OCTOBER 12, 2008
Whenever a creative duo splits, I am instantly curious as to how well they fare on their own. After making 5 movies in a row for Bruckheimer, Michael Bay went off and did The Island, which had some of his trademark action but was otherwise his first movie that was concerned with plot and character. It failed, so off he went to Transformers, a film that would do Brucky proud. And Bruckheimer hasn’t made a single R rated movie since, focusing instead on family films. Anyway, being a big fan of Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, I was initially kind of bummed that Jean-Pierre Jeunet went off on his own, but with the exception of Alien Resurrection (which isn’t THAT bad, just not up to par), he has proven to be a capable filmmaker (still bummed that Very Long Engagement failed to reach the same level of success as Amelie). However, Marc Caro had been MIA, so when I saw he had made his own film, Dante 01, I was pretty excited.
That excitement was dulled, however, once I got twenty minutes into the film and realized I wasn’t engaged at all by what was on the screen. After another 20 minutes I realized I didn’t UNDERSTAND what exactly was happening, and by the hour mark I was merely just sort of looking at the movie, not even bothering to try to make sense of it.
One problem, perhaps the biggest, is that the entire cast is made up of bald dudes in ugly brown jumpsuits. It’s a dark movie by design (made darker by a poor projection on DVD), so any scene where 3-4 of the guys are running around stabbing each other or whatever is completely incoherent. The only two guys I can single out are Lambert Wilson (in a nearly mute starring role as a Jesus incarnate) and Dominique Pinon, who as usual is terrific and fun to watch. I’m not sure why Caro would choose the spaceship movie route after seeing what happened to Jeunet on Alien, but I’m glad he convinced Pinon to don the spacesuit and stand in front of greenscreens again (Pinon even has another underwater scene!).
It’s also a movie that lacks any sort of drive. We are told that everyone on the ship is going to die, but from what is beyond me. Something about the ship colliding with a planet or whatever? It’s hard to get really pumped about such a scenario when the film itself doesn’t seem to be too concerned about it. If anything, the movie is like an episode of Aeon Flux, with the same things just happening over and over: Lambert sees an orange squid/alien thing inside someone, he sucks it out, pukes and screams, some bald dudes run around and fight, other bald dudes watching them say things like “it worked!”, and then the whole thing starts all over again. Then all of a sudden the bald observers team up with the bald assholes to send Pinon to his doom, a shuttle explodes, Lambert leaves the ship and has a 2001/Windows screensaver CGI fit, and then Caro tosses in ridiculously unsubtle Jesus imagery before rolling the credits. In short, there was absolutely no narrative structure to anything in the final 30 minutes.
Luckily the movie is at least shot well, and the effects are good. And I can’t help but be somewhat entertained by a movie this baffling. Unfortunately, some of that entertainment stemmed from thinking about better, similar movies, including 2001, Sunshine, Event Horizon, Das Experiment, and also, inexplicably, the PC game Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (a prequel game to Chronicles of Riddick, or sequel to Pitch Black, depending on how you prefer your Riddick).
So I dunno, it’s not for me, but certainly some folks dug it (my friend Joe really enjoyed it, which I felt bad about later because I was sitting behind him and probably drove him insane by muttering “WHAT?” every 5 minutes. Sorry Joe!), and I can see it being a minor cult classic among fans of French horror. It would make a hell of a Blu-Ray (since it’s so dark, the improved contrast range Blu offers is practically a necessity), and if it had commentary (or even a shooting script) on it I would be first in line to pick it up at Best Buy (or Amazon!). I have a feeling that it could be like Southland Tales, in which once you accept it for what it is (and what it isn’t) and are provided with some background info that isn’t in the film (apparently their budget was cut in half halfway through production), it would actually be something I enjoy. For now though – life’s too short to be confused for 90 straight minutes. At least Southland has a good soundtrack to make up for it.
What say you?