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translittler.GIF (807 bytes) Home: And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

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THE HAUNTING | DEEP BLUE SEA

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The Haunting | Deep Blue Sea | The Sixth Sense | Lake Placid | The Blair Witch Project | End of Days | Night of the Demon | Stigmata | Night of the Living Dead | Mission to Mars | Bats
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The Haunting: You want a snap judgement? This film sucked. I was expecting it to be bad, but was stunned by just how awful it is. First and foremost – it’s not the least bit scary! I saw the trailer for The Sixth Sense before The Haunting, and those two minutes frightened me more than this entire film. And this is from someone who is not all that hard to frighten. Ghost stories usually work on me, but all this one succeeded in doing was boring me. It didn’t even make me jump. Hell, I’m a career neurotic who drinks half-a-dozen or more cups of strong coffee a day. My nerves are shot. Everything makes me jump – except The Haunting. The skeleton bit might have worked, except that the framing of the shot telegraphed exactly what was going to happen. And that’s my next complaint: the film’s total lack of subtlety and ambiguity.
There is never the slightest doubt over what’s going on in that house because nothing is left to the imagination. The effects are in our face right from the moment the characters set foot in the house. I wish someone could convince modern film-makers that CGI effects are not, in themselves, frightening. It’s all in the way they’re used, not just the fact of them. Frankly, the Id Monster from Forbidden Planet is scarier than most of what was tossed up here. Jan De Bont’s direction is relentlessly heavy-handed. Everything is laboured, everything shoved down the viewer’s throat. (As we watch De Bont’s camera panning up and down the nasty spiky things hanging over Eleanor’s bed for about the thirtieth time, I’m sitting there thinking, Is that enough, Jan? Are you quite sure that everyone in the audience can see what’s coming?) Another major problem is the house itself. It’s absurd. Never for a moment do you believe that you’re seeing a real house – everything about it screams Movie set! Movie set! And since the effects and the sets don’t work, there is nothing to distract the viewer from the screenplay, which is horrendously bad. The tampering with the original story proves disastrous. Instead of all of the participants having a reason to be in the house, the current scenario makes the presence of anyone but Eleanor irrelevant. The characters of Theo and Luke are utterly superfluous, except as house-fodder. Even Dr Marrow serves no real purpose besides kicking off the "plot", while his character is nothing more than everyone’s favourite cliché, the Unethical Scientist doing an Illegal Experiment. (One of these days I’ll see a movie with an ethical scientist doing a legal experiment, and the shock will probably kill me.) But if the screenplay is bad, the performances are worse. Liam Neeson really ought to see a doctor about his somnambulism. Catherine Zeta-Jones proves conclusively that, as an actress, she’s a great clothes-horse. Owen Wilson clearly wasn’t interested in even trying to disguise the pointlessness of his character; it was a great relief when the house finally disposed of him. (If it had done it about an hour earlier, we would have had cause for celebration. Oh, and a note to the kid sitting in front of me: you’re quite right, his nose is weird.) Lili Taylor, to her credit, does try hard, but is defeated by the inanity of her character and the embarrassing badness of the story’s denouement. The film’s plot is never for a moment credible, but by the time we reach the big showdown scene, with Eleanor confronting the spectre of her great-grandpappy and shouting, "It’s about family! It was always about family!", my Oh-Please-O-Meter had not just gone off-scale, it had blown a gasket. Seriously, after seeing this film, the muscles around my eye-sockets were sore from all the eye-rolling I’d done. The Haunting is a text-book example of what’s wrong with film these days: millions upon millions of dollars spent on effects, and hardly a thought given to the writing, the acting, or the intelligence of the audience. It’s flashy, empty, and insulting. The only purpose it serves is to highlight what a good film Robert Wise’s 1963 version is. If you get the chance, watch it, and see what can be achieved with imagination and talent in place of a big budget. Better yet, read the book. Apart from being a truly frightening story, it begins with my nomination for the best opening paragraph ever written.

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Deep Blue Sea: I have a feeling this film is benefitting from my seeing it two days after seeing The Haunting. After that fiasco, anything would look good. Sure, Deep Blue Sea is crappy and idiotic, and perfectly adequately summarised by the phrase "mindless action movie", but I find myself disinclined to pan it the way I might under other circumstances (and the way I probably will, when it comes out on video or cable). While it isn’t anything like a good movie, it held my attention for its running time, once or twice surprised me, and occasionally made me laugh, intentionally as well as unintentionally. If I’m having trouble, three days after seeing it, in actually remembering enough about it to review it, I guess that’s the nature of the beast. The film has so few ambitions, it seems churlish to criticise it at that level. All it really wants to do is impress you with its special effects (partial success), frighten you (close to total failure) and gross you out (bull’s-eye). The film’s shark effects are pretty good – not perfect, but convincing enough, particularly if you’re scared of sharks (which I’m not). The sets are also interesting, if not entirely credible. Less praiseworthy is the film’s tendency to fall back upon boring old action film cliches: a storm hitting during the crisis; people being blown through the air by fireballs; the disaster being kicked off by a helicopter crash (I really wish they’d never learnt to do that convincingly). Perhaps the most notable thing about Deep Blue Sea is its willingness to kill off nearly its entire cast, regardless of billing. Its choice of survivors, however, seems a bit questionable. While I’m not entirely sure what the point is, the screenplay was obviously intent on killing off the wealthy and the educated, while rescuing the working-classes. Given the film’s mega-budget, this attitude seems hypocritical at best. Another problem is one of tone: while some of the deaths – one in particular – seem to be played for laughs, others are meant to be disturbing. This makes it hard to connect with the characters sufficiently to be really affected by what’s going on. For the record, the audience I was in seemed most bothered by the demise of marine biologist Janice Higgins, possibly because she was played by Our Jackie, more probably because she’d just earned the gratitude of everyone present by calling Susan McAlester a stupid bitch. The opening of the film, leading up to the first shark attack and the inevitable damaging of the facility, contains so much stupidity that I hardly know where to start. It hardly needs saying, but the actual underlying premise of Deep Blue Sea is utterly untenable. I won’t get into the "science" here (that too will come when I get hold of a copy on video and can get stuck into it in some detail), but I will lodge a protest against the single most unlikely thing in the whole film: Susan McAlester was conducting illegal experiments, and not one other person in that entire facility realised what was going on? I guess if you can swallow that, the rest of the film’s gaping plot holes shouldn’t bother you: the sharks’ ability to change size and shape when they need to; the strange resilience of oven-front glass, compared to laboratory glass; the mysterious invulnerability of the facility’s crew to water pressure, flying glass, electrocution--- To everything, in fact, but shark-bite, and occasionally even that. As usual, the film’s climax contains events that surely go beyond anyone’s powers of suspension of disbelief; for example the non-killing of one of the chosen survivors, whose life is spared in a particularly irritating instance of what the Jabootuites call the Hero’s Death Battle Exemption. While everyone else in the film gets crunched into pieces by the sharks in about one second flat, we’re supposed to believe that this one character just get dragged along by the leg, leaving him injured but able to take action in the final scene. As you’d expect, the acting in Deep Blue Sea is nothing to write home about. Samuel L. Jackson’s character is annoying, but obviously intentionally so. Jacqueline McKenzie gets the unenviable task of spouting most of the expository dialogue, and does a pretty good job. Thomas Jane and Michael Rapaport are adequate. LL Cool J’s comic relief wears thin by the end, while Stellan Skarsgard learns why it’s not a good idea to light a cigarette in this kind of film. Saffron Burrows, the film’s alleged star, is a wash-out. Not only is her character utterly unbelievable (something I will also deal with at a later date), but she simply can’t act. I don’t even think she’s particularly pretty. However, I will say this for her: her underwear is nothing short of spectacular.

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