Saturday, December 1, 2012

Top 5: Disappointing Blockbusters from 2012

2012 was a bad year for the blockbuster.

Although there were plenty of them. It seemed like every other week I was off to the IMAX with a sense of giddy anticipation as the latest $300 million action-scifi-comedy-thrill ride-merchandising extravaganza debuted to feverish anticipation. The movie studios long ago got this stuff down to a fine art and know exactly how to make you want to be where they want you to be on the day their movie is released.

But as the year wore on and more of these mega giant productions piled up in the rear view mirror, it seemed clear that what I was seeing back there was less an exciting memory of places I'd been, and more of a stock standard freeway pile up. Wreckage from a series of disappointing evenings that started with,

'I'm really looking forward to this!'

And ended with,

'Yeah... it was... okay... I guess...'

And all of it at massive expense, both to myself  (the local IMAX charges $25 for a feature film, plus extra for 3D glasses, plus $15.95 for a large popcorn and Coke) and to the studios responsible. The following are my Top 5 disappointing blockbuster experiences for the year.


I don't know if it corresponds with their takeover by Disney, but Pixar films have lost a bit of their lustre. Only recently, the studio that brought us so many classic titles and redefined the way we think about animated films decided to churn out... Cars 2, a by the numbers sequel to probably their least loved creation. Better than that, but still not hitting the recent heights of WALL-E or Up, came this curiosity; a coming of age story featuring a rebellious princess set in medi-evil Scotland. And while many of the old Pixar ingredients did return - ravishing visuals, snappy dialogue, a deft balance of jokes aimed at older and younger viewers - the overall magic steadfastly refused to conjure itself into the film. Perhaps the biggest let down was the story itself, which took many elements of a classic fairy tale but then refused to give us a proper villain in that mold, which made it both overly familiar and yet oddly unsatisfying  While there are funny moments and the attention spent rendering the heroine's hair moving in the sunlight is tech nerdily impressive, overall this didn't add up to much. A waste of time and talent.


The standees sprouted up in bookshops nationwide, seemingly overnight. In bookshops! Where they haven't seen this type of excitement since James Joyce wrote about men and women getting a bit rude with each other and showed up in his eye patch under the threat of getting arrested. But nevertheless, there it was, right in the age of e-publishing and the end of bricks and mortar book buying; a bona fide literary phenomenon in the shape of this popular series of young adult fiction. So the first of what will undoubtedly be a series of Hunger Games movies arrived with a  lot of anticipation... only to be sunk, torpedoed, flatlined and otherwise given no chance of any sort of success by the ham fisted, amateur hour direction of helmer Gary Ross.  Who seemed like an odd choice for this, once I'd looked him up on IMDB, given that his two previous directorial credits were Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, which are very different movies then what this one wanted to be, unless the producers had a plan to alienate their built in audience from the start. Ross' lack of feel for the material and relentless use of shaky cam and jump edits, even during quieter moments where they were totally inappropriate, meant that you can make one sure fire prediction about movies in 2013: he won't be directing the sequel. Although his distracting approach did at least distract from the damp squib performance from leading lady Jennifer Lawrence, the film's other fatal flaw, who looked cool on the poster and totally unconvincing running around in the forest with a bow and arrow. A major disappointment.


Prometheus has a great trailer and a very cool poster. And an eye catching turn from Michael Fassbender as a Peter O'Toole loving simulant. And... that's it really. Sir Ridley Scott's belated return to the franchise that helped establish him as a major director in the 1970's did little more than show him up as someone whose reputation rests largely on a couple of great films made a very long time ago (top 5 worst films made by Ridley in the last 15 years; Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven, GI Jane, Robin Hood and A Good Year. The last an almost unbearable nightmare with Russell Crowe as a stressed out corporate type who drops out to run a vineyard in France.... ARGGGHHH!). Just think about it; what was the last even half good film that this guy directed? In any case, despite some pretty visuals and the efforts of Mr Fassbender, this one sinks without a trace, hamstrung, probably from it's conception, by the lack of story or even any semblance of an idea as to why the film exists in the first place. 


Of the four people that will likely read this posting, I imagine that at least two of them will disagree with this inclusion. The latest Bond film was widely praised and has done mega business at the box office. It's done so well, in fact, that it is already the most commercially successful Bond film ever (replacing Quantum of Solace, which goes to show how much more adroitly these films are marketed nowadays, if nothing else) and is tipped to get over the billion dollar threshold before its run finishes. And, truthfully, I didn't think it was bad movie overall; it's fast paced and beautifully shot and has some strong performances from the supporting players. And the opening song and credits, a series trademark, would have to be among the best for these films. But something about this left me wanting. The villain isn't in it enough and his plan is a bit unsophisticated (How about... I just walk in and shoot her!). And the 143 minute running time is bloated, even by modern blockbuster standards. And something funny has happened to Daniel Craig in the four years since he last donned the tuxedo; either he's lost weight or his skeleton has expanded or his head skin has been replaced by space age rubber or... something, for he looks kind of gaunt, or hunched or uncomfortable in his own skin. There was something distracting about his appearance, or his performance, anyway and the fact that I left the cinema pondering this, and not just going 'Wheee!' tells you that the film just missed the mark somehow.


Watching the above trailer again, I can still get a hint of the excitement that I felt as this film approached. An excitement level that only expanded as I went to see it the week it opened and was confronted by a packed cinema; queues out the door, frenzy at the snack counter, people of all ages giggling and waving their free Dark Knight Rises oversize novelty drink cups at each other  And the opening scene of this film is so good, so stunning, so wild and inventive that you felt everyone in your sold out session was right there in the moment with this thing, on the edge of their seats, riveted  So it's obviously disappointing when  the subsequent scenes, post spectacular mid air hijacking, are so heavy handed and mawkish that you can feel that electric charge that had built up ebb away... slowly at first and then quickly, as Bruce Wayne gets caught up in a corporate governance scandal and Batman gets beaten up in a fight scene reminiscent of one of the later Rocky films and the stream of people leaving the cinema to go to the toilet becomes a trickle and then a flood. The film regathers steam for an exciting finale - you can pinpoint the  exact moment when this starts, which is here - and it has its moments throughout, but there's just too much in this movie that doesn't work; Batman spending an eternity down the pit, the convoluted nature of Baine's plan, the fact that he's not even the villain after all, Anne Hathway - for this to be successful. And, like most of the entries on this list, it's too long and has a poorly thought out story. Trilogy finales are normally difficult (think; Spiderman, The Matrix, The Godfather just for starters) and this one, sadly, failed the test..

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