Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Cinema of Neveldine/Taylor

With the exception of Ghost Rider, the remaining three films of Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor are perfect examples of Video Game Cinema.

Crank (2006)
Crank: High Voltage (2009)
Gamer (2009)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

The premise of Crank is setup like a video game where the main character Chev (Jason Statham) can only go for a limited distance before he needs to recharge himself otherwise he will lose his single life, thereby ending the film. The reason Chev needs to recharge is to keep his adrenaline level up otherwise the drugs injected in his body will slowly stop his heart. He can keep his adrenaline level up either by natural or artificial means such as usage of epinephrine. Such a premise allows the movie to freely incorporate whatever is required for him to survive. This means Chev pumps himself full of drugs, gets into fights, steals a car (Grand Theft Auto anyone?) in order to move to a new location in search of an antidote. The script also includes Chev’s attempted rape of his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) so that he can keep his heart from slowing down. Chev’s aggressive sexual act starts out as rape but is turned into a semi-consensual act after Eve stops fighting back, much to the shock of an onlooking bus of tourists.

By giving the film a video game premise, the directors get away by including any over the top sequence in the script which ends up making the movie critic-proof. Any questions about the film’s logic can be countered with the explanation that Chev’s desperate need to survive mandates inclusion of abundant excess and crudity. For example, if Chev doesn’t try to rape his girlfriend, then it is game over. If he does not inject himself with drugs, then lights out. On a scale of 1-10 for crudity, Crank breaks the scale with a whopping 11. Incredibly, Crank 2 shatters the scale even further and outdoes the first movie. Although, Crank 2 just follows the template laid out by Crank and the only variation is to ensure every aspect from the first movie is super-sized in the second one. And to hammer the point home, a mock Godzilla like fight scene is included in Crank 2.

Crank and Crank 2 are single player video games where one character has to navigate his way through an urban jungle filled with danger at every corner. Both movies also contain moments when Chev is depicted like a pixelated 1980’s style arcade game. On the other hand, Gamer is a multi-player game designed to follow the structure of a MMORPG, a game style which allows multiple players to control different online characters. A movie based on MMORPG would have been complicated enough but Neveldine & Taylor layer the movie with a “Simulation” style video game & wrap everything around a hyper-interactive social media world. The end result is a movie that bombards a viewer with a stream of information which is delievered in tiny chunks via fast cuts. Such an editing style requires a viewer to take some time to absorb the material and get used to the style. Only once the gaming style is absorbed, the smart social commentary becomes apparent. The directors want to convey a world where the line between an online virtual personality and a real persona is slowly erased. One can even say that the current world is close to what Gamer shows but the movie was released back in 2009, at a time when online gaming was growing substantially but bandwidth sucking smart phones and tablets were still in their infancy.

Fast Cuts

Crank, Crank 2 & Gamer all feature rapid-fire editing which at times appears to contain multiple cuts every second. Such an editing style results in a disorienting effect which does not make for easy viewing. These three movies are on the opposite spectrum of Slow Cinema and demonstrate that hyperactive films which can’t maintain focus for even a second result in an experience where the movies running time appears a lot longer than it actually is. One can only painlessly finish watching these movies if one is able to tune in to their rhythm.

On the other hand, Ghost Rider has no such accelerated video game style. Of course, given the material’s comic book source, such a style would not have made sense. Still, nothing in Ghost Rider indicates any whiff of Neveldine-Taylor's work. The only way one can even form a link to this movie with the directors is by the ending of Crank 2 which features Chev completely in flames showing the finger to the camera. The image of Chev’s head in flames evokes Ghost Rider so it is not a surprize that the directors next project was the Marvel Comic book character.

One can understand what the directors are trying to do with their style but the movies require an investment from a viewer. The blistering style also makes it is hard to recommend their films to anyone. Although, there are plenty of excellent articles that one can read about the directors style and save the trouble of watching any of their films.

Essential Reading

Adam Nayman article perfectly summaries the cinema of Neveldine & Taylor.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on Gamer.

Steven Shaviro has a 10,000 word entry on Gamer!

3D challenge

Ghost Rider was in 3D but thankfully the other three movies were in 2D.  The first 15 minutes of Gamer are far more challenging to keep one's headache in check than any 3D movie out there. However, Crank 3 will be in 3D and that will result in a massive viewing challenge for those who see it in a cinema.


Sam Juliano said...

Beautifully-written essay Sachin, though sad to say I am not all that familiar with this genre and these films in particular. But the engaging prose and the new discovery aspect are certainly enough to have me check these out at some point.

Sachin said...

Thanks Sam. Although these are not easy to watch so I can't urge you to see them anytime soon :)