Author Topic: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi  (Read 13345 times)

PeacefulAnarchy

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #120 on: April 27, 2012, 03:09:51 PM »
The Abyss
Right, so I watched this a couple of days after it was dictated but the vitriol that would have spewed from me in a review at the time would have been a mess, then I forgot about writing one, so here goes, two and a half months after the fact.

The Abyss is a terrible film, and I don't know which of its many qualities bothered me most, so we'll run down the list. To begin with the acting is horrid and only mildly improves to bad as the film goes on. I actually thought the lead was an Ed Harris lookalike because I couldn't believe he'd give such an awful performance. Admittedly the terrible, corny dialogue would be hard for anyone to work with but everyone here has the charisma and emotional complexity of a paper towel. It's just a series of hollow emotional beats that feel designed to manufacture drama and prolong the torture. Then we get to the cinematography, with Cameron's camera constantly moving and giving different angles. It feels like an attempt to show off his sets and CGI (I felt the exact same way about the nauseating cinematography in Avatar) and I find it to be a constant distraction. It's particularly annoying here because it works against the claustrophobic environment of a submarine. Then we have the score, oh how I hate the score. To be fair, I hate a lot of scores, especially ones like this one that strive to be in your face, or ears I guess, and dictate emotional cues, rather than stay in the background and support the film's emotional cues.

So we have a horrid, to me, presentation, but maybe there's some value in the content. Maybe. The first problem is that the writing is awful. The dialogue is a big part of that, written as if Cameron's only familiarity with human interaction was movie cliches. Even when he's subverting them it's in such a safe and unoriginal way. The story, about these underwater miners drafted to find a submarine, is plodding and unengaging. I guess if, like Cameron, you're in love with the depths of the sea that might be enough, but he makes no effort to transfer that love to the audience, and frankly we see little of the wonders of underwater life. So we see alternating scenes of manufactured peril and stilted emotional progress, plodding for nearly 3 damn hours. It's unending tedium. I made the mistake of watching the long cut, and maybe the theatrical cut would be a bit more bearable, there's certainly plenty of useless stuff to cut, but it wouldn't make it a better film.

OK, so all of that is bad, but Cameron is trying to say something with the film, an important message about humanity's unending self aggression. Sure, and that's the one part that I could almost like, if it weren't so terribly handled. The first problem is that, for all his peace loving ways, Cameron can't help but be in love with militarism and aggression. The way his camera idolizes the soldiers and the way he attributes any defects not to the inherent objectives of military might and structure but to underwater insanity and lack of vision is maddening. The film has several action films that pander to the very human elements he's purportedly trying to criticize, and it does so without a hint of awareness. Then we have the way the message is built up. Everything, and everyone, is a plot device and it really makes any message he's building feel hollow. There isn't an organic construction or destruction of ideals, just a series of scenes and then "oh here's the big revelation, deep isn't it." The kicker, though, is his one departure from artificiality. His decision to use real world footage of human atrocities to highlight the climax of his simplistic message is the height of offensiveness. That scene of Ed Harris's magical alien encounter moved this movie from dull and bad to aggressively horrid. The self congratulatory ending just added to that.

Hmm, seems I still have some vitriol for the film after all.

oldkid

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #121 on: April 27, 2012, 03:22:22 PM »
Wow, that's a shame, because I have a lot of appreciation for the film.

Although I have to admit that your point of the film pandering to that which is supposed to be criticising is an interesting one.  I'll have to watch for that next time I view it.  But in the end, that isn't any different from Tarantino, although Q glories in it even more.  I don't have a problem with giving someone an entertaining ride on the way to a point, but if the ride completely undermines the point, that seems to be a problem.

I never found the acting that horrible, the effects are great and the story may not be deep but it's fun.  Too bad you didn't care for despised it.
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MartinTeller

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #122 on: April 27, 2012, 03:27:23 PM »
Cameron is brilliant at action scenes but absolutely horrible with dialogue.  I do remember enjoying The Abyss (the original version, not the goofy extended/director cut) but it's been a mighty long time.

PeacefulAnarchy

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #123 on: April 27, 2012, 03:46:27 PM »
Although I have to admit that your point of the film pandering to that which is supposed to be criticising is an interesting one.  I'll have to watch for that next time I view it.  But in the end, that isn't any different from Tarantino, although Q glories in it even more.  I don't have a problem with giving someone an entertaining ride on the way to a point, but if the ride completely undermines the point, that seems to be a problem.
The difference is that Tarantino does it within a framework where the violence fits the tone, generally. I don't have inherent issues with violence in film or pacifism in film, or even using violence to argue for pacifism. It's the way Cameron is so uncritical in his adoration of violence, and militarism in particular, while at the same time expounding a message that is incongruous to that. It's not limited to this film either. Avatar has the same issues, maybe on an even bigger scale. You can show me a big explosion and chastise me for enjoying it, but it goes too far when you show me a big explosion, revel in it even more than I do, and then chastise me for liking it. It's even worse when it turns out I didn't like the explosion at all. The love for the military as a concept, even as he criticizes everything inherent in that concept, is also really troubling to me.

Also, like a lot of things in film when you mix entertainment with a message, one is a lot more willing to let incongruous things slide when one finds the entertainment actually entertaining. Since I didn't find much of anything in the film fun it left me a lot of time to pick apart what I didn't like and why. Plus, did I mention the film is really long? That's a lot of time to ponder its inconsistencies.

I will agree the effects are very good. I don't much care about that, but that water alien thing seemed just as real as the human characters.

sdedalus

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #124 on: April 27, 2012, 03:52:10 PM »
Cameron is brilliant at action scenes but absolutely horrible with dialogue.  I do remember enjoying The Abyss (the original version, not the goofy extended/director cut) but it's been a mighty long time.

It's been forever since I've seen it as well, but I recall the mix of character and action to be unusually strong for a Cameron film.  Right up there with the first Terminator.
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oldkid

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #125 on: April 27, 2012, 03:56:33 PM »
I would argue that Tarantino promotes and glories in violence even more than Cameron does.  Cameron has violence as part of the context, but often there is a little discomfort as to its use (Aliens for example.  Tarantino is more like, C'MON LET'S GO FOR IT, and absolutely revels in the high level of violence, even making it a virtue before saying, "Well, let's not get too carried away."
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

PeacefulAnarchy

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #126 on: April 27, 2012, 04:10:28 PM »
I would argue that Tarantino promotes and glories in violence even more than Cameron does.  Cameron has violence as part of the context, but often there is a little discomfort as to its use (Aliens for example.  Tarantino is more like, C'MON LET'S GO FOR IT, and absolutely revels in the high level of violence, even making it a virtue before saying, "Well, let's not get too carried away."
They do it in different ways. Tarantino is certainly more in love with violence in itself, he sees it as an almost artistic expression, a visual flair that permeates and punctuates his films. He takes that very violence to a conclusion that makes you question just what's attractive about it. I do have a bit of the problem with Tarantino in the way he loves the violence so much that the criticism is a little hollow, but it feels like he's aware of the inherent contradictions and plays with them.

Cameron loves violence in a different way, from the perspective of destruction but, even more from its militaristic underpinnings. Look at Avatar, Aliens, Terminator, True Lies, and The Abyss, all those films present a certain vision of toughness, of ruthlessness, of wild destruction, of a an almost fetishistic adoration of militaristic order with just a tiny hint of conscience. And I never get the feeling he comes down on those things in the end. It's almost like they're separate entities from the peacenik messages he tries to shoehorn in. He's almost justifying not just the instantiated violence but the very foundation of violent adversarial relationships, while lamenting the loss of an idealistic utopia that never was.

verbALs

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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #127 on: April 27, 2012, 05:21:01 PM »
I love The Abyss. I love that relationship in the middle of it. I love Biehn going postal. Most of all I love the sheer sci-fi originality of it. I've seen no story in any medium that looks in at the mysteries of the ocean, that inner space, while we obsess with outer space, and turns into science fiction wonderment. I'm surprised anybody could watch this film and not link it to what Cameron has had the guts and chequebook to achieve recently. Cameron loves militarism and aggression? Not Cameron loves water? Virgil falling towards the ocean floor? No....nothing?
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Re: February 2012 MDC: Sci-Fi
« Reply #128 on: May 22, 2012, 08:56:24 PM »
Better late than never, I imagine: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan