FEBRUARY 22, 2009
The Oscars aren't the only overlong and filler-filled thing I watched today, as I decided to make Michael Lives: The Making Of Halloween my movie for the day. Clocking in at four hours and twenty minutes (longer than Che!), I realized that if not considered my movie for the day, I would never get around to watching it. But I have counted documentaries in the past, and there is certainly no interest in this movie beyond horror fans, so I feel its certainly a qualifiable entry.
You would think that at 4.5 hours, there would be absolutely no area of the film's production or history left untouched. It was seemingly edited together long after the film's release, once it had made its money back and the involved folks had some hindsight. Also, it's a remake of the most acclaimed slasher movie of all time, and thus in turn was met with the most scrutiny of any horror remake ever (more than even Psycho 1998, which at least had a more prestigious director and much less "internet presence" than Halloween 2007). And yet, the documentary addresses none of these things. If it wasn't for Adrienne Barbeau (whose role ended up on the cutting room floor) pointing out that she was once engaged to the "director of the original", John Carpenter wouldn't be mentioned at all. The only time Rob mentions the original is when the original Strode house is pointed out during location scouting (to which he quite ironically replies "I don't want this movie to have a bunch of cameos"). This also leaves some odd holes in the narrative (for lack of a better word); we see the casting details for several cast members, but not Danielle Harris, the only actor in the film with a previous relationship with the series.
But I can forgive that - they are, for all intents and purposes, making their own movie, and the documentary actually succeeds where the film failed in allowing the audience to forget all about the original film and focus on Rob's vision. Even when they are doing something again, like Lynda's death, the presence of Rob and the rest of the crew allows you to get lost in this version without constantly having the memory of the original intrude.
However, I cannot forgive making a documentary that runs more than twice the length of the film itself that never once includes any sort of reflection or insight. We see footage of the reshoots, but neither Rob or anyone else comments on why they are even being done, let alone whether they think they are for the better or not. The entire post production process is limited to about 30 seconds of Tyler Bates composing his score and ONE SHOT of editor Glenn Garland sitting at an Avid. Even if they wanted to avoid the possible negative connotations of discussing the studio-enforced reshoots, how do you make a movie about a film's production and skip over such a crucial element like editing?
The ultimate problem is the lack of honesty. If this movie is truly a full picture of the production (which its length would certainly suggest), was there never a single problem on set? The only time we are led to believe that the entire production didn't go as smoothly as possible is when we see a few birds squawking through a shot. Oh and (thank Christ I didn't watch this three weeks or more ago) a quick shot where Rob berates the DP for tweaking lights. Heh. "Fuckin' amateur!"
And that's what really bugged me. You watch these types of things for dirt, and the movie (directed by Rob himself) offers none. And without the presence of reflection, on ANYONE'S part, you could just add in people saying "it's a wrap!" and "I think it will be great!" type things, add in the final 5 seconds of the trailer, and end the thing at any point in the film. Half hour, two hours, or even a longer six hours, you'd be left with the exact same feeling.
And that's a shame, because not only is it a giant missed opportunity for Rob to speak his mind freely, but the length will keep people away. At an hour, maybe more folks would be inclined to watch the making of the film whether they liked it or not, and they would possibly learn some interesting things. For starters, Rob is a very hands on director. Many times during the movie we see him dressing props and such, or helping the crew to tear apart the basement to make it look more aged. He's also very good with talking to the actors and fleshing out certain scenes and even individual lines of dialogue. A lot of directors seem to be one or the other, but Rob seems to be the rare kind who is just as concerned with technical details as he is with performance. As I've said before, his writing, which is spotty at best, constantly betrays the fact that he really is a strong director, and I think that if he allowed someone else to write a script for once, we as fans would get something truly great.
Another thing that the movie does a good job of depicting is how much work goes into creating a seemingly simple shot. Michael crying outside of his house requires props to put together a bucket of candy, set designers to not only find leaves (in Pasadena) but age them and blow them across the scene in a realistic manner, lights that can light the actor without looking unnatural, a camera angle that can get what Rob wants but also hide all of the palm trees... On one of the Star Wars prequels, there is an extra feature about all of the work it takes to pull off a single shot, and it's far more successful, because it only takes a half hour to get that point across, not 4+. And again, without having any insight on the film as a whole, or the challenges of pulling off a remake of a revered film, the only thing one CAN really take from the film is "Making a movie is a lot of work".
There is one moment that can almost qualify as a comment on the film's final product, though I am sure it's not the intent at all. During a night shoot, we see the crew having some trouble with young actors portraying trick or treaters. The exact issue is unclear, but regardless, at one point Rob just says "Screw it, let's move on to Michael". Seeing as how one of the film's bigger problems was the lack of Halloween atmosphere in the modern day scenes, it's interesting to note that Rob at least intended to have more of it. It's just a shame we have no followup. Did he regret cutting the shot? Did it help things in the long run? We will probably never know.
Here's the thing: I like Rob. I interviewed him twice for the film back in 2007, once before, once after I saw it, and enjoyed both chats. He's a smart guy, he's funny as hell, and even though he tends to mislead or downright lie about certain things (he told me that Bob's death was reshot because the original was shot quickly and wasn't what he wanted, yet the documentary shows them working on the scene during the daylight hours and shooting it at night), he can also be refreshingly honest about how he feels about certain aspects of filmmaking and horror in general. He also hates us (horror journalists), so in a weird way I respect him taking the time to talk to us and generally being open and personable. And yes, I'm actually looking forward to H2 (Rejects is way better than Corpses, and this will be entirely his own creation in terms of storytelling), and even if it's terrible, I'll still be interested in what he does next. But in the end, I can't really recommend this documentary. There's some good stuff in there, but the length and lack of focus just keeps it from being worth your time. Even if you're a die hard fan of the film, do you really need to spend nearly five hours of your day watching repetitive footage of people making it? Will your life really not be complete without seeing no less than 20 minutes of Rob watching takes a monitor? Not to mention just watching the film clips again; a good hour of the film is just footage from the movie (sometimes even THAT'S repeated). The stuff that was already included on the original DVD release is a far better option. Otherwise, it's nothing more than the world's longest promotional EPK making of piece; only to be used as some sort of endurance test - can you watch it in one sitting? I did, save for a quick pause to prepare a Hungry Man.
What say you?