King of the Lost World (2005) review

King of the Lost World posterIf you have never heard of KING OF THE LOST WORLD, you’re lucky – or at least you were, until you started reading this review. Sorry about that, but if I had to suffer through watching this movie, the least you can do is suffer the knowledge of the film’s existence. Just be thankful I took the bullet for you.
Anyway, this paradigm of low-budget exploitation proceeds from The Asylum, a company whose rai·sons d’être is the creation of direct-to-video schlock cleverly titled to cash in on high-profile theatrical releases. Thus SNAKES ON A PLANE (2006) begat SNAKES ON A TRAIN (also 2006); even better, The Asylum’s I AM OMEGA (2007) conflated the title of  2007’s I AM LEGEND with its 1971 predecessor, THE OMEGA MAN. Continuing their strategy of expending more creative ingenuity on their titles than their films, The Asylum one-upped their word-splicing technique to create KING OF THE LOST WORLD, a moniker so loaded with potential it leaves you wondering just what, exactly, is being appropriated.
At first glance, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997) looks like a good candidate, but the Asylum usually targets current releases, so perhaps KING KONG (2005) is the true source of “inspiration” – a theory buttressed by the presence of a giant ape on the cover art. But when you pop the disc into your player, the film starts with survivors of an airplane crash realizing they are stranded on an island filled with much mysterioso weirdness, and you realize that the LOST television series is being sourced as much as anything.
The screenplay pretends to be based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World, which is in the public domain and thus grants The Asylum license to riff on (or rip off) films with similar story lines – including the previously mentioned KING KONG. Oh well, what goes around comes around, I guess. Strictly speaking, the only connection between the book and the movie is some character names and the general idea of an isolated, prehistoric world surviving in present day.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what happens in the movie, and the answer is: not much. We see bits and pieces of the crashed plane but not the whole thing because that would be too expensive. As Challenger, a mysterious man with a secret, Bruce Boxleitner (TRON, BABYLON 5) shows up to provide some name value, and like the pieces of the airplane, he is shown in brief cuts meant to convince us that he is, indeed, in the movie, though not always with the rest of the cast. (Steve Railsback shows up in a cave later to provide similar service.)
Our intrepid crew realize that this island is a graveyard for crashed planes. If they can just get to the other half of their plane (which somehow ended up miles away), maybe they can send out an SOS and get themselves rescued. Not much of a plan, but it gives them an excuse to trek across the island, encountering the occasional enlarged arachnid and some flying reptiles that look more like dragons than pterodactyls.
Eventually, the survivors find a primitive tribe that might not be indigenous: it kinda-sorta seems to be populated by previous crash victims – at least, we see some of our survivors subsumed into the group. The reasons for this development are not made clear; presumably it was to justify the casting of actors who do not particularly look as if they were born on an uncharted island.

King of the Lost World
It's King Kong - er, King of the Lost World.

Needless to say, being primitives, the “locals” (or are they “ferals”?) make sacrifices to their local deity, who turns out to be a furry, blurry piece of computer-generated imagery somewhat resembling a giant gorilla. He shows up in the last reel to justify the word “king” because if you rent a film called KING OF THE LOST WORLD, and there’s no giant gorilla in it, you’re going to be disappointed (as if you weren’t already).
The cast and crew apparently intended to make a decent B-flick rather than a send-up, but good intentions and halfway decent performances take you only so far. The dragons look goofy; the ape is worse. The plot threads do not so much tie these monster scenes together and string them along, and it is hard to get invested in the mystery (is Challenger a good guy or a bad guy, and does he know something that may help the survivors?) when said mystery plays out against a backdrop that includes a tribe of islanders whose members seem to have wandered in from a frat party.
As silly as all this sounds, none of it is really much fun, not even as deliberate camp. You would probably have a better time watching a man-in-a-suit stomp around some miniatures, instead of watching blurry pixels stutter across your screen. There are many films far cheesier and technically incompetent than KING OF THE LOST WORLD; ironically, some of those are far more entertaining.
KING OF THE LOST WORLD (The Asylum, 2005). Directed by Leigh Scott. Screenplay by Carlos De Los Rios, David Michael Latt, Leigh Scott, based on The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. 80 minutes. Rated R. Cast: Bruce Boxleitner, Jeff Denton, Rhett Giles, Sarah Lieving, Christina Rosenberg, Steve Railsback.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Retrospective Film & DVD Review

In retrospect, it should be no surprise that Tim Burton was drawn to Roald Dahl’s novel CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Burton’s films have tended to focus on what we might call “demented artists” — that is, people with enormous creativity whose imaginative flights of fancy make them seem weird, abnormal, and even, on occasion, dangerous.
Pee Wee Herman, in PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, is an oddly immature adult who seems to live in a childlike world of his own creation. The title character in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is cut off, trapped in his abnormal world (not of his own making); even when introduced to human society, his deformity makes him both an artist and a freak, capable of creating imaginative hair designs but not of sustaining a romantic relationship. ED WOOD’s real-life character is a transvestite film director. BIG FISH’s lead character is a teller of tall tales. Jack Skellington is the mastermind behind Halloween Town’s annual holiday presentation. In BATMAN and MARS ATTACKS, the demented artist role is given over to the villains, who go about their work with viciously gleeful imagination.
In CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Johnny Depp’s version of Willy Wonka combines elements of Pee-Wee Herman and Edward Scissorhands: he is a creative genius living in a colorful world of his own making, but he is also isolated and lonely — a sort of damaged child hiding in an adult’s body — like Edward, the victim of an abruptly terminated father-son relationship, seen in flashbacks (although in this case the father is played by horror star Christopher Lee instead of the late horror star Vincent Price).
Whereas’ Gene Wilder’s Wonka (in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, was a Trickster — an ambiguous character whose bizarre mood swings always seemed carefully orchestrated, indicating a “method to his madness” — Depp’s Wonka really is half nuts, drifting uncontrollably into flashbacks almost like a cliched Vietnam veteran. Although in other aspects, John August’s script is more faithful to the source than the Wilder movie was, this new approach to Wonka moves the film away from Roald Dahl territory, making it even more clearly a Tim Burton film. (Whether or not that’s a good thing, may be a matter of personal taste.)
Unlike director Mel Stuart with WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCLATE FACTORY, Burton has a handle on the material from frame one, instantly pulling you into the fantasy world and making it seem utterly believable within the confines of the story. Unburdened with as many musical numbers (the Oompa-Loompas still sings, and there is a brief ditty when the Golden Ticket winners first enter the chocolate factory), CHARLIE moves along at a faster clip. If the energy flags somewhat in the latter portions, it is only because the bombardment of colors is so consistently eye-catching, that the viewer’s capacity for wonder is eventually worn out.
Danny Elfman’s score is invigorating from the opening frames (a fanciful view of the chocolate-making process, seen behind the opening credits), and his four Oompa Loompa songs (using lyrics taken from Dahl’s novel) are an amusing amalgam of different musical styles. There is no highpoint here that quite matches Veruca Salt’s “I Want It Now” number, but overall Elfman maintains a much higher and more consistent level than Bricusse and Newly did in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.
The script by John August slightly updates the characters. Mike Teevee is no longer pops cap guns while watching Western shows on television; now he is a videogame addict, blasting away with his joystick. And Violet Beauregarde still chomps gum, she is now an over-achieving child with a Stepford-Mom (played with a perfectly glazed expression by Missy Pyle).
Depp is wonderfully dazed and crazed as Wonka, and Freddie Highmore is suitably sincere as Charlie. David Kelly makes a far more authentic and effective Grandpa Joe than Jack Albertson did (for one thing, Kelly is British). Deep Roy is hysterical as the Oompa Loompas, and Lee does his sinister schtick really well (you’d be screwed up too if your father was Saruman/Count Dooku). Julia Winter is a a splendidly spoiled Veruca, but the original’s Julie Dawn Cole retains the crown as the queen of obnoxious brats.
The film does go a bit soft at the end. Like the previous film version, Burton must wrestle with Dahl’s anti-climactic structure, in which Charlie wins the big prize at the end basically by default (his big achievement is that no terrible fate befalls him on the tour). The John August script adds an extended coda, a sort of sappy paen to family values, in which Charlie helps Willy resolve his father-son issues. It’s all very well-intended, but it carries about as much conviction as the “Bluebird of Happiness” ending to BLUE VELVET. Like David Lynch, Tim Burton is simply better at the bizarre. Making conventional relationships seem sincere may be a bit beyond his reach.

TRIVIA

Before the film’s release, some commentators (including Time magazine) tried to draw comparisons between Willy Wonka and Michael Jackson, suggesting that Johnny Depp’s appearance in the film was inspired by the real-life pop singer. This theory ignored two basic facts: 1) the Wonka character was established long before Jackson took on his bizarre, adult appearance; 2) Depp’s character is clearly another variation on the standard Tim Burton emasculated artist hero, previously seen in everything from PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE to EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

DVD DETAILS

The double-disc DVD is a decent presentation of the film, but it does leave one wondering why two discs were necessary: the bonus features are nice, but not overwhelming, and there are not that many of them.
There is a nice documentary about the author of the book on which the film is based, titled “The Fantastic Mr. Dahl,” which takes a look at the author’s life and his approach to writing children’s fiction, but does not focus specifically on “Charly and the Chocolate Factory.”
There are a handful of behind-the-scenes, making-of documentaries that are midly interesting and informative. As often happens with DVDs, these “documentaries” are actually little more than promotional films created to sell the movie to audiences, so they tend to be a bit fluffy, offering little in-depth information.
Perhaps the most interesting featue is “Becoming an Oompa-Loompa,” which details how actor Deep Roy played the entire tribe of Oompa-Loompas. Not only did Roy have to learn how to perform all the elaborate action in the film; the sequences also required elaborate and systematic staging so that the computer-generated effects could multiply him into multiple characters in post-production.
Also worth perusing is “Attack of the Squirrles,” which shows how a combination of trained squirrels, animatronic squirrels, and computer-generated squirrels were used to create the sequence wherein spoiled Veruca Salt is determined to be a “bad nut” and tossed down the garbage shoot by the rampaging rodents.
The DVD also features a number of “challenges,” actually simple games for children, such as searching for the Golden Ticket. The deluxe edition of the disc includes a pack of five limited-edition trading cards. Altogether, it is not a bad presentation of the film on DVD, but calling it “deluxe” seems at least a slight exaggeration.

Sound of Thunder (2005) – Retrospective Science Fiction Film Review

A Sound of Thunder (2005)A SOUND OF THUNDER, a science fiction film based on the Ray Bradbury short story of the same name, is a colassal disapopintment – unworthy of the memorable source material. It seems as if the film wants to be an old-fashioned B-movie, but it is nowhere near that good; even worse, the idea is one that requires an A-Movie budget in order to work at all. Consequently, instead of a neat little movie told with modest production values, the film looks cheap and unconvincing, thanks to the terribly cartoony computer-generated imagery – not only for the dinosaurs but also for the futuristic cityscapes (which, with their awkward staging and camera angles, suggest that the actors were working on blank sets, onto which the digital backgrounds were added later – an effect done much better in SIN CITY). Weirdly, the design team includes Syd Mead (BLADE RUNNER) and Ray “Crash” McCreery (JURASSIC PARK), but you would never guess it from the on-screen results.
Briefly, the story involves time travel for profit: rich people pay big bucks to go back in time and shoot an allosaurus. Unfortunately, something goes wrong on one trip, and “time ripples” from the event begin changing course of evolution on a daily basis, forcing our characters to go back to fix what went wrong.
It’s not a bad idea for an action movie, but it falls prey to all the usual time travel paradox problems. The most obvious is that the hunt always goes back to kill the same dinosaur over and over, without ever meeting any of the previous hunting parties. Yet, when trying to “fix” the problem, our hero goes back in time and does see the hunting party that made the mistake, issuing a warning to one and preventing the catastrophe from happening. Whether or not time travel can ever make sense, the story should at least be internally consistent, and this clearly is not.
This kind of nitpick stuff might be forgivable if the film flowed along at an exciting pace, but it just lays there. It sort of almost works on an “I wonder what will happen next” level, but the action is tepid, the charactes thin, and the cast just doesn’t have the charisma or the talent to sew a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (exception being Ben Kingsley, who actually is the one bright spot here, as the greedy businessman who owns the time travel company).
Director Peter Hyams (who also photographed) used to be a decent filmmaker back in the 1970s, when he often wrote his own scripts. He was never great, but at least he was trying to make films with some personality and competence. Now, he seems to be nothing but a professional hack, churning out soulless movies just to make a living. But at least his John-Claude Van Damme movies (SUDDEN DEATH and TIME COP) had a tiny bit of pizzazz to them; even THE RELIC was a more interesting monster movie than SOUND OF THUNDER.
It’s too bad. The Ray Bradbury story is very good. Expanding its simple concept into a feature no doubt presented difficulties, but it deserved better treatment that it got. The batting average of Bradbury story-to-film adaptations is very low, and SOUND OF THUNDER only makes it worse.
A SOUND OF THUNDER (2005). Directed by Peter Hyams. Screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Gregory Pointer; screenstory by Donnelly & Oppenheimer, based on the short story by Ray Bradbury. Cast: Edward Burns, Catherine McCormack, Ben Kingsley, Wilfred Hochholdinger, David Oyelowo, Jemima Rooper.

Brothers Grimm (2005) – Fantasy Film Review

2005_the_brothers_grimm_poster_004I’ve been a big fan of director Terry Gilliam for a long time, but THE BROTHERS GRIMM is the worst thing he made since his terrible solo (i.e., non-Monty Python) debut, JABBERWOCKY. The script by Ehren Krueger is terrible: the story is muddled, confused, leaden, and uninteresting. And Gilliam’s patented visual style only makes things worse, weighing everything down, dragging out dull scenes with excess flash that only reminds us how empty and unimaginative this fantasy film is.
The special effects are a near disaster. Gone is the hands-made approach of previous Gilliam films, which not only looked good but suited his overall visual style, lending his fantasies a distinctive touch of personality. Instead, we get lame, impersonal digital work – which is bad enough, but much of it is also totally unconvincing. In fact, the CGI is so phony you keep thinking, “Well, it’s supposed to be like a fairly tale, so it doesn’t have to be realistic.”
However, the tone of THE BROTHERS GRIMM is decidedly not a fairy tale at all. It’s filled with severed heads, bisected bodies, and other repellent violence. The whole thing is so goofy that the gore doesn’t really horrify; it just feels repulsive because it’s so out-of-place and inappropriate. The film starts off as if it wants to be a light-hearted romp, then turns murky, muddy, and uglier by the second.
The stars keep acting as if the whole thing is good fun, but they can’t convince us, no matter how hard they try. Jonathan Pryce (who appeared in previous Gilliam films BRAZIL and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN) gives it his best shot, but it’s a hopeless effort. And Peter Stormare is tedious in a supporting role. Long before THE BROTHERS GRIMM is over, you will wish the whole thing had come to a merciful end.
It’s not hard to see why the subject matter might have interested Gilliam: THE BROTHERS GRIMM offers another collision of fantasy and reality, with lots of opportunities for interesting visuals. But the lead characters in this story (unlike TIME BANDITS, etc.) are not imaginative dreamers; they’re con men who exploit people’s beliefs in myths and legends. So Pryce’s character (basically a reprise of his villainous voice-of-reason martinet from MUNCHAUSEN) doesn’t work very well as an antagonist, because he’s basically right. Consequently, it’s impossible to identify deeply with the story or care how it turns out.
If this is the best that Hollywood will let Gilliam do, he should just quit making Hollywood films. I know he dreams big and wants the budgets to see those dreams realized, but this isn’t worth it. The only redeeming feature is the hope that his salary from THE BROTHERS GRIM will help him set up a good, old-fashioned Gilliam film, in the tradition of his excellent early work.
THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005). Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Ehren Kruger. Cast: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, Jonathan Pryce, Lena Headey, Monica Bellucci.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

Sin City (2005) – Retrospective Film Review

A Ground-Breaking Piece of Film-Noir Fantasy

Jessica Alba in That Yellow Bastard
Jessica Alba in "That Yellow Bastard"

This is a small milestone in the history of cinema: a $45-million film shot, on co-director Robert Rodriguez’s sound-stage in Austin, Texas, using actors in front of green screen to combine the cast with CGI backdrops, thus creating an artificial environment that simulates the feel of the Frank Miller graphic novels on which the stories are based.
The result is a hard-boiled, noirish film that revels in a pulp-fiction type storytelling that’s crude but powerful — and very effective. It’s not a total success: its trio of tales are a bit too similar to each other — variations on a theme, without quite enough variation — but that’s not enough to prevent the film from being a hypnotic exercise in style that succeeds on its own unique terms. Filmed mostly in black-and-white (with specific objects shown in color), the film creates a distinctively memorable look that conveys the essence of comic book art better than anything previously seen in films like CREEPSHOW or DICK TRACY.
There has probably been too much written about the film’s graphic novel origins and about how special effects were used to translate that look onto film. To some extent this is the fault of Rodriguez, who emphasized his faithful approach to the material in interviews given before the films release, going so far as to tell the Los Angeles Times: “I didn’t want to take SIN CITY and make it into a movie. I didn’t want to adapt it or squeeze it down. I wanted to take cinema and make it a moving graphic novel…. [Miller’s] book was bolder and more visionary than anything anyone was trying to do in cinema. I said, ‘We could reinvent cinema just by re-shooting what you did page for page.’”
There have even been too many comparisons to the previous year’s lamentable SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, because both movies were shot on high-definition digital cameras and used CGI to create background settings. This kind of commentary misses the real triumph of SIN CITY, which is that it creates a valid cinematic style (whatever its source and inspiration) that works on film because it tells the violent and often wildly incredible stories in a way that makes the tough-guy clichés, hard-boiled voice-overs, blond bombshells, excessive shoot-outs, and enormous bloodletting seem entirely appropriate, even if you don’t have a particular taste for graphic violence on screen.
And unlike SKY CAPTAIN, which felt embalmed, SIN CITY zips along with amazing vitality. How the backgrounds were created is immaterial to our appreciation of the finished product, because the film does not feel computer generated. The special effects are only “special” in the sense that they used different techniques (besides building real sets); in terms of the film, they’re integrated like any other shot, just part and parcel of a clear cinematic vision.
In his famous essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler wrote, “Down these mean streets a man must go.” SIN CITY presents an old-fashioned fantasy world, like Chandler’s, where the seedy and sometimes ugly appearance of the protagonist hides the fact that beneath the cynical sneer lurks the soul of a white knight who will risk and sacrifice everything; however, the streets of Basin City (the town’s official name) are meaner than anything Chandler ever described. Considering the gore quotient, a more apt comparison would be to the violent mystery-thrillers penned by Mickey Spillane. SIN CITY is a den of corruption, where the powerful protect the wicked, and where lone men are forced to dispense a grim and ugly version of justice on their own, because the official rule of law is no more than a charade, and the only way to fight the bad guys is to “play it their way, only worse (to paraphrase Spillane’s private eye, Mike Hammer).
This sense of doing the right thing, in spite of incredible odds, lends SIN CITY a solid foundation lacking in most films directed by Robert Rodriguez (e.g., ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO). So it’s nice to see that co-director Frank Miller’s source material helped Rodriguez (always an entertaining stylist) put his visual firepower in the service of something that is more than just empty flash. You wouldn’t want to call SIN CITY sophisticated, exactly, but like all good popular entertainment it knows how to manipulate the lowest-common-denominator elements to good effect. The film may not have the intricacy of a string quartet, but it rocks like a supercharged three-chord head-banger anthem that doesn’t need subtle harmonies and modulations to make its point.
The tone may be too hard-edged and brutal for some, and the familiar clichés may not appeal to everyone. However, like many great science-fiction and fantasy films (ranging from METROPOLIS to BLADE RUNNER), Frank Miller’s SIN CITY immerses the viewer in a strange, new world. Open-minded viewers, looking for something brilliant and amazing, should enjoy the trip.

TRIVIA

After his previous experience with Hollywood, in particular working on the scripts ROBOTCOP 2 and 3, Frank Miller was not interested in having his work filmed. To convince Miller that a satisfactory film version of SIN CITY could be made, Rodriguez invited Miller to help film a test scene (based on Miller’s “The Customer Is Always Right” from “The Babe Wore Red”), which became the film’s opening sequence (with Josh Hartnett as a hit man who bumps off a blond in a red dress). Rodriguez paid for the shoot, cut and scored the footage, which got the go-ahead from Miller to make the feature. Rodriguez then invited Miller to co-direct the film, in order to make sure that the result would accurately reflect his vision. The Directors Guild of America frowns on co-directing credits, so Rodriguez resigned his membership. This decision was not without consequences. Not being a guild member, Rodriguez can direct only independent films; major Hollywood studios only hire DGA members.
Quentin Tarantino “guest directed” one scene, in which Clive Owen and Benecio Del Toro have a macabre conversation in a car (SPOILER: Del Toro’s character is dead, so the conversation must be taking place only in the other character’s mind). Tarantino’s directing fee was $1, his way of paying Rodriquez back for scoring Tarantino’s KILL BILL VOL 2 for only $1.

Marv (Mickey Rourke) consults his parold officer.
Marv (Mickey Rourke) consults his parold officer.

There is no screenplay credit because Rodriguez simply transcribed three graphic novels from the SIN CITY series. The three stories are “The Hard Goodbye” (in which Marv, played by Mickey Rourke, tracks down the killers of a prostitute); “The Big Fat Kill” (with Clive Owen as Dwight, helping get some prostitute out of trouble when the kill a corrupt cop); and “That Yellow Bastard” (the story of John Hartigan, played by Bruce Willis in the movie, who sacrifices himself to save a girl from a serial pedophile-murderer). Rather like the first STAR WARS film, the first graphic novel (the story about Marv avenging the death of Goldie) was simply titled SIN CITY when it was originally published, as a stand-alone effort; only later, when Miller turned SIN CITY into a series, did he retroactively title the first one “The Hard Goodbye.”

DVD DETAILS

The original DVD for SIN CITY was a bare-bones presentation with only one bonus feature on the disc; there was not even a trailer. The DVD’s menu mixes images of the film with comic book-style drawings, and the Chapter Search function is amusing. It’s laid out to look like panels of a comic book (or graphic novel, if you prefer), and the scene selector icon is a splash of red (i.e., blood) whose spray pattern changes slightly as it switches from one scene to the next.
The behind-the-scenes featurette is fun but short — under nine minutes. It’s basically a promotional piece shot before the film was finished (the actors comment on how much they are looking forward to seeng the final product). We get some interesting glimpses of the actors working on the green scene set (the preferred color that allows the special effects experts to add in their computer-generated sets in post-production), and several of the actors related sound bytes about their characters and how they got involved in the film. Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino all speak about the film, but their respetive contributions are not clarified (it’s not even explained that Tarantino directed only one scene).
Ultimately, it is an interesting glimpse behind-the-scenes, but it left one anticipating future “special edition” DVD that would  provide athe in-depth low-down on how the film was made. This eventually arrived, first in the form of a double-disc special edition and eventually on Blu-ray (reviewed here).
Frank Miller’s SIN CITY(2005). Directors: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller. Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino. Based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller. Cast: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Jamie King, Benicio Del Toro, Powers Booth, Rutger Hauer, Elijah Wood.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

Aeon Flux – Science Fiction Film Review

Anyone who has suffered through the feature film version of AEON FLUX can see why distributor Paramount Pictures kept it hidden from the press before releasing it. The film is a strange anomaly for a piece of 21st century cinema — it has the feel of an old drive-in flick from twenty or thirty years previous. At the time of its release in 2005, one would have expected something this cheesy to go direct-to-video — or at most to Showtime, on late at night.
There are a few good sets and a handful of special effects, but most of the film takes the approach of old-fashioned, low-budget sci-fi movies: find some campus or development with futuristic-looking architecture and film everything there, with a bare minimum of extras in costumes that are supposed to suggest the fashion sense of four hundred years hence.
It’s hard to imagine what Oscar-winner Charlize Theron saw in the material that made her want to sign on for this junk, but she and Pete Postlethwaite (who gets a couple minutes of screen time) stand out like slumming stars amidst the otherwise no-name cast. Which wouldn’t be so bad if Theron did a good job; unfortunately, she’s frightfully dull in the title role.
The visuals have all the stylistic flair of a Nike commercial — which is fine for a commercial, but doesn’t work as big screen entertainment. Worse, the overall tone is stolid in its attempt to feel serious, in spite of the script’s manifest absurdities. The story is the usual big-brother formula; to be fair, there are a handful of twists and developments that are reasonably surprising, but they raise as many questions as they answer, and it’s clear that the whole plot is just an excuse to string together a bunch of shoot-outs and fights showing off the prowess of the lead character.
The results are not effective, even on this lowest-common-denominator level. Theron is supposed to look really hot in her black leotards, and it’s supposed to be mega-cool seeing her kick ass; but in fact, she just looks skinny, not the least bit threatening. Perhaps there’s supposed to be some visual irony in seeing such an unimposing chick beating up well-armed guards, but the fight sequences are indifferently directed — lots of fast cutting to hide the absence of convincing action.
What this film needed was a director as kooky as Ken Russell — someone who would have realized that the whole movie was junk and taken an outrageously campy approach that might have made the results good for some cheap laughs. Instead, we get the worst kind of bad movie — one that’s not bad enough to be funny, just bad enough to be dull.

TRIVIA

This film is based on an animated series created by Peter Chung, which originally aired on MTV’s “Liquid Television.”
Aeon Flux (2005). Directed byKaryn Kusama. Screenplay by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, based on characters created by Peter Chung. Cast: Charlize Theron, Marton Csokas, Jonny Lee Miller, Sophie Okonedo, Frances McDormand, Pete Postlethwaite, Amelia Warner.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

Doom (2005) – Sci-Fi Film & DVD Review

The batting average of videogame-to-film adaptations is not great, and there was little about this one to make us expect it would be anything more than the usual mess of noisy stupidity (guns, monsters, explosions). However, the film version turns out to be much better than expected — a nifty piece of low-ambition entertainment that knows exactly what it is, and delivers fairly well on its promises. There is lots of action, but it’s not annoyingly one-note and overdone; the minimal story is streamlined and fast-paced, providing just enough exposition to set up the situation and let it run, and the direction makes the most out of the solid production values.
The film opens with perhaps its most clever bit: the usual Universal Pictures logo revamped as a desolate planet on which most of the action takes place. We zoom down to the surface and into the corridors of a research lab where something is obviously going wrong: people in lab coats are running around screaming and dying — including one who loses her arm when it gets stuck in a vault door.
So far, so bad. The sequence feels desperate to get your attention, as though afraid the audience would walk out if the film opened with an exposition scene, and the horror of the situation doesn’t register because it’s all filmed in an “aint-it-cool” style that asks you to enjoy the action rather than feel terrified for the sake of the characters under attack.
Fortunately, things improve fairly rapidly once the Rapid Response team is called in, headed by Sarge (The Rock) and Reaper (Karl Urban). The team is the usual assembly of stereotypes, including a rookie (here literally named “The Kid”) who is obviously is too green to ever be allowed on a mission like this, but along he goes anyway because the filmmakers figure it will generate some suspense.
The cast initially seems mostly colorless, especially Urban in what turns out to be the lead role, but they grow on you as the film goes on. Thereis no depth to the characters, but they are given some identifiable ticks and quirks to distinquish them, and even a few good lines.
Once they get to they quarantine the research station, the film turns into a series of suspense scenes, with the Rapid Response team tracking monsters through dark corridors and even a sewer. Unlike the opening sequence, these scenes are usually done with enough flair to generate some real suspense, and one (a mano-a-mano slugfest between man and monster in an electrified containment room) is a real standout.
There’s also a lady scientist (Rosamund Pyke), who turns out to be Reaper’s sister. She’s there to lay out whatever exposion the film needs, which isn’t much. In fact, you will probably guess, long before she reveals it, that the monsters are really the research team, who’ve mutated after a genetic experiment gone awry.
Towards the end, the film manages to come up with a surprise or two and even an interesting plot complication, when Sarge turns out to be a company man who follows orders to use any means necessary to prevent outbreak from the quarantine — even if it costs human lives. This sets up a nicely staged confrontation that brings the film to a satisfying climax.
One of the writers on the script is Wesley Strick, who seems a bit above this kind of thing (he’s written for Martin Scorsese, among others), so perhaps he is the one who infused some life into the story. Certainly, there’s nothing sophisticated about DOOM, but it works well on its own terms, avoids the usual groan-inducing one liners, and manages to avoid feeling completely braindead despite its lack of intellectual ambition. .
Of course, the film delivers the action. Lots of running around in dark corridors with scary things jumping out while marines blast away. Fortunately, it’s orchestrated well enough to build some fun suspense — this is a scary movie of the feel-good type, in the sense that you enjoy the thrills without suffering through any of the tension that marks something like WOLF CREEK.
As for the much-anticipated P.O.V. sequence (shown off in the trailer) that seeks to emulate the videogame feel of looking down the site of a weapon while demolishing a shooting gallery’s worth of monsters, it is carefully inserted toward the end, and well set up by the script (it takes place just as the protagonist is getting supercharged by an injection of an extra chromosome). Although inspired by the Doom videogame, the scene actually plays out like a well-done Steadicam shot that really puts you into the action in an exciting, fun kind of way.
Overall, DOOM is no masterpiece, but it’s much better than than average for its kind of film. Fans of the game should be pleased. If they drag their reluctant friends to see it, they might be pleasantly surprised as well, finding themselves watching the modern equivalent of a good, old-fashioned B-movie — basic entertainment, but done with enough style and craftsmanship to merit praise.
And of course, lots of stuff gets blowed up real good

DVD DETAILS

Perhaps DOOM is one of those movies that is only good enough to support a single viewing; perhaps the visceral impact is diminished by viewing it on a small screen; or perhaps the addition of several minutes to the running time slowed down the pace. Whatever the explanation, the “Unrated Extended Edition” DVD is something of a bore for all but hardcore fans of the videogame.
The new footage is mostly bits and pieces strewn throughout the film that add up to little: a few more mutants are blown away, and we get brief flashes of nudity of the female doctor whose arm was severed by the elevator in the opening scene — before she, too, is blown away. It’s a tasteless but striking moment, combining naked breasts and gore, rather like an exploitation version of the ruthless extermination of a female assassin inin Spielberg’s MUNICH. There is also a longer version of the highlight, the first-person shooter sequence meant to capture the flavor of the videogame on which the film is based.
The bonus features are limited to a handful of featurettes, divided between the film and the videogame. There is no audio commentary, and there is no contribution of any kind from director Andrzej Bartkowiak; in fact, there is little about the actual on-set making of the film. At the least, one would like to have learned what the writers felt about turning a videogame into a movie, and it would have been nice to hear a little about what elements were deemed essential in order to appease long-time fans of Doom.
The bonus features are:

  • “Basic Training” takes a look at the military training that the cast underwent in order to give a more convincing portrayal of a highly skilled military unit. Apparently, the most important thing was teaching the actors not to flinch when those loud guns went off. Unanswered is the question of why authenticity was considered important in what is essentially an escapist fantasy.
  • “Rock Formation” shows us how the makeup was designed and applied for the Rock’s last-reel mutation into a monster. It’s a fairly basic primer that will be informative mostly for those unfamiliar with makeup techniques, but it is fairly interesting to see video of the actual process being performed on the actor.
  • “Master Monster Makers” examines the other monster makeups in the film, which were achieved mostly with prosthetics on-set, then enhanced with computer-generated imagery in post-production.
  • “First Person Shooter Sequence” takes us behind the scenes of the film’s highlight — a long point-of-view shot that carries us through several rooms and corridors while we look down the sight of a gun at monsters being blown away. We get a glimpse at how the sequence was actually shot in bits and pieces and then “blended” together so that it looked like one continuous shot. In what seems to be a trend in bonus features, the virtues of live-action effects are extolled and the use of CGI is downplayed, even though the final result shows abundant traces of computer enhancement, most notably in the weapons that seem to be held in front of the camera.
  • “Doom Nation” provides a peak at the Doom videogame phenomenon, examining the impact and significance of the original game, which was unapologetic in its portrayal of gory horror, and its follow-up Doom 3, which advanced the graphic imagery to the point where the game resembled a cool computer-generated movie. Unfortunately, the brief featurette passes over Doom 2 without explanation (if you blink, you won’t even see any evidence that ther was a Doom 2 at all.) Overall, Neophytes will find this an interesting history lesson, while fans should regard it as a pleasant piece of nostalgia.
  • “Game On” gives some pointers to newcomers who might be playing Doom 3 for the first time after watching the movie, such as “Save Often,” and “Never drop your guard.” Even if you’re not planning to play, this featurette does provide an interesting, extended glimpse at what the Doom 3 game is all about.
  • The final bonus feature on the DVD is a preview of the first level of Doom 3, wihch can be played by inserting the disc into your X-Box player. For those who don’t yet have X-Box, it would have been nice if there had been some sort of version accessible on your computer.

DOOM(2005). Directed by Andrzej Barkowiak. Screenplay by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, story by Callaham, based on the videogame. Cast: Karl Urban, Dwayne Jhnson, Rosamund Pike Ben Daniels, Razaaq adoti, Richard Blake, Al Weaver, Dexter Fletcher, Brian Steele, Deobia Oparei.

Cursed (2005) – Film & DVD Review

The real curse is upon the unfortunate audience.

What can you say about a horror film when its spookiest cast member plays the innocent victim? You can say that it’s only one of many obvious missteps in this misbegotten attempt by writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven to apply their patented SCREAM-style approach to the familiar werewolf clichés.
Of course, the SCREAM films were never quite all they were cracked up to be. Their chief cleverness lay in openly acknowledging the slasher genre they were mining: this gave them a license to trot out all the established tropes, while critics who normally would not be caught dead in a horror film, could sing hymns of praise to their self-referential, post-modern sensibility. It’s a one-trick approach with little scope, so it’s no surprise that its application in CURSED suffers from the law of diminishing returns. What is surprising is that Williamson and Craven could have miscalculated so badly that the film entirely failed to click with audiences when it was released in theatres.
The story begins with a pair of women receiving a dire warning from a gypsy woman (like in THE WOLF MAN, get it?) Soon thereafter, brother and sister Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) and Ellie (Christian Ricci) see one of the women (Shannon Elizabeth) killed by a wolf-like monster after they ram into her car. Both Jimmy and Ellie are bitten and/or scratched in the struggle, and gradually come to realize that they are “cursed” with the Mark of the Beast; that is, they are turning into werewolves.
Unfortunately, this “curse” turns out to be a mild annoyance at most: the central dilemma never registers, because they never really seem in danger of turning into animals or losing their humanity. Instead, the film stumbles through a jumble of ideas: Being a wolf helps you get girls in high school like in TEEN WOLF; it gives you increased sensory awareness in your dog-eat-dog workplace like in WOLF; it gives you a craving for blood and sexual charisma (a detail more appropriate for vampire films like THE LOST BOYS); but never fear, as in the TV show WEREWOLF and the movie AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, you can save yourself by severing the bloodline — i.e., killing your werewolf progenitor.
Despite Jimmy’s reading from a few mythology books, we never really learn the “rules” by which these lycanthropes abide. Do they transform at will or involuntarily? Only at night and during the full moon, or anytime they get mad? And how long do Jimmy and Ellie have before their condition becomes irreversible? Without these plot points clarified, the story becomes just a pointless exercise, never generating any real suspense or mystery.
Another part of the problem is the attempt to integrate Ellie’s love life into the story. Her sputtering relationship with boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson) seems entirely gratuitous (not to mention dull), but you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that it wouldn’t be in the film if it weren’t going to tie-in with the plot’s big mystery: who is the Top Dog — or, in this case, the Alpha Wolf? In order to hide the all-too-obvious answer to this question, Williamson’s script not only throws in a character who acts suspicious for no good reason (refusing to show evidence that would exonerate him) but also adds a second werewolf (just like SCREAM created a “surprise twist” with its two killers). As is too often the case with Williamson’s scripts, the revelation of the culprit is a disappointment because the killer is not particularly interesting. The story-telling rational seems to be: “Well, it had to be somebody, so why not this character?”
The story is hardly enlivened by its cast, most of whom would seem more comfortable on a television show like DAWSON’S CREEK. The sole exception is Ricci, who clearly deserves to be better utilized here. Her dark and moody attractiveness (she’s ready to graduate from Wednesday to Morticia Addams) makes her look like a Vampire Queen who could round up these mangy werewolves into a slave-herd forced to do her bidding — but the film gives her a hapless victim role while decidedly unscary actors are cast as the monsters.
The action, when it comes, too often disappoints. The werewolf makeup is good, but the computer-generated effects are often terrible: shots of the werewolf leaping and transforming from its human shape, look like something out of a videogame. Even more ridiculous, the werewolves seem to know karate, for some inexplicable reason. They frequently throw their victims (giving them a chance to escape, so that scenes can be prolonged well past the point when suspense runs out) and almost as frequently kick them, using Hong Kong-style wire work to show the bodies spinning through the air. (A few years ago, Wes Craven expressed an interest in doing a fantasy action film in this style; too bad he opted force those visual ideas into a story where they obviously do not fit.)
Not as ridiculous, but more confusing, most of the action (including the entire, interminable, tacked-on final fight) takes place with the villains in human form. Didn’t anyone think that an audience, having paid their money to see a werewolf movie, would want to see werewolves?
To be fair, the film does have some good moments. The obnoxious high school jock-bully is transformed into a sympathetic character when he comes out of the closet and admits his pose is an act to hide his homosexuality — and the transformation seems heartfelt and sincere. And there is one great scare scene midway through, when the werewolf attacks a woman in a parking garage and pursues her into an elevator. Like a staking sequence in an Italian giallo film, it works as its own mini-movie, a nice little self-contained unit of fear.
Overall, however, CURSED is a misfire. Not a complete disaster, but a film whose flaws require no great perception to discern. One suspects the filmmakers had some sense of this, since they resort to lame comedy relief in an attempt to excuse the story’s shortcomings as parody. Perhaps the most memorable image, in fact, is of an angry werewolf flipping off the camera. Sadly, the gesture seems directed not so much at the other characters as at the audience.

DVD DETAILS

CURSED is available on DVD in two versions: the PG-13 theatrical and an unrated director’s cut (with a few more minutes of gore, which probably would have earned an R-rating). The additional footage is, frankly, of the “aint-it-cool” variety that should please gore-hounds. Unfortunately, it’s so far over-the-top that it seldom frightens; it feels forced and desperate, in a “can-you-top-this?” kind of way.
The theatrical cut DVD is without bonus features, while the unrated version contains four featurettes and audio commentary for four selected scenes.
The first featurette is “Behind the Fangs: The Making of Cursed.” Like many so-called “making of” featurettes on DVDs, this tells little about the film’s actual making. It consists mostly of press junket type sit-down interviews, and no one even mentions the film’s troubled production history (which included a halt in shooting, allegedly to allow time for new technology to provide better special effects).
“The Cursed Effects” mostly features an interview with Greg Nicotero explaining the extreme gore for the sequence wherein Shannon Elizabeth is bisected by a werewolf.
“Creature Editing” featured Patrick Lussier discussing how the film was trimmed down to get its PG-13 rating in an attempt to reach a broader audience (it failed: mainstream audiences stayed away from theatres, and gore-hounds waited for the unrated DVD).
“Becoming a Werewolf” is a mock documentary with Eisenberg and Nicotero pretending to do research on “real” werewolves in order to figure out how to do the makeup. There are some chuckles, but the laugh-to-length ratio is low.
Greg Nicotero and Derek Mears (the man inside the wolf suit) provide audio commentary for four selected scenes (which you can access individually, without having to sit through the whole film again, thank god): Shannon Elizabeth’s death; the Parking Garage scene; the Tinsel nightclub sequence; and the Final Fight. Some of their comments duplicate material heard in the “Effects” featurette, but overall the two are informative and amusing.
Perhaps the most memorable moments are their disparaging remarks about the CGI work. Nicotero criticizes the human-to-werewolf transformation shot for the bizarre decision to begin with hair falling out (a human should grow — not lose –hair, when morphing into a furry wolf). He remarks that the killer “turns into an alien first, then a werewolf,” while Mears pretends to be manipulating the cartoony CG-creature with a videogame controller. Nicotero also laments CGI manipulation that places an actor’s face on a dummy severed head with unconvincing results. It’s nice to know that somebody who worked on the film is capable of seeing and acknowledging mistakes that are obvious to the audience. Now if only some of that self-awareness would manifest itself in the people who write and direct this stuff, we might see some needed improvements in the horror genre.

CURSED (2005). Directed by Wes Craven. Written by Kevin Williamson. Cast: Christina Ricci, Jason Eisenberg, Portia de Rossi, Shannon Elizabeth, Joshua Jackson, Scott Baio, Craig Kilborn.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

Tim Burton’s second stop-motion feature film bears some obvious similarities to THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, but it has almost as much in common with BEETLEJUICE (not to mention touches of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and the excellent short subject VINCENT). Not only does the story involve a “newly-dead” couple in a bizarre afterlife, populated by characters whose appearance betrays comically obvious evidence of how they departed the land of the living, there is also a BEETLEJUICE-type of manic energy — a sense of imagination run riot that makes the film always worth watching, even when the story loses traction.
As a technical achievement, CORPSE BRIDE goes far beyond NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The stop-motion work is breath-taking in its ability to imbue life into the characters; the expressive capability of the armature puppets puts the vast majority of computer-generated animation to shame (even Pixar, the king of all things CGI, has never made human characters half this impressive).
Moreover, the film is stylistic tour-de-force of amazing camera angles and intricately choreogrpahed movements. There is no proscenium arch staging here; scenes play out in dynamic fashion that makes the action come alive, and the fabulously detailed sets and costumes create a world far more vivid and three-dimensional than scene in any other form of animation.
And in a welcome departure from the SHREK films, CORPSE BRIDE is not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. There is plenty of humor but none of the knowing, almost condescending winking to the audience that says, “We all know this is fairytale nonsense, so let’s just smirk and have a ball.”
At the center of its story is the titular, tragic character (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) who was murdered while waiting for her fiance to elope with her. In Victor (Johnny Depp), she finds a replacement, but like Sally in NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS she has trouble making him appreciate her charms (there are other similarities, such as her detachable limbs, which work independently).
Unfortunately, once the premise is set up, the film doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with it; it’s almost as if the script couldn’t figure out what story to tell. The initial idea seems to be that Victor is being forced into an arranged marriage with a live woman named Victoria; the monochromatic look of of the land of the living makes this prospect resemble an extremely unpleasant living death. The passionate love of the Corpse Bride, coupled with the (literally) colorful characters in the world of the dead, makes marriage to her seem far more appealing, but the film fails to follow through on this idea.
The basic problem seems to be a failure of nerve. The Corpse Bride, whose name is Emily, is obviously fashioned convey a ghoulishly erotic allure, with her beguiling eyes, thin waist and half-exposed breasts (even the lack of flesh on some of her bones only emphasizes how slim her figure is). Yet the film shies away from the implications. Although inspired by a Russian folktale, the story is pure Victorian Gothic in its ambience, an essential requirement of which was always that the heroes and heroines be so pure and virtuous that they were often insufferably dull as well. Contrasted with these lifeless characters was the darkly hypnotic dynamism of the villains/monsters (think of Erik in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or the Count in DRACULA). Of course, virtue always won out in the end, but the element that made the stories truly interesting was the flirtation with the dark side.
From Tim Burton, we expect a little bit more than flirtation. Like David Lynch (but with much more colorful approach and commercial appeal), Burton is a director who views the bizarre and the macabre not with disgust but with eager fascination. His “monsters” (with a few exceptions) are usually demented artists and outsiders, yearning for love and acceptance, who only seem monstrous when viewed through a lens of ignorance and misunderstanding. Emily fits this mold to perfection, and it would have been dramatically satisfying to portray the process by which Victor overcomes his initial alarm and learns to embrace love from beyond the grave, turning his back on conventional normality in favor of something new and exciting.
Alas, it is not to be. Instead, Victor falls in love with Victoria, his living fiance on first sight; consequently, Emily is reduced to being a fly in the ointment, an impediment on the way to this happy marriage to a living bride. This story could have worked too, if Emily had been a genuine threat, a monstrous succubus from beyond the grave, tempting Victor away from marital bliss in favor of a lust-filled damnation, but the character is too sad and tragic to fill the role of monster.
Instead, the plot turns into Victor’s quandary about being forced to disappoint one of the women who loves him. In a way, the situation is not that different from the third act of of the Japanese classic UGETSU, in which a wayward husband finds himself enthalled by a beguiling female ghost. The difference is that Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1953 classic is a 94-minute, adult-themed film that benefited from its complexity — but CORPSE BRIDE is a 64-minute fairy tale, which would have benefited from a fairy tale simplicity to its storytelling. With Victor truly in love with his Victoria, but sympathetic to Emily’s plight, the tug-of-war inherent in his situation sends the story tacking back and forth, and it requires some fairly manipulative and convenient twists to provide conventionally satisfactory solution.
The weakness in the plotting is easy enough to tolerate as long as the visuals and Elfman’s songs carry the film. The Corpse Bride’s resurrection from the grave is a stunningly realized sequence that makes the film worth seeing all on its own (in fact, the incredibly smooth animation of wedding veil is enough to make the film worth seeing), and her sad refrain upon realizing that Victor does not love her (“I know that I am dead, yet I have more tears to shed”) is genuinely moving.
But surprisingly, some of the songs fall flat (the opening number has a dirge-like pace that almost stops the film before it can start — it’s all recitative-style exposition, unlike the blissful arias that launched NIGHTMARE). And the script’s attempts at humor (including a Peter Lorre-inspired maggot filling in the Jiminy Cricket role) often elicit groans rather than chuckles.
The great thing about NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was that it set the standard; it had no immediate precedent by which it could be judged. CORPSE BRIDE bears the burden of having to live up to that earlier achievement. On a technical level, it more than meets — and even surpasses — expectations. But on an overall artistic level, it is no match for its illustrious predecessor. It’s dark, demented, and fun, but it’s more of an extremely clever trick than a truly delightful treat.

SECOND VIEWING

A second viewing of the film helped me overcome my initial disappointment and somewhat revise my opinion. The story still the wanders back and forth a bit, but the heart-felt emotion invested into the plight of the lead characters — Victor, Victoria, and especially Emily the Corpse Bride — helps offset the structural weaknesses.

TRIVIA

In an early scene, Victor sits down at a piano in his fiance’s home and begins to play while the camera performs a graceful, sweeping arc around him (worthy of any live-action Hollywood musical). When we finally get a closeup look at his hands on the keyboard, we see that the brand name on the piano is not Steinway but “Harryhausen.” Ray Harryhausen, of course, is the maestro behind the stop-motion effects for such classic fantasy films as THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005). Directed by Tim Burton, Mike Johnson. Written by John August and Pamela Pettler and Caroline Thompson, story and characters by Tim Burton. Music and songs by Danny Elfman, additional lyrics by John August. Voices: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ulman, Paul Whitehouse, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Jane Horrocks, Enn Reitel, Deep Roy, Danny Elfman.

RELATED ARTICLE: Mainstreaming Necrophilia for the Masses

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

Amityville Horror, The (2005)

This is a slightly better-than-expected remake of the 1979 film of the same name, which in turn was based on the best selling book by Jan Anson. Inspired by an allegedly true incident (which has actually been widely debunked), the film portrays what happens when the Lutz family moves into a house where the previous occupants were murdered by one family member driven by demonic voices in his head.
Although the filmmakers are guilty of a certain dishonesty in continuing to pretend that the events of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR actually happened, there is no doubt that the pretense of telling a “true” story had some benefits: The film presents a sort of everyday reality gradually turning nightmarish. Because no one died in the house (outside of the prologue showing the murders of the previous), the story cannot descend into mechanical body count and must instead rely implied menace and uncanny manifestations. And rather slyly, much of the action (which mostly consists of step-father George Lutz falling gradually under the house’s evil spell) seems designed to suggest that the supernatural manifestations are actually a metaphor for a more realistic kind of evil, such as child abuse. (When George hacks up the family dog, the audience is invited to think, “Sure, he says the Devil made him do it, but maybe he’s just a sick bastard.”)
Visually, the film makes use of techniques we’ve come to expect in the horror genre, such as blurry, stroboscopic images flashing across the screen. Although effective, these techniques (which first gained prominence in 1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) are starting to look dated, especially after the flowering of a new style seen in Japanese films like RINGU and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE.
Despite its modest virtues, the film eventually collapses under the weight of its genre obligations. The source material is a thinly disguised pastiche of familiar material (notably THE EXORCIST), and the attempt to update the remake for a new audience adds another layer of familiarity, with scenes reminiscent of HELLRAISER, POLTERGEIST II, and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, among others.
Finally, trapped with an anti-climactic ending (the family simply leaves the house), the script resorts to invention: the stepfather shifts into full monster mode, going after his family with an ax in a protracted scene that plays out like a combination of THE STEPFATHER and THE SHINING. Unfortunately, Ryan Reynolds, who gives a good performance in the early stages, believably portraying a man trying hard to fit in with his new wife’s kids, is simply not a very effective bogeyman.
With no actual victims, the film resorts to some fake-out dream imagery in order to register a little bit of gore. After that, there’s even a CARRIE-inspired hands-reach-out-of-the-ground last-shot shocker involving the little girl ghost named Jodi (Jodi was apparently a Satanic pig in the book—so much for accuracy!).

TRIVIA

The real-life George Lutz was unhappy with the previous film version of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and he was even more upset with the way he was portrayed in the remake. Lutz claims that neither version is an accurate account of the events described in the book; among other things, he points out that he had never killed the family dog.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005). Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Korsar, based on the previous screenplay Sandor Stern, adapted from the book by Jay Anson. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloe Moretz, Phillip Baker Hall