Tuesday, August 15, 2006
God Save the Queen (From Us)
If you ever get the chance, do yourself a favor and take a look at the descriptive copy written on the back cover of the DVD of Danny Boyle's kinetic 1996 masterpiece Trainspotting. What you'll find there is one of the most unintentionally hilarious misrepresentations of any product since snake-oil was peddled as a cure for, well, everything.
In fact, the supposed summarization of the movie couldn't be more full of shit if they claimed that Eddie Murphy co-starred as the voice of a wise-cracking donkey.
It reads as such:
"Trainspotting delivers a wild mix of rebellious action and wicked humor! It's the story of four friends as they try to make it in the world on their own terms... and who end up planning the ultimate scam!"
If you've seen the movie, you know that technically this description is accurate; it would hold up in court. But if you've seen the movie, you also know that it manages to omit one or two -- oh, I don't know -- important details. Nowhere in the copy are the words drugs, heroin, or addicts ever mentioned. What you get instead is a characterization of Trainspotting that's akin to calling Psycho, "The powerful story of one man's unending devotion to his mother."
Thankfully, despite Hollywood's unwillingness to confront some of the darker themes of the movie head-on, Trainspotting did find its target audience in the states and Danny Boyle was permitted to continue making movies -- of which all not starring Leonardo DiCaprio were very good.
In 2002, if you'll pardon the pun, Boyle breathed new life into the zombie-horror genre with 28 Days Later, a relentlessly visceral nightmare set in London and shot on grainy, digital video. It was the kind of movie that not only would a big Hollywood studio have been unwilling to make -- it wouldn't even have known how.
It was also a huge hit.
So, you can imagine the pit that formed in my stomach when I learned that Boyle would be relinquishing the director's chair for the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, and that the plot would involve American military forces attempting to re-take London, with disastrous consequences. A premise such as this has worked only once in the history of filmmaking, and somehow I doubted another Aliens was in the cards. More likely, I figured, was that audiences would be assured a "bigger," "badder," "faster," and of course infinitely fucking "dumber" version of the original. Maybe they'd bring Brett Ratner onboard and cast Will Smith. Quite frankly, I assumed that Hollywood would grab a cash cow by the teats and attempt to milk it for all it was worth.
Then I heard what Danny Boyle -- who's apparently staying on as Executive Producer -- has in mind, and I realized that he just might be about to make one of the most politically subversive movies of the last decade.
The key here is context.
At any other time in recent memory, the notion of the United States riding in like the cavalry to save the day wouldn't simply be acceptable, it would be generally perceived as at least something of a blessing. Hollywood has typically reflected that sentiment on the big screen. Given the events of the past few years however, America's ability to project an image of strength to the outside world -- as well as the benevolent use of that strength -- has been damaged to the point of almost becoming a punchline. It's not much of a stretch to imagine that a maverick British filmmaker would be willing to turn a conventional plot device on its ass and use it to make the point that what was once American confidence is now American arrogance -- that the U.S. belief that it can come in and solve another country's disaster through military intervention is worthy of subtle and not-so-subtle mockery.
If the writer of 28 Days Later -- Alex Garland -- were to also be at the pen this time around, I would've thought the scenario I just described to be entirely possible. As it turns out, the person actually writing 28 Weeks Later might make it all but certain.
His name is Rowan Joffe, and his last screenplay was for a 2001 movie imaginatively titled Gas Attack. The plot centered around Middle-Easterners seeking asylum in London and the racism they encounter from right-wing authorities. In other words: if you think he's going to write a script where the country that's behind Extreme Makeover: Middle-East Edition is the good guy, I've got the location of some weapons of mass destruction for you.
What's especially ironic about this is that art doesn't need to imitate life right now, particularly not insofar as the British are concerned. British filmmakers don't need to make America look foolish because British intelligence services do it for them. Last week's bust of an alleged terror cell in London bent on taking down airliners over the Atlantic was a public relations bonanza for the Brits -- and one that U.S. officials apparently wanted in on so badly that they convinced their counterparts in the U.K. to allow them to have a say in the timing of the arrests. Not surprising given that Alberto Gonzales and company's last big public victory lap in the war on terror involved the arrest of seven Haitians in Miami who had apparently once used the word al-Qaeda in mixed company.
The most unfortunate caveat to the possibility that 28 Weeks Later will be an allegory for the impotence of U.S. military might is the forethought involved; the movie won't be released until next summer. That means that someone believes that its perfectly safe to assume that neither our fortunes in Iraq, nor our image around the globe, will improve much over the next year.
You know something, I take back what I originally said; I can think of something that was misrepresented far worse than a simple DVD movie.