Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Movie News: Buffy Reboot

Recently announced plans to reboot late-90s TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer without director/writer Joss Whedon have thrown devoted fans into a tizzy. I think it's a bad idea, but not for all the usual reasons.

First, Buffy was very well-received in its original run, which is recent enough to remain in many potential viewers' minds. Recent popular reboots have generally rescued previously lackluster franchises like Batman, not tried to follow up shows that are already making top ten lists. The subject matter (vampire teen drama) is also a declining fad. As a result, the movie will be in for a lot of undeserved criticism even if it is excellent - not the best place for a commercial venture.

Second, the best parts of Buffy were either expert iterations of the show's core premise - "high school meets horror with a strong heroine" - or experimentations with the form. The first category lends itself very well to an iterative format where the characters develop but the plot doesn't - i.e. a TV show, not a two-hour movie. The second category is pretty much the exclusive province of serial narratives like TV, books or comics, where a sea of largely forgettable exposition can be cashed for great moments that require a prior investment in the series - the musical episode, the silent episode, the grief episode, the puppet episode, etc. To play with the movie form, you want an original IP, not something that has to stop and wink to the fans every 15 minutes.

Third is the cautionary tale of Buffy's slow slide into fantasy schlock. Like its cousins Harry Potter and Twilight, the show flounders almost immediately upon leaving behind the main setting, the main love triangle, and half the supporting cast. Further high points in the storyline all revolve around the dramatic return of characters from back when the show was good, now freed of their earlier plot shackles. The reboot is "not the same old high school Buffy" - but unfortunately, the true potential of Buffy was when she could be described in those terms. Past that, you're just putting Hellboy in a push-up bra and saying, "Hey guys! I crack wise and banish demons to the pits of Hell! Why doesn't everyone want to see this movie?!?"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Harry Potter 7.1 has the unenviable task of turning the most turgid bits of the Harry Potter series into a film. Every last bit of action is played up as far as possible, every comedic opportunity seized with aplomb, and our heroes still spend upwards of half the movie wandering around in a deserted forest sniping at each other and whining about how hard their job is. If it were twenty minutes shorter, it would actually be pretty good, assuming a proper finale follows it next year. The directing really keeps this film alive: every time you roll your eyes, there is a scene change or an inappropriate joke or (weirdly) an extended storybook animation sequence to divert your attention until it's back to brooding and unresolved sexual tension. One noticeable gaffe is the narrative dissonance between the heroes' pervasive fear of Voldemort and his unambitious presentation as an evil CEO with a creepy face. A little more mystery would have helped sell his evil powers when the plot gives him no real opportunity to do so.

My real beef with Deathly Hallows #1 is J.K. Rowling. I'm not the first one to note that Harry and company are suddenly transported into a narrative straight out of Zelda - the good guys have to assemble the following items before returning to the location of the first book in the series, just like a bad video game:
  1. 7 Horcruxes, magic items that Voldemort hid years ago and is remarkably nonchalant about protecting
  2. 3 Deathly Hallows, legendary magic items that nobody bothered to collect until Harry and Voldemort had the idea at the exact same time
  3. 1 legendary sword
  4. 1 replacement magic wand
  5. 3 gifts from Albus "Deus Ex Machina" Dumbledore, which are so convenient they imply that Dumbledore has read ahead in the series
Rowling sees the end on the horizon but is still unwilling to kill more than 1 character per book, or to avoid a happy ending for any of Harry's merry band, so she contents herself with systematically eliminating all of Harry's escape clauses so they can be replaced with new ones. Owl with a homing beacon? Elf immune to anti-magic fields? Plucky wizard resistance group? They bite the dust in tearful, dramatic scenes, which lose much of their value for those of us who haven't been exposed to any Harry Potter since the last movie came out. Pro-Harry critics make admirable attempts to read a deeper meaning into the structure of this penultimate installment, but really it's just there to handle the ridiculous amount of exposition Rowling pulls out of her hat to make sure everyone doesn't see the twist ending coming from 300 pages away.

P.S. The funniest thing about this movie is still the Potter Puppet Pals, which had us all grinning from ear to ear late into the night.