Monday, April 27, 2009
The embarrassing involuntary spine tingle
A very disappointing thing happened to me at the end of watching a very disappointing movie last night:
My spine tingled.
Damn these involuntary body functions.
The movie was Michael Bay's The Island. I had always wanted to see it, even though I knew it would be terrible. Everyone had told me it was terrible. But I have a thing about movies with high concepts, especially when they are set in dystopian futures. I know that no matter how much they suck shit, I will always find time to see them, eventually.
Well, it was actually worse than I imagined. In a movie that clocks in at over 2:10, only the first half-hour even contains anything interesting. The remaining 1:40 is composed of the stereotypical Bay fetishes: unnecessary chase sequences, cars flipping end over end, large pieces of industrial equipment dropping from great heights, people dangling from those same heights, and low angle shots of people strutting, with helicopters flying over their heads, in slow-mo. And the acting? Ewan McGregor managed to come out okay, but Scarlett Johansson was simply howl-worthy.
Yet when all the imprisoned clones are finally freed at the end -- sorry if I'm ruining anything for you -- I was surprised and disgusted to feel a chill go down my spine.
Now, I knew I hated this movie -- and I'm not going to pull out my shrink's notepad and tell you that on some subconscious level, I liked it, or bonded to the characters. So I chose to chalk it up to what it was: a classic emotional manipulation, successful enough to affect me on a biological level that was totally anathema to how I felt about The Island intellectually.
If you've seen this mess, you remember the scene, and if you haven't, well, stop reading if you don't want The Island to be spoiled. (I'm doing my best to stifle my laughter.)
McGregor's character succeeds in pressing some buttons, and gets a ten-ton gear the size of a skating rink to come crashing to the ground. This somehow allows all the cloned people in white suits to come running out of their prisons and go streaming down the sides of the mammoth dunes that surround the complex. Naturally, the camera whips around vertiginously, Bay's fallback way of emphasizing the scope of the drama. The music swells, McGregor and Johansson kiss, and the credits roll.
Oops. Goosebumps. Darn it.
The reason Michael Bay can still make movies is that most people can't distinguish a cheap chill from genuine catharsis. It goes without saying that no Michael Bay film has ever had a genuine emotional climax, so that means his cheap chills have been pretty effective. Oh, and I guess you can't discount the average American's love for watching stuff blow up.
I'm just glad my mind can tell the difference, even if my body can't. Hey, emotional manipulation works. Ever found yourself tearing up at the end of a movie you thought was stupid? It's the same principle. Even if you know better, you succumb to the director's pernicious agenda. You feel emotions that are totally undeserved, that spring more from the music or the camerawork than the script or the acting.
Oh well. We're only human. Which is more than I can say for Michael Bay's clones -- or Michael Bay himself.