The sound of each strike reverberates like thunder.
For me the other set pieces never quite match the "echo" dance for majesty, rhythm or look. We get to see numerous showdowns between, with Mei and Jin taking on the soldiers that chase them, all the while with Jin trying to maintain his cover. The fights very much feel like a dance, and are filled with POV shots of arrows, sharpened bits of wood and of course flying daggers. I thought this camera trick felt overused, it looks good, but eventually started to feel tired as yet another dagger is seen boomeranging into action.
As events reach a climax, the plot gets pretty messy, as revelation after revelation is thrown about. In contrast to Hero's coda, where the action became about what's doing right for the good of the whole country, House of Flying Daggers has one of a more personal nature. It never quite rings true, there just isn't the emotion on display for this to work. The final act is somewhat botched, with a "it's over, no it isn't" feel to it, which caused a few "no ways" to be uttered in my vicinity. It is yet another gloriously shot scene, but we'd already seen some extraordinary moments. I felt it seemed to be reaching a more natural conclusion, and with a bit of editing a tighter last half hour would've made this a classic.
As it stands House of Flying Daggers is a fine movie, never quite as good as Hero, and probably behind Crouching Tiger too, and maybe it goes on a bit too long, but it's far superior to most of the formulaic actioners Hollywood produces. Out of ten, I'd give it an eight.
Enjoyable, but could've been so much more substantial
I really enjoyed Troy for the most part, but it's severely lacking in places and there are big problems caused by some of the changes to Homer's text.
Actionwise it's spectacular. Wolfgang Petersen's direction is perfunctory at best (imagine what a visionary like Peter Jackson or an action expert like Ridley Scott could've done with the material). The scale of it all is so great though, that such a problem doesn't impact too greatly on the entertainment value. There are literally thousands of warriors on screen slugging it out, and because so many real people have been used, there's no way of saying who are real extras and where the vfx begins. The fights aren't as dynamic as Gladiator's (the first of many times where I feel the need to compare the two) but there's plenty of punch and scale to it all. It's at it's best during the one on one moments, especially the Achilles vs Hector duel. There's an almost balletic quality to the way it has been choreographed, it's certainly not shot to look like your average bit of gladiatorial violence.
In between action sequences the characters and plotting are diverting enough. Peter O'Toole especially gives proceedings a genuine gravitas as Trojan King Priam. Eric Bana does a very good job as Hector, he's got a good screen presence about him and there were moments where I felt genuinely moved by his performance, in his defense of Paris, his final night with his wife as he holds his baby son and his final march down to face his doom. As some have mentioned Orlando Bloom is very much his standard self, but it seems right for the role he is playing, Paris is after all a legendary ladies man. I never particularly got the feeling he was in love with Helen, but there scenes together did enough to suggest it to me. Diane Kruger's Helen is similar to be honest, nothing stand out, but it's functional enough to move the plot along.
And what of the much talked about Brad Pitt. For me his portrayal of Achilles is at times hopeless. He's fine at the physical stuff and during the stroppy Achilles phase he does well, but the moment the role calls for any amount of emotion it goes to pieces. His reaction to the death of Patroclus his cousin felt like a whiny kid who'd just had his new toy taken away. And here's where the Gladiator comparison really does Troy no favours at all. You compare Pitt's feeble attempt at emotion to Russell Crowe's powerhouse display as Maximus. You want a broken man driven to revenge, take a look a Crowe, we've got rage, sadness, tears, the man even gives us snot. The scene where he collapses to his knees upon finding his family murdered says it all. OK maybe it's a bit harsh to compare a guy reacting to his cousin's death to a man who's just lost his wife and kid, and the diversion from Homer here doesn't help much either, seeing as Patroclus was Achilles's 'dear' friend, but come on he's practically untroubled by it all. Seeing as Petersen has set out to make a Gladiatoresque film, rather than giving us Homer's rich mythology, such a scene is vital and I thought it failed. Any scene from there onwards Pitt struggles, as he also does in showing passion for his lover Breiseis. That's a love that feels superficial, he might as well have won her in the lottery.
Anyway I could go on about Pitt's performance all day, suffice to say he may as well have been in a coffee shop with Jennifer Aniston, which is probably my main problem with his casting. He felt to contemporary, not 'dirty' enough to play such a role, nor hard enough.
Mention must be made of the music. James Horner is quite frankly a hack of a composer, something I've thought since Titanic, which was pretty much his score to Braveheart with a few extra bits. This is heavily pilfered from Gladiator, so we get the chanting melodies for sad scenes and the big chords for the battles. The difference being that Hans Zimmer has talent and produced something that felt fresh. The lyrical beauty of Lisa Gerrard's vocals is hoplelessly ripped off, especially as they were often used to score the more abstract moments of Gladiator, while Troy is very much a by the numbers movie.
Anyway for a film I'd still rate seven out of ten, I've been heavily critical of it. It is entertaining, which for cinema is very important to me. This was supposed to be a contender for film of the year though, an Oscar hopeful, and it doesn't live up to that. Even if it hadn't been hyped so heavily, it would still be a waste of a great piece of Greek mythology. Troy has very little to do with the Illiad at all, except for containing the same characters. Stripped of the sense of adventure and the fantastical aspects this is a generic sword and sandals picture. People who haven't read any Greek lit, try for a moment and imagine the Lord of the Rings movies being based entirely around Helm's Deep and Pellenor Fields and you have some idea of how Troy has been adapted. I just feel they may as well have written an original script if this is what they planned to do. As a sword and sandals picture it pales next to Gladiator, as well as the older precedents Spartacus and Ben Hur. As an adaptation of The Illiad it's greatest crime is that we will never now see it as it should've been, on screen. Oh well it diverted my attention for 2 1/2 hours at least.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Often spectacular, with few dull moments
I went into DAT (The Day After Tomorrow) under the impression it was some sort of unholy combination, Twister meets Armageddon if you will. Those are two of the worst event movies I have seen. Twister because it is boringly repetetive with no arc to proceedings, it just goes nowhere. Armageddon, which forgetting it's hubristic jingoistic approach and callous disregard for life (the easy destruction of Shanghai and Paris really soured it for me) is poorly edited to the point it makes no sense. DAT has the crazy weather and destruction on a global scale, but it's infinitely better than either of those two films, because it is far more involving, with the disaster movie approach adopted it allows for a proper story arc. Furthermore it avoids the heavy handed approach adopted by Armageddon. Areas of the world suffer greatly, but it isn't just glossed over when the heroes save the day, rather there is an undercurrent of melancholic regret punctuating the movie, well represented in the scene where we say goodbye to Ian Holm's professor and his team.
In fact it is to Emmerich's credit that he has managed to fill the movie with good character actors, who genuinely give the film a sense of humanity. Ok so some of it is a bit on the cheesy side, but the thought is a good one. These are real people being put through appalling stuff, so it's important that we have some sympathy for them. Dennis Quaid in particular brings a solid presence to the film. There is an honourable stoicism to his Dr Jack Hall. I felt genuinely moved by the scene where he decides to go to retrieve his son. Jake Gylenhaal as son Sam plays along well, he's more than capable of making this stuff believable.
I did like the scenes in the British weather outpost. Ian Holm, Adrian Lester and the other guy (sorry perhaps someone can put me right here) felt more than just "weather fodder", they played it low key, and kinda helped sum up the human cost. There's a serious point being made here, and whether the science involved errs closer to fiction or not, it does make you think. By ignoring the scientists and continuing to harm the planet we could end up causing a catastrophe, maybe not on this scale, but many lives would be lost.
All of which makes it sound like a depressing two hours, which it most certainly isn't. There's a guilty pleasure to be had in seeing how Emmerich wrecks the place. Twisters rip through the Hollywood sign and tidal waves submerge the Statue of Liberty. I don't know whether Emmerich meant anything by this, but to me this a symbolic of the humbling of the Western World. Underscored by the irony of having Americans pouring in to Mexico as refugees and having the American Vice President announce that we are now dependent on the Third World.
The first builds up with ominous events alerting us to the dangers to come. We see snow in New Delhi and hailstones in Tokyo. The LA storm for me was the highpoint though, it demands to be seen on a big screen. There's so much detail to it. The flooding of New York is superbly orchestrated too, with the masterstroke for me being the sight of the ship floating up to the library.
The look of the film is pretty dark. Refreshing in fact to see a film that isn't reliant on the warm colours. The cinematography and editing are bang on with the action all shot in a steady style, with wide angles capturing the full scope of the mayhem, with chaos occurring all over the screen. The sound is good too, with storm fx coming from all sides of the auditorium, you genuinely feel part of the experience at points.
After my misgivings going into DAT, I have to admit this is a very good film. It does drag a touch in the final half hour, but it's hit you with so much by then, and your so involved in the protagonists fight for survival, that it takes you all the way. It does go through a number of disaster movie cliches (the people who go don't listen to the hero and go off anyway, the heroic friend who buys it), but the characters feel genuine and the scale of events and spectacle generated is awesome. If I'm marking, it's Eight out of Ten for me