Crash (1996)

Much has been made about J.G. Ballard’s Crash. You don’t even need to have read it, because the mere idea of its central premise – which concerned a group of people who become sexually aroused by staging car crashes – tells you what you need to know about why it was controversial. Naturally, you’d think that a film adaptation wouldn’t be as flaccid as what David Cronenberg’s adaptation turned out to be, but sadly I was disappointed. It takes a volatile premise of car crash fetishism and somehow turns it into a dull and boring sex fest that twists in the wind so slowly you won’t even pay attention.

The plot of the film focuses on film producer James Ballard and his wife Catherine, who are in an open marriage in which they engage in infidelities with other people, but have a lethargic love life. One night James survives a car crash and shortly begins an affair with Dr. Helen Remington, with whom he shares a bizarre sexual fetish derived from the sensation of a car crash, which James uses to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife. To understand their newfound fetish, they become followers of an underground cult of fetishists, the leader of whom believes that there is a strong connection between the violence of a car crash and the passion of sex.

As bizarre and as sultry as that sounds, it’s actually quite boring. In his own decidedly more positive review, the late Roger Ebert likened the film to “a porno movie made by a computer”, and called it “a dissection of the mechanics of pornography”. He wouldn’t have been wrong. The film certainly had this mechanical feel to it, and that might have been one of the biggest problems with the film. There’s no passion whatsoever, and whatever semblance of passion just seems artificial. Another problem is that the film isn’t exactly coherent in terms of storytelling, and the pacing is quite slow.

The acting is quite lifeless too. I’m sure James Spader has been in better films than this, because I don’t think Mr. Cronenberg got a very good performance out of him, nor out of any of the other actors. Elias Koteas was quite decent, but he wasn’t that great. The characters to me seemed quite dry and stale, and colder than snowmen, but with dormant hints of the animalistic passion that should have been at the fore in the film.

The presentation was okay, but it looked mediocre. I’d say the musical score was the best part of the movie, if mainly because it has a nice, sombre ambience that complements the film’s approach, along with the sparse, atmospheric use of electric guitars. Other than that, Crash was one boring film. Shockingly boring in fact. I’m actually quite surprised by how boring this was, but given the mechanical nature of the film, that should not of been a surprise. This glacial treatment of J.G. Ballard was perhaps a bold attempt, and was certainly controversial during its release, but you’re not missing much.

  • Score: 54%
  • Grade: D
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The Fly (1986)

fly_posterI did hear about this film many years ago, but I had never seen it until very recently. Needless to say it’s quite unlike any sci-fi horror film I had seen so far, with its unique premise (I say this and the very story had been filmed before in 1958) and its refreshingly visceral horror thrills.

The premise of the film revolves around Seth Brundle, an eccentric scientist working on a set of “telepods”, instant transportation devices which he claims will change the world forever. Documenting this is Veronica Quaife, a science reporter who eventually gets attached to her subject at her peril. Brundle eventually thinks that he’s perfected his experiment, but begins to display signs that he has transformed into a completely different person, and finds out that his last experiment went disastrously wrong.

I honestly thought that it was going to be the horror film that almost immediately started with Jeff Goldblum’s character becoming the fly, but that would have been much too predictable. Instead, the film seems to have taken the path of slowly establishing mood and depth of character, before eventually taking a creepy turn as the eccentric scientist slowly morphs into a savage, grotesque creature. I think this was a well-written film, with its slow, suspenseful pacing building up to a viscerally climactic end.

I think Jeff Goldblum was a good fit for the lead role, even though at times he sounded a bit robotic. His performance was a fine mix of sorts, not too much like the cackling mad scientist, not too much like a bumbling “nutty professor” type. In a way, he’s his own breed of character here. Geena Davis also made for a good supporting character, though it sometimes seems as if she ought to be the main protagonist (taking on the role more heavily towards the end).

Much like any other film made by David Cronenberg, The Fly is very much a visual film, and thus much of its success depended on how it presented itself. On the surface it looks like it would have fitted just as well on television as it did on the silver screen (by which I mean it’d look good on both). However, the real cherry on the sundae would have to be the film’s wildly liberal use of its creative special and make-up effects. Given the film’s gore horror approach (though I must say the film is rather conservative on the gore), the film is replete with such special effects, and it seems to work in the film’s favour. Of course, who could forget how well the make-up was implemented in creating the fly creature? If you’ve seen the film, I don’t think you will.

All in all, The Fly was a very good example of sci-fi horror done right. I’ll admit that it’s not without its flaws, and that there are certainly better films in the same genre, but because of its inventiveness, originality, and good writing, I think there’s a special place for this sadly underrated film.

  • Score: 84%
  • Grade: B