Talking Movies

July 18, 2013

Bitten By A Bug That I Love

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 4:24 pm
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I’m not a fan of zombie movies, especially movies with fast-running zombies; which I always consider cheating, they’re creepy enough already. So it’s only fitting that I shuffle aside to let a true zombie afficianado have a rant. Elliot Harris, who will no doubt be found holed up in Highbury with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost come the zombie apocalypse, writes:

2009zombie

I suffer from an affliction. While widely known, it’s not understood. Sufferers are frequently a point of ridicule from the media, strangers and friends alike. What is this affliction, you ask? Simple, I love the idea of zombies. There, I said it! I read books and comics about zombies, I watch TV shows and films about zombies, I play computer games about zombies. I’m not some sort of apocalypse waiting/wanting nut-job. Nor am I some sort of society-hating gun-nut. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I’d fall in the first wave. I can’t run very fast or far. I neither own nor can shoot a gun and I’ve no survival skills. What interests me is one simple question, a question with no real answer: What would happen if zombies were anything other than a work of fiction – what if they were real and how would the society react?

OK, that’s really three questions, but, I believe, that they truly go to the essence of a great zombie story. Zombies can be and have been used as a metaphor for society ills – everything from consumerism to the idolism of celebrities. Deep psychological questions can be posed by an author, a film maker, even a song-writer using this metaphor. That’s not to say that everyone gets it. Some look at zombies as the perfect excuse to make shlock about Real American Heroes™ blasting the faceless, unrelatable villain away without having to consider the impact that the use of a gun or a weapon of any sorts can bring. There’s one major problem though; Hollywood simply won’t make a good Zombie film.

Hollywood doesn’t want to make an honest to goodness zombie film. The essence of a zombie apocalypse is that there is no going back. Society has collapsed. Zombiesm cannot be cured. The police, the army, the government can’t help – they’re gone. Numbers of infected way outweigh those who have managed to survive… and even the use of the word survive is a misnomer. Uninfected is a more appropriate word. Those uninfected left, those very few are like prisoners on death row, with no chance of appeal, no chance of pardon. What’s left is a bleak, far too bleak for Hollywood to ever make a film about. It’s simply unmarketable. People want the good guys to win out. Hollywood pushes it to the limit, having society on the very bring with only a 59th minute, 100+ yard ‘Hail Mary’ of a pass to pull things back from the brink.

That’s to say that Hollywood has never made a zombie film, they have. Plenty in fact, but almost all of them suffer from Hollywood’s ‘don’t worry, the good guys won. Now go buy our merch’ shtick. A look at the zombie films of recent years backs this up: 28 Days Later – the zombies starve to death; Shaun of the Dead – the zombie outbreak is quelled; Warm Bodies – zombies start to regress to humans; World War Z – a vaccine is designed to dissuade zombies from attacking the inoculated. The few exceptions of note are Zack Snyder’s early 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead and Zombieland, which was originally planned as and later remade into a TV series, are far outweighed by the junk pumped out year after year.

Good and original Zombie content that that genuine ask the “what if” question, or that play with zombies as a metaphor rather than gun fodder is sadly a rarity. It’s such a shame, because without those “what if” questions, we’re little more than zombies.

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July 28, 2010

Snyder’s Sensibility

Does Zack Snyder, director of Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen, have an identifiable and disturbing filmic sensibility or is it too early in his career to judge?

In a previous blog entry I wrote about misgivings regarding Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s epic comic Watchmen. These included the fact that Snyder’s Rorschach growled like Batman, rendering him heroic, whereas Moore gave Rorschach peculiar syntax to indicate his damaged state – this raised the worry that Snyder viewed Rorschach’s interior monologue as colourfully phrased expressions of a legitimate worldview rather than reprehensible ravings. More alarming was the linked problem of violence and visuals as, to masquerade as a blockbuster, Snyder had added violence, eliding Moore’s satirical point about the need for violent spectacle, and then reversing Moore’s intentions in Nite Owl and Silk Spectre’s intentionally lame rescue of people from a fire, which made their subsequent sex even more pointedly pathetic, by filming it as slow-mo heroic firestorms followed by ‘Hallelujah’ scored sex…

One could argue Snyder was demonstrating that he had only one style of directing, slow-mo ultra-violence, but what if it was a sensibility that colours his approach to all material? Dawn of the Dead threw out what little social satire there was in Romero’s original movie, about survivors repulsing zombies from a shopping mall, and instead indulged in that easiest of cheap horror tricks, fast-running zombies, as well as oceans of gore and needlessly nasty moments like a zombie baby trying to eat someone seconds after being born from an infected mother. Dawn’s writer went on to write and direct the joyous Slither so the majority of the blame must lie with Snyder. 300, which may be the cinematic encapsulation of the cocksureness of Bush America, works wonderfully as a musical comedy without music so replete is it with absurd patriotism and macho bombast, but Snyder in all seriousness made an action movie about freedom, and the people I know who hate 300 are uniformly the ones who took it seriously, like Snyder, rather than comically.

I wrote previously on the dilemma of criticising bad films without encouraging more of the same. I have since seen the ultimate cut of Watchmen in such a manner as to avoid both such encouragement and the vengeance of the FBI. I’m aware Ultimate Watchmen is not the theatrical cut most people saw, but the interpolation of the animated Black Freighter storyline along with its sheer wide-screen nature makes it more considered than a cut running an hour shorter could be, which allows some interesting observations. It remains a curiosity rather than a good movie, as it hews so closely to the comic, but Snyder is more restrained than I would have thought possible and one can only have a small number of quibbles with his adaptation.

These quibbles though feed the idea that there is a distinctive Snyder Sensibility, as their presence in the shorter theatrical cut emphasises both that Snyder wanted to include them above all else, and that they are jarring wrong notes. The ‘Hallelujah’ sex scene is painfully funny, and unintentionally so, and misses the point on two levels of its source equivalent by being heroic (even down to the climaxing fire-burst from Archie) because the preceding fire rescue has been presented in a bombastic rather than cringe-inducing fashion, and by following the failed sex scene which fails to juxtapose TV commentary on Veidt’s athletics prowess with Nite Owl’s impotence – an omission that makes a nonsense of interpretations of the alley scene as necessary misdirection because of the superpowers displayed in the opening fight. By the alley scene I of course mean the infamous moment when Silk Spectre, an out of shape human devoid of superpowers, rips the bone straight out of a man’s arm in a spray of blood with her bare hands. To quote Dean Winchester – “What the Hell?!” The other quibbles are Big Figure cutting the arms off his henchman when Rorschach ties them to the cell-bars, the blood seeping out from the toilet after Rorschach flushes Big Figure, the hand of Veidt’s secretary exploding when he’s attacked by an assassin, and Rorschach hatcheting the child murderer.

Why shoot the secretary in the leg, as in the comic, but then blow her hand off thereby ending her employability as a secretary? Why cut off a man’s arms with a power-saw and leave him in agony when Moore slashes his throat for an instant death? Why replace water with blood and have Rorschach graphically kill the child murderer rather than Mad Max him? Snyder adds sadism to an already nasty story, makes explicit violence that was elided, and prioritises super slo-mo sex and violence over logic. This is a sensibility. He may grow out of this seeming love of sadism for its own sake – Ultimate Watchmen displays new maturity – but if not he may become the new Tim Burton…

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