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Zombieland: Hype isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Zombieland movie posterSo I realize that Zombieland has been out for well over a year, and has been on DVD and Blu-Ray since February, has been on Netflix’s Watch Instantly list since like August, but I’ve had stuff to do alright? Of course the problem with waiting so long to see the movie (I just watched it last week), is the fact that everybody kept telling me how great a movie this was. Even Tophat raved about how hilarious it was. And he doesn’t even watch movies.

All of this hype lead me to break Enosh’s Movie Watching Rule# 1 Go into the theater (or couch) with no expectations. Actually, that rule applies to a lot of things. Most things. So allow me to present you with my personal plan for enjoying film.

Also, I should mention that since I’m assuming I am the last person on Earth to see this movie, there are a few spoilers thrown in after the jump. But if you’re watching this movie for the plot then you are bound to be disappointed anyway.

You see, if you have zero expectations you can never be disappointed. When I walk into a movie theater (I’ll stick with the movie metaphor) without seeing a trailer, without reading any reviews, and with little more than a vague notion of what the movie is about I will be impressed by just about anything some movie producer throws up onto the screen because hey, it’s better than I expected.

Of course this may sound great in theory, but in practice it is a bit impractical. Several problems come to mind. How do you avoid trailers? What if your friends tell you about it or it’s discussed on your favorite daily talk show? And the most troubling issue, how do you decide what to watch?

Well, as I said, in the case of Zombieland I failed. I managed to avoid most of the trailers, but I heard a lot of raving from friends, from news sources, and most of all, from the Internet. It was supposed to be the clichéd “break out comedy of the year.” And so, I did something I rarely do. I got excited about seeing a movie for the first time. And boy was I in for some disappointment.

It’s not that Zombieland was a bad movie, actually it features some great performances by some young and two not so young actors. But it’s not the sprawling epic of one-liners, blood and guts, and drama that one can expect in say, Shaun of the Dead. (Oops, there’s that word expect again.) I heard it compared to Shaun of the Dead on a number of occasions, and at first glance it’s easy to see why. Both feature, well obviously, zombies (Don’t say that word!). Each main character is younger and nerdy. They’re both bad with women. Oh, there’s plenty of gore and violence. And Ruben Fleischer is said to have had the Edgar Wright flick in mind when  he made Zombieland.

Now, if I truly followed rule #1 to the letter I would be willing to pay my $10 to see every last movie showing. I neither have time nor money for this, so that brings me to Movie Watching Rule #2 If you must absorb the hype, be selective.

Your friends aren’t a bad source as long as they’re not the type to throw spoilers in to casual conversations. I know men who have killed for that sort of thing. Trailers, on the other hand, are pretty awful. They either lead you to believe a movie is something that it isn’t, like making a depressing story of an overweight man trying to live his dream look like a straight up comedy,

or a fresh look at how the life of a superhero could be  come  off as a comedy,

or in the case of comedies they simply give you every funny line in the movie in a nice tight little package.

Granted Nacho Libre was so bad I actually turned it off before finishing it, so I might be a bit bias there. The point is, trailers are either misleading or too informative, and should be avoided. Reviews are OK if you trust the reviewer implicitly. Of course, reviews really only work for movies that lead towards the brainy side. Solaris is a good example, or maybe Inception. For your basic low brow comedies and action flicks reviews should be avoided. Who cares how funny Roger Ebert thinks the latest Will Ferrell movie is? He doesn’t even believe videogames are an art form. You pretty much know what you’re getting with these movies anyway.

Zombieland tried to be a movie worth reading a review about. I really think it did. But the plot falls flat on its face. The movie gets off to a great start with the introduction of Columbus and the rest of the crew, but once the merry band is together the writers suddenly ran out of ideas. Their conclusion? Lets take them to Walley World right through L.A. one of the largest and, therefore, most zombie infested cities in the United States. Why!?! Why would anybody in their right mind go to lala land in the middle of a zombie outbreak? At least the Winchester had a gun. And beer. As a goal for the movie going to Disneyland sucks. Even if you are Joe Montana. Though it does lead to one of my favorite parts of the movie, the meeting with Bill Murray.

Avoiding L.A. happens to be Movie Watching Rule #3, Hollywood can’t make anything but action movies and low brow comedies. The great Bill Murray would agree with me on this one. Notice how his best films since 1998 have all been indie? Hollywood is a shining example of exactly how bureaucracy inhibits and ultimately destroys art. The big studios rarely take chances. All they want are safe bets. Summer blockbusters and comedies that cater to the lowest common denominator fit this bill nicely. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the big budget, explosion filled, over the top and out of touch thrillers that always seem to come out around the first weekend in July. But Hollywood refuses to do drama with any kind of grace and style. These marketing gurus and studio executives whittle away at movies until all is left is a big, blunt hammer.

Zombieland was the feature film debut for director Ruben Fleischer, but executive producer Ryan Kavanaugh has been around Rodeo Drive a few times. He’s the jerk that brought us Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. A classic example of a safe bet. A continuously successful franchise (for reasons beyond my comprehension) featuring fast cars and hot women. What could go wrong?

Zombie design for Zombieland, in a scene from ...

Oh no! Look how close we are to doom! Oh wait, we're fine.

Subsequently we don’t bother to take any risks in Zombieland. This is no 28 Days Later. Every main character makes it to the end. All four of them. I never even got a sense that they were ever in any real danger. Sure there’s a few times when the characters are being chased by large hordes of zombies, and the undead may even get their hands on a few of them, but by the time the zombies do seem to get close they’re in such a precarious position that it becomes painfully obvious the cards are stacked in favor of the fab four.

I don’t mind happy endings. In Shaun of the Dead all the characters I wanted to live did so, or at least survived in a suitable manner, and all the characters I didn’t care for or didn’t feel any particular emotional attachment to died. Granted Shaun’s mum getting nipped was tragic, but she was a sufficiently minor character and therefore her death was just the right amount of tragic without being devastating.

Another problem with Hollywood is they have these preconceived notions about how long people are willing to sit in a theater to watch a movie. Which brings me to Movie Watching Rule #4 Don’t let length deter you. You could make an argument that Apocalypse Now Redux completely threw off the pacing of the story and gravely changed the movie, or that the extended Lord of the Rings movies are just too darn long, and I would have to agree. But then, the books were too long also. Which is why I’m eagerly anticipating the Hobbit. But long movies can be fantastic if the story is capable of carrying them. If just 10 minutes were cut from Saving Private Ryan it would be an entirely different movie and a lesser one for it. Having seen both the cut version and the full version of Metropolis I can safely say there it is a much more powerful film at full length.  Did I mind sitting for nearly three hours in a theater? Not at all. This isn’t 1927. We don’t have wooden theater chairs. We have comfy padded seats with removable armrests.

At 88 minutes long Zombieland is an average length movie by my standard, but by the time we are introduced to the characters and they start to bond the movie suddenly careens into the closing credits and I found myself stranded, wondering what could have been. OK, they survived a major onslaught. So what? That’s all we get? The love interest barely had time to bloom before it was squashed and the characters were not really allowed to grow. Sure Columbus is no longer going it alone and no longer afraid of getting close to people but is that enough growth to make an impactful movie? And why do we get an off-hand comment about the city of his birth being leveled to the ground? I would like to see Columbus, Ohio in ruins. That’s never been filmed before. Of course Cleveland as a burning heap of rubble would get more approval from movie goers, and everyone who doesn’t live in Cuyahoga County. But instead of a long hard journey through the heartland we’re taking on a short hop, supposedly through, what Texas? And suddenly we’re in L.A. No Zombieland. Bad. You can’t just tell you’re audience where you are. You have to show them. That’s makes me feel angry! Let the characters grow together in a long fight across I-70 and onward to someplace they can actually survived. You know like, not in the middle of one of the most highly populated metropolises in the world? Apparently Fleischer envisioned Zombieland as a humorous Walking Deadesque TV series, and it’s easy to see why. He really runs out of room to tell his story. It’s a shame the Hollywood big wigs poo pooed that idea (see rule #2).

Zombieland had the potential to be greater than it was and I can see why everyone loved it. It just didn’t reach the heights I had anticipated.

So what I’m really trying to say is, don’t read reviews. Wait…no. Uh, read Faceplant. Read Faceplant a lot. We won’t steer you wrong. I promise. After all, when in doubt I differ to Movie Watching Rule #21 Bad movies can still be enjoyed for their cheesy bumblings.

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One Response

  1. […] was successful in maintaining my strict blank slate policy before seeing Trainspotting, which I think is pretty impressive for a 15 year old film. I think the […]

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