- The Lunch with ‘Jodorowski’s Dune’ Producers Travis Stevens and Stephen Scarlatta
- The Lunch with Alison Willmore, Film Critic for BuzzFeed
- The Lunch with Matt and Tom Berninger of ‘Mistaken for Strangers’
- The Lunch, with Anne Thompson, Journalist and Author of ‘The $11-Billion Year’
- The Lunch with Chad Hartigan, Dir. of ‘This is Martin Bonner’
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Tag Archives: Michael Bay
In the horror satire “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” good ol’ boys Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are working on their fixer-upper cottage by the lake when a group of pampered college kids roll through — and mistake the gentle and goofy pair for homicidal hillbillies. In the resulting panic, the college kids prove to be their own worst enemies — fatally — while Tucker and Dale try to survive the kid’s hasty homicidal efforts at self-defense. It’s a role tailor-made for Tudyk — whose affable screen presence can pitch into something darker at the drop of a hat, and whose physical comedy skills belie a quick wit that can make any mere genre moment a twisting, tricky affair. We spoke with Tudyk by phone about his past project with Joss Whedon’s “Serenity,” his experience on “Transformers 3″ and his work as an overall-clad innocent in “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.”
When you’re shooting something like ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,’ which I had the pleasure of seeing at Sundance, how many bad horror movies do you wind up watching as research?
Tudyk: That’s a good question. I watched about six before I realized it was awful watching them, and then I thought, ‘Why am I watching this crap? I don’t have to watch this.’ I gave them all to the actors playing the college kids, because they’re the ones that should be watching them, because it’s their point of view that they see the world in this way — as a horror movie, college kids are the victims, hillbillies are the bad guys. I could have really stopped at one. Maybe if I wanted to really get into it, two. I could have just gone with ‘Hills Have Eyes’ — one or two and stopped there. That gave me a good sense of it. They just became one movie; it was awful. There’s so much gore and so much odd incest. It’s frightening. I’m glad I got to be on the hillbilly side of things.
These things are fairly debased, but at the same time, they are a cultural currency, they’re stuff that we have a roadmap for. Was this stuff that you watched in your youth? I feel like it’s stuff that you outgrow, like light beer.
Tudyk: I never watched. I watched ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ — half of it — once in New York. It haunted my dreams that night; it gave me the worst nightmares. It was an awful world to visit. It was bizarre and twisted and disgusting. I’ve held the belief of why would you want to enter into that world. I like movies for bringing me into places that are fun or interesting. It’s not that they all have to be fun; I like compelling movies and dark movies, but a movie that seems to have no point but to scare the s**t out of you, I’m scared just here on my couch next to my dog. I can find something to be afraid of, I’m sure. I don’t need to watch a movie for that. I’ve stayed away from them. I do get that it is a cultural thing, and I did read some psychological dissertations on the idea of what this is all about, why do we need (this) in society, what is this fulfilling for us? They get very heady about us as a society … and it gets really unhelpful really fast.
What research do you do to get your hillbilly on? The whole thing is that Tucker and Dale are these gentle, holy fools who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but at the same time, they have to give off that vague air of underbite menace.
Tudyk: (Laughing) As far as the background of it, I grew up in Texas, and Tucker and Dale are branded — what is branded as ‘hillbilly’ in Tucker and Dale is really a couple of good old boys, just some nice people. That’s brought from the perspective of the college kids. When we’re driving by and they see us with that menacing look, it’s their perception of us that’s menacing. They see Dale as this slack-jawed man-boy who has the ability to kill, when in fact he’s just a slack-jawed man-boy with a really high-functioning brain — at least the ability to recall facts. I was just patterning it off of my own experiences of growing up in Texas, of people I knew, even my own feelings. I went to a college for a couple of years in east Texas, and I would call myself a good old boy. (Well,) I was a college kid: I can’t be a good old boy. I have relatives that are good old boys, and they’re just normal people.
When you’re doing a film like this, you’re running around, doing all these fake blood gags, you’ve got prosthetic body parts being lobbed off, you meet your fellow actors and then they spend a lot of time screaming and running from you. Is it hard to put together the fact that, ‘That’s right, this is supposed to be funny?’ Is there a disconnect between the working process and the end result?
Tudyk: There was, absolutely. That made for a difficult shoot. You’re buoyed — when you’re making a movie — by great days, really. ‘That was hysterical, you were so funny.’ There were a lot of days that Tyler and I left the set going, ‘I don’t know what we did today. Was that even any good?’ It wasn’t until we saw it put together that we got really excited, that we felt like the work had paid off. I hadn’t actually put that together until just now. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t just the fact that we were on such a short shooting schedule and there was rain and it was cold and it was all the elements that work against any movie being made. It was also the fact that we weren’t really there to enjoy the humor; we were actually acting like some guys having a miserable time on a failed vacation.
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite Canadian giant, Tyler Labine. Had you known him before the shoot? Had you known his work?
Tudyk: No. I didn’t.
You just met him and went, ‘This is going to work?’
Tudyk: Yeah, I met him and got really excited. He’s such an easygoing guy. He’s really cool, easygoing guy. Funny and a hard worker — that was the main thing from the beginning that was very different. I guess I’ve worked with very cool guys before, but he was like, ‘Let’s get together and let’s work tonight.’ The first night that we met, I went over to his apartment and we went page-by-page through the script and made up a back story for ourselves. That’s something I’ve never done before or since. I did it in acting school, but even in acting school, if you said to one of your fellow actors, ‘Hey, let’s get together tonight and come up with a back story,’ they’d go, ‘Nerd.’ It’s really good work to do, and it’s somehow not done that often. The work that we did that night was huge — and not just the actual work we got done; it was coming together to make it the best we could from the very beginning, and that followed through all the way through.
This summer, we had the chance to see you in ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon.’ They always talk about backing the money truck up to an actor’s house, but does the money truck go ‘beep’ as it backs up slowly when Michael Bay comes calling, when Michael Bay wants you to play a slightly ominous, sexual European bodyguard/butler? Does the money truck go beep, or was it more a case of you saying, ‘When the hell am I going to be inside a movie like this again?’
Tudyk: I’m a character actor, so the money trucks are more like pickup trucks; they aren’t really big trucks. Character actors, we’re working actors. Nobody’s going to go see ‘Transformers’ because Alan Tudyk’s in it. That’s what makes your price really big — at least the paychecks that get reported, that you’re like, ‘Oh my God, those guys make a lot of money.’ I do well, but as far as the money truck, that’s reserved for the big stars of that movie. Then after that, all of the robots and all of the cars. You’re good if they’re paying you more than they are spending on your costumes.
At a certain point, I was looking around ‘Transformers’ going, ‘What a minute, Alan Tudyk, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich. If this were any other movie, it’d be great.’
Tudyk: I have to say, though, the working with all those, I was beside myself. I’d worked with Frances McDormand before. She’s wonderful. That was more like, ‘I can’t believe I’m working with her again.’ John Malkovich, I can’t believe I was in the same room as him. Then Turturro, forget about it. I was with him every day that I worked; that guy’s awesome.
Which do people bother you about more: ‘Dodgeball’ or ‘Serenity?’
Tudyk: I think the word bother — I’m not bothered usually by people. People will approach me about ‘Serenity’ and ‘Firefly’ more, just because people who like that movie and that TV show, they really liked it. People who liked ‘Dodgeball,’ some people really like it, but usually those people just shout out, ‘Gar!’ That’s the extent of it, or maybe, ‘Steve the Pirate!’ That’s the beginning and the end of it, whereas I actually meet the people who love ‘Serenity’ and sometimes I talk to them about my death and assure them it was all okay.
At the same time, you also have that great out when some nerd comes sniffling around going, ‘Will there ever be another film or sequel?’ you get to wave your hand and say, ‘Hey, I’m dead, buddy; doesn’t matter to me either way.’
Tudyk: It’s sad. I used to say, ‘Joss (Whedon, ‘Firefly’ creator) always had a prequel,’ and then we were all together for Comic-Con — not the whole cast, but I was with Adam Baldwin and Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite — and I was like, ‘There’s no f**king prequel. We’re 10 years older?’ We’re picking up these characters five years before you met them? I don’t think so.
Now you have to pitch Mr. Whedon on catching younger actors on doing ‘Firefly High’ and you somehow getting a royalty out of it.
Tudyk: I bet that story will come back around; I don’t know. Who f**king knows? I do know there’s still a lot of love for it, and that’s not just the fans, that’s the people who did it, myself included and Joss. When people do ask that, ‘Is there going to be something?’ I always think there would have to be something. Here’s one thing I think you will see at some point — if I say this, I’ll get in trouble at some point, so I’ve not spoken to anybody; this is just my opinion — in another 15, 20 years, (a story will) pick up Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) and what he’s doing.
10 to 15 years older Mal?
Tudyk: 15 years, Mal’s living on some moon somewhere.
We have to get back to ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.’ Your three wilderness/woods survival tips if you suddenly find yourself plunged into a horror film or a horror comedy.
Tudyk: Really scrutinize the leaves that you plan to use as toilet paper. Don’t take the first thing you see; there are some leaves that can leave stinging rashes. There was a plant in Australia that gets into your skin like the worst fiberglass and it never comes out — the pain never stops. Two of the first settlers used it as a toilet paper, and they ended up shooting themselves to stop the pain. That’s number one. Number two, if you have girls that are there in a horror-type situation, you need to get them in some better shoes. Get them in a better shoe situation, because you don’t want them falling down, because really when push comes to shove you’re going to have to leave them behind. I’m not thinking a specific woman right now, but make sure everybody’s got a good footwear situation, that they have bad footwear remedied out as fast as possible, (replaced by) makeshift shoes. Number three, I’d say go on the attack. I know ‘Tucker and Dale’ shows that wouldn’t work. But they were idiots. I think a lot of these killers in these movies get away with it because (victims) scatter: Everybody runs; everybody lets fear take them over. If you pool your resources, stick together, you can take them out. Unless they’re like Freddy Kruger — that’s supernatural. I don’t know how you fight that s**t.
In this Sunday’s L.A. Times, critic and writer Stephen Farber contributed a piece called “Middlebrow, eh? Well, more please,” lamenting the cold critical reception offered by some to “The Help,” opening with the statement “If it had been released 50 years ago, “The Help” would have been the cinematic event of the summer. ” According to Farber, something changed, and for the worse, “when a new generation of critics decided that once-disreputable genre pictures — film noir thrillers, screwball comedies and low-budget westerns — had been slighted while the press was slavering over movies with weightier themes.”
Farber notes that “The Help” is in the same tradition as “such Oscar-winning films as ‘Gentleman’s Agreement,’ ‘All the King’s Men,’ ‘The Defiant Ones,’ ‘Judgment at Nuremberg,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘In the Heat of the Night.’” Farber concludes by saying, “here’s my advice to today’s persnickety critics: Don’t be ashamed to champion humane, emotionally satisfying films that dare to tackle subjects that matter. In other words, let’s hear it for the middlebrow.” (Farber is arm-in-arm with other commentators, like David Poland at Movie City News, who think that “The Help” is getting unfairly berated and belittled.)
And while I don’t think of myself as persnickety — and while I regard Mr. Farber’s work — I was more confused by his article than convinced, and I can tell you why. The simple fact is that, to paraphrase Mr. Farber’s opening sentence, if it had been released 50 years ago, “The Help” would have been a commentary on the issues of the day, not a cozy narcotic of nostalgia. (All the examples Farber cites, as well, were either films about their present day or a look back of 10 years. Movies like “The Help” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Invictus” say racism was a problem — but not anymore, and not now, and mostly thanks to white people.)
Baby-Boomer film critics love it when their soft, lazy-liberal assumptions are coddled, not challenged — the same for the Academy — which is why “Crash” wins best picture and not, say, “Brokeback Mountain,” because “Crash” suggests we can work things out with some coincidence and monologues, while “Brokeback Mountain” suggests that doing so will take far more effort and pain than we are ready for. The older generation of arts commentators and critics likes to think about how things are moving forwards towards the greater good; anyone under 45, though, who grew up under Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush, is essentially tired of being lied to — and can’t help but note how, too often, big Hollywood movies are part of that lie. (Really, I dislike the fact — not the rumor, but the fact — that my tax dollars went to help provide Michael Bay with production value for “Transformers 3.”)
Do I think that “The Help” — or any look back at the past of social justice — is utterly useless? Not in principle, no. But I would suggest that a historical look at a topic captured on film would be helped by it reflecting actual history — and when the Association of Black Woman Historians publishes an opinion document stating that “The Help” “… distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers,” it’s hard to suggest that’s the case. Steve James’ “The Interrupters” — about a group of anti-gang-violence activists in Chicago who take an epidemiological response to gang violence — says more about the challenges of America today in regard to race, class and opportunity in five minutes than “The Help” does in its entire length — and was made for probably less than it took to recreate the clothes and hair of the era for the stars of “The Help,” and will go largely unseen, and that’s a shame of the highest order.
Mr. Farber’s namesake, the great American film critic Manny Farber, railed against “White Elephant Art” — films meant to be decorative and praised and useless, so noble they’re immobile, big and broad and bland and well-meaning — and noted that the ideal role of the film critic was to “play both brows against the middle,” to praise great art and great trash, to endorse tough films and to mock and knock over processed, easy-to-swallow corporate products from the feel-good nostalgia factory — movies, in essence, like “The Help.” I — and several of my fellow critics, Mr. Farber — will be glad to praise big Hollywood films about social issues, with honest looks at what America is and at how it could be better.
I look forward to the hypothetical day when big Hollywood starts making them.
There is one interesting visual image in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (hereafter simply referred to as Transformers 3) that briefly stands out in a sea of robot characters based on toys and human characters who might as well be robots. A writhing and rampant robot-reptile devourer, a hydra made of hardware, a sinuous and snarling buzzsaw-beast occasionally shows up, and it is a vision of such power and freshness that even the weariest moviegoer — and by the time director Michael Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger are done with you, you will be weary — will sit up in their seat and take note with awe.
That, however, is five to ten minutes of Transformers 3‘s 2 hour and 20 minute gargantuan length; the rest of it is a jumble of something like characters in something like a plot that apparently has a beginning, middle and end. Again, tribes of warring robots, the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons, continue their endless war against each other in their place of exile, Earth, as established by the two previous films and the cartoons, comics and toys that inspired them.
Stating that Transformers 3 is better than Transformers 2 is something akin to stating being stabbed is better than being shot. The decision to gimmick up Transformers 3 into 3D means that, for technical reasons and to attain some kind of continuity of motion in the dimensional projection, Bay’s usual microsecond cuts are expanded to seconds; it’s still wham-bam-thank-you-whoever-you-are film-cutting, but it’s Dogme-style slow editing compared to the previous Transformers films. (The 3D doesn’t just slow down the editing; like Avatar and Green Lantern, the use of 3D helps films that would otherwise look waxen and immobile with CGI overload seem even vaguely like film and less like the very large cartoons they in fact are.)
Michael Bay himself knocked Transformers 2 on-the-record — we were rushed by the strike, we know critics didn’t like it — but this film makes you feel like the parolee you just saw repented lifted your wallet. Bay still has no interest in what makes a story — character, plot, action — preferring instead to create set-pieces and fill the time around them. It’s bad enough that the comedy relief invariably is not funny (or is offensive, like when Ken Jeong’s quick supporting moment combines both racism and homophobia), but what’s worse is when Bay fills interjects comedic relief into scenes that are already intended as comedic relief.
Bay has no interest in character: For all the sheen and slow-mo director Michael Bay drapes on every scene of Rosie Huntington-Whitley, her curves and planes are visually more in keeping with automotive engineering as opposed to anything like human sensuality. Shia La Beouf’s Sam Witwicky is, as ever, the appendix of this rotten corpse — small and vestigial, dangling off the colon of the enterprise to yell “Optimus!” or “Bumblebee!” in slowed-down footage. Bay also cares not one whit for plot; after an armada of evil robots is teleported to Washington D.C, they then decamp to Chicago — a 12-hour drive, even for robots — for no stated reason whatsoever to unleash a world-ending plot they could have begun anywhere. I half expected series nemesis Megatron to state that Chicago would be the Decepticon throne because they, like Bay, were offered tax breaks and city managers agreeable to their needs.
But it’s not just the ineptitude of Transformers 3 that baffles; it’s the contradictions. We’re clearly expected to know, or care, about these characters from the backstory of the cartoons — but then the films skip fan-service mythology like a culmination to the leadership clash between Megatron and Starscream. These are at heart films for children, with their robotic clashes and toy-based pedigree — so why is the script loaded with vulgarities like ‘shit’ and ‘bitch’ and, worse, images like a bus full of corpses and civilians having the flesh blasted off their bones by sci-fi weapons until their bony skulls clatter in the gutter? And if these films were intended for adults — and I would argue that seeing Bay do a hard sci-fi saga of high-tech war could, in theory, be interesting — then why is it based on a line of robots that become cars and change back to lecture the audience on human rights? Why do huge, hulking metallic robots spin-kick and tumble with the speed, grace and agility of pre-teen gymnasts? I can swallow the idea of robots the size of trucks and planes clashing clumsily like sumo, but not the idea of them fighting flowing fast like Bruce Lee.
It’s also hard to overlook the politics of the Transformers films. When Optimus Prime (voiced, as ever, by Peter Cullen) says “Now … we take the battle to them!”, it’s hard to not blink at the bizarreness of the lies of the Bush administration’s rationale for the war in Iraq ringing out in baritone from a talking truck with a sword. (Before anyone yells about the idea that there could be nothing less political than the Transformers films, note the number of military agencies thanked for the use of personnel and material in the end credits — I don’t know about you, but I don’t like my tax dollars being used to help Michael Bay make what is essentially propaganda for profit.)
Bay’s directorial style — where the fights and stunts and explosions get bigger and bigger and bigger — has been called “Bay-hem,” a name-brand promise of might and muscle on-screen, splendor and spectacle. And you could argue that by synching 80s nostalgia with millennial effects, the Transformers films are in their way an American institution. But, like many American institutions — Wall Street, the War on Drugs, the Armed Forces — the might and the money and the muscle has become brainless and bloated, forgetting what it was originally intended for in the wasteful pursuit of self-perpetuation. Bay’s a talented director — but no director can make up for not having a script, or for not caring the script he has is horrible and senseless. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a little Bay-hem on the big screen in Transformers 3; aside from one memorable image that livened up battles I didn’t care about between characters I barely knew, all I got was idiocy, tedium and expense in the pursuit of Bay-nality.
Last week, as part of a group of journalists invited to see selected scenes from the upcoming “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” — as well as sit down and talk with director Michael Bay — it was hard not to feel strange. While the prospect of behind-the-scenes insights into the making of what’s sure to be one of the summer’s biggest hits was enticing, there’s also the fact that “Transformers 2″ was an easy movie to not like. Oddly, what made the day a lot easier was the fact that Bay turns out to be of the same opinion.
“You all saw what I said about ‘Transformers 2,’ right?” Bay asked within seconds of sitting down. (If you’re out of the loop, Bay’s been candid about his problems with the film, as he told the Los Angeles Times’ Hero Complex, “It was kind of a mess, wasn’t it? … Look, the movie had some good things in it and it was entertaining and it did very well, but it also failed in some key ways.”
In the moment, Bay pulled off a nice mix of humility and self-celebration as he elaborated on what he felt the writers strike did to “Transformers 2″: “You don’t make that much money on a movie — and it doesn’t become No. 1 at the American box office that year — if people hated the movie. Do you know what I’m saying? Yes, people might have been turned off a little bit by it, we might have gone a little bit south on the direction — but it was a terrible writers strike, and it was a s— position to be in. You promise 1,000 people jobs, and then all of a sudden it’s ‘Uh-oh.’ A small group is on strike — three of our crew members — and how do you keep the ball going?”
This time, Bay swore, things would be different: “This one, we had time — we talked about — with (screenwriter) Ehren Kruger — what we liked about the first movie. You’re never going to match the innocence of the first movie, the wonderment — when the robots came out, it was new technology; the genie’s out of the bottle there. This one, I think it’s a more mature story line, it’s definitely darker: When people see it, they say they feel the emotion in the end. The stakes are higher because it takes place in an American city. You’re not as disconnected as you are in Egypt, with the Pyramids.”
Bay spoke about shooting in 3-D, and all of the technical challenges that offered, and I asked him if this was part of a plan to make the third film bigger. “I didn’t want to say that it’s bigger, because what I like about it is — I’ve said this with Ehren — (when) we were talking about concept, we use the term ‘Black Hawk Down’ in just that it’s a small group, and you follow,” he said. “There’s no cavalry coming. It’s a standard thing in movies: The cavalry comes. We tried to make the cavalry unable to come. It’s more fun to watch our heroes in this epic ending, just a small group, which makes the movie more intimate.”
While asked to not share too much of the exact nature of the clips we were shown, we did get a mix of 2-D and 3-D footage — plus a brand-new trailer — and a mix of low-level light comedy (involving new love interest Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and conspiracy theory from Ken Jeong) and wide-screen action as the city of Chicago is brought under siege by, yes, evil robots. Some of this stuff looked big and bold and brawny — the distinctive action style that some fans of the director term “Bay-hem.” At the same time, while it’s hard to say without having seen the final film, a sequence involving a Chicago skyscraper undergoing major, and swift, architectural modifications thanks to a huge saw-mouthed robot looked impressive — and yet still seemed like the climax to every other ‘Transformers’ film, where a large machine tries to destroy our heroes while they run to get to the glowing whatsit that determines the fate of the world.
After the footage, I asked Bay if shooting people walking away from a ruined urban center felt odd in the wake of events, even given 10 years’ passing and the movement of the culture. He shrugged: “It’s a fantasy action movie, so it’s what it is. Alien-invasion movies are nothing; they’ve been around a long time.” And Bay loves the challenge of coming up with more and more fantastic ideas: “I love what I do. It’s really fun to imagine. When I work with writers, I create a lot of my own ‘This is what I want to do; this is what we haven’t done.’ That’s how I inspire myself. I came up with this crazy scene you’re not going to believe. I was in the gym doing all these dumb stomach crunches. I’m like, ‘This building scene … that’s what I want to do …’ I don’t know where I think of these scenes, but there was a reason why they had to go into the building, and I figured what I wanted to do to that building after. It’s like anything you can imagine with ‘Transformers’ makes it fun. It’s interesting, because when you do a ‘Bad Boys II,’ there’s only so many things cops can do.”
Such as, I pointed out in reference to one of the movie’s more over-the-top scenes, invade Cuba. Bay had the good grace to laugh at a little bit of mockery aimed at his over-the-top sensibility: “When you think about it, OK. When you’re doing ‘Bad Boys,’ it’s like, ‘OK, they’ve got to be funny. What can we do?’”
But does Bay feel like he’s done what he can with the Transformers? Is this the end for the series? “I think so,” he said, “but it can still be rebooted — not with Shia (LaBeouf). He’s turning grumpy in his old age. He’s like a little brother to me. I’m like, ‘I’m never going to work with you when you’re older.’ He says, ‘Why?’ ‘Because you’re just a grump.’ You put him on a wire, and he just turns into this evil monster. Other actors are like, ‘This is really fun.’ He’s the opposite.”
But Bay doesn’t think he’s slackening his pace as he approaches the finish line: “I’ve got a lot of scenes you’ve never seen before and a lot of action stuff that I’ve never done before that’s pretty cool. One agent said, ‘Bay’s a competitor.’ What he meant by that, a lot of people (for) the third (installment of a franchise) will check out and just get a paycheck. I’ve been working every day for two years, every single day, because I want to make up for the second (‘Transformers’), and I want to leave this franchise as best I can. I’ve had a great run, fun time doing it.” And when asked point-blank if the controversial “twins” — robots Mudflap and Skids, whose heavy accents and manner suggested racially charged caricature — would be back in “Transformers 3,” Bay leaned back smiling, a man who had learned at least a few lessons: “Yeah, we got rid of them … they’re not even in it.”
“I’ve never seen the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Wes Craven‘s 1984 horror film, which may be the only thing I have in common with the 18-year-olds whose dollars New Line/Warner Brothers is chasing with this remade reboot. I avoided the original “Nightmare” film because by the time I got into horror, the franchise had already descended into parody as the series’ slasher, Freddy Krueger, turned into Rodney Dangerfield with a knife-glove at the ready, delivering bad one-liners and dispatching teens. Apparently, Michael Bay‘s Platinum Dunes, which has already produced such retro-horror remakes as “Friday the 13th,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Hitcher” and “The Amityville Horror,” is of the same mind, as this new “Nightmare” promised, early on, less camp and more chills, fewer jokes and more scares.
So while I can’t offer you an A-to-B comparison of the two films, I can also appraise the new “Nightmare” without the fear of any nostalgia creeping into the process. Directed by Samuel Bayer, a video-directing veteran in his feature-film debut, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” looks gloomy and gritty and expensive, well-shot and nicely-designed. A group of teens are all having the same nightmares, and dying, one by one. The common thread in the bad dreams is a badly-burnt bogeyman, Fred (Jackie Earle Haley), which leads scared, suffering Nancy (Rooney Mara), Quentin (Kyle Gallner) and their friends to try to figure out why this psychotic phantom is after them.
But like many modern horror remakes, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is more interested in jump-scares and BOO! moments and CGI-aided death scenes than actually exploring ideas in the plot around those brief bloody moments. Knowing that they’re vulnerable in their dreams, one of the kids chases an ADD pill with a swig of Red Bull, and later a parent signs the papers to have her injured daughter sedated, not knowing she’s essentially signing her death warrant. A more interesting film would have looked at what’s behind those things, how, nowadays, it can seem easier to medicate kids than to listen to them. But “Nightmare” is more interested in getting to the next slaying of someone than it is in saying something. …”