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Sunday, March 22, 2009

It's the End of the World as we Know it and I Feel all Warm and Fuzzy inside

Nate Silver's got nothing on Nic Cage



Dir. Alex Proyas

Content: horrific hard pg-13 disaster scenes. Nil on objectionable language, sex, drugs, other explicit violence, etc.

I saw this film for two reasons. 1) Roger Ebert said it was one of the best science fiction films he’s seen (and Ebert's been a rather consistent critic in terms of judging sci-fi films fairly) and 2) it was done by Alex Proyas who made Dark City a decade ago, probably the most important sci-fi film since Blade Runner. Proyas also made the pretty looking messes The Crow, and to a lesser extent I Robot, though he had far less creative control over the latter. Dark City is a film that you either love or don’t’ get, and it grows on you in either direction, and I expected something similar with this film.

On a stylistic note, Proyas really doesn’t assert himself, which is a commendable quality, at least for me personally. I think a distinctive style can often get in the way of the story the directors wish to tell, and that the auteur theory created an antithetical creative environment to the artists it initially intended to rescue from near anonymity. So, to see Proyas, who cut about every 2 seconds in Dark City, use the long shot, was refreshing, and works effectively. There is a shot of a plane crash, both gorgeously shot and also horrific in content, that’s done in one long take to great effect. It’s one of the more impressive visual effects sequences I’ve seen in a while, and one of the more visceral disasters in recent film (cf. to the pilot of Lost)

The film’s premise is one that I was really drawn to, and Proyas sets a consistent mood of dread and general anxiety throughout, contrasted by an earnest attempt by Cage to play the struggling widower raising a mildly deaf son. Yet, the visuals aren’t consistent, there are some unfortunate CGI moments (the moose on fire), and I kept waiting for the tone of the film to shift radically. It doesn’t.

It’s admirable that a film is so devoted to its thematic payoff. And the problem doesn’t lie entirely in the film itself; part of it is that we’ve seen this film before. This is a warmer version of The Mothman Prophecies (heck, it's the warmest feeling end of the world film I've seen), a less subtle version of Signs (or read more sentimental), reminiscent of the deus ex machina after the deus ex machina epilogue of Speilburg's War of the Worlds ( I think they borrowed the poster also), and a serious version of that Simpsons episode where Homer calculates the exact time of the end of the world (“Thank God It’s Doomsday”). Knowing may serve as a title about the search for knowledge or the certainty of faith or perhaps the fact that the audience already knows this film.

Proyas has a pension for films which are Neo-Marxist parables, and this is another one. Not so much in the political since, but in the post-structural sense about the nature of reality. And like Dark City, this film ends with a semi-new age/Arthur C. Clarke inspired transformation of humanity’s consciousness.

It’s a noble effort that a film wants to be so spiritually relevant, but the set-up (or at least how its handled) and the characters seem too grounded, while the plot they’re thrust into is ridiculous. Proyas has created the world's longest, messiest, and most elaborate LDS Homefront commercial in existence. That discrepancy, that Proyas can’t seem to connect the internal family relationship and spiritual conversion with the external (the 'splosions), is what makes this a rather clumsy work.

My advice: Stay at home, and watch that Simpsons episode (it's really a brilliant episode), and catch this when it comes on TNT.

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