Saturday, August 13, 2011
FREDDY VS. JASON
Starring - Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Christopher George Marquette, Lochlyn Munro, Katherine Isabelle, Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger
This is the movie I was born to write. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees were more of a father to me than my own father ever was, and I really should have found some ambition in order to repay the love that was doled out during my developmental years. Considering that I acquiesced to my apathy, special care is necessitated in separating my distastes for this film between biases and cinematic incompetence. Not that I disliked everything about Freddy Vs. Jason mind you, but the nuggets of gold that I did discover sure were buried deep. The fact remains that there was probably no chance that any Freddy Vs. Jason could have lived up to the 12 hour epic that repeatedly played itself in the theater of my imagination since the age of 7. (I still "watch" that one every now and again...) Now that the "Bout of Franchise Clout" has finally come to fruition, and with my hopes firmly nestled amongst the clouds, I can't help but feel average amounts of disappointment. Not surprising, but a much more agreeable outcome than the massive disappointment that could have resulted.
Topping the list of problems would have to be the overall writing. I realize the challenges posed in attempting to tie together years of source material, all the while appeasing a legion of fanatical followers, but that is exactly why meticulous attention needed to be exercised to insure equal respect for our heroes. By allowing Freddy a voice over at the outset of the film, he quickly takes on a more antagonistic role than Jason, who in turn becomes somewhat "backseat" material. I do understand this was probably the much easier route to go: Jason's character is, in many ways, a lack of character. It is a decision, however, that is accompanied by the risk of scorning those of us who remain loyal to both camps. This indiscretion may have been forgiven were it an isolated incident and not the film's seemingly general consensus. Picture, if you will, my excitement rebuilding as Freddy's voice over opens into a montage of past A Nightmare on Elm Street exploits; immediately, I was whisked back to my days of youthful viewing, when every horror sequel opened with a sequence of their here-to-fore greatest scares and kills. They were a reminder to grinning children everywhere not only of the heights of their achievements, but also that to which they aspire to overcome. As I patiently awaited Jason's turn, something began to darkly dawn on me: Jason wasn't getting one. Somebody with some influence decided it wasn't warranted. Rather, they opted to shoot some newly generic stalk and slash footage and crown it with a lame P.O.V. montage of some random counselors. What the hell? Was there no work-around here? The most likely answer would seem to be that the people who own the rights and the people who offered the monies do not play well together, even with Sean S. Cunningham's producing power. The result comes across as a predilection towards glove over hockey mask. These preferences reassert themselves in the number of scenes that strictly involve Freddy's interaction with the kids, namely his four big "dream scares", with nary a Jason in sight. Wes Craven, who takes one of four writing credits, and his cadre of lackeys even manage to rip-off the old Nightmare series much more often than the old Friday series. I don't know who you pissed off on the playground Cunningham, but your baby sure got the short end of that stick. Perhaps you and Craven arm-wrestled for exposure...
Nevertheless, if the Academy Awards have taught us anything, it's not about quantity of screen time as much as it is quality of screen time. Said screen time being pretty damn mediocre. I'll be the first to acknowledge that a lot of the actual close-up blood spurting looked quite pleasing, taking full advantage of the colours and sounds of arterial spray. The causal attacks however, despite being competently constructed, lacked any real innovation or flare. In my humble opinion, the best kill in the film is early on, never a good sign for a slasher flick, when Jason folds Blake backwards. Pretty cool. Somewhat cooler when I saw it in Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives, though. I've seen Jason impale a mid-coital couple. I've seen Freddy etch his message in the flesh of his victim. I've seen beheadings, electrocution, and blood thrown from off screen. Slasher sequel kills demand to be progressive not repetitive. When the creative think-tank do eventually veer away from the financial sprucing up of kills of yore, what do they come up with to sate my voracious appetite? That ridiculous Carroll-esque Freddy-pillar. Fucking weak. Despite parlaying itself into a decent, and still reminiscent, cleaved torso...
Regarding the championship rounds, I wasn't nearly as unsettled as when the duo were destroying anyone else. (Please do not construe this as being "fully satisfied".) I was adequately entertained by Freddy's MMA infused fighting style; it's just a shame that it was continuously overshadowed by rapidly-edited-action-movie-trickery. The most successful moments in the film are during it's simplicity; just the two main attractions on screen, slashing away at each other, utilizing each others' weapons/limbs. Unfortunately, their mere 2 confrontations severely limit this gleeful evisceration. What the film makers failed to understand is that we've got ourselves a "4 confrontation minimum" situation, and they should probably count themselves lucky that I don't insist on 8 or 9...Of course, following these idealistic guidelines would have meant sacrificing the screen time of some of the other 10 "characters".
In a perfect world, a movie like this would really only have two (obviously) developed characters, and a whole ton of nondescript, conventional, stock teenagers who only serve the purpose of slaughter. Alas, this is not the standard of cinematic story lines and popcorn flicks are forced to offer up a couple of empathetic personalities. In this particular case, it would seem as though too many male actors were promised roles and had to be accommodated. Freddy Vs. Jason stacks itself with a wide array of likeable character-actors, only to spread itself so thin that it fails to spend any real constructive time with a single one. Wisely hinging on perennial horror charmer Monica Keena, the flick commits to the three lead females in the beginning, (under-utilizing another adorable genre fave, Katherine Isabelle,) and then cycles through male after male trying to divvy up the screen time equally. When Linderman chimes in with "He's the real Jason" mere moments after hearing the legend for the very first time, I felt not a sense of Linderman's conviction, rather an understanding of the notion that his character hasn't said anything in a while. From Trey and Blake, to Will and Mark (and the baggage of his brother), to Linderman, to Stubbs, to Mr. Campbell, the film has overdosed, offering no individual any real quantity or quality simply because it's too damn busy. Adding insult to injury, viewers are then subjected to one of the greatest "character tragedies" in recent memory with the so-blatant-it's-ballsy rip-off of Kevin Smith's "Jay". Unbelievably, all those involved thought that nobody would notice, or that teens in the know would be too amused by his "stoner" antics to care. Insulting? Probably. Infuriating? Definitely.
Freddy Vs. Jason would have benefited from keeping it's characters at one end of the spectrum or the other. Characters who are richly developed, genuinely intriguing, or plain old funny are just as sought after as in other genres, and I'm inclined to believe have a fairly comparable success rate. Otherwise, just be contented with a single-note stereotype; give the guy a football, or a textbook, or a tie-dyed shirt, or what have you, and toss him on a harpoon, or under a lawnmower, or in a thresher, or what have you. If not, you just end up wasting precious Freddy and/or Jason time.
The question that then begs to be asked is which came first; the expansive cast list, or the erratic, unfocused story, and the subsequent plot holes that follow? The most grievous error comes when the predetermined mythology gets altered, seemingly in an effort to placate the "new breed" of horror fans, leaving us old schoolers balking at the change. Jason afraid of water? Not in my day... The very introduction of this preposterous notion directly contradicts a large of number of kills from the original Friday series in which Jason voluntarily submerges himself. If the powers that be think I'm going to convince myself that the ultra sweet "spear-gun-to-the-groin" of Friday the 13th Part III was nothing more than a dream, then they can suck my dick. Oh, I'm sorry... it's implied that Jason is afraid of running water; well, given that he drowned in a lake as opposed to a bathtub, that New Line of reasoning is equally flimsy. (...And don't cite Jason Takes Manhattan as a means of defense, because that climax is just as ridiculous.)
That said, I did get a kick out of the hypnocil tie-in to Nightmare III; pity that it served only the purpose of shuffling the action around to a couple of different locations. The kids all make their way to the clinic to retrieve the drug, but what was the real motivation behind that escapade? A couple of issues pertaining to the errant thread of Lori's father are addressed, and the gang emerges with a subdued Jason, a plot driver that could have taken place anywhere. Inspecting closer, the true mystery becomes how Jason arrived at Weston Hills so quickly. Either he's a very brisk jogger, or he was soaking up some hospital atmosphere prior to their arrival.
Sloppy construction runs rampant through the unfolding, reinforcing the theory of the film's general distraction, all the while wrenching the viewer from the minimal amounts of immersion they have struggled to establish thus far. What group of teenagers would bear witness to the slaughter-fest at the barn party, flee by the skin of their teeth, then opt to simply go home? Does a good nights rest take precedence over discussing the homicidal maniacs seemingly hellbent on your destruction? Was someone less fearful of being hacked to pieces than they were of missing "Pancake Sunday"? I find it very disconcerting to be removed from a film as a result of crumbling verisimilitude.
There are many fingers of blame to point around here, the difficult task lying in the rigidity of each one. Surely the writers and producers deserve a stiff one, but my index gets a little shaky when trained on Ronny Yu. He seems to be more guilty of not learning from his Asian directing forefathers then he does of being the commanding presence behind this movie. After building a respectable career in Hong Kong combining a mixture of favored genres with cultural expression, and culminating in the stunning The Bride With White Hair, he probably imagined his name in bright Hollywood lights and set out for stardom. In the land of opportunity he gets handed a couple of moderately curious projects and told to spruce it up with his own touches. Sure, he's dabbled in horror before, (and Bride of Chucky is a bit more successful than this outing,) but why was he given something like Formula 51 before Fearless? So, Ronny Yu tries his damnedest, hence the kung-fu fights and couple of stylish shots, but his potential comes across stifled. American dreams once again held back by authority. I shudder to imagine the difficulty involved in arguing with a group of high-falutin producers who are convinced that because something worked in one of the original series' it has to work again with more money. Sorry, Ronny...but I'm pretty sure you can cry on the shoulder of Woo...or Hark...or Lam...or any number of similarly situated sympathizers...
In a small way, I too am to blame. Were my self-proclaimed passions truly at the heights that I have declared, why was I not driven to submit my own script? Once again I was thwarted by laziness and denied myself, and the world, the true loving treatment our heroes deserved. Thus I settle; I wade through the muddle on a fairly regimented basis, just to catch those fleeting glimpses of Freddy/Jason slashing away at Jason/Freddy. Even the smallest portions of a realized dream are worth revisiting. On a side note, I'm pitching an ongoing Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Everyone series if you know anyone who's interested...