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January 11, 2010 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-01-11

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, January 11, 2010 - 5A

The masterpieces
of unfin ishedfilm

"You weren't supposed to poop out the key HERE!"
An elmnt aryeffort

'Sherlock Holmes' is all
brawn and no brains, save
for Robert Downey, Jr.
Daily Arts Writer
Even the grumpiest English professor
would admit that James
Fenimore Cooper's 1826
novel "The Last of the
Mohicans" is nearly $herlock
unreadable. In 1992,
director Michael Mann HoImeS
twisted Cooper's stuffy At Quality16
old prose into an Oscar- and Showcase
winning masterpiece on
the bigscreen. The source Warner Bros.
material for Guy Ritchie's
("Snatch") new film "Sherlock Holmes" is
similarly prosaic, but Ritchie's vision lacks

the maturity of Mann's adaptation. Despite
the expected charming turn from star
Robert Downey, Jr. ("Tropic Thunder"),
"Holmes" can't rise above the sophomoric
formula of fight scenes, farting dogs and an
earsplitting score as it drags mindlessly for
far too long.
Films are delicate creatures. The small-
est anachronism or incorrect lens filter
can ruin the experience. In the case of
"Holmes," whatever joy might be wrought
by its action onscreen is threatened by
the cacophonous score of the usually reli-
able Hans Zimmer ("The Dark Knight").
Beneath every frame of every scene blares
a grating arrangement of broken pub pia-
nos and misplaced Appalachian fiddles.
While Zimmer's pursuit of a unique sound
is admirable, the result is agonizing. In
Zimmer's defense, the moving images
beneath his mess of a soundtrack aren't
much more engaging.
Brainless action movies are not without

entertainment value. Watching all the dif-
ferent ways a man's arms and legs can be
stylishly broken can be time well spent.
But, more often than not, such films don't
purport to achieve anything more than let-
ting the bodies hit the floor in the course of
their human meat tenderizing. The gaudy
costume and set design and, more impor-
tantly, the self-seriousness of everyone but
Downey, Jr., desperately suggest that more
is at stake here than a simple body count,
and the attempt comes across as insincere
and banal. Perhaps Ritchie understood
that Holmes was still a precious literary
commodity to some and tried to maintain
pockets of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's origi-
nal Victorian vision to appease them. But,
try as he might, Ritchie can't have it both
While most action comedies serve as
woeful starring vehicles for bricks of meat
like The Rock or Vin Diesel, "Holmes" is
See HOLMES, Page 8A

know you're all sick of reading
about "Avatar," so I promise to use
it only to segue into something
else. Don't leave yet.
Now then. What fascinated me the
most about "Avatar"
didn't have anything
to do with the fin-
ished project. It was
the fact that James
Cameron took 12
years to make theJ
film. (Actually lon-
ger, if you include ANDREW
the original treat- LAPIN
ment he wrote in
1994.) That's longer than it took Peter
Jackson to write, film and edit all three
"Lord of the Rings" movies. This is an
extraordinarily long time to work on
one film, especially in this day and age
when Hollywood often has the release
dates for its blockbusters lined up
before production even starts.
Cameron isn't alone these days in
bringing long-gestating projects to fru-
ition. The Daily's director of the year,
Quentin Tarantino, had been on-and-
off with his "Inglourious Basterds" for
over a decade before its release, though
most of that time was spent refining
the script, and, unlike Cameron, he
made other movies in that period as
well. Together, these two Chinese
Democracies of the modern film world
demonstrate an inherent truth of films
and, perhaps, of all works of art: No
matter how good the finished product,
a movie will never be as fascinating as
it is in an unfinished state.
Unfinished movies take up a strange,
mythical place in the world of film lore,
because they're absolutely brimming
with as much untapped potential as
your imagination allows. The even-
tual release is often a letdown, as the
arrival of the actual, tangible movie
can't match whatever you imagined
the mysterious project could've been
like. What sounds more exciting to you:
"James Cameron's unfinished movie
promises to blow your skull off with
new technology while simultaneously
revolutionizing science-fiction" or
"James Cameron's just-released 'Ava-
tar' is a 3-D film about blue people who
worship a tree"?
And then there's the other nice
thing about unfinished movies: they're
immune to critique. I can't develop
a fully formed opinion about, for
example, Terry Gilliam's "The Man
Who Killed Don Quixote," because
compounding misfortunes forced
him to shut down production midway
through filming. The movie was to fol-
low Johnny Depp as he traveled back in
time and joined the Man of La Mancha
on his many foolhardy quests.
"The Man Who Killed Don Quixote"
could've been Gilliam's masterpiece.
It could've been the definitive movie
made about what has become an
unfilmable subject. or it could've been
an utter and complete flop. There's no
way of knowing, at least not until Gil-
liam picks up the reins on the project
again, which he is rumored to be con-
There will always be a special place
in my heart for films I'll never get to
see. I'm fascinated by the story of "The
Thief and the Cobbler," the intended
magnum opus by Canadian anima-

tor Richard Williams (the animation.
director for "Who Framed Roger
Rabbit") that was in development
for a record 31 years before it was
wrested from his hands by Miramax
and released as the bastardized "Ara-
bian Knight" in 1995. In the case of
"Cobbler," though there is a finished
project on display, it wasn't completed
as originally intended, and so it, too,
will always remain in the "unfinished
films" canon.
But just why is "Cobbler" so legend-
ary? Because the scope of Williams's
vision for the project was too large for
him to handle, and when his dreams of
meticulously hand-drawing a largely
silent animated movie for adults hit the
brick wall of reality, he could do noth-
ing but throw up his hands in defeat.
Williams's dream was done in by his
own ambition, and yet it was this very
ambition, in all its grandiosity, that has
made "Cobbler" an object of cult affec-
tion among animation historians.
Cameron had a Quixotic ambition
too, but, unlike Williams, he had the
good fortune of coming off directing
the biggest movie of all time. The suc-
cess of "Titanic" meant the guy was
untouchable by anxious studio heads;
he was granted all the time and finan-
cial resources he desired for "Avatar."
If Cameron had told 20th Century
Fox that he needed to actually build
the entire planet of Pandora and send
it into orbit for added realism, they
would have let him. Here we see that
an unstoppable force has met a very
movable object. The Irresistible Force
Paradox of Filmmaking did not apply
to James Cameron as it applied to
Richard Williams.
So now, instead of hundreds of mil-
lions of dollars in tantalizingly unde-
livered promises, we have a 3-D movie
about blue people who worship a tree.
Fair trade-off? Meh.
Why 'Avatar'
should never have
been completed.
For the "Avatar" sequels Cameron
is already planning, maybe he could
incorporate unused footage from
"The Man Who Killed Don Quixote"
and "The Thief and the Cobbler." You
know, just to be fair to the less fortu-
nate. In the meantime, we've got the
release of yet another "unfinished"
film on the horizon: Orson Welles's
"The Other Side of the Wind," which
he filmed back in the 1970s before los-
ing all his funds. The movie was left
unedited upon Welles's death in 1985 -
until now, as its original star and fellow
director Peter Bogdanovich has taken
over the post-production process and is
supposedly almost ready for release.
And yet, as promising as this news
is, I know I won't be satisfied by the
final product. Because there's no way it
will be as exciting as when it was still
Lapin wants to have a really long
conversation with you about "Avatar." To
initiate it, e-mail him at alapin@umich.edu.

'The Road' worth traveling

est. In
in th
or th
of a r
a w;
live ti

By HANS YADAV from the haunting novel by Cor-
Daily Arts Writer mac McCarthy.
The film is set in a post-apoc-
agine a pristine, lush for- alyptic time when only a hand-
magine the birds chirping ful of people still survive, andM
ie trees it's left unclear how the world4
e sound **j became the way it is. In the
iver as it midst of such desolation, a boyY
through The Road (relative newcomer Kodi Smit-
thicket. McPhee) and his father (Viggo
imagine Atthe State Mortensen, "Eastern Promis-
'asteland The Weinstein es") travel southward on a long,
that Company empty road. This road is occa-
once sionally frequented by gangs of
If such a contrast evokes bandits, so both father and son COURTESY OF THE WEINSTEIN COMPAN
gs of emptiness and mor- always travel with a wary look What, this knife?O Oh, yeah this is for consuming human flesh.
then imagine a world behind their shoulders. a looming trend. The only thing pistol with two bullets.
almost nothing living More than being robbed of keeping the two going is the While the job of creating
save for a few stragglers, their precious canned goods, ostensible hope of finding more hopelessly bleak, desecrate:
ng each moment just to the two fear the very real possi- "good guys" - survivors like environment is certainly a laud
o get a glimpse of tomor- bility of being eaten themselves. themselves who don't canni- able one, the real eye-opene
Welcome to the world of Yes, with plants and animals balize. And if something goes of "The Road" is the chemistr
Road," the film adapted long gone, cannibalism becomes wrong, well, the father carries a See THE ROAD, Page 8A


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