This week Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by regular Failed Critic Andrew Brooker as they delve in to Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant, complete with Spoiler Alert as well as a spoiler free review.
“That’s it. Game over man. Game over…”
…although it’s not quite “game over” yet for Andrew Brooker who continues his challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days.
It’s morphin’ time for your podcast hosts with attitude on this week’s Failed Critics Podcast! Leading the pack is Steve Norman, with the power of Tyrannosaurus! Next is Andrew Brooker, with the power of the Mastodon! And finally it’s Owen Hughes, with the power of the crappy flying one that no kid really ever wanted to play with!
Yes, one of this week’s main review features is the brand new Power Rangers movie. The team also get a Life as they chat about the latest sci-fi/horror aping picture to hit the big screen. Having seen (and, luckily for us, reviewing) the first three Alien movies straight afterwards which outshine the newcomer, opinion is split on whether or not Life is worth the bother.
Elsewhere on the episode, Steve and Owen almost come to blows (again) about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (again), following a discussion around The Passion of the Christ that rather fittingly was almost as biblical in length. We still cram in one last review for pregnancy-horror Antibirth, out on VOD right now!
Join us again next week for our take on the Ghost in the Shell adaptation!
Three clueless bellends gather for the latest Failed Critics Podcast with hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes joined by our long-suffering guest, Paul Field. So long suffering is he, in fact, that he’s hosting this week’s quiz and theming it on injuries, suffering and accidents in movies.
Quite fitting then that this week’s new releases take in: notorious YouTubers (we don’t know what that really means) causing grief in Natural Born Pranksters; bone-breaking British feel-good comedy Eddie the Eagle; pointless gruesome horror remake Martyrs; and the independent horror film putting Martyrs to shame, with Anguish.
There’s also time on this episode for the team to cover a re-watch of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (where Owen gets all ranty about the poor level of criticism on offer for Zack Snyder’s blockbuster), British crime drama Orthodox and sci-fi classic Alien. We even cover the Suicide Squad reshoots and Wolf Creek TV spin-off in our news section.
Join us again next week as the same line-up tackle first-person action thriller Hardcore Henry.
The Martian sciences the sh*t out of making money, The Walk loses its (bank) balance, Sicario means “dolla dolla bills y’all”, the public vote against Freeheld, and Other Box Office News.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Proving that Matt Damon can say all of the most accidentally ignorant crap that he likes and that Ridley Scott can spend a full half-decade crapping out stinkers whilst both still remain the kind of perfectly lovable and bankable box office draws that Hollywood executives wish to Maker they could create out of thin air, The Martian is your new box office number 1. The big story for many people is how the film has fallen just short of breaking Gravity’s “Best October Opening Ever” record – by $750,000 – although the estimates may push it over the top. Because, after all, who cares about excellent openings unless they break records, right? Besides, if we should be sad about anything, it should be the fact that the godawful Hannibal is still Ridley Scott’s best opening weekend ever. That’s the real tragedy.
Speaking of tragedies, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Pepé le Pew imitation in The Walk. This is meant to be a serious movie, right? Cos, quite frankly, I probably won’t be able to take seriously two hours of “Omlette du fromage”. Audiences very much seemed to agree with me, in this instance – that, or they saw Man On Wire and sussed that they didn’t need to see it fictionalised and in 3D – and even with critical acclaim and an initial opening exclusively on IMAX theatres, its true home, the film failed to find much of an audience. In fact, and in sharp contrast to Everest from a few weeks back, it didn’t even manage to crack the Top 10, stalling out at number 11 with only $1.5 million. The film hits actual theatres that people want to go to next weekend, but this whole “release early in IMAX” thing really doesn’t seem to be paying off as studios were likely hoping it would. Y’know, probably because IMAX really just isn’t very good.
But do you know what is very good? Sicario, that’s what! One of the year’s absolute best films finally went wide this week and, for a bleak-as-f*ck and slow-moving thriller that is as decidedly uncommercial as… well, as Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners, did surprisingly well, securing third place with a decent $12 million. The film even supposedly has an “A-“ CinemaScore, too, so it may have some legs over these next few weekends. Comfortably above it on the chart, meanwhile, is Hotel Transylvania 2 which actually held better than the first film did – and that only dropped 36% between weekends, let’s not forget – with a miniscule 32% drop and $33 million. So, once again, can Genndy Tartakovsky please go and make whatever he wants now? It’s clear the public will accept it!
Do you know what they didn’t accept, though? Freeheld. Yes, the weekend’s big Limited Release, and the latest blatant entry in Julianne Moore’s awards nomination reel, turned out to be a bit of a stinker, and nothing kills off a Limited Release’s box office prospects better than middling reviews. Freeheld therefore only managed to scrape $40,000 from 5 screens and a per-screen average of $8,000. Still, at least it can take comfort in the fact that it’s not Stonewall! That film, incidentally, dropped down to 83 screens and made an absolutely pathetic $18,700 this weekend. Better performing was the documentary He Named Me Malala which took a strong $56,000 from 4 screens for a per-screen average of $14,000.
You know what’s been strong this week? My paragraph transitions! …here’s the Full List.
Box Office Results: Friday 2nd October 2015 – Sunday 4th October 2015
1] The Martian
$55,000,000 / NEW
Super happy to see this one do well, if for no other reason than it might give Ridley Scott the kick up the arse he needs to stop making crap films this decade. Yes, I know that he plans to make his next film another Alien movie/Prometheus sequel, let’s focus on his career after that, OK? In fact, whilst I have everyone’s attention, can we all just stop making Alien-related movies, please? We haven’t had a good one in almost 30 years, and I highly doubt that the Neill Blomkamp who just made Chappie is going to turn that around. Although I will admit that I am still excited for that one, in a “trainwreck fascination” kinda way.
2] Hotel Transylvania 2
$33,000,000 / $90,541,765
Saw this yesterday and a review will be up by Thursday as I still have to write this week’s Lost Cels first. Film’s millimetres away from being genuinely great, for the record, although its best asset is still its utterly amazing animation. Seriously, the work that Genndy and co. have done with translating 2D-style squash-and-stretch animation to 3D is just outstanding. I cannot wait for him to put it to use in a film that doesn’t have Adam Sandler’s icky undertones attached to it.
$12,075,000 / $15,076,295
Just a few more days and I get to see this brilliance again! God knows I’m going to need something to wash down Pan with. Have I ever mentioned that Pan looks like utter garbage? Cos it really does.
4] The Intern
$11,620,000 / $36,523,892
You know what? If this actually built to something and wasn’t two sodding hours long, I’d be giving this a full-on enthusiastic thumbs up. It’s not particularly funny, but it is really charming and its characters are really likeable and the cast are great, and it manages to balance lionising The Older Generation and The Way Things Were with a genuine respect for the modern world and businesswomen who try to juggle work and family without being condescending or placing one higher than the others. Seriously, it gets so much right; I just wish it built to its ending, was actually funny, and wasn’t two sodding hours.
5] Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
$7,650,000 / $63,241,124
And the maze keeps running running, and running running, and running running…
6] Black Mass
$5,905,000 / $52,521,030
No, seriously, how has no-one made a Black Eyed Peas parody song about The Maze Runner yet? Is it because The Black Eyed Peas were The Absolute Worst and nobody actually remembers anything from any Maze Runner after having experienced them? And I just answered my own question.
$5,510,000 / $33,181,310
Tosh from Torchwood is in this. Unsurprisingly, she is given basically zero lines.
8] The Visit
$3,950,000 / $57,695,090
Anybody managed to see Cooties yet? I have high hopes, since I actually laughed at the trailer and it has Alison Pill who always deserves the best things, but I know that this can easily go very, very wrong and the reviews aren’t great. Still, at least it looks better than Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a film whose trailer is Exhibits A, B, C, and all the way down to Z on why we should just stop using zombies now forever. ZOMBIE BOOBS LOL!
9] War Room
$2,800,000 / $60,544,613
Oh, just go away already.
10] The Perfect Guy
$2,400,000 / $52,615,190
So Creed isn’t due out in the UK until January. January. Now, initially, I got really confused, since it’s basically a new Rocky movie and Rocky Balboa opened simultaneously in the USA and the UK. But then I realised something: they’re setting up Creed to be an awards season contender, so now I’m just annoyed. Even if it’s good, Creed ain’t getting nominated for jack, and the whole Awards Season thing of keeping us Brits out of the loop on seeing these films until the opening of the next year is bullsh*t. Again, NON-SIMULTANEOUS RELEASING OF ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILMS IN 2015 IS BULLSHIT!
And you thought I’d get through one of these pieces without stepping on my soapbox! Ha!
Dropped Out: The Green Inferno
Hello and welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, released slightly earlier than usual to try and push it out just before the end of International Podcast today (that’s today for the next couple of minutes, anyway!) As such, we recommend you check out our fellow podcast comrades Wikishuffle, Black Hole Cinema and Diamond & Human; all of whom are deserving of your time during your commute or whilst peeling the spuds, or whatever you do whilst you’re listening to us.
Joining Mexican assassin Steve Norman and intergalactic failed critic Owen Hughes for this week’s episode is Andrew Brooker, undertaking his unpaid work placement, as they review three new releases. They’re so new, in fact, that they are not even out in the UK yet! First up, Owen reviews new Ridley Scott sci-fi The Martian (which doesn’t feature any aliens – xenomorphs or otherwise) before Brooker seethes over the new Anne Hathaway / Robert De Niro comedy The Intern. There’s even room for a review of the much anticipated crime-thriller Sicario, starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent working with Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro on the trail of the Cartel in Mexico.
Before any of that though we have our quiz (which Steve helpfully explains in detail) and news section where the team react to Sam Smith’s Bond theme replete with improv poetry, The Simpsons opening Smithers closet, and the Prometheus sequel details. This is followed by our usual what we’ve been watching section, which sees: Owen review cult 80’s horror From Beyond as he pleads for your HP Lovecraft recommendations; Steve runs through three first watches of Beverly Hills Cop, Cooties and Cop Car; and Brooker reminds himself of a time when De Niro could do comedy well with Analyze This.
Join us again next week as we review ‘the Scottish play’, Macbeth, and have a very special guest in tow for our Scottish triple bill: It’s the acclaimed author of the Three Realistic Holes trilogy of novels, Escobar Walker!
Not too long ago now, we promised to start a YouTube channel where we would preserve our favourite reviews on the podcast, some of our funniest moments and also our many, many shambolic gaffs. So far, we’ve uploaded a few clips taken from our archived older podcasts – and we’re on the look out for me!
Ever embarrassed yourself in public by laughing out loud like a lunatic at something we’ve said?
Ever re-evaluated your opinion on a particular film after a member of our crew reviewed it?
Ever pondered deeply at the profundity of one of our insightful discussions?
…..probably not the latter! But if you’ve got any favourite moments from the 170 podcasts we’ve recorded over the last three years, then we want to know.
For now, why not check out the following clips we’ve got on YouTube right now for some inspiration?
George, It’s Gone Wrong!
Date: 12 June 2012
Podcast host Steve Norman became possibly the most animated he’s ever been on the podcast when explaining exactly where it went wrong with Star Wars and why George Lucas is to blame.
Moebius & Kinky Duck
Date: 3 April 2015
Reacting to being anonymously assigned the Kim Ki-duk dialogue-free art-house drama Moebius by another podcaster, in this clip Andrew Brooker attempts to explain the film to the rest of the team.
Alien & Homosexual Oral Rape
Date:22 May 2012
In this clip, taken from only the fifth ever episode of the podcast, Gerry McAuley explains why Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror Alien is one of his favourite films of the 1970’s.
You can subscribe to our YouTube channel here and don’t forget to leave your suggestions for clips you’d like to hear again in the comments section below!
It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.
Back again this week after successfully tackling the sixties (even if we do say so ourselves), our regular contributors to the series come up with a list of five-of-the-best for the nineteen-seventies. Owen and Mike are back along with our talented guest writers Andrew, Paul and Liam, generously imparting their experience on us to tell us what are their favourite horrors of the 1970’s.
After the counterculture movement that occurred in the nineteen-sixties, what emerged in its place in the seventies (particularly with regards to the world of film) was something more artistic and radical. Directors were riskier, braver and perhaps even less subtle in their political motivations. There was no room for John Wayne to glamorise The Green Berets any more. Instead, the harsh reality of the toll the Vietnam War took was the topic of many films, from The Deer Hunter to Apocalypse Now. Director’s like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, John Carpenter etc etc emerged out of their shells and produced some of the greatest and most challenging works ever. Horror films became edgier, darker and more popular with a mainstream audience than they had ever been before. Halloween, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these movies terrified audiences and inspired film makers; and the best thing is, to this day they still continue to do so. We begin by looking at our particular favourites of this revolutionary decade, starting with…
“Here lies the body of Mary Lee; died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years she kept her virginity; not a bad record for this vicinity.”
January 1976 and a visit to the Classic in Hastings to see Jaws. A stupidly excited 6 year old going to an evening showing of, “that film with the big shark in”. Circle seats (as was a birthday treat) secured, would’ve been a kia-ora and a choc-ice too. That music….even now sends shivers down your spine. Cinemas were pitch black during films in the 70’s, latecomers had to be shown to their seats by a torch wielding usherette. Booming audio, an enormous screen, total darkness.
Being transported to Amity, the terrifying opening scene, the respite as the sun drenched community springs into holiday mode. But always that sense of something unpleasant about to happen…..and when the underwater scene arrived. To this day, it’s still crystal clear, the heart stopping, terrifying moment that severed head bobs out. It’s just as effective now, as my daughter who was a similar age when I watched it with her, nearly jumped out of her skin. There are more horrific films from the era, and more frightening I’m sure, but to have been frightened by Jaws in its original cinema run was a real privilege that’s stayed with me forever.
by Paul Field (@pafster)
The Omen (1976)
I always remember liking The Omen as a kid; the dogs, the great music and of course quite literally the child from hell; the name Damien now etched in the folklore of horror films. Yet it’s only recently that I’ve come to see just how good The Omen actually is.
Richard Donner’s slick direction, his stunning use of wide shots coupled with some beautiful cinematography gives the film a fantastic look. Whilst it’s a little dated now, it still looks better than most films from that time. Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score is breath-taking, adding to the film’s constant dread, you cannot but think of this film when you hear “Ava Satani”.
Like Hitchcock’s Psycho, Donner doesn’t rely on gore or cheap scares as he allows the story to build to a frightful climax between father and son and one of the best endings in modern horror. Yet Donner still manages to shock with a number of well-crafted deaths throughout the film.
The screenplay is fine, but it’s the cast that truly makes this film work; there are strong performances all round. Harvey Stephens ‘Damien’ is evil personified; such a fantastic performance and pivotal to the film’s success. Peck and Remick as Damien’s parents are both excellent, while the supporting cast of Whitelaw, Troughton and Warner are all outstanding. Whitlelaw delivers one of the creepiest Nanny’s I’ve see in any film; a suitable ally for the evil Damien.
I liked The Omen, I like it more now I’ve grown up, my favourite horror film from the 70’s.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
If George A Romero defined what a zombie film actually is with his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead (as chosen by Andrew in our last article), then it is with Dawn of the Dead that he reclaimed the mantle of master of horror from a succession of pretenders to the throne throughout the early part of the decade.
Wry and satirical, pre-empting the capitalist self-serving boom in the eighties by setting the majority of the movie inside a brand new shopping mall – “they’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here” – it is as biting in its message as the brain-munching zombies themselves.
From its explosive beginning as Kevin Foree and Scott H. Reiniger raid an apartment building infested with the undead, to the aggressive invasion of the fortified mall by a motorbike gang led by Tom Savini, when there’s no more room for zombies, the humans shall tear shit up instead. As friction rises between helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge) and his TV Exec wife Francine (Gaylen Ross), it impacts on the trapped foursome as a whole, forcing them to confront the horrors inside as well as outside of their confines.
Throw in a memorable soundtrack by Goblin, a sophisticated and darkly comical story (written by Romero) and a marauding horde of blood thirsty corpses and you’re left with not only one of the best horrors of the seventies, but possibly one of the best movies of all time.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Towards the end of the 70’s, most horror sub-genres had their rules and tropes set in stone. But Sci-Fi horror didn’t quite find its feet until 1979, when Ridley Scott scared an entire generation into sleeping with the lights on with Alien.
Until then, the only real Science Fiction in “Sci-Fi Horror” came on the form of dodgy body snatching pods and the “Thing from Outer Space”. Writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon would change that by introducing arguably the most terrifying monster in horror movies. The “Xenomorph”.
Ordered to investigate a distress call on a strange planet, Tom Skerritt and his misfit blue-collar crew (including Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and John Hurt) find nothing but an arachnid with a desire to attach itself to John Hurt’s face. A quarantine and a few experiments later and the thing seems to fall off like an old scab, appearing to leave Mr Hurt unharmed. You know, until he decides to give birth in the scariest, bloodiest way possible at the breakfast table!
What follows is possibly the scariest hour in film history. A dark, claustrophobic hunt for a seven foot bio-mechanical looking tower of teeth and more teeth while it, in turn, is hunting for Dallas (Skerritt) and his crew. Alien’s genius is in its simplicity. There is no complicated reason the creature kills. It just does. It’s not angry at its mum or its school councillor. It’s a killing machine, plain and terrifyingly simple and it’s coming for the unarmed, unprepared crew.
Alien solidified so much on its release. It made Sigourney Weaver a household name. It gave Ridley Scott his first massive success. But most importantly, it gave film lovers everywhere a reason to be fearful of heartburn more than three decades later.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
This version of the oft told vampire legend has many highs and lows, yet still manages to come out head and shoulders above any other version I’ve seen.
It’s beautifully shot in some wonderful locations, the lighting, tension building, long and lingering scenes stay in the memory. Klaus Kinski’s performance in the lead role is one of his finest. He brings an agonised, almost pitiful quality to the Count, without losing the base nature of the creature.
Isabelle Adjani’s portrayal of Lucy is extremely good. Her appearance in this is why Alison Brie looked so familiar to me, the likeness is very strong. This version of Lucy is brave (once she stops fainting) clever and cunning in her attempts to save her husband, Jonathan.
It’s Jonathan that brings the main low point. Bruno Ganz just isn’t very good in this. Guilty of terrible overacting in parts, both facial & body movements seem farcical in some scenes.
A hugely enjoyable film, even its faults are oddly entertaining. I’ve used the German title deliberately, see the German language version rather than the English. It’s far better, the English one really accentuates the faults and dulls the brilliance.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, picking our top five horror films of the eighties, where things will undoubtedly be louder, cruder and cooler.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full on retrospective treatment. Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.
Budget: $150 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Shrek 2 is a film of excess. If the original Shrek was a tight, lean, and meticulously calculated and planned film (the kind of tight, lean, meticulously calculated and planned film that could throw out $4 million worth of animation because its star figured out a better way of voicing the lead character late into production, but nonetheless), Shrek 2 is the gloriously bloated victory celebration that follows the breakthrough into the big time. It’s like when an Indie auteur who made a name for themselves for making tight, character-focussed stories and making the most of their miniscule budgets gets picked up by a major film studio, is given A Major Film Studio Budget and then goes mad from the power that’s been thrust upon them. The kind of film where nobody ever said no to anything he cooked up with it because he made it work before and surely they won’t let the power go their head, right? To put it in a more tortured and poorly-thought-out way, if Shrek was Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, then Shrek 2 was Heaven’s Gate, if you drop The Deer Hunter from this scenario and can get on this bizarre wavelength that I am currently operating on.
Shrek had a modest budget of $60 million, in the same ball-park as what-would-have-been-safe-bets-until-outside-circumstances-screwed-them-over Sinbad and Spirit. Shrek 2 had a budget of $150 million which, though it looks pretty standard today, was pretty frickin’ extravagant back then. Shrek had a star-studded lead cast but had its supporting characters mostly played production members. Shrek 2 has stars populating every single new and supporting role that wasn’t brought back from the last film. Shrek kept its focus laser-targeted to 3 characters (plus an under-developed villain only made interesting by John Lithgow’s performance) and gave each of them a tonne of development that felt natural and well-paced. Shrek 2 has at least 8 main characters and integrates its supporting cast into the plot as more than just one-appearance cameos, giving each of them some development but short-changing some of its cast (primarily the female side) for other members of its cast (primarily for the male side).
Shrek kept proceedings reserved to a handful of small locations, reflecting the relative small-scale of the story. Shrek 2 similarly has few locations but all of them are much, much bigger than before (Far, Far Away is a very unsubtle expy of Hollywood), reflecting the wider-scale of the story. Shrek featured pop culture references and parodies but derived most of its humour from character work and character interactions, the “satire” (in the thinnest definition of the word) and toilet humour aging poorly but not being the primary source of comedy. Shrek 2 is 80% pop culture references. Not parodies, references. And that’s not 80% of the jokes when I say “80%”, that’s 80% of the film. Shrek had a DVD bonus feature that was just a three minute extension of the Dance Party Ending from the film. Shrek 2’s DVD bonus feature is a mini-epic, a six-minute take-off of American Idol complete with a requisite flat appearance by Simon Cowell himself (during that sweet spot of the 00s where people still gave a sh*t about what he did on a daily basis) and the urging of the viewers to actually go online, for the first three days after it was released into the wild, and vote for which they thought was the best performance. Doris won, by the way.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Shrek 2 has aged poorly. Shrek 2 has aged really poorly. Shrek 2 has actually aged so poorly that I finished watching it and immediately questioned how on earth anyone found it any good in the first place. Considering the fact that this one is widely seen as DreamWorks’ creative high-point until Kung Fu Panda rolled around, I am baffled as to how bad this one is. But, like most things that are bafflingly poor, it went on to great success. In fact, “great” is probably understating it. Shrek 2 was a monumental success. Critically, it surpassed the original in terms of rave reviews, many even throwing around the phrase “a rare example of a sequel that’s better than the original.” Financially, it was the highest grossing film of 2004. Not “highest grossing animated film”, although it was that as well, not “highest grossing film domestically”, although it was also that too; Shrek 2 was 2004’s highest grossing film worldwide. Although it’s been displaced in terms of being the highest grossing animated film of all-time worldwide (by films with 3D premiums or re-releases or both, whereas Shrek 2 has neither), it’s still the highest grossing animated film of all-time domestically. The DVD and VHS releases have brought in, according to Wikipedia, $800 million for the company (although a miscalculation when reporting initial figures to investors led to DreamWorks Animation being sued by said investors cos, y’know, that’s the kind of world we live in), and the film was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar at the 77th Academy Awards, although it lost to The Incredibles (thank Christ).
So, as you can see, Shrek 2 is a major, major success story. The kind of success story that will go down in history as a great movie deservedly making all of the money, earning the respect it deserves from the normally snobby critical class, and remaining as a classic in the animation genre. No matter what I write about it, I will not be able to convince anybody, much less history, that we got it all horribly wrong and that this was where the decline of Western animated features and DreamWorks Animation as a whole began, not next week’s film (oh, Christ, I have to do Shark Tale next week…). Nevertheless, Shrek 2 is a bad film and the problem that it has, the biggest one of them all, is that everybody involved at DreamWorks seems to have learned the wrong lessons from the first Shrek’s success (and I get the very strong feeling that this will not be the last time I use that phrase). Back when we addressed the first Shrek, I noted that the thing that everyone latched onto as the reason why the film worked, the most quantifiable element, was its edge, its satire, its pop culture references. You may also recall that such a claim was emphatically shot down by myself (although I don’t purport myself to be an expert with these things, so feel free to tell me that I’m talking out of my arse) and that instead the reason the film connected was due to strong character work, an undercurrent of sadness and the same sappy romantic mentality that it spends most of its time pretending to dismiss with a dissatisfied mouth raspberry.
But, again, nobody realised that fact and everybody gravitated towards the quantifiable thing, the edge. So, rather than risk alienating audiences by giving them more of what they didn’t know made the first film work, that’s what DreamWorks doubled down on. I can understand why they’d want to play it safe. Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas had failed spectacularly, and between that and the DVD release of Shrek 2, DreamWorks itself had been sold to Paramount and the animation division had been spun off into a publically traded company (hence the suing over DVD sales). In fact, this can very much explain why DreamWorks Animation spent the rest of the decade playing it safe. See, unlike, say, Pixar, DreamWorks Animation can’t afford a giant bomb, as one enormous failure is enough to pull stockholder support from the company. Plus, why drastically change a formula that worked, eh? Why not take a victory lap and give the people what they want?
As you can probably guess, there are several good reasons why this shouldn’t be the case. But chief amongst them is the substitution of character for pop culture references. These are no longer three-dimensional characters that feel real and have genuine depth and multiple sides, these are simplistic one-dimensional caricatures designed to feed the plot and jokes through. Fiona, especially, is dumbed down and marginalised to hell and back. In the original, she was a well-drawn character whose overly-romanticised notions of fairy tale endings and how her story is “supposed” to go are built into the fact that she wants to become “normal” and to be freed from the curse placed on her, but over time she defrosts from these notions as she accepts her true self and finds love in unexpected Ogre-like places. In this film, she has all agency removed from her and simply becomes a thing that Shrek and the villains fight over, occasionally getting to complain about how the two men in her life aren’t getting along. Puss In Boots’ character arc, meanwhile, is zipped through in one three-minute scene, Donkey has had the sadness inherent to his character instead changed into a simple “he’s a petulant child” routine, and the villains remain villains because, well, they’re evil and stuff.
And that’s when they’re not just blatantly recycling material from the first film. The basic message of the first film, never deny your true self as you are special no matter how non-“normal” you may seem, is back and in full effect, but the genders are reversed this time so it’s completely different(!) True love comes in all shapes and sizes and it’s amazing no matter how it looks. Am I referring to Shrek 1’s moral or Shrek 2’s? Meanwhile, the “people who aren’t for your true love due to it not being ‘normal’ are meany-boo-beenies” message at least gets a boost due to the Fairy Godmother getting more screen-time and being a more interesting villain than Lord Farquad ever was, but the film doesn’t do anything with the villain set-up (she’s supposed to be this mega-famous, beloved fixer for Far, Far Away’s denizens, but the film only takes full advantage of this for one song during the climax) and the overall message is muddied by the fact that she has personal manipulative scheming stakes in the equation. After all, why tackle a giant concept and place the villainy on all of society when you can just have one “I’m evil because EVIL” mega-villain, eh?
Look, I wouldn’t have a problem with this, these are all morals that people today can do with being bludgeoned over the head repeatedly with, if the film found new beats to explore these themes with, or was at least entertaining enough to make it not an issue. But themes aren’t the only things that the film ends up recycling. Many jokes from the first film make a return in both an example of the writers misunderstanding how you do call-backs, and giving off the idea that everyone involved had just discovered what global warming was and decided to do their bit by wasting absolutely no resources from the first instalment. As an example, remember the “better out than in” gag? That’s back and there is basically no difference. Fiona burps, Shrek says his requisite line, and the rest of the participants of the scene are shocked because, “A LADY? Burping like A MAN?! Why I never!” Oh, sure, the order of the gag has been switched around, but the principles are the same; instead of being a cute little nod to how close Shrek and Fiona are as a married couple, like I imagine the intention was, it just becomes the same joke from the first film with the intention shoved so far into the background as to become unnoticeable because, again, IT’S THE SAME DAMN JOKE!
And then there are the pop culture references. Earlier in this article, I stated my belief that Shrek 2 is 80% pop culture references, but upon reflection and the further writing of this article I find that statistic to be a bit harsh. Let me rescind that and rephrase. Shrek 2 is about 75% pop culture references. There, forgot just how much recycling the film did! But, yes, barely a minute goes by without a pop culture reference bursting in through some window and dating the film immeasurably. And, no, I don’t mean “parodies” or “jokes”, I do mean “references”. A “joke” or “parody” would use the pop culture reference for genuinely subversive means, or at least have something to say or a reason for bringing it up. For example, Character A might remark that Character B is so fat that they could pass themselves off as one of Jabba The Hutt’s fat rolls. OK, that’s a bad example, because you may have gathered by now that I cannot write a funny joke to save anyone’s life, but hopefully you get where I’m coming from.
Shrek 2 does not have pop culture jokes or pop culture parodies. It has pop culture references. Things that were popular at some point or another, be they in celebrity culture or film or television or music or something, are presented to you and you’re supposed to laugh because that is a thing you recognise. This approach kind of works for the opening montage of Shrek and Fiona’s honeymoon, even if I did audibly eye-roll at the Lord Of The Rings “parody”, because the idea is to put both of these atypical characters into your typical sappy romantic lovey-dovey montage and let them be themselves for comic effect, but it’s the only time that the film actually places a meaning behind its references. In Shrek and Fiona’s room at the palace, there is a poster of Justin Timberlake on the ceiling because he was a total teen-girl crush at the time. OH, THE GUFFAWS I HAD! Puss In Boots is a take-off of the Zorro films, so it at least makes sense to do those requisite gags even if they don’t amount to anything more than, “Hey! That actor you know from that movie you liked is here in our film playing a character like that one!” But what is the point of the chest-burster reference in his first scene with Shrek other than to go “Alien was a thing! Laugh!” There’s a section where Shrek’s thwarted attempt to get back to Fiona is shown in an extended Cops reference, in an instance that feels more like the plot cramming itself into the reference than the reference coming organically from the plot. Joan Rivers (R.I.P.) shows up to do that thing she does, the Far, Far Away sign is done in the style of the giant Hollywood sign, the Fairy Godmother sings a godawful Eurodisco cover of “I Need A Hero” (a situation everyone could have avoided if they remembered that Bis once made an entire song deriding that type of genre, but I digress)…
Rarely do they actually help fill out the world of Far, Far Away or act as anything more than a glowing neon arrow pointing out just how much they are a thing that is a reference to a real thing you may quite possibly know. It’s all dated really, really poorly, playing now like a time-capsule of the year that it was released in and a really cringeworthy one at that. The rest of the jokes are aimed at kids; so you have fart jokes, chase scenes, characters spouting playground-ready catchphrases that act like they have been meticulously calculated in a factory somewhere for maximum parental-annoyance, and fairy tale characters doing stuff they’re known to do! You know: The Gingerbread Man goes on about The Muffin Man, The Big Bad Wolf lays in people’s beds, Pinocchio’s nose grows because he is a terrible liar, The Little Mermaid shows up kissing someone before being tossed back into the sea because “we’re to kewl for your sappy Disney fairy crap; now, to prove how hip we are, here’s a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song coming out of Captain Hook’s mouth!” I laughed at one of these, the arrival of Sleeping Beauty at the red carpet (it’s an easy joke but, goddammit, it’s executed with the perfect rapid-fire timing that pretty much nothing else in this film gets), and found only one other of these, the run-down bad guy bar populated by most of the land’s villains, to actually fit the world of Shrek. The ceaseless “look! It’s fairy tale characters in Hollywoodland!” schtick makes the world of the film feel unreal, too constructed, too much like a joke-machine than anything real and anything to get invested in.
To put it another way, the jokes drive the film and not the other way around. Again, unless that’s the point of the film, the comedy needs to come from the characters. You can’t force jokes into characters or situations that don’t fit it or don’t need it, it just makes everything come off as too constructed and too unnatural. You need the jokes to fit the situation or the character, and if they don’t then you need to drop them, regardless of how good they might have been. Shrek 2 too often lets the jokes drive the film and that, coupled with the pop culture reference well being the primary source of said jokes, creates a film that feels unnatural and lacking near-totally in heart and emotional investment. For example, straight after the prior-mentioned Cops segment, there’s a Mission: Impossible reference that then leads into a Kaiju movie parody (with said big dumb slow monster being named “’Mongo” because nobody was paid to think during the writing of this movie) and it feels completely unnatural and unnecessary, like the film is bending over backwards to fit these bits in somewhere because everybody involved thought they sounded really cool and couldn’t bear to just admit to cutting them as they don’t fit the story.
Oh, also, and normally I wouldn’t point this out but it’s indicative of a larger point, there’s this weird undercurrent of Transphobia running throughout the whole thing. I count at least 10 instances where the film pulls a “That man looks a lot like/dresses like a woman! EW!” joke from its arse and there is never once any change, never once any other tone, no overall subversion or message to make. Just “EW! That man looks like a butch woman! How different and wrong!” I don’t think that there was any malicious intent behind them, just overall laziness, a desire to just reach for the easiest jokes that require practically no skill or effort in telling and then knocking off for lunch. But it’s that laziness that permeates the entire venture known as Shrek 2, a safe bet made because “look at the extravagant piles of money that we can (and kinda need to) make” rather than any artistic reason for existing, and it just ends up drowning out the things the film does well. The voice acting is a noticeable improvement from pretty much everyone (even notable-Shrek 1-weak-link Cameron Diaz), pacing is still tight and fast, it touches on themes that highlight a better film underneath the muck, and animation is a vast improvement with extensive detail and smoother character movements… well, until Shrek’s human form took over the back third of the movie and my eyeballs involuntarily removed themselves from my skull and made a run for the Scottish border to get away from the hideous Uncanny Valley his face falls into.
But, again, what exactly do I gain by systematically pulling this film to shreds a decade on from its release? Shrek 2 is, according to the history books, a bona-fide success story. It debuted in the $100+ mil range, it stayed in the Top 10 for 10 weeks, it sold a fortune of DVDs, received giant critical acclaim, won a Grammy for “Accidentally In Love” (which is a good pop song but, let’s get real, is no “All Star”), proved that this is the template that animated films needed to take to be able to survive the decade, was held up as DreamWorks Animation’s creative peak until How To Train Your Dragon and the Kung Fu Panda series, and sufficiently enraptured 10 year-old me enough to see it in cinemas and watch it on DVD a whole bunch of times. It did its damage and nothing I write about it can change that fact. It won. Shrek 2 won. So this entire article is going to end up making me look like the kind of person who rags on about something that’s popular for no other reason than to prove my hipster credentials. It’s like when people crack jokes about U2, except that U2 haven’t written a good song in a decade and Shrek 2 is a bad film. It gave the people what they thought they wanted, the edgy kids’ film, and everybody was too in awe of that fact to realise that what they wanted was not what they thought they did. Unfortunately, people didn’t realise this until far too late.
It’s what’s going to make the next two months (barring one certain week) absolutely painful.
Next week: Shark Tale.
A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!
The Lost Reviews are articles that our editor produced for another publication but, for one reason or another, never got published.
It’s not because they’re shit. Honest.
After 24 years, Ridley Scott returns to the universe that spawned arguably his best film, and certainly one of his most influential. It’s clear from the outset however that this prequel isn’t ‘Alien Begins’; it’s a far different beast, owing more in terms of its tone and ambition to Scott’s other sci-fi classic Blade Runner. While aspects of Prometheus’ set-design and its action set-pieces share a lineage with Alien, this film is epic in scale rather than claustrophobic and dripping in terror.
And while Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is nowhere to be seen, Noomi Rapace stands in more-than-ably as Elizabeth Shaw – a scientist who discovers a clue to the origins of mankind. She persuades the Weyland Corporation (yes, that Weyland Corporation) to fund an expedition to the darkest reaches of the universe to confront mankind’s creators. This being an ‘Alien’ film though, the meeting is unlikely to result in a welcoming party or cosy chat over the family photo albums.
Rapace is excellent as the head-strong Shaw, which will be no surprise to those who saw her in the original The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo. The star of the piece, though, is Michael Fassbender as the ship’s android David. We see him watching David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and practicing Peter O’Toole’s mannerisms while the crew are in hyper-sleep. However, it is another David that seems to imbue Fassbender’s android – that of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. He has the same other-worldly presence, clearly fascinated by humans but easily corrupted by them.
Sadly, and unlike Scott’s original Alien, the rest of the crew aboard the good ship Prometheus are largely underwritten. Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pierce are all more than competent in their respective roles, but as the action steps up a gear in the second half they become reduced to two-dimensional plot-devices.
The other major problem is the film’s unanswered questions. It’s great to see a motion picture refusing to spoon-feed its audience, but the ambiguity will frustrate many viewers. Whether this is intentional or not depends on how you view script-writer Damon Lindelof’s TV series Lost. Hopefully a rumoured sequel, or the almost-inevitable Ridley Scott director’s cut, will expand on the themes explored here.
Regardless of its flaws, let’s be thankful people have still got the ambition to make films as beautiful and ambitious as Prometheus
So it came to pass that on the evening of 31st May, I managed to score a couple of tickets to the world premiere of Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction – the long-awaited Prometheus. After a discussion with the lovely lady who was dealing with our arrangements, it was decided that if Jeremy Clarkson was going to be there then we might as well go in jeans, shirt, and jacket as well. Clarkson-style. Except we made a pact not to insult public sector workers or an entire nation while we were there.
To hear what I thought about the film, you’ll have to download the next Failed Critics podcast (due tomorrow). What I will say is that I found it to be an enjoyable and intelligent sci-fi blockbuster, which looked gorgeous and had a couple of brilliant central performances.
Anyway, this is meant to be about me…
So we arrived at the Empire Leicester Square, and the entrance and red carpet was completely out of sight.
After picking up our tickets, we queued up along the outside of this pretty unglamorous dystopian fence and started to lower our expectations. We are going to be bundled in the back-door, but at least we get to see the film before the shitmuchers. So, we show our tickets, pass though a few security guards and end up being vomited out onto the red carpet…
And it wasn’t just us on the carpet. We had managed to turn up at the same time as Ridley Scott…
And I even managed to catch Charlize Theron’s eye in amongst all the chaos.
I didn’t have time to even think about the Richard Curtis-esque romantic comedy about to occur before we were ushered into the cinema to take our seats…
Oh, and Ridley Scott introduced the film about 15-feet in front of me. Front-row seats were a bit of a neck-ache for the film, but it was worth it for this…
If you want to know how my mate and I ended up chatting to a film star and getting into the after-show party – you’ll have to listen to this week’s Failed Critics podcast – available on the 4th June 2012!