The UnPopular Opinion: Grindhouse - Planet Terror
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
In my experience, general opinion about the Tarantino/Rodriguez experiment known as GRINDHOUSE seems to be that PLANET TERROR is the good flick while DEATH PROOF is the bad flick, comparatively as well as in terms of filmmmaking in and of itself. But, as is the way with an UnPopular Opinion, I happen to think the exact opposite. I find PLANET TERROR to be the boring, pat, mostly uninspired movie and DEATH PROOF to be the interesting, well-made, exciting movie.
I said it before and I'll gladly say it again. PLANET TERROR is a really f***ing boring movie. Considering how DESPERADO and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO are two of my very favorite action movies I went in to PLANET TERROR expecting to have myself a really good time. But this was not to be. No, I was instead treated to an hour and forty five minutes of poor pacing and non-existent characters and a boring story and a super-serious tone that ruined any investment in the movie's potential fun I might have had. Yes, it's a throwback to the gory zombie movies of old. But that doesn't mean that everything that happens and everyone involved has to be empty of meaning, as they are in this movie.
DESPERADO/ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO work because of one extraordinary man in a very ordinary situation - betrayed, alone, his love lost, his friends dead, events spiraling out of his control or understanding - we care for El Mariachi's guitar and gunplay skills because we have very human and simple reasons to care about his character (Banderas being a great actor doesn't hurt). PLANET TERROR has none of that, skipping straight to an gory action wank-fest lacking anything to differentiate it from every other action scene in every other sub-par action movie.
"I'm gonna eat your brains and gain your knowledge."
The fact of the matter is, Rodriguez just isn't skilled enough to maintain our interest while he juggles introducing all of the characters involved and the strange/horrific situation they find themselves embroiled in. So he instead opts to lose himself in the flashiness of his movie, ignoring the fact that the first thirty minutes drag like a motherf***er. There are plenty of horror movies that are able to define their characters in response to an extra-ordinary situation (see 28 DAYS LATER), while there are plenty of other horror movies that choose to define their characters first before embarking on their journey through the extra-ordinary situation (THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE).
But in PLANET TERROR Rodriguez tries to do both at once, and in the process fails to do either. What we are then left with are hollow stereotypes with artificially/arbitrarily created relationships in the midst of a f***ing crazy situation. The only halfway interesting character development was how Lt. Muldoon's men needed to be constantly exposed to DC2 in order to pause the effects of mutation, and then nothing much interesting was even done with this small snippet of character growth/motivation. And I don't even want to talk about how El Wray is such an indecipherable mystery that he actually becomes the least interesting part of the movie.
I know that people have observed that DEATH PROOF seems to drag a fair amount (see the comments on last week's UnPopular Opinion), and to that I would say this: if you think DEATH PROOF is slow, then PLANET TERROR is a cinematic sloth. Action scene after action scene does not an interesting movie make - seriously, I never once cared about whether these characters were in danger, or whether they would survive, or how they would escape, or what was going to happen next. And this is a movie with people being eaten alive, shot, burned, run over, overwhelmed, exploded, and literally ripped apart. But I just never gave a shit, because everything is just so. Damn. Slow.
“Looks like a no brainer.” “What does that mean?” “No brain.”
This is obvious most of all in Cherry Darling and her machine gun leg. Yep, the main selling point of the movie, the main image that defined it - hell, from what I understand it's the image that sparked Rodriguez' passion for this project - the one cool thing that made PLANET TERROR different from every other zombie movie out there? It takes almost the entire movie to happen, which is why I believe that PLANET TERROR sorely mishandled the potential of Cherry Darling's character. We don't want to watch an origin story for Rose McGowan's Awesome Machine Gun Leg. This isn't MACHINE GUN LEG BEGINS. I'm not saying the slow burn leading up to her gunleg plot development is the only problem with the movie, but rather I'm saying that it exemplifies one of the fundamental problems with PLANET TERROR. It's just so damn slow and methodical and dragged out, with no organic energy or momentum or urgency driving the proceedings.
The other main problem with the movie is that it can't make up its mind as to the tone it wants to shoot for. This is supposed to be a no-holds-barred-gore-fest-action-packed-zombie-flick, yet there's so much seriousness amidst the absurdity of the situation that I can't help but tune out. I never thought I'd accuse Robert Rodriguez of being overly-serious but, well, I guess that's exactly what I'm doing. I laughed once and smile twice in an hour and forty five minutes, and that laugh came within the first ten minutes. Never once did an action moment or story beat take me by surprise or even impress me with the new way in which it was handled.
“I want your balls.” “I’m really quite attached to them.”
PLANET TERROR does have a few good things going for it - for one, I will not argue with the fact that several minutes of Rose McGowan dancing is an absolutely great way to start a movie. So well done there. PLANET TERROR also gave Naveen Andrews more work, and more Naveen Andrews is always a very good thing. Josh Brolin turns in a chillingly evil performance, and Jeff Fahey seems to be having fun in the way that all the characters could (and should) have been. The colors of the film itself are gorgeous, really popping in a way even DEATH PROOF can't match (and I praised DEATH PROOF's color/video quality plenty last week).
"Never did like that son of a bitch. About as useless as a pecker on a Pope."
This leads into the point that Rodriguez actually shoots - at least insofar as editing and camera angle and image-manipulation goes - a better Grindhouse throwback than Tarantino. If only the movie was good and/or interesting, both being aspects in which Tarantino's DEATH PROOF is much more successful. PLANET TERROR, while perhaps working better as the Grindhouse homage it was intended to be, becomes infinitely worse and more boring than it has the potential to be by the complete lack of anything that a normal and halfway decent movie should have. Despite the Tarantino/Rodriguez experiment being called GRINDHOUSE, I still say that making something a good Grindhouse-throwback is no excuse for allowing it to be a bad movie. All stories have certain needs and qualities which are inescapable, and when those are missing?
No matter how tarted up the final product is, at the end of the day it will still be as boring as watching an old-school zombie stand still until it has decayed away into a pile of dust.
"I'm just Cherry."