Sunday, April 23, 2006

Capsules: Marebito (Shimizu, 2004)/The Abyss (Cameron, 1989)

Marebito (Shimizu, 2004)
How many films can be made about technological disconnect before innovative thinking about the matter becomes necessary? According to Shimizu, less than or equal to Marebito -1.

The film is like a jigsaw puzzle: you put it all together, then you think "what the fuck did I waste my time doing that for?" as you clear off the coffee table so you can use it for something more useful, like harakiri. A videographer (equated to a vampire in the film, as he "sucks" images from life) stops using Prozac, can't cope with modern life (since he lives vicariously through his camera), and so ends up kidnapping his daughter, failing to recognize his wife, and being very, very trite.

It's ironic that I watched the Abyss after this film, because the protagonist in that film's name is Virgil, and in Marebito the voiceover is the Virgil to the viewer's Dante. It holds your hand along the way, commenting upon such things as the scene of a suicide seeming more "realistic" on a television screen to the fact that the protagonist aims to open a door. Such a claim is generally followed by a shot of the protagonist opening the door. Shimizu's a workin' man's director, he always gives the viewer fair warning. Imagine the hysteria that unexpected portal unlatchings would produce and tell me the voiceover wasn't a good idea.

Marebito is a film about technological disconnect, contemporary life in an urban setting, familial disruption, descent into madness, loss of past history and combined mythologies, and the weight of creation. It makes damn sure you know what it's about, too. The only thing it doesn't tell you is that it's good at exploring none of these concepts. A hollow effort by a hollow director.

The Abyss (Cameron, 1989)
Aliens and sea dives and underwater machines! Wetsuits and warheads and sunk submarines! Marriage, divorce, and symbolic rings! These are a few of Cameron's favorite things.

The best thing that could be say about The Abyss is that it looks expensive. Cameron seems to had gotten every dollar's worth from his budget, but to what end? We have a disrupted marriage that is ultimately saved as a result of a psychotic Navy Seal armed with a warhead whose actions lead to the discovery of an alien race that resides in the titular abyss. This was all of course caused by the sinking of a submarine at the hands of said aliens. On top of all that, allow for the possibility that screaming can reverse hypothermia-induced death. Convergence of the Twain this is not. A mess, 'tis.

The final confrontation with the alien race visually alludes to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Um, why? Is the allusion the end in itself? After spending the last half hour watching submarine hot potato played with a nuclear warhead, am I supposed to see some sort of logical progression to an encounter with aliens? If things were my way, not only would I have a cup of expresso sitting next to me at the moment, but all this nuclear-warhead-crazed-Navy-Seal stuff would've been cut out. Or not even conceived of. If the allusion to Kubrick's film could be supported with a fitting sense of an encounter with a higher state of being, or the unperceived future, the Abyss could've been a great film. It would have a chance to play on US paranoia in that the cause of the submarine's sinking is unknown. The entire middle section could be reworked to showcase both the social angle and the philosophical one. The recovered marriage bit could stay, but more realistically portrayed (not "OMG I love you suddenly I realized thank you aliens!").

I'm not generally one to actually say what a film should've shown the viewer, but this is a case in which a provocative setting is crafted but the ol' fauna and machina inhabiting it don't amount to much. All the visuals involving the aliens were, for the record, gorgeous. I wish the film could capitalize on some of this promise.

Now, about that expresso...


Blogger Matt said...

Aw, I love "The Abyss," it's one of my favorites! Ah well, to each his own.

10:35 AM  

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