Archive for June, 2008
Director: George A. Romero
Almost forty years after his original genre-defining zombie film was released, George Romero returns for a fifth film in the genre he helped to pioneer. After so many subsequent films have adapted and re-defined the zombie genre, Diary of the Dead goes back to the beginning, with a re-imagining of the original cataclysmic outbreak, retconned to modern day. The resulting film is a mix of old and new, traditional lumbering zombies amongst a Youtube world, filmed in handheld POV. While Romero has delivered an interesting film (for a number of reasons), Diary of the Dead is ultimately disappointing and never quite manages to deliver on its potential.
One of the film’s strengths (and ironically, weaknesses) is the POV gimmick. Shooting from the camera’s point of view is an excellent technique for horror films, creating an extremely tense atmosphere that puts the viewer right in the events on screen. There are some genuinely frightening sequences in the film, aided immensely by the POV shooting. However, Romero seems too restricted by the POV gimmick. The film’s narrative doesn’t flow as naturally as it does in other films that use similar techniques (Cloverfield, for instance). The whole idea of a film-within-a-film feels forced as well, especially with the use of incidental music (a technique used to create tension, according to the editor of the film-within-a-film).
Diary of the Dead also lacks a genuine documentary feel, something present in The Blair Witch Project, clearly one of Romero’s inspirations for this film. The acting and characters seem especially over-the-top and borderline melodramatic. Strangely enough, the camera work also seems a bit too professional and high quality for student filmmakers. The composition is generally too staged to be believable (although there is a subtext in the film relating to authenticity and whether or not a documentary filmmaker can be objective and 100% truthful).
There are many interesting elements to Diary of the Dead but I feel Romero doesn’t quite meet the standards set by his previous zombie films. The film’s rhetoric about media propaganda risks heavy-handedness and the pseudo-documentary techniques employed do more harm than good. While still an interesting modern revision of Night of the Living Dead, Diary of the Dead fails to deliver on its ambition.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Carter Smith
The mainstream horror genre in Hollywood is in poor shape at the moment. Cinema screens are choked with either poor remakes of interesting Asian horror films (such as One Missed Call or The Eye) or poor remakes of forgettable 1980s horror films (such as Prom Night). Therefore, a film like The Ruins is somewhat refreshing, for the simple fact that it’s an original adapation of a novel (wholly original contemporary horror films seem extremely rare at the moment). Even that said, however, The Ruins does feel similar to some recent horror films and doesn’t quite manage to make a memorable impact.
The Ruins appears to be the next in a growing series of films about young Americans in peril abroad. We’ve seen the same thing recently in Hostel and Turistas; these films always seem to feature selfish and ignorant characters, seemingly unlikeable. Normal standards of audience identification don’t seem to apply to films like this, however. The characters seem incidental, purely the targets of the violence in the film. The worse a character appears, the worse their punishment will be (either directly or indirectly). The violence in this film is pretty gruesome and is almost wholly generated from within.
The most interesting element of this film is the conflict. As opposed to most horror films where external forces act against the main characters, the majority of the conflict in The Ruins is internal. The two main antagonist agents (the Mayans and the pyramid) are secondary to the damage the protagonists amongst themselves. Even the main threat in the film (the vines) seems like an afterthought, with occasionally laughable physical and special effects (some of the sequences looked like a man moving around in a leafy vine suit).
I’ll give the film credit for relative originality and for ruthless visuals (most of the gore sequences are impressive and disturbing). The acting is decent, though not remarkable (Joe Anderson’s German accent is a bit ropey at times and there are a few over-the-top moments). Although there’s nothing of much substance to this film, there’s nothing horrible either. The Ruins is a gruesome little horror film, easily forgotten but entertaining in the moment.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Louis Leterrier
This newest screen incarnation of the popular green superhero marks an unusual time for comic adaptations. Up until this point, if a superhero comic was turned into a film there were usually two possible outcomes: a successful franchise which eventually grows further and further away from the original material (such as the Burton Batman films or the Reeve Superman films) or a tremendous flop, quickly forgotten (Dolph Lundgren as The Punisher comes to mind). Ang Lee’s 2003 superhero film Hulk is generally considered the latter: an expensive failure (even though the film made over $100 million). Following the patterns set previously, one would expect a significant gap between Ang Lee’s version and any future Hulk films. For better or worse, this was not the case, as The Incredible Hulk comes just five years after 2003′s Hulk, not sequel but remake, with a whole new cast, new story and new Hulk.
Because of this, Louis Letterier’s attempt at the Hulk franchise faces inevitable comparison to the earlier film. The major differences are obvious at the outset: The Incredible Hulk is action-based as opposed to the more character-driven Hulk. That said, the action sequences in the later film seem clumsier, not as refined as those seen in Lee’s version (perhaps not so surprising considering Ang Lee’s previous film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and its beautifully choreographed fight sequences). Further than that, The Incredible Hulk also seems fairly rushed overall, from the occasionally ropey special effects to the weak plot. Perhaps not surprisingly, the plot points seem to only serve as transitions between action set-pieces.
Unlike most superhero films that came before it, the world of The Incredible Hulk seems to exist in a greater Marvel universe, something lacking in Ang Lee’s version. There are hints and references to other Marvel superheroes (and villains) dotted all over the screen, some subtle and some blatant. This simple consideration is a great treat for comic fans and seems an obvious step (especially considering Marvel is producing all their films from now on and cross-promotion is almost never a bad thing for comics). Marvel definitely has their act together with their films and a massive superhero film collaboration is not far off (something which comics fans have been waiting for for decades).
I personally enjoyed Ang Lee’s ‘softer’ version of the Hulk. Even though the film was far from perfect, he tried to bring a level of seriousness and respectability to a sometimes silly film genre. I can respect Letterier’s attempt to bring his film back to what the fans expected (or perhaps what the studio thinks the fans expect), but I still prefer Lee’s version. Granted, the action sequences are better in The Incredible Hulk, but I enjoyed the performances more in Hulk and I thought the 2003 version had a poetry to it which is lacking in 2008.
Is this the start of a new way of looking at superhero films? If a version isn’t massively successful, just go back and start from scratch? I hope not, but looking at the forthcoming Punisher War Zone, it appears as if franchise continuity isn’t as important as box office success.Colin Le Sueur