Friday, June 4, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: The Wilhelm Scream

There are a few stock sound effects out there that you here all the time in movies, television shows, and video games. Probably the most famous stock sound effect is The Wilhelm Scream, named for the character Wilhelm in the film "The Charge at Feather River" (actually the second film it was used in). This sound effect has been used in the "Star Wars", "Indiana Jones", and "Lord of the Rings" movies, and now that you know what it sounds like you will hear it all the time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Look, up on the screen! Is it an allegory about having children when you are not ready for them? Is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of engineering? Is that the guy from “The Darjeeling Limited”? It's all those things and more! It's “Splice”.

“Splice” is about nerdy hipster biochemist Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley: “Dawn of the Dead”), and her nerdy hipster boyfriend and partner Clive (Adrien Brody: “The Darjeeling Limited”), a couple of up-and-comers in the science community who, having already spliced together genes from different animals to create a couple of living phallic blobs called Fred and Ginger, want to take their science to the next level.

Clive and Elsa know that the next step is to introduce human DNA into their experiments, but they are told that their gene splicing operation is being reworked to focus on making their existing discoveries marketable. The young, cocky scientists are angry about having theyr lab pulled out from under them so in a night of hard work, and a montage sequence worthy of “CSI”, they go ahead and splice that human DNA just to prove they can.

From there one thing leads to another, and with a cry of “What's the worst that could happen?” the spliced genes are put into an ovum, and begin the grow. Before long the synthetic womb bursts and out pops a new little phallic creature which ages quickly, becoming more and more human looking. Elsa names it Dren (get it, it's “nerd” backwards.)

Now at this point you would expect the creature to go on a murderous rampage that Clive and Elsa try to cover up to protect their experiment, right? Nope. Instead you get an hour of them trying to raise this little girl (who just happens to have a poisonous stinger at the end of her tail), and go through the stages of parenting in fast forward; trying to get a fussy toddler to eat, teaching it to associate pictures with objects and names with people, dealing with teenage temper tantrums. Sounds riveting, right?

If you are looking for a good horror film, then go see “A Nightmare on Elm Street” again, because most of this film is solid Sci-Fi. The movie only really becomes a horror movie in the last fifteen or twenty minutes when it seems like the screenwriter realized that the movie had been going on for quite some time, and it might be a good idea to throw in a climax at some point.

At 104 minutes, this movie feels too long. There are a number of scenes that could have been shortened or removed entirely with little loss to the film. I am thinking in particular of the first half of the dance scene, and I would like to forget the sex scene entirely (although it does lead up to the most unintentionally funny scene of the film). I found myself checking my watch a lot in the last half hour of the film since I had a rough idea of how long the movie was, and it did not seem like it was building up to anything.

One thing I do like about the film is that while it clearly has an agenda it does not blatantly beat you about the head with it. It is very clear that the scientists are bad, immoral, reckless, unsympathetic people who deserve to have bad things happen to them, but at no point does anyone actually come out and say these things. No one mentions that what they are doing is an affront to God, and there is only a couple of mentions about the moral boundaries that Clive and Elsa are crossing. I can definitely appreciate a movie that regards its audience as smart enough to notice its motives without having sa character come directly out and state it.

The other thing I like in the movie is the acting. Adrien Brody portrays Clive as a very book smart man who seems to lack any real self confidence, and largely does whatever Elsa wants even if he disagrees with her and knows it is wrong. He seems to exist solely for her; like he feels he's lucky to have her. Sure some of his most dramatic dialog got laughter from the audience, but that's more to do with the circumstances of the scene than with Brody's performance.

Elsa on the other hand is a very uneven character. As with Brody's being unintentionally funny, this is not Sarah Polley's fault. Elsa is meant to be a very unstable person, and there is justification for this in the movie, so while it is jarring to see her suddenly go from caring mother to Nazi-esque scientist it does make sense in the context of the film.

I ended up being a bit disappointed with “Splice”. The trailers make it looks like an intense and fast-paced sci-fi horror thriller, and it is at the end, but this movie may well have the most misleading trailers since “The Time Traveler's Wife”. It's not bad enough to be so bad it's good, like “The Box”, but it's not good enough to recommend seeing in theaters. The ingredients for great film are here, a solid cast, decent (if imperfect) effects, and a good idea, but it never lives up to its potential.

At its very best “Splice” is a tense “meh”, and at its worst it's downright squicky. It oozes its way into theaters June 4th, but really, wait for it to come out on DVD.

Read "Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse".

Wednesday, June 2, 2010