It was Friday afternoon, the solstice, the longest day of the year and the first official day of summer. It was a day that was rather warm, somewhat smoky as a result of the fires deep in the mountains, and it was a day that did not require my presence in the office. That Friday was also the opening weekend of two films that fairly represent the second phase of summer releases. If you recall the first phase is “the universe as we know it once again in peril”. This second phase is the “Doomed” phase. In the first phase it all teeters on a symbolic brink. In the second everything tips over the edge. Doom gallops in like one of the Horseman of the Apocalypse dolling out carnage everywhere. Existence is on the verge of extinction.
What a great way to begin summer.
The two films that premiered that weekend were This Is the End and World War Z.
This Is the End is produced by the same team (Seth Rogan / Evan Goldberg, and starring Rogan and James Franco) that in 2008, laid Pineapple Express out on the cinematic picnic table. Pineapple Express is was recommended to me with the enthusiastic phrase “You have GOT to see this film”, and with that done, was followed by the enthusiastic question “Wasn’t that UNBELIEVABLE?” Now, this can be answered numerous ways. In my opinion, it was UNBELIEVABLE – UNBELIEVABLE that someone thought this film should be made, and UNBELIEVABLE that my butt was planted in a theater seat for two hours to watch it. At the showing of This Is the End there were approximately a hundred people in the audience. Four of those people howled with laughter during the entire film. The other 96% of us did not. It was “dejavu, all over again” as the late Yogi Berra would say.
The premise of the film is based on a group of friends who smoke enormous amounts of marijuana, drink to excess, and then try to reform at the very end hoping to secure a ticket to heaven via sincere last second rehabilitation. The film parodies as many horror films as it can, incorporates very expensive computer graphics, and tries to poke fun at the “new” L.A. scene (All the actors in the film portray themselves). Unfortunately, it leaves the majority of the audience (that 96% that did not laugh) groaning at the prospect that the first twenty minutes of This Is the End is only the beginning. It never gets any better. The only advice that can be offered regarding this film is that if you are ever given a free ticket to see it, tear it up as a kindness to yourself.
Two hours later, in the theater across the hall, the earth was infested with a swarming zombies who multiplied at such a devastating rate that the predictions were that the earth would be deplete of any living human within three days. With the arrival of World War Z, after a long struggle on nearly fifty years, the zombie movie has finally usurped a prominence in the commercial market
A bit of cinema history – In its early days the zombie movie was regulated to the B-movie market. It had a small cult following composed of older teenagers and early college students who, equipped with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and piled into a Volkswagen Beetle that was parked at the local drive-in theater, spent the hours between dusk and midnight watching hordes of the undead devoured fresh human brains while they devoured chicken wings, thighs, and drumsticks, all for the price of admission of one carload. That’s how many of us back then saw George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. It was cheaply made, roughly shot, with poor acting, but for the price of a carload, it delivered. It was the mother film of the zombie genre.
Gradually over the next four decades, this zombie movie attained a significant following. The films got somewhat better (e.g. 28 days later, released in 2002) but it was obvious that the zombie movie was never really a big investment vehicle in the motion picture industry. However, in 2009 Columbia Pictures released the tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy Zombieland starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg with a cameo appearance by Bill Murray. In 2010, cable television placed The Walking Dead on the viewing table to a flurry of raves. With the success of both, the major motion picture industry finally decided to capitalize on the zombie market by throwing buckets of money into production. Its Wunderkind is World War Z directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball) and starring Brad Pitt.
For the tidy sum of $170,000, 000 dollars, this film scatters 116 minutes of explosions, battleships, helicopters, passengers transforming into zombies on a plane in mid-flight and swarms of the computer generated undead all over the wide screen (with a 3D option for those who enjoy seeing guts spill with depth of field). All this happens at a rabid pace for over two hours while a brooding Brad Pitt races against the clock to find a deterrent. World War Z is a cinematic zombie stew, and although not a bad stew, it is less the definitive zombie movie and more of a statement on what $17,000,000 dollars can accomplish. (The opening weekend, by the way, grossed nearly $66,000,000.) World War Z attempts to be an intelligent film, but it hard to fathom that any film about zombies as intelligent. The film is just big – and that’s all. It does, however, leave a kernel of hope as an introduction to the next phase of summer releases which begins around the latter part of July.
Take note, dear reader, that in the coming months, you will see films that about the human race rebounding with a sense of righteous indignation. The doomed will go on the offensive. Justice will finally be meted out. The mighty evil will fall, the invader will be destroyed, and vengeance will be served on a savory plate – until September and October when the Harry Potters, the Bilbo Baggins’s, and the magicians reappear just in time for Halloween.
The release of films is not a random event. There is a pattern. It’s not a bad one really. It’s fun to see the previews in the months prior. Unfortunately, the big summer releases – the hopeful blockbusters – have not shown any improvement. The previews are usually much better than the films which are sadly becoming quite predictable, over produced, and overspent. With all the need that exists in the world, one wonders why all that money has been committed to such endeavors. My suspicion is that 4% of the audience that howled with laughter at This is the End is actually a pretty accurate representation of that 4% of movie makers who have for some obscure reason captured a position in the movie industry where they dictate what is funny and what is “hot” to the rest of that 96% of us that didn’t laugh at all during This is the End.
However, as always, dear reader, this is only my opinion. See the films, or better yet, catch them on HBO or Netflix for one tenth the price, and judge for yourself.