Friday, November 23, 2007

This Movie Is Really Cool ... Really, Just Trust Us!

Monsters. We love them in movies. Whether it's a 50-foot mutation or a serial killer, they provide some good scares when they're effective. But Hollywood these days have not much to offer in terms of originality. Maybe there's nothing in real life to mirror anymore.

Look at it this way. During the Cold War, the threat of nuclear warfare was real, as was the post-war advent of radioactive playthings that inspired the likes of Godzilla and other manner of nature's aberrations. The duck-and-cover days may be slightly irrelevant now, and the threats that we're led to believe exist today, are largely fabricated. Maybe that's why the monsters in movies seem fake too. I don't know. Maybe that's why Hollywood resorts to "torture porn."

I still don't know.

As far as pushing the limits go, these blood-and-gore films have raised controversy time and again, earned the ire of women's groups. But does it stop anyone from making more of them or wanting to see them? Far from it.

This morning, I received a text message from someone who was at a movie preview, and who'd obviously just seen the trailer for the horror flick Unrest. It was made last year but is only now showing here. Its claim to originality? It's the first movie to use real dead bodies.

No, I'm not kidding. Take a look at IMDB: "The corpse used in the movie is real." One user exclaims excitedly in the title of her/his comment: Real cadavers!!!

Then that user had this to say: "... when I heard they were using real cadavers for this, I knew I had to catch it."

If they legitimise such a thing in movies, what then separates criminal snuff movies from fiction films? How is the fan of torture porn and real cadavers different from those who forward gore in emails for kicks? Who are the monsters? So now what? Instead of donating your body to science, donate your body to the movie industry?

This is serious.


All this business about J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield is getting a bit tiresome. If you don't already know, it's an upcoming monster movie that has been teasing everyone with bits here and there on the Internet, including fake news reports, but all the while hiding the monster from view. There's certainly a limit to everything, and this one just reached the spot on the scale that says "Who cares?!"

A new trailer has surfaced, and it's more of the same. It looks like it's going to be yet another shaky camera movie, and I'm really starting to believe the folks in Hong Kong who said: "The handheld camera covers three mistakes: Bad acting, bad set design, and bad directing." (I quote from Bordwell.)

But there's a segment of audiences who are displaying a rather peculiar trait of getting visibly excited at such blurry, retina-hurting visuals. It's probably the verite style that reminds them of news footage (especially all the "excitement" in Iraq captured by "embedded" news cameras), and approximates realism for those who don't mind getting their brains turned into cotton candy.

Blame the shaky camera on The Blair Witch Project, and then blame the viral teaser marketing on that movie as well. For a long while before the movie opened, people were made to believe the characters were real and had indeed disappeared in the woods. Cloverfield may not be reaching for the same Orson Welles/War Of The Worlds panic hysteria as Blair Witch, but it's playing the same cat-and-mouse game with us.

Jaws hid its monster from us on screen, but we were already treated to sights of it on posters and in movie stills. There was still an excitement about it coming to life on screen. Digital effects have all but eliminated that kind of anticipation and sense of wonder that made us ask "How did they do it?"

Coming from that perspective, isn't it now clear why they need such artificiality to create excitement, even hiding the monster completely from us now until we finally see it in the movie? (Remember Roland Emmerich's Godzilla?) It reeks of a certain desperation, to me.

Bong Joon-ho probably understands this, and had the tadpole monster appear full-blown in the first few minutes of The Host. But then, considering how much the monster actually appears in the film, it looks more like the least of the movie's concerns compared to the entertaining family drama and delightful cast of characters.

So in this day and age of CGI, what's there left to do? Create a monster in a laboratory for real, and then unleash it and film it as it gobbles people up?

Well, they're allowing real cadavers after all.


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