12 July 2007

WARNING: Nothing but spoilers coming. Watch the trailer first. It's filmed on a handheld camera, so let it load first, so you don't confuse the jitteryness of download with the intended jitteryness of the genre. Trailer is available in high quality on Apple's site.

[whoops. it's gone now. sorry.]

The trailer and secretive publicity is the phenomenon that I'm more interested in than the film. It reminds me of iPhone and Pixar in the way that it allows the raw quality of the product to hype itself. The trailer seems to me extremely tight writing and directing -- story-telling. Tight and risky: you've got, what, two minutes? And you're going to spend what percentage of time purely establishing the going-away party? This is a trailer designed by the artists not the marketing suits. It is, of course, the utterly believable normality of the farewell party that makes what is to come so horrifying.

The Liberty head is pure genius. At the point in the trailer where we're dying to figure out what this strange thing making the noise is, we're confronted not by the alien and bizarre, but by something familiar chillingly in the wrong place. But we're kept from recognizing it as it tumbles through the air -- beautiful attention-grabbing end over end spin against a lit building... kept from recognizing it until it comes to a halt and then, exquisitely, they've managed to time the thing perfectly so that you see it, but by the time your brain processes what it is, they've already faded to black so you can't verify it. It's a long standing suspense-film technique, but done to perfection here: the jumps your mind has to make -- that's the thing. You're eyes are taking in the credits and stuff, but your brain is going: What kind of thing could do that to the Statue of Liberty? How big would it have to be... where would it be standing... etc. etc. Lovely.

Here's another long-standing suspense-film technique; one you'll have missed watching the trailer on the computer. When the lights go out unexpectedly at the farewell party -- did you think for a second that something had gone wrong with the download? Big deal. Imagine if you were in a room like a movie theatre where the only light in the room is coming from the screen. When the party blacks out, your sensory world goes black. You're in the same situation as the guys in the party: you can no longer see the person next to you either. And when the first set of projectiles hit and the screen goes bright white? That's blinding in a movie theatre where your eyes are dark-adjusted. The story-tellers aren't just manipulating what's on the screen, they're manipulating your whole environment.

Here's a little touch a non-writer might not notice that sets it up: the roof sequence. We've not only got an explosion in the distance, we also have the concept of stuff flying through the air in a trajectory that's going to smash buildings and come down near the characters -- just like the punch-line statue of Liberty head. Know why that's there? Foreshadowing and preparation. When you see the head coming at you, you already think you know what to expect: trajectory, smashing things, coming down near us, watch out. Been there, done that. So then your brain is ready for the next question: what is the projectile? The ending wouldn't be nearly as effective without the middle setting you up. Brilliant story-telling.

And your overall impression? The marketing guys would have had a voice-over telling you: "This is the scariest film you'll ever see" instead each viewer comes to their own conclusion, "These guys sucked me into their story when I gave them 2 minutes; I'd love to see what they do with two hours."

Speaking of Pixar, you've seen the Ratatouille 9-minute piece, right?

You might also appreciate the gee-whizzery of some of the intelligence Apple built into the iPhone keyboard.

When you've got the quality, let it speak for itself.

Meanwhile, have a nice day, watch out for flying statue heads and don't drink more than 6 Slushos.
This blog is closed now. I've moved to http://gempf.com