Thursday, August 17, 2006

Peter Hewitt's Zoom

A long time ago, Peter Hewitt was giving interviews to promote his film Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. He talked about his planned next film - something that, if I remember correctly, sounded rather like The Truman Show. Of course, Peter Weir got there first and the film was never made.

Since then, though, Hewitt has brought us The Borrowers, Thunderpants, Whatever Happened To Harold Smith? and Garfield. Of course, critical reception has been mixed but he does seem to get an awful lot of bad reviews.

As I write, his latest film Zoom is scoring 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Surely this is a bit harsh?

Let's take a look at Garfield, shall we, as an example of what might have gone wrong? That film was pretty much slaughtered by the critics too, but did it really deserve it? Isn't there anything positive to say about the film?

Well, there's Bill Murray of course, but critical opinion was divided when it came to his performance. Some said Murray's turn was the only good thing in the film, while others said he was slumming it. Neither was entirely right, I believe.

Murray did okay, just okay, nothing to be ashamed of, it was clearly just a 'paying job' - but the qualities of Garfield certainly don't end with him.

There's some cunning design work in the film. Here's a challenge: discounting the CG lead, find me one more orange thing in the film. Just one. In fact, there's very little that is even half-way towards the red end of the spectrum in most scenes. It's subtle, but it keeps Garfield alone. In a perverse way it even helps him merge with the backgrounds more completely - we read the colour contrast boldly enough that any minor imperfections in the compositing are overlooked. Of course, dreadful compositing would have only been compounded by the starkly contrasting colour strategy - but we're past that in CG now, for the most part.

There's the odd good gag in the film too. A fair sized handful of them, and though most are pitched at that terribly unfashionable "light entertainment" level, some of them are quite sly. The sight gag in which Garfield ends up compressed against the window of a car combines slapstick for the kids with a twisted wink to the over-popular Garfield merchandise of yesteryear for the rest of us. It's pretty representative of the sort of light-smile standard you can expect, but there's nothing any funnier in Nacho Libre, for example, but that's escaped such a wrathful clean sweep of criticism.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Garfield is not the greatest film ever made, certainly not, but nor is it a total wash out. The general level of craftsmanship on display is certainly higher than in, say, Minority Report or House of 1000 Corpses. A copy of Garfield on DVD is nothing to be sniffed at.

I expect that when I get to see Zoom, as redundant as the film probably is, and as paltry a script as Hewitt was most likely landed with, there will be a lot of good things to say for it. Sure, there might be more to say against it - but as long as there are points in a film's favour, I would hope that they are shared and discussed.

And while there are points in a film's favour, then the utter bottom-out of a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes looks rather inappropriate.

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