Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Box

"What hurts the most is the lack of respect, you know? That's what hurts the most."

A young family is offered the chance to bail themselves out of financial trouble. All they have to do is press a mysterious button, brought to them be an even more mysterious stranger, and they'll receive one million dollars, but somewhere someone they don't know will die.

Yet another review I'm really having trouble getting started. The words are escaping me, though I chase them with all my strength and speed. So instead of going straight after it, I'm going to try a sort of end run. If this counts as me being a bad reviewer- guilty as charged.
There are people who dismiss the adaptation of books right off the bat. As most often this is the case in terms of movies- I feel it's relevant. "It can never be as good as the book!" they say. "They cut that great scene where..." they holler. But it is my personal belief that anyone who feels this way is missing the point. The movie is not supposed to be the book. Often times they attempt to tell the same story, or expand on what was already written (more on that in a moment), but cinema is a completely different art form.
Saying that one must be exactly like the other is like dismissing a 3rd graders detailed rendition of the Mona Lisa because they did it with finger paint. "Well that doesn't look the same as Davinci's little Billy/Cindy. And you really should have used canvas, construction paper doesn't capture her presence." Your missing the point, and there for missing the joy. If you come to the movie expecting the book you will be disappointed, and what's worse, you'll deserve it.
As I said before, sometimes the movie attempts to tell the same story but within the boundaries of it's medium. Sometimes it tries to tell the same story, and also tries to update it as well. Sometimes it tries to take the source material and expand on it. Sometimes it tries to do all of this. And sometimes, it fails miserably. But this is no reason to discount the attempt straight out of the gate. I think a successful adaptation does a little of all of these things. It retells, updates, and expands on the source material- keeping the main themes alive while making sure it stays relevant and enjoyable. A great example of this is Zack Snyder's 2007 treatment of 300 (bare with me).
Anyone who's familiar with the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (Yes, I think she deserves to be credited. No, I don't know why nobody ever does) knows that if it had been translated directly to a script it would have been around 35 minutes long. So Snyder and company sat down and built on the story to make it feature length, and update it a bit in terms of making the players a little more 3 dimensional, especially the Queen. But here's the key, they did so while adhering to the overall themes and mood of the source material. Obviously 300 was enjoyable but wasn't the greatest movie of my generation, but it pulled off the difficult balancing act that is pleasing to fans of the book, and yet remaining accessible to any who were unfamiliar with it. And thus proved that movie rights are not a death sentence.
Which brings me to my point. We have seen that it is difficult but possible to take a book and make it a movie without sacrificing the story told there in or the quality of the movie. Which means that the makers of The Box have absolutely no excuse for what the it did to Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button" -about the divides that can grow between two people, even if they sleep in the same bed. The first forty-five minutes or so of this movie is the Twilight Zone episode based on the same story, and once it's off that track it spins out into oblivion like an unfortunate astronaut. And like the same, once all attempts at rescue have been exhausted you have no choice but to either watch it hurtle towards it's fate, or shield your eyes and cry.
Gone is the emotional core of the short story. instead of focusing on our couple and their emotional journey, we are informed very early on that they are nothing but flies caught in an increasingly elaborate and ridiculous web. Only the web has not been spun by a meticulous and patient spider as one might assume, because I can't imagine such a skilled creature would create something so full of loose ends and meaningless (and sometimes confusing) strands. Case and point: At one point we're told that the mysterious stranger heals eight times faster than a normal human. 'Really?' I thought to myself. 'Than how exactly do you explain the fact that a third of his face is gone? Oh wait, you don't.'
Nothing about this movie works. The performances are decent at best, the special effects are good but completely out of place, and the cinematography is completely without ambition. One could make the argument that it's going for a 70's feel, but if that's true than again, why are all the special effects there? This movie just rattled round and round in my head after I saw it. I grimace when I think about it, and try to forgive myself for not just walking out.
I have a soft place in my heart for James Marsden. 1.) Because he's handsome, and 2.) Because anyone who can make Cyclops and interesting character to me can't be all bad. But even so- it's not nearly enough to save The Box. Short stories and books can become great movies, I've seen it- I know it can be done. But this just isn't one of them. It lumbers and drools like a half tranquilized animal. If anything, it's a case study on what NOT to do with your adaptation. A wise person once said: "If you can't be a good example, be a horrible warning." Consider yourself warned.

Real Deal Recommends:
X2: Easily the best X-men movie, and currently my favorite place to see James Marsden.

1 comment:

Kello said...

Although your review is really well written, this is disappointing news to read. Every once and a while a movie like this will come out and sound so interesting, but then totally fall flat. It sounds like the feeling I got from the movie "The Game" with Michael Douglas.

Well, thanks for seeing it, so the rest of us won't have to. The short story sounds like a better bet.