Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Art & Craft

Two new sci-fi movies came out in the Tartu cinema last week. One was the new Fantastic Four, probably the weakest comic book adaptation I've seen so far. I was not impressed by the first movie, but I thought the second one would be entertainingly bad - but it wasn't. It was offensively bad.

It is absolutely possible to make a bad movie in a very good way. I really liked the third Fast & Furious flick, because they went back to what made the first one so popular - on the one hand, delivering the silly one-liners with a straight face, and on the other, not taking themselves too seriously. Fantastic Four absolutely does take itself seriously; it carries the comic tradition of claiming to be high literature without any actual artistic merit, but a ton of cliches (including the toothache inducing "with power comes responsibility"). The movie isn't even good for eye candy, as the supposed sex-bomb Jessica Alba could not act to save her life - though nobody seems to have had the courage to tell her. For Miss Alba, a dramatic scene consists of tilting her head sideways and staring upwards, which only makes her look like a retarded German Shepherd.

The other film was Next. Now, let me start off by recommending this film: it's quite good and you should watch it. But personally, I was bothered a bit by the duality of the plot. It's based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, and while I haven't read the story itself (or much of this author, in fact), I do recognize the theme and structure of 60s science fiction. I can tell, from the adapted movie, that the original story was not made as an action thriller; it was far more about the character's attitude towards his special ability and how it affected his life. The story itself is, curiously about power and responsibility - but because the implementation is so very un-jingoistic, it feels organic and doesn't bother me. The first half of the movie, aside from the random Dodge plug scene, was sufficiently true to the spirit of science fiction's golden age.

The second half of it is action, which doesn't fit in with the original feel of the story, but here's the thing - they did the action outstandingly well. With very little special effects and no gimmicky photography, they played upon the main character's special ability to create a sequence of dynamic and fresh action scenes. If any of this was in Dick's text, I'm certain it was either a plot device or a token effort to get the attention of the magazine-reading youth - but the way they did it on screen justified the extra attention in the adaptation.

The biggest problem with the movie is the cast. Nicholas Cage plays the main character, and again, he does it very well; however, he's too famous for the role. His distinctive looks and voice mean that he is perceived through his previous characters - a mix of the action hero from Gone in 60 Seconds and the whatever-it-takes operator from Lord of War. Cage by no means does a bad job, but I think the film would feel a lot less fragmented if the main role was given, say, to Jim Caviezel - or any typical Hollywood hunk waiting for a big break. The rest of the celebrity cast are also quite good, especially Julianne Moore, but Next is the sort of film that should have been done with unknowns - both to boost their careers by providing an early cult classic to put in their IMDB profile, and to not distract the viewer from the plot and the action.

It was only half an hour after I left the cinema that I realized they left a gigantic plot hole - similar to the one in Ronin, but there it actually served to contrast the rest of the film, the lack of resolution carrying its own message. In Next, the hole was far more blatant - but it still very nearly worked. The movie is that good.

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