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Friday, July 31, 2009

Cinema Liberties

There are cinemas that are very firmly rooted in the real world and picture images and sound words seen in our homes and our neighbors. That fraction is negligible; the majority of the movie goers don't want to see a 'Pather Panchali' or a '21 Grams'. It's quite the opposite where they want to escape from their daily realities and see a dinosaur chasing a car or a 800-pound gorilla destroying a city. Almost every story told takes a certain amount of liberties - be it physical, political, biological, psychological.... heroes fly, doctors cry "what a medical miracle", judges reach verdicts the same day they hear trials, presidents achieve political solutions after make-believe negotiations.... And a somewhat intelligent viewer doesn't dig deep into the process, he just knows these are the means to tell a story and decide to play along with the writer/director. But this ploy of over-simplification on part of the film-maker takes a beating if the story itself sucks or has glaring holes.
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I saw 'Public Enemies' recently, the story of John Dillinger, a famous bank robber during the depression era. He's touted as, obviously, a public enemy by the bureau of investigation (before it went federal, and thus becoming FBI), his posters are out, he's shown in news reels before cinemas begin and the common man (& woman) know how he looks like. But guess what, this John Dillinger guy is always in open - at a race course, cinema theater, restaurant... without any make-up at all. In a hard to believe scene he even walks into a police office dedicated to hunting him down and converses with one of them. Michael Mann's movie, is very good in almost every dimension - action, direction, production design, costumes. But this aspect where he's just walking in the park but nobody nabs him is irksome and bring down its believability.

'Ice Age 3' posed another problem. We have dinosaurs at the end of ice age - which is a scientific impossibility. But apart from that, there's a whole range of species from which you can draw a forest food chain and they're walking and talking together as friends. This is not only rosy for kids but also incorrect. I wanted to ask my 10-year old niece with whom I watched "Did you ever wonder what they all did for lunch?" And then there's the impossibly horrible 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' where there's a whole world in the core of our planet. The story takes colossal scientific liberties which grind chillies on viewer's eyes (an Indian metaphor) over and over again.

But I don't have complaints when a 78-year old ties up thousands of balloons to his home and flies it from somewhere in USA to somewhere in South America without any GPS in 'Up'. It's a beautiful movie with a subtle message for adults, nice humour and a gentle touch of love throughout. Nor with 'Kungfu Hustle' which has no shred of logic and takes pride in its supreme lunacy. There's this little known Tamil film 'Thedinen Vandhadhu' which I find hilarious - a low budget 'B-center' offering which just fires on all humorous cylinders. It's my guilty pleasure, no doubt, but it has huge legion of cult following like 'Kadhanayagan'. Where 'Public Enemies' and 'Ice Age' failed 'Up' & 'Kadhanayagan' succeeded because it had my attention. I liked the what the characters said and did. The story is fantastic (as in unbelievable) but I lent myself to the story-tellers completely without any questions.
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Grabbing the audience's attention and holding on to it for most of the running length determines the commercial worthiness of a movie. Such a silly point to make, but I wonder why many writers, directors and producers miss it. To simply state that my taste didn't suit a movie or the audience are not mature enough to appreciate it is a bad argument. These products don't make any money for their bosses. Then why do the studios green light such projects? The truth would be close to 'studios are experimenting tones and styles and stories to see if this clicks with the audience'. You wouldn't know that a series like Austin Powers would take off until they're made. I think 'American Idol' is horrible, but I don't question the studio's judgement. But sometimes they overestimate the stupidity of audience and create what everyone equally considers to be a great bummer. A good way to cull them out is to check IMDb ratings which are broken down by sex and age - there are cinemas that have dismal score in almost all the categories.
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