Monday, March 14, 2011
"My, what big eyes you have!" - Red Riding Hood
I’m not going to spend much time here on the overall silliness of this Twilight-like (girl desired by two handsome guys; girl’s father played by Billy Burke, who plays Bella’s father; werewolves) disappointment that retells the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale without any sort of engaging imagination. I’m not going to address the wooden acting, the very unscary CGI werewolf, how Virginia Madsen looks totally out of place, how most of the characters seem out of place, looking like characters in a Disney Channel teen drama done up in storybook costumes standing around looking shocked to find themselves in a werewolf movie. I’m not going to go on about how Julie Christie as Grandmother is wasted on making sudden appearances and odd exclamations that work, unintentionally or not, as a running joke throughout the movie. I’m only going to address two elements, one a significant plus, another a significant weakness: the eyes of Amanda Seyfried and the ineffective art direction.
The Eyes of Amanda Seyfried:
They are impossibly large. You could get lost in them forever and ever. With the frequency of the close shots on Seyfried’s eyes, deep and dusky gray-blue, juxtaposed with her luxuriant tresses of golden blonde hair, it’s almost as if director Catherine Hardwicke is trying to build the whole movie around her eyes, as Seyfried’s character Valerie, the girl in peril of the big bad wolf, uses those big beauties to express deep longing or intense fear. But as interesting as Seyfried’s eyes may be, and as stunning as the close shots are, they are not enough to carry this disappointing, poorly written, lamely imagined story.
The Fairytale Town:
Immediately, as the townspeople close their gate against the predations of the werewolf, offering up a little piggy in appeasement, talking about how the werewolf has not bothered them in years, some of the characters stumbling through sentences without contractions, village idiot babbling in the attic, you are immediately reminded of Shyamalan’s The Village. But even though Red Riding Hood matches elements from M. Night Shyamalan’s film, it does not come anywhere near succeeding in establishing the rich reality of Shyamalan’s village nor the very convincing dread of the townspeople cowering in that very convincing little world.
For Red Riding Hood this is a wonderful opportunity for art direction: a small medieval village called Daggerhorn (Yikes!) surrounded by a dark forest, but the opportunity is sadly squandered. This bland, fake sound stage set has no more substance and reality than the sets in Disneyland’s Fantasyland, where everything looks new and colorful but more than that is unnecessary because you came for the rides, not the sets.
In Valerie Riding Hood’s village, the wooden buildings look plastic. The flowers in the fields are fake. Nothing looks lived in. Nothing looks used. Everyone’s clothes are fresh and clean. The snow, of course, is fake, and even though it’s constantly snowing, no one acts cold, no one wears a hat, and no one’s breath fogs up. (Even the men who climb a snowy mountain to the werewolf’s cavern wear no hats, and some of them don’t even wear coats.)
Meanwhile, the scenes enacted in the town do little to establish genuine dread or a sense of wonder that would draw your attention away from setting. When the townspeople think they have slain the big bad wolf, they celebrate with music played on weird, Dr. Seussian instruments and an oddly lewd dance. (The revelries also include three kids in piggy masks and a guy in a wolf suit acting out The Three Little Piggies; "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in.") When Valerie sees her sweetheart, Peter, doing the bump and grind with another girl, she grabs a female friend and performs the same suggestive dance, but I guess Peter isn’t worried that Valerie’s bisexual because he doesn’t seem to care.
Of course, the big bad wolf very quickly disabuses the townsfolk of the delusion that they’ve killed him when he suddenly leaps out and munches on random townies. This is done without an ounce of suspenseful build-up. Blood stains the fake snow in a rather confined town square in a setting that makes no effort to suggest the dark forest beyond or to generate any sense of dread.
In the film’s opening shots, the camera moves eagle-like over snowy ridges and along a plummeting mountain stream to the forest and the village in its midst. The camera tells you that you have arrived at Valerie’s village. Alas, the art direction never makes you feel like you’re really there.