Tuesday, August 11, 2009

G.I. Joe and the Apocalypse

Since I started this blog, I've had an unofficial policy about not spoiling recent movies. I'm aware that not everyone sees movies the first weekend they're out, and I do my best not to ruin too many surprises for me readers when describing them. Of course, this sometimes leads to situations like after I saw My Bloody Valentine, where I sat on a column with heavy spoilers for so long that it was no longer relevant.

However in the case of last weekend's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the movie is so utterly terrible that it's impossible to "spoil" it. It would be like saying that it "spoils" the Zapruder film if I warned you ahead of time it featured footage of President Kennedy's murder. No... it's worse than that. It would be like saying I "spoiled" Two Girls, One Cup if I warned you what you'd find by clicking that particular video link.

(Sidebar: Hi Mom! Thanks for reading. Please do NOT Google "Two Girls, One Cup" and definitely make no attempt to seek out the video. And I don't mean this in a joking, "Ha ha, you don't want to see this" kind of way. Trust me, you REALLY don't want to see this.)

I'd revert to popular internet vernacular and call this film an "abortion" but that would be an insult to Dilation & Curettage. This was apparently "written" during the writer's strike and it really, really shows. I'm at a loss where to begin. For me, the utter nadir is when our heroes come across one of the dead bad guys and conduct a rather unusual interrogation. Since they can't question a dead man, they pull out two large probes, stab them (imprecisely, I might add) into the man's cranium and then somehow are able to use this to probe his recent memories. The explanation offered is that the brain takes longer to die than the rest of the body, which... do I really need to go into all the reasons why that's dumb?

It's lazy exposition at its worst. The script needs the characters to get somewhere, but there's no plausible and easy way to do it. This is hack writing designed to take the story from A to B. Nothing more. It's the sort of moronic work that can earn a script a PASS all on its own.

There's virtually no character to speak of, made worse by the fact that cinematic terrorist Stephen Sommers (he has Van Helsing, The Scorpion King AND Deep Rising on his resume, what would you call him?) has stocked the film with some of dinner theatre's finest waiters. Every character is a one-dimensional action figure. Some were cast for their figures, some for their ability to do action, and I'm guessing others like Dennis Quaid and that guy from Oz whose name I can't spell were some how duped into the production by being told it was a PSA for the military. But seeing as how even the good actors in this movie turned in bad performances, I'm going to just blame the director and the script. So Sienna Miller gets a pass from me... this time.

I will say this. The President of the United States is played by Jonathan Pryce. You know, that British guy who used to do the Infiniti commercials? And no, he makes no attempt to put on an American accent. There should have been at least a throwaway line about Faux News demanding to see President Infiniti's birth certificate.

I texted my friend after I saw the film, calling it "Team America without the marionettes and the irony." By coincidence, I had just rewatched Team America last weekend, and I figured that comparison came to mind mostly because of that fact - until I saw at least a half-dozen review that made a similar point. Everything Team America makes fun of is in here. The montages, the ridiculously manufactured "tension" between the new guys on the team and the older members, the ludicrous bad guy who's impossible to take seriously due to his lame outfit and horribly hissed dialogue. Honestly, I've seen serials from the '40s with more credible villains.

The bad guy's motivations are weak and all over the map. Destro essentially wants to sell arms to two sides by developing tech for the America military, then stealing it and using that nanotech to destroy Paris because.... you know... I'm not really sure what his goal is. It has some to do with taking over the world and using that same tech to breed armies of totally loyal soldiers. There's also the fact that by the end of the movie, we're shown that this main attack was all a distraction so that Destro and Cobra could replace the President with a lookalike. All of this could have been interesting, but all these points are thrown into the plot in such a haphazard fashion that there's no coherence to the big picture. Try to explain the plot afterwards and you'll come up with all sorts of loose threads.

Take the Baroness for instance. She's Duke's former fiancee, turned to the bad guys after blaming Duke for getting her brother killed while on a mission. However, as we find out, her brother survived and became Cobra - who then turned around and used his nanoprobes to brainwash her to become the evil Baroness. There's no real justification for why Cobra would want to mess with his own sister's head and turn her evil. It's writer fiat so that Duke can have the angst of going up against an old flame, and so the Baroness can fight through her programming and have a moment of redemption.

I never watched the G.I. Joe cartoon, but given the little information about it I know, I bet that some fans are freaking out about all the liberties taken. Somewhere, I'm sure there's a blog titled "G.I. Joe Raped My Childhood" which might lead one to believe that the bad internet reviews are just coming from unbalanced fans watching the film through nostalgia colored glasses. I'm not one of those, and I'd never say that a movie "raped" my childhood even if I was. I think that's a stupid statement because it's not like the original shows ceased to exist the moment this movie came into being. Also, "jokes" like that tend to trivialize rape, and rape is never funny. Unless it's happening to Rush Limbaugh. Then it's hilarious.

(For those of you keeping score, rape is no laughing matter, but abortion jokes are hilarous. And yes, this is about the point where my trusty assistant Al "What are YOU doing here" Borland would hold up a sign and tell you to address your hate mail to Tim Taylor in care of Tool Time.)

In any event, my point is that this isn't a bad movie because it makes changes to the source material - it's a bad film PERIOD. It's got a lousy script, bad directing and CG so poorly integrated that I thought I was watching unfinished shots at several points. Yet it made $56 million this weekend. Not as huge as some other juggernauts this summer, but still, that's a lot of suckers that got taken for their money. It's big enough that unless this film drops off in a huge way next weekend, nothing will happen to stem the tide of toy, comic book, and game adaptations.

Take Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It's the only movie I've seen this year to rival G.I. Joe for the title of worst film of the year. (And I've already admitted to seeing My Bloody Valentine in this column so chew on that nugget a while.) Terrible writing, terrible acting, a plot that barely holds together, a running time over two and a half hours and a whole lot of explosions - and it's the biggest film of the year! It's made over $800 million worldwide. True, action always travels well because there's less dialogue to be dubbed, but even just domestically it's made nearly $400 million!

How could this be? It can't be ALL teenage boys going to ogle Megan Fox in between explosions. (And besides, with the internet obsessively covering all things Megan Fox, surely these horny boys could find much more provocative pics and video of Miss Fox and, ahem, "enjoy" them in the privacy of their own home.) I have a hunch that when Megan Fox's Jennifer's Body comes out soon, it'll be lucky to do a quarter of Transformers' box office. It can't be the running time - teens have short attention spans and hate long movies. It can't be the story because.... there isn't one. And if visual effects alone drew a crowd, Watchmen would have been a much bigger hit.

What does that leave? Easy - brand recognition. Studios buy projects with pre-awareness in the market, such as comic books, novels, remakes of other films. There's no originality because movie marketing is based on getting people into the theatres by showing them exactly what they will get. Notice how trailers reveal 90% of the movie's plot these days? That's because studies have apparently shown that viewers respond better to trailers that tell them everything. It's all about giving the audience exactly what they know and expect.

Transformers wasn't bought because Paramount and Dreamworks were banking on all the hard-core fans of the toys and cartoons who were now 20 years older. They bought it because people know what Transformers is. This is the same thinking that has led to Candyland and Viewmaster to be developed as projects. Audiences truly are about to get the entertainment they deserve.

At the moment, original ideas are scarce in Hollywood and that has led to a bleak spec market. Take heart, readers, everything happens in cycles. The streak can't last forever, and anyone who thinks that Viewmaster is going to lead to an interesting movie, let alone a hit movie, is seriously delusional. The bubble will burst and the audiences will soon be hungry for fresh ideas, not reheated leftovers. When that happens, the market will pick up again and the smart writers will be ready for that with fresh scripts and bold new ideas.

Here is what we, as writers, need to do to bring about that golden age. First, we have to stop seeing this crap. We need a full-on boycott of all these regurgitated leftovers. Then, we need to push ourselves and write material so original and innovative that it can't NOT be sold. If we're lucky, these projects will find an audience and the pack mentality that drives Hollywood will soon be chasing original ideas and not ghosts from the 80s.

Forgive the rant, but seeing the crap that passes for entertainment (and especially the fact that it's inexplicably popular and profitable) really has me concerned for the future of film.


  1. I totally agree with you about GI Joe. I saw it this weekend. Awful. What was going on?!?! It's interesting you bring up the writer's strike. I had that exact conversation after leaving the theater. So many movies have bombed this summer. And we wondered if these films were all written during the strike.

  2. I'm sorry, but didn't you realize it was going to suck BEFORE you went to see it? There was nothing -- NOTHING -- that suggested the film was going to be anything other than crap. You're part of that $56 million.

    Please, explain to me what about this utter crap of a trailer and advertising made you want to see this?

    Writer's need to bring about the golden age? "First we have to stop seeing this crap." Not kidding, really? Then why did you go in the first place?!

    Why would the studios not keep making this garbage when the people who call it crap still go to see it on opening weekend?!

  3. exactly right.. and it comes from higher up - the A-list and marquee writers have to take a stand first and turn down those multi-million rewrite and assignment/polish deals for these stupid f-n concepts and go back to basics and their own idea lists - for the sake of Hollywood movies... most real good stories now are coming from overseas and when we used to be awed, we're mocked for the crap that goes up on the screen... A-list writers can still get their money, but they've got to infuse better work into the system, which in turn will make it easier for new and upcoming writers with fresh voices eager to write quality material to get their original ideas sold and set up... i have faith it will turn around. the talented just have to remain committed to telling great stories, and when theatre-goers become more compelled to see these stories that will translate to the studios' bottom-line and we'll all be in a better way over here..

  4. Hopefully it will drop like a rock next weekend.

    The fake positive reviews were a nice touch. That's actually what I was going to blog about today.

  5. When I was looking at the IMDB page, the first thing I said was, "Does Jonathan Price do accents?"

  6. I don't think the audience perceives entertainment the same way they used to. I think the real value they see in a film is how much future entertainment it provides for online discussions, twitter feeds, and status updates. Films are digital media events now. The fact that Transformers was awful and still made $800 million speaks to that. People saw it, talked about how terrible it was, which drove more people to want to be a part of that information loop.

    At this moment, the most popular video on YouTube is a girl sticking clothespins to her face. This is what entertainment has become:

    "Did you see that video of the girl sticking clothespins to her face?"

    "Yeah. That was a lot of clothespins. lol"

  7. So can one avoid ridicule of 'supporting the current bogus system' if he waits for netflix or a dvd screener (illegitimate download) to witness the horribleness? I'm sure it will be out on dvd in the middle of october if it plummets in the next few weeks.

    Haha having to warn your mom not to look up '2 girls one cup' haha hilarious. I hope I never have that conversation with a parent "son.. whats this tubgirl I keep hearing so much about?" NOOOOOOoooooo...

    good post. There really needs to be some changes. "if the plot don't fit, you need to quit!"... And give a newbie a shot (ie me!).

  8. kgmadman, I think your answer is the perfect answer to "Mad's" question.

    Personally, if I hadn't seen G.I. Joe opening weekend, I probably wouldn't have gone at all. The family was looking for a movie to see and that was the only one out I hadn't seen that looked interesting to me. AICN also published several reviews which indicated the film wasn't terrible.

    For what it's worth, this summer I did avoid Wolverine and Terminator Salvation - and when I saw Transformers, I made sure to go to a cheap screening.

    @Peter - I don't support the idea of illegally downloading movies online, but I'm with you on the waiting for Nextflix.

    @kyle - I agree with you in principle, but in practice I don't know if it would ever work. If the A-listers refused to write this stuff, the studios would probably just bring in newbies who would be only too happy to earn $400,000 writing Thundercats: The Movie and wouldn't have any leverage to fight the studio notes.

  9. The one thing that I didn't understand about the movie was why Destroy had to get the Baronesseseses husband/boyfriend/whatever to "weaponize" the nanonites? Didn't the nanonites eat metal anyway, so what did the "weaponizing" accomplish?

    Ultimately, the only thing I kept thinking was why didn't "COBRA/DESTRO" create a whole army of vans of that van from the Paris chase scene. That van was practically indestructible!

    Also, why didn't Destro just mass produce the Baronessesses pistol? The damn thing could take out like a dozen guys with one blast!

    I still can't believe the movie cost $150 to $170 million to make!

    Yeah, I love Jonathan Price, good old Sam Lowry, but as the president of the united states??? No.