Off Topic: Happenin’ Hulk Smash

I saw The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 200eight) and The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 200eight) on Friday and Saturday respectively. I reviewed the former for FilmThreat. It’s not a very long piece, so I’m copying and pasting it below. I gave it three out of five stars:

Minor spoilage!

In a virtually packed AMC movie theatre in metro-Atlanta, I heartily chuckled and gasped while watching “The Happening,” M. Night Shyamalan’s new tossed-genre escapade. Starring Mark Wahlberg as science teacher Elliot Moore and Zooey Deschanel as his somewhat reluctant wife, Alma, “The Happening” whips up a menacing force that causes a forty-eight hour wave of suicides in the northeast region of the United States. Joined by survivors they encounter along the trail of evacuation, husband-and-wife and Jess [ (Ashlyn Sanchez), the daughter of Elliot’s colleague (John Leguizamo) ], must figure out an explanation for what has been happening in neighboring states and how to stay alive.

In light of increased organized efforts in the past few years to reduce, re-use, and recycle, and to avoid taking natural resources for granted (or relying too heavily on them), it shouldn’t be that difficult to make an educated guess as to the identity of this film’s “monster.” If you’ve seen any promotional videos of “The Happening,” you shouldn’t be surprised to learn rather early in this nature revenge picture that “it’s the plants.” Specifically, an airborne toxin causes “confused speech,” “disorientation,” which leads to self-termination.

Mark Wahlberg’s manner of speaking may seem wooden, corny, and occasionally overly diplomatic; and Zooey Deschanel appears offbeat and self-conscious a la “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (Garth Jennings, 2005). Considering the film’s themes, however, their performances are purposefully out-of-sync or out of place for a science thriller. Moreover, the result of this mismatch resembles B-movie comedy, which counteracts the anticipated and the sudden appearances of onscreen acts of self-inflicted violence.

As writer and one of the producers, Shyamalan’s creative control remains intact. “The Happening” differs from the rest of his filmography (“The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, “Signs”, “The Village”, and “Lady in the Water”) in the precise development of suspense (breadcrumb-trail-of-clues), viewer identification (do we really care?), and adherence to genre conventions (nature revenge story with comic-drama performances), but the deviations do not outnumber the similarities. The viewer is still expected or strongly encouraged to pay extra attention to the significance of repeated images and phrases. Although “The Happening” lacks the crescendo of a third-act plot twist, the audience can nevertheless experience a certain satisfaction in cracking the verdant enemy’s method of attack—something the characters have yet to understand. Whether you’re a casual or an ardent follower of M. Night Shyamalan’s films, “The Happening” could alienate or dominate your thinking cap. Remember—it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh one second and shriek the next.

Now for my other thoughts: I do not mean to offend or shock or confuse any readers, but I have to verbalize my in-a-nutshell impression of The Happening–not to be confused with the 1967 Elliot Silverstein film of the same name. M. Night Shyamalan’s film might carry messages of environmental awareness and respect for planet Earth, but it reminds me of what would happen if Stephen King were to make (write) a romantic comedy musical–except there would be suicides instead of song-and-dance numbers.

Observations & Miscellania:

1. Product Placement: the iPhone. If you’ve seen a movie in a theatre in the past month, you’ll likely have seen that Sprint commercial that goes “no guns, no romance, no plot, just phone.” Well, in part of the The Happening, it’s basically “just iPhone.” There’s another scene about halfway through the film where a late 90s red Ford Taurus can be seen in the background driving away. I haven’t seen one of those dune-buggies in a long time.

2. In the formulaic horror film, the good guys (or the eventual victims) never stay together. They always end up separating and subsequently get murdered. In The Happening, though, not staying together has its benefits.

3. If you’ve seen at least two of Shyamalan’s previous films, you know that M. Night and substantial-plot-twist-near-end-of-film are pretty synonymous. They go together like PB and J. As I mentioned in my review, The Happening doesn’t confront the viewer with a potent “whoa!” of a plot twist. Instead, the film leaves a simmering of thematic implications: why and how the antagonist is squashing the human species and what does it mean?

Major spoilage ahead. Highlight relevant words at your discretion: Less than halfway through the film, the characters and the viewer are told that the plants (or rather trees) are responsible for sending out a litter of toxins in the wind. Starting in parks in big cities, where there are large concentrations of people, these chemicals are inhaled and within seconds, people start killing themselves. And then it moves to smaller towns. Taking an initially deity-like, indiscriminate approach to annihilating the humans (go after the most number of people converging in the smallest area), the trees then alter tactics and go after sources of hostility and aggression. See, that is the reason that Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel’s acting styles don’t seem to belong in a sci-fi-suspense picture. Wahlberg’s acting isn’t bad; Deschanel’s line delivery isn’t overly self-aware. They’re actually demonstrating the traits that will ultimately save them. He’s a science teacher–he’s calm and objective, clinical. The only time he gets anywhere near “upset” is when he and a group of people are crossing a field in the country and they can hear another group of people succumbing to the infection.

He just wants one second to think about what to do, and the members of his group keep asking him to hurry up and decide. He quickly collects his cool, applying the principles of scientific inquiry to discover that they need to travel in smaller groups to make it across. Unfortunately, or incidentally, Wahlberg’s character has not realized that it isn’t just large populations in small spaces; the second trigger for the trees’ murdering behavior is extreme negative emotion. This point, the viewer does come to understand. The mood ring that Wahlberg wears is significant in this respect.

Going back to the simmering thematic implications–cynically, what is Shyamalan advocating? Sure, live with lots of people, but never get angry or display truculence? One particularly unnerving character that Elliot, Alma, and Jess encounter in the final story arc has lived by herself for many years. But she’s anal retentive and becomes very mad at the protagonists. She doesn’t make it. Does her death suggest that if you can’t be calm, peace-loving, friendly, or happy all the time, you shouldn’t live with or near anyone otherwise the probability of your getting pissed off increases?

4. The disappearance of honeybees isn’t explored further after it’s brought up in Wahlberg’s first appearance on screen. The purpose of that conversation is to present the idea that not all acts of nature can be understood. The words at the top of chalkboard are: If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then men would only have four years of life left.

5. Another aspect of Shyamalan plot twists is that they reinterpret film genre formula or audience expectation. The Sixth Sense isn’t just a suspense-thriller or ghost story. Unbreakable isn’t a “fantastical” superhero narrative. Signs reconsiders the benefits and handicaps of human ailments. I didn’t watch The Village, so I can’t comment on its plot twist. Lady In the Water, which I found visually impressive but rather narratively disappointing, well, I haven’t quite come to any cohesive or gestalt conclusions about it. The Happening is the Shyamalan take on the nature revenge/disaster film. During the Cold War, when-nature-attacks movies frequently, if not exclusively, incorporated nuclear waste as the reason that flora and fauna went on a murderous rampage. The Happening might possess a ecology-awareness lesson, but there’s more to it than save the trees.

6. Aren’t these a couple artistically disappointing posters?

Click here for more Happening pictures. Click here for links to trailers.

Previews that were shown along with the film that incited my excitement: Bangkok Dangerous (I’m not a Nicholas Cage fan but I do like Charlie Yeung; the Pang Brothers, directors of the original Bangkok Dangerous helm the remake), Lakeview Terrace (Patrick Wilson is talented actor), and another X-Files movie.

And now for The Incredible Hulk.

Doesn’t this poster look like it could be the cover of a country album?

<~>

I watched Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) when it was rentable. I thought it was well-cast: Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, Sam Elliott as General Ross, Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross, and Josh Lucas as Talbot. I also thought it was too much of an Ang Lee film: exploration and emphasis of human nature. I appreciate an action film that delves into this subject, remembering that drama must accompany spectacle, but it was too much.

To quote Filmthreat reviewer Zack Haddad’s review, “the biggest issue that fan boys and film-goers alike had with Ang Lee’s bloated 2003 version is that there wasn’t enough Hulk smashing stuff.”

The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, succeeds where its predecessor could not. This time, Edward Norton is Bruce Banner,

William Hurt is General Ross,

Liv Tyler is Betty Ross,

Tim Roth is Emil Blonsky,

and Tim Blake Nelson is Samuel Sterns aka Mr. Blue.

Louis Leterrier’s sequel integrates spectacle with character development and motivation. Zak Penn conceived the story and wrote the screenplay.

Observations & Miscellania:

1. Product Placement: Coca-Cola, Deer Park bottled water, Sandisk flash drives, Polar heart monitor watch, Pringles (probably bbq flavor), Blackberry, Lumix digital camera or a Coolpix digital camera, Windows 98 or Windows 95, and Budweiser.

2. Intertextual moments: Sesame Street (specifically Grover), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (the TV series) and Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Bourne Identity-esque chase sequences in Brazil, Cloverfieldish action sequences in NYC streets, Never Back Downy fights between the Hulk and the Abomination at the end, Iron Man.

Do you see it?

Never Back Down:

Click here for moving images.

The Incredible Hulk:

3. Edward Norton looks adorable here.

4. Liv Tyler definitely looks older (less child-like) in this film, but then you have an expression like this one

and it’s like going back in time to her Empire Records days.

Click here for The Incredible Hulk trailer.

Click here for more photos.

3 thoughts on “Off Topic: Happenin’ Hulk Smash

  1. Pingback: Memorial Day Weekend 2012: Shawarmas, Flying Monkeys, and the Pretty in Pink Dad | Sitting Pugs: Sports Movies

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