Friday, 18 January 2008

No Brainer or Five Brains?

I never thought I’d say it, but there are far too many films out there – and for some lunatic reason, I feel duty bound to watch them all in the hopelessly deluded notion that perhaps one day I will simply come to the end of all films ever produced.

Let’s hope so if Die Hard 4.0 is anything to go by...

Die Hard 4.0 – directed by Len Wiseman, written by Mark Bomback.

Watching this, all I could think of was something I read in The Guardian a little while back, inasmuch as that the film industry is the only industry that has used digital techniques to significantly increase costs. What we used to have was a two hour film with five to ten minutes of expensive effects – in Die Hard 4.0 there’s an eye-wateringly expensive digital effect every two minutes. Add in your trademarked ‘Really Shit Sidekick’ (hang on a minute, that sounds like something on Cartoon Network) and all of a sudden, you’re in dumbass heaven (unfortunately it looks like the new Indy film is going to be cocked up by an surfeit of RSS as well.)

(I suspect the reason that the Really Shit Sidekick theory is being applied to well loved franchises such as Die Hard and Indy is purely to get that all-important teenage demographic through the turnstiles, which probably means that the scripts have been ‘written’ by focus groups, marketing goons and clever bits of software. That said, it’s surely got to be better than anything written by George ‘Lead Ear’ Lucas).

And then, king of the nerds Kevin Smith shows up!

What set the first two Die Hard films apart for me was the tight focus by way of location (respectively, an office block and an airliner). In Die Hard 4.0, McClane rushes around the US as if he’s on some weird and incredibly boring tour of electricity substations. Surely the template for any action movie is to keep the focus tight and light the blue touchpaper: something that Die Hard 4.0 completely neglects to do.

I’m with Gilbert Adair on this one – I love special effects, I just don’t like the films they’re in.

Inland Empire – written and directed by David Lynch.

I really was not looking forward to this at all. Three hours of brain-bending cryptic nonsense all filmed on digital video – sounds like a migraine waiting to happen.

And you know what? That’s exactly what it is.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Blue Velvet. Wild at Heart is a blast. Lost Highway is deranged, most certainly. Mulholland Drive is, yes, well, ahem... But Inland Empire? If there was ever a need for restraint and a roomful of rabid script editors, this film is living proof.

Maybe I’m just not intelligent or patient enough to watch films like this – either that or I need to grow a little goatee for some serious beard scratching.

Sight and Sound voted this number 2 amongst their Top 10 films of 2007. Uh, hello? Here are some selected critical highlights:

Mark Fisher: Convoluted and involuted: Lynch's rabbit warren anarchitecture of trauma is difficult, unsettling and endlessly, weirdly fascinating.

Peter Matthews: After ten minutes of more or less consecutive narrative, you're pretty much free-falling. David Lynch's three-hour surrealist odyssey vanquishes the conscious ego and heads straight for the id. A mind-warping masterpiece.

Chip Smith: What’s going on here then? Oh, look, rabbits – I like rabbits. My head hurts. Is it over yet? Ooh, time for a nap. Zzzzz...

If you need to suspend all brain functions to watch a film like Die Hard 4.0, then you need to harness the processing power at least five brains to try and piece together what the flying arse is going on here. That said, perhaps Inland Empire is some kind of bizarre intelligence test – everyone who professes to understand it or at least expresses an admiration for it will get a regular column on Sight and Sound. Everyone else who simply shrugs and scratches their head will get a job on The Dandy (and I know which one I’d rather write for).

Admittedly, the three hour running time doesn’t help. After the first hour, the film went into a determinedly mentalist freefall and I dozed off intermittently (only the second time I have ever done this, Institute Benjamenta being the other culprit). Even the end title sequence is tortuous and never–ending.

After the most gruelling three hours I have ever spent in the company of a DVD, I read this in The Guardian – the thought struck me that David Lynch is no longer a filmmaker, he’s an artist. As far as any audience is concerned, that really is not a good place to be.


Jon Peacey said...

Ah, how I've missed reading your invective! I'm working my way through the RSS feeds and I'm now doing you ('oo' and indeed 'er').

I had the same reaction to a 3 hour DV film and, lo, I've still not plucked up the zeal to confront it. I even liked Mulholland Drive but with this, amongst other things, I just don't like the look of DV. And I have a little goatee... and should buy a beret. Probably. And I'd love a column in S&S. Since seeing his bizarre paintings on TV I have been increasingly wondering if Lynch has shifted ground to being, effectively, a maker of film as installation art. (BTW: I've got a qualification in fine art and graphic design... don't hold it against me! And, of course, both Scott Brothers are RCA trained painters and artists.)

When I heard about the rabbits all I could think of was that episode of Spaced!

Jon Peacey said...

...are those Lucas dialogues genuinely from the films?

Chip Smith said...

Hello Jon - welcome back! And what do you mean 'invective'? My opinions are entirely objective and based on nothing more than the evidence ;-) To be honest, I don't really mean any of it - I just enjoy trying to think up another thirty five ways of saying 'that's crap, that is!'.

I know what you mean about DV - I think Lynch struggles manfully with it to be fair, but it's not a look I would rave about. He does rather over compensate with the disquieting close up, which is quite effective, but as the whole thing goes into a complete freefall at the hour mark, it's all a bit academic really. I liked his book of photographs of snowmen tho'.

No, I'm pretty sure they're not Lucas dialogues - they sound as if they could be tho', which surely says something for the great man himself.

Jon Peacey said...

It's good to be back... I had 550 unread posts listed on the RSS thingy when I got back after the Christmas laziness, time theft and my unexpected away break! It's now down to about 130...

So many parts of the 'digital revolution' have been steps back about 100 years... for instance, Freeview can be like trying to watch Logie Baird's original broadcasts! With DV films, for example, while I love 28 Days Later the DV filming causes some serious pictoral problems: juddering movement, bleached out colour, lack of d.o.f. and blockiness. I realise the film couldn't have been filmed without it and the gritty story works with it but the DV is only not intrusive by dint of the film/story/action itself being so compelling. Haven't seen the snowmen book.

What was it Ford said to Lucas, 'you may be able to write it but you sure can't say it'.