Saturday, March 29, 2008

#33: Event Horizon (Paul W.S. Anderson, 1997)

I made fun of this film all week before I watched it last night, for three reasons:
1) It's a post-1995 Hollywood blockbuster, my least favorite kind of generic movie type (possibly excepting costume dramas).
2) The title. "Look out behind you! It's an event horizon!" "Don't get killed ... by that event horizon!" "Oh my God! It's an event horizon!" "What's that behind the door? Is it an event horizon?" The title, obviously, fails to instill fear, wonder, or excitement in the hearts of audiences.
3) The auteur behind it all. Paul W.S. Anderson is not the guy who directed Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. He is also not the guy who directed Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. He is the guy who directed Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, and ... Event Horizon!
As much as I enjoy heaping the scorn and being a curmudgeon, I'm also fair, so, without setting aside my preconceived notions, I still gave Event Horizon the benefit of the doubt. The verdict: Much better than an Oliver Stone film, not better than most other things. Pros and cons after this plot synopsis. The following plot synopsis is brought to you by our sponsor, Dimensional Gateway Engines. Dimensional Gateway Engines -- Bending the space-time continuum, one black hole at a time.
Forty-some years in the future (fifty-some at the time of the film's release), a crew of space explorers led by Laurence Fishburne lose out on their promised Christmas vacations and instead are joined by scientist Sam Neill and reassigned to a secret mission. Neill designed a ship, called the Event Horizon, that supposedly blew up in space several years ago. However, the ship, a secret government experiment in faster-than-light-speed travel, is merely lost, floating in space and sending signals back home. The ship doesn't really break the rules of physics, it merely bends them. The ship's engine folds the space-time continuum so the ship can take a super-shortcut, reducing 1,000 years of travel time to one day. In Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," he says an event horizon is a black hole's border from which it is impossible to escape. The Event Horizon in this film creates a black hole to enhance travel speed and comes back, but with something EVIL on board. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! They should have called this movie "No Escape from the Border of the Black Hole." Or maybe "Border Patrol: Christmas Vacation." Now that's catchy! Anyway, Fishburne's crew has been assigned to travel to the Event Horizon, explore it, salvage anyone or anything they can, and return home. Unfortunately, they get their asses kicked by ... an event horizon ... of pure evil! B-movie sci-fi turns into slasher flick. The film rips off parts of Alien, The Shining, Hellraiser, and, puzzlingly, Solaris. The Soderbergh remake hadn't happened yet, but it's hard to imagine a schlocky crap movie director being influenced by either the Stanislaw Lem novel or the Andrei Tarkovsky film. It's kind of like Michael Bay lifting elements from Stan Brakhage or William Gaddis. Does not compute.
Anyway, the film passes by quickly at 90 minutes, and a few gore scenes and futuristic spaceship set design elements satisfy, but the cast never gets a chance to do anything interesting. The characters are written as wooden placeholders, (e.g. one character is a rebel because he smokes, etc.). Scenes seem to be missing; Joely Richardson's character disappears for a big chunk of the finale, only to be found unconscious for no discernible reason. The early CGI effects look even shittier than the shitty CGI shits we've got now. And, ultimately, schlocky B-movies work better when they're cheap. Giant expensive Hollywood money usually robs the energy, camaraderie, and invention from the exploitation trash filmmaking I love so much.

Addendum: I forgot to mention the best thing about the movie: Laurence Fishburne's captain's chair. It's a giant, floating, La-Z-Boy. I hope the next forty years fly by so I can purchase one when the future gets here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

#32: Dolls (Stuart Gordon, 1987)

Stuart Gordon's third film, following Re-Animator and From Beyond, could be marketed and shelved as a children's movie, if it weren't for the gore and swearing. A fairy tale and morality fable, Dolls begins with an imaginative little girl, her moronic jerk of a father, and her wicked stepmother getting lost and stuck in a storm on vacation. They take shelter inside a large, semi-Gothic mansion, owned by an elderly couple. The elderly man is a doll-maker, and a firm proponent of never letting the child inside of you die, of course. Soon, more stranded travelers appear, including a nice, toy-loving guy in his thirties and two nasty British hitchhiking kleptomaniac new wave rocker chicks he picked up on the side of the road. I'm hardly revealing surprise plot twists when I tell you that the rotten people get their comeuppance and learn valuable lessons about the power of a child's imagination. How they get their comeuppance turns this film from a kid's movie to a violent gorefest. The doll-maker's dolls like to get up and move around at night, and they're tightly wound little suckers. If they see something they don't like, they will dispense vigilante justice. Extreme vigilante justice.
As you can imagine, the killer dolls are very funny. Intentionally so. Several critics have complained that killer dolls just aren't that scary, but these critics seem to lack the child-like wonder and humor necessary to survive a killer doll attack. They wouldn't last one night at the old doll-maker's mansion. So, killer dolls aren't that scary, but most horror films aren't that scary. This film has great atmosphere, set decoration, detail. The performances are mostly very good. Someone yells, "Fuck you, clownie!" at a clown doll. The little girl is natural and real-life cute, not movie-cute. She doesn't look like she's had her face buffed for fifteen weeks by a stage mother. Dolls lacks some of the insane, gonzo energy of Re-Animator and From Beyond, but Gordon's filmmaking skills improved considerably by this third film. A kid's movie with "adult situations," as the MPAA calls them. I love the perversity of that.

One of the British kleptos looks a lot like Madonna:

One of the killer dolls looks a little like me: