August 17, 2009

Terminating the In Laws

Over the weekend I decided to watch the film The In Laws with Alan Arkin and Peter Falk. The classic joke from this film is to shout "serpentine" in reference to a scene in which Falk is trying to instruct Arkin on how to avoid being shot by snipers. "Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!"

Like other movies from the 70's (this one was released in '79) this film had a soundtrack that made me feel a bit dyspeptic. But that's not why I found the film, overall, to be less than compelling.

Older comedies quite often portray situations that are intended to be zany, and they would be pretty zany if they happened to you in real life. However, we are used to movie life being much more crazy and unbelievable. The expectations of a 2009 movie viewer are much higher.

For example, when cars are chasing each other around a dirt road, and do a lot of circling back around on each other, that would be funny if you were driving one of the cars. But watching it is just not as funny as, say, the car chase in The Blues Brothers in which the method of escape from a parking lot car chase is to drive right into the mall. Only one year later (1980) and The Blues Brothers ruined the car chase in The In Laws. Subsequent movies had had to meet or beat that difficult standard.

This is not to imply that all movies which have since been made have improved on their predecessors.

Speaking of standards, I saw a completely new movie which had none. It is called Terminators and it is a direct-to-DVD-and-SyFy-Channel ripoff of the Terminator series. It's not associated with the people who made the popular Terminator movies (and less popular but undeservedly canceled TV show) but it does steal most of its ideas from those films.

The amazing thing about this film is that it appears to have been stitched together from clips that were filmed before they had the plot worked out. Certain creative choices led me to this conclusion. For example, there were long shots of the cast having discussions about what to do next. You couldn't see any faces or lips moving, and the dialogue was looped over the footage. I assume that they just hadn't finished writing the dialogue when they were filming, and so they put shots like this in to fill in "plot." There were many scenes of arguing about things that had little to do with advancing the plot.

In some ways, this is an ingenious way to create a film. You can film the thing while you're still writing the script! Unfortunately, the product is completely unwatchable crap.

Posted by James at August 17, 2009 11:14 AM
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Kind of sounds like how they made the movie in Bowfinger (the first half of it, anyway; I fell asleep watching it and missed the rest).

Posted by: Julie at August 17, 2009 1:29 PM

This style of filmmaking is fallout from the current reality TV craze. These "shows" are scripted to a fare-thee-well as they are being filmed.

(Did anyone really think voting for your favorite Survivor member made a bit of difference to the script writers?)

Posted by: givesgoodemail at August 20, 2009 2:39 PM

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