Friday, 12 August 2011
Saw this yesterday at the BFI IMAX in London. Watching in IMAX is a totally immersive experience with very impressive surround-sound - but alas tons of hairs, gunk and fluff - and at one point an insect - on the projector lens! When you pay £16 for a ticket, you expect better!
This film has some very strong points and also some serious short comings. Nevertheless I did enjoy it and would encourage you to see it. Set in Lillian, Ohio (generic small-town USA) in 1979, the plot is at the same time unlikely and yet strangely familiar as it pays homage to the many genres this fim is a derivative of. The ending is particularly weak as it gushes Spielberg sentimentality in the extreme.
If you look at the posters of the film they are all about the Director, Producer - even the Wardrobe Designer, but none of the actors are mentioned. The lead five roles are all children and whilst they may not be household names, with the possible exception of Elle Fanning, they surely deserve some recognition. The performances are strong and the characterisations reinforce the cliched types needed to make an ensemble piece work.
I'm currently reading a great book on Film and Theology which I will blog about when I've finished it: Into the Dark by Craig Detweiler. He has a section on nostalgia (p192) and its place in movies. He makes the observation "Nostalgia arises from loss. Having tasted triumph, we long to reclaim the glory of an earlier time." In many ways that description defines Spielberg's whole catalogue and this film is no exception.
The rose-tinted innocence of the summer vacation spent hanging out with friends is the back drop for the story. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the film making obsessive that lends the film its Spielberg-like biopic theme. The group of friends are out shooting by the railroad in the middle of the night when a US-Air Force train is derailed. They happen to catch the event on film and it becomes for them a feature of the film they make - it "adds production value" is Charles' mantra. Why the train was there, or why it's cargo was in transit are never explained.
The acting - particularly from the youngsters - is strong. The fact that the 'monster' is rarely seen in the first three-quarters of the film cleverly heightens the tension as your imagination is invited to fill in the blanks to great effect. The fact that this film carries a 12A certification in the UK surprised me. The cinema was full of youngsters off school and they repeatedly were shrieking in response to the regular building of tension. The special effects, courtesy of ILM, are good - but why a train takes five minutes to crash is a little puzzling. The story line is borrowed from a thousand comic books and 'B movies' but is worthy of the work it's asked to perform.
For me, the ending lets the whole film down. The narrative hinges on a one-liner from the central character Joe who says "Bad things happen, but you can still live". Thereby earthing his own bitter personal experience with the whole of the cosmos. The speaking of this line triggers so many reconciliations in the last five minutes of the film that I lost count. Particularly cheesy was the way in which Joe signals his coming to terms with his own mother's recent death. Barf factor 10!
This is primarily a story about relationships, about family, about our inadequacies and the need for interdependence and community. On these points it scores well and as I said is worth the investment of time and energy in going to watch. A word of advice - if you do go and see it, watch the credits at the end as they deliver possibly the best bit of the film!
I'll give it 6.5/10 - I've deducted a point for the ending!