Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Supporting the 'Othercott'

Someone on the Internet conceived the concept and term, "othercott" as a response to a particular, moronic, tedious, blasphemous, film (okay, I'll sell out in order to get searches here: Da Vinci Code DVC Dan Brown . . . bleah!); the idea being to go see another movie, rather than merely to boycott that film.

Well, okay, that makes some sense; besides, I like movies -- and despite everything that Hollywood crowd does to discredit itself (the energy they have! I'd be exhausted!) -- the fact remains (as I see it, anyway) that films do accomplish some real artistry, real beauty and insight into truth. Call it yet another confirmation of St. Thomas Aquinas; try as they might to be shallow and/or corrupt, they can't help tapping into goodness, and expressing it, nonetheless.

And, there's nothing wrong with a certain amount of escapism and fun. I happen to enjoy action films.

So, in my little contribution to the "Othercott," I recently saw two action films, now playing: Poseidon and Mission Impossible III.

Warning!!!! I'm about to describe movies now playing without regard to whether I will "spoil" it for you. Proceed at your own risk...

Now, before you berate me, I saw the bad reviews; but at Matinee prices, why not? Plus, I had low expectations to begin with. Poseidon: who doesn't enjoy seeing a big cruise ship being dramatically sunk by a "rogue wave"?

(By the way, I love how Hollywood deals with gaping holes in its stories: it simply stitches them together with a few words, uttered by someone acting like he's the world's expert on the subject. Is there really such a thing as a "rogue wave"? I mean, that could spring up so suddenly, that no one knows about it, and can broadcast an alert to ships in the area, so they flee to safety? Experts in this area, please comment...)

Well, Poseidon was entertaining, by that low measure. It doesn't compare well to the original, which for all its flaws, had, I thought, more interesting characters. It's only real advantage was that it had great special effects.

Then we come to MI III. I seem to recall more critics recommending this, over Poseidon, but again, I didn't have high expectations, based on generally tepid reviews. How hard is it to make this sort of movie fun to watch?

Pretty darn hard, it turns out. For one thing, the indispensible element to a good action film is . . . good action, and plenty of it. Instead, we get lots of scenes filling in details about our characters, how they met, blah-blah-blah, who cares? Deal with this in a minute and get me to the explosions! That's what I came for--explosions!

Now, I know, you are about to start laughing at me pretty seriously, if you haven't already, for what I'm going to say next: MI:III was insultingly not-believable.

Okay, stopped laughing yet? Let me explain that seemingly ludicrous comment (well, it was ludicrous, but not wholly).

When you read a story, or see a film, it proposes a scenario, a world, with certain presumptions. As compared with the real world, of course, many of these are utterly implausible, we all know that. Action films, thrillers, spy-movies, science fiction, etc., all require a certain "suspension of disbelief." That's part of the fun; spending 2 hours in a world where such things do happen. Afterwards, one can then go online (such as Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics) and read all about the ludicrous physics of such movies, and have more laughs.

But the point is, one still expects certain plausibilities, whether internally or even in relation to the real world. After all, isn't that sort of the point? For example, we assume that the human beings depicted in such movies are mortal, unless the film tells us otherwise (e.g., Highlander); because if we didn't, all the "death-defying" would be utterly meaningless and have no thrill to it.

(Or, perhaps, we all bring different expectations, based on how much we really know: just as people who really know physics howl at certain things less obvious to the rest of us, I pick out howlers too, pertaining to religion and politics, because I know those fields.)

Well, anyway, here was the scene in MI:III that exploded my implausibility meter. The good guys have captured a bad guy, a really powerful, rich, and sly bad guy, who always gets away; plus, it's way too early in the movie for the villain (who you know isn't the principal villain -- he'll become clear in the final scenes) to be taken out of the action. So you know: he's going to escape.

So here's what happens (I warned you not to read this far, but you can still turn back!): the good guys have the bad guy chained up, in an armored car, surrounded by people with guns, presumably really good guns they know how to shoot). They are driving over a bridge; you wonder, hmmm, where in the world is this? It looks like the U.S., but could be anywhere. For some reason, I figured, out west; not sure why.

Then, out of the blue! It's a bird! No, it's a plane! No, it's Superman! (I'm kidding; it's a plane after all.) Missiles start blowing up cars and the bridge. So now the good guys are scattered, isolated from the armored truck containing the bad guy. Now arrives a big, mean-looking helicopter, filled with people in ominous, nondescript, quasi-military gear. They rappel down ropes around the armored car, spray some sort of Mr. Bubbles/Easy Off compound all over the side of the truck, which, in a matter of minutes, turns the metal brittle like glass (I'm pretty sure that's probably absurd, but admittedly, I don't care about that). Then, of course, they get him out, and onto the helicopter, and unaccountably, all the good guys, who know how to use guns, are unable to do anything useful at that point. Tom Cruise actually comes up with a mean-looking super gun of some sort, and while he succeeds in shooting down the plane (a drone, we find out), he runs out of bullets and the helicopter gets away.

Okay, now, already, the implausibility meter is in the red zone, but it's a movie, it's fun . . .

Well, then, the next thing is, Tom Cruise steals a car (a convertible, of course!), and takes off; it wasn't immediately clear to me why he headed the direction he did, perhaps because I was distracted by the explosion of my implausibility meter when I saw him drive across the 14th Street Bridge, into Washington D.C.!

That's right, campers: this major air-to-ground battle supposedly occurred in the most highly restricted, and patrolled, airspace in the nation! (I know: we're supposed to think, wow, this baddie is obviously hooked up with someone way up in the government! But this is just insulting, because this can only happen if pretty much everyone is in on the conspiracy, given the number of people who'd have to look the other way on something like this. I mean, tell me this happened anywhere else, overseas, or even elsehwere in the U.S., and maybe I'll swallow that. But this just tells me how lazy these people were.)

There was another howler in the movie, one I never expected, because it is of an entirely different sort.

The action takes us to Red China, where our intrepid team has something like 3 hours to conceive and execute a break-in and steal something incredibly secret and dangerous, in the possession of the Red Chinese government. Part of the problem is just getting into the building; they come up with a plan, likely ridiculous, but fun so we go along. The obvious questions, asked in the movie are: OK, then what? How will you get to the device behind all the vaults and everything? And then, how will you get out? "I'll parachute off the building," Cruise suggests -- again, ridiculous, but at least it's some explanation. But what will he do in the building? No explanation, but we figure: they'll show us that. That should be fun: lots of gadgets and impossible escapes. What I came to see.

OK, so he jumps from one building to the other, shoots two guards along the way, and then radios, "I'm in!" Then we see the team move into position. I figure: okay, now we'll see the action inside . . .

Nope! It's all left out! Don't you love how they close the plausibility gaps? Can't explain how he gets the super-duper double-secret weapon from the Red Chinese? Don't even bother!

Meanwhile, I should note that we know almost nothing about this device, except it's called "the Rabbit's Foot," and we have speculation from a good guy technogeek that it could be the ultimate weapon: a device that triggers uncontrollable genetic mutations and therefore, would rapidly destroy pretty much everything: he calls it "the anti-God." When we finally see the device, it's in what seems to be clear glass, with "biohazard" clearly visible. But the movie has taken pains to point out, thus far, we don't really know what it is -- except some bad guy in the Middle East really wants it, and this, apparently, is the only one.

Well, the next parts of the story unfold about as you might expect, and are reasonably fun to watch, with some acceptable twists and turns. We do find out, as expected, who the ultimate villain is, and that our prime suspect is actually a good guy, and the hero gets his girl back (I did wonder if she'd end up being dead), and the final scenes, everyone's cleaned up, safe, and mostly recovered from not only near-escapes from death, but actually dying and coming back! (Tom Cruise's resiliency knows no bounds: one instant, he's not only dead, but been dead for several minutes; the next instant, after a laborious, dicey administration of CPR, he's Quickdraw McGraw, shooting the last, incompetent, nameless baddie. It must be that Scientology thing.)

So, now we're back at HQ, and it's time to find out what the thing was. (You tell me what you think of this.) Cruise is ready to go on his delayed honeymoon, and Fishburne, the big boss, wants him back at the IMF.

Cruise: "OK, so tell me: just what was "the Rabbit's Foot"?
Fishburne: "Tell me you're coming back, and I'll tell you."
Cruise: "See you later!"

Would that Porky Pig had followed next with "Th-th-that's all, folks!"


Anonymous said...

Your "suspension of disbelief" comments are right on, Father. It's probably not fair to demand rigorous logic from a film - and it might even be counter-productive at times. But insulting the audience is never a good way to go, either.

My favorite examples of this sort of problem are the two Ocean films from Steven Soderbergh. The first one is very implausible. But it is also internally consistant, and hence non-insulting. 12, on the other hand, is absurd. I'm not sure how this happened with the same characters and the same director, but it did.


(And I think I'll avoid M:III now. Thanks!)

Anonymous said...

For info about rogue waves: