Monday, April 5, 2010

For The Record: Dead Snow/ How To Train Your Dragon

I consider myself to be a pretty generous critic, perhaps even too generous. If I can see a film trying, or sense a filmmakers good intentions, that’s usually worth a lot for me. If a movie works as a whole I’m willing to let a whole lot slide. So it was something of a surprise to find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum in regards to two films that are getting bizarre passes, even raves from reviewers, both of which left me completely cold.

Dead Snow features Zombie Nazis is a concept that resonates on a “Wallace Beery Wrestling Pictures” primitive level. With a hook like that what more do you need? Don’t ask the makers of Dead Snow, because they have no fucking idea.

Dead Snow desperately wants to be counted asone of the Spatter Punk films of the eighties. Look Sam Raimi, Dan O’Bannon, and Peter Jackson are all genuine heroes of mine. But I’m sorry to say, this ain’t that.

The film this really reminds me of is Cabin Fever. It’s the same situation, cool concept, game director, dedicated cast, with nothing that’s remotely close to what you’d call a genuine investment.

There are a couple moments in particular where the movie goes completely awry. Going for a big emotional moment when that serve as the definition of unearned.

Give them credit, they try. This isn’t Hatchet, or Behind The Mask. The filmmaker try to create a sense of tension, interesting mythology, cast of characters that you DON’T want to see killed by Zombie Nazis, and a compelling story. Its just that all of these objectives are met with failure.

There are some great moments in Dead Snow but they’re few and far between. The filmmakers can’t seem to decide whether to play the coy Jaws game (The Zombie Nazi’s don’t show up until forty five minutes into the movie, and you don’t get a real good look at them until nearly an hour in.) or to go all out with Dead Alive style madness. It splits the difference with unsatisfying results.

I was looking forward to How To Train Your Dragon. After all for all the horrid crass product they’ve made, Dreamworks animation has shown itself capable of occasionally pulling out a diamond (or at least a cubic zirconium) with the likes of Kung Fu Panda and Over The Hedge. Not great movies to be sure, but clever, effective, well animated films. How To Train Your Dragon is not one of these films.

I was looking forward to the film based on the positive reviews which promised an affecting story, and trailers which promised a quirky deviation from The Dreamwork’s animated house style. Unfortunately I was disappointed on both accounts.

The story is fill in the blanks Dreamworks stuff, with Hiccup, the young blah blah blah a hero, but thanks to his blah blah blah disappointed father blah blah blah wacky mentor character blah blah blah appealing marketable animal blah blah blah giant climatic battle. To get invested in this kind of Mad Libs view of animated story telling you have to have one hell of a game cast. And Dragon does not provide. Jay Baruchel as the lead merely sounds bored throughout the film, Gerard Butler plays Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson gets some wacky lines.

The film’s animation design is fine, I’m not the first to note the resemblance between the characters and the art of famous Mad illustrator Don Martin, and the animation and design on Toothless (the titular Dragon) is personality filled and always fun to watch. Creating a creature with the body of a Salmander, the movements of a cat, the head of a snake, and the disposition of a half trained German Shepard.

Yet while the animation is fine in some places its almost embarrassingly rote in others. Its in the little things, the way that Hiccup’s child like body language clashes with Baruchel clearly teenaged performance. But its in the big things to, like the way Every Viking and Vikingess who doesn’t have the line has the exact same model. No seriously. Its almost unbelievably sloppy. Not that it matters much, because the plot finds a convient reason for all the non principle Vikings to leave the now conspicuously depopulated village leaving only Hiccup and the supporting cast, unpleasant both in design and performance the type of characters both underdeveloped but who in no way inspire a wish for further development, to train for oncoming battle with the dragons.

Now to give the devil his due, the flight scenes are fantastic. Using the ultra depth of field to create some astounding vertigo inducing moments that capture the feel and wonder of flight with a level of skill that’s worthy of Miyaziki. But we’re talking about half an hour of the movie at the most. Surrounded by a whole lot of very bland scenes. In the end all the flight scenes amount to is an impressive tech demo with an admittedly likable mascot, while the movie itself amounts to a whole lot less.


Aaron said...

I've never seen a horror movie divide so many people as DEAD SNOW has. Some people say they love it, some people say they hate it... but the weird thing is that on either side are both horror elitists and casual horror fans. In other words, just as much people who tend to be overly critical love the movie as there are ones that hate it. I've never seen it myself, but the more I hear about it, the less I'm in a hurry to do so. The trailer for it looks amazing and I remember really looking forward to it back when I first saw it, but now not so much. It's getting to the point where I may end up just skipping it permanently. Nice to hear your opinions of it, though.

Franco Macabro said...

I recently got a chance to check it out, I enjoyed it though I recognized a lot of its flaws. Mainly, that it loves to reference other horror movies all the time. Be it by imitating certain plot points from Evil Dead II (the movie it rips off the most) or by actually mentioning other famous horror movies through out the film, like Evil Dead I and II, April Fools Day and Friday the 13th.

Still, the movie is worth it in certain areas, the zombies look awesome, the gore gets over the top crazy at times, and after its set up phase, things really get going on the gore department.

Aaron, Id recommend not passing this one up, I have a feeling you would enjoy it. I mean, it has that level of predictability, but the zombie mayhem gets good in its third half.

Bryce Wilson said...

I second FC on this one Aaron, its worth seeing, divisive movies usually are. That's a very interesting point you bring up though about the divide of opinion on the film. I hadn't really thought of it, but as usual you're right on the money.

My main problem was I felt like the movie didn't quite know what it wanted to be. Whenever it started getting into its really over the top groove it would pull back, and whenever it would start trying to get real tense it would break it up with some goofiness.

Sarah said...

Although predictable and slow at times, "Dead Snow" has one huge thing going for it: undead Nazis!!!

All the hokey dialogue, poor cinematography and lazy plotting in the world couldn't detract from the fact that zombie Nazis are awesome. And they always will be.

That said, I found "Dead Snow" a likeable horror flick. There was a fair amount of gore and some pretty good scares. Plus, the soundtrack -- cheese-tastic Norwegian modern rock -- reminded me of some of the finer ski comedies of the '80s.

Bryce Wilson said...

As always Sarah you make excellent points. Interesting way of looking at it, a ski comedy gone horribly awry. I always thought the only thing Better Off Dead was missing was Nazi Zombies.

Anonymous said...

I ought a slam your head into a rock and slam it to the floor for saying all those bad things about How to train your dragon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! D-:<