Saturday, May 25, 2013

There Is No Defense For: The Nutcracker 3D

Okay, so I have this recurring segment on this blog called In Defense, where I take a second look at movies or TV shows that I feel have gotten something of a bad rap, and as the name implies, try to mount my best defense of them. Most of the time, I've seen the movie and have my defense in mind before writing, while other times I have to watch the movie again to remember if I actually liked it or not, as was the case with It's Pat: The Movie. This time around, I decided to tackle a movie I'd never seen, purely based on the assumption that its weird dark fantasy style seemed right up my alley. I have now watched The Nutcracker 3D, and unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this movie, and as much as I by all rights should have given my tastes and tolerance for over-indulgence, I am at a loss.

From reading other reviews of this movie, I gather the main complaint leveled against it is one that I almost always feel is too silly to even bother with, namely that the material is too dark and twisted for its younger target audience. As I touched upon in my defense of Return To Oz, people who think this way about movies underestimate the capacity of children to handle potentially frightening imagery, and do so to the ultimate detriment of those children, who if deprived of the darker side of whimsy will almost certainly grow up to be the kind of boring people who think kids shouldn't watch darkly whimsical movies. That I read this argument so many times in reference to this adaptation of the Nutcracker raised my hackles enough to leap to its defense even before I had seen it for myself, and while I still stand by my rejection of this mindset, I find the film has an entirely different set of problems.

Even a dark, off kilter reality needs to be established and structured within a set of rules. These rules can rely on magic and mystery, and don't necessarily even have to be spelled out explicitly as long as the events on screen are consistent. When anything is possible and nothing is set in stone, than nothing matters. The movie begins with the completely arbitrary inclusion of Albert Einstein as the uncle of the young female protagonist, who when he's not breaking the fourth wall in a way that adds nothing but confusion to the affairs, butchers the Theory of Relativity into a musical ode to solipsism, setting the stage for what's to come. For example, much of the plot hinges on the curse placed upon the titular Nutcracker, but there's no reason why the fact that he's a wooden golem instead of a boy prince means he can't rule his subjects or that they can't fight back against their rat oppressors, but for some reason they just let themselves be oppressed until they see him in the flesh.

But then, I'm getting ahead of myself. The story revolves around a young girl who goes on a magical imaginary adventure, implied to be some sort of dream that may or may not intersect with reality, where her favorite dolls come to life and ask her to help them save their secret world from an occupying force of humanoid rats lead by John Tuturro as the effeminate Andy Warhol-esque Rat King. Her doll friends consist of the Napoleonic wooden boy, a talking monkey, a big fat John Wayne Gacy style clown, and a vaguely racist Jamaican stereotype Little Drummer Boy. Oh, and the Rats are basically Nazis, deliberately styled after the Gestapo because...I got nothing. Well, I've got some things, but none of them good.

When I watch movies on DVD in the comfort of my own home with the intent to review them, I like to take notes, but with this one, the crazy nonsense would often go by too fast for me to write it all down. At the top of my first page, scrawled in large letters about half way through watching this are the words “So Misguided.” It feels like an obvious attempt to show off the then still somewhat novel technology of 3D movies with a fantasy spectacle reminiscent of the kind of creepy 80's fantasy films I grew up with and still emphatically love. And yet, its so shallow and thoughtless that it is as if my weird sensibilities were thought to be so ubiquitous as to be catered to in the same superficial way that comic book fans are now, without any understanding of why this sort of material is appealing, or any interest in doing it justice.

At one point, as if to hammer home the notion that our main antagonist is evil, if we didn't pick up on it during the song he sings about how evil he is, we see that his palace is decorated with wallpaper consisting of giant blown up images of crying babies. I can't quite recall if we see this before or after he arbitrarily electrocutes a shark, but then these are only two of the many random visual touches that could have made a better movie more fun and interesting, but without any thing bringing them all together, just comes off as weird and off putting. This disconcerting feeling is only enhanced by the songs, taking music we are so used to hearing in instrumental form and adding lyrics that never seem to fit well with the scene or say anything important. With everything else going on in this movie, that John Turturro salsa dancing would be one of the scariest moments is a testament to how horrifying this all is.

Oh, that's right, the casting. When Nathan Lane showed up nonsensically as Albert Einstein, I thought that at least I'd have one charming performance to get me through this, as he almost never fails to be affable and amusing, and while he certainly is here, even he couldn't save this thing. Elle Fanning plays the lead girl, and if I'm not mistaken, by this point she had already proven many times that she is so much better than the performance seen here, where her expression seems to drift off blankly into space as if to acknowledge that she made a bad choice signing on to this and doesn't want to be in the movie anymore that I want to be watching it. And as for Turturro, my God. I wanna say this was miscast, but I honestly don't know how this character could have been well-cast. He does his best and vamps it up quite a bit, but the result is just one big ball of wrong that I simply cannot abide.

If you can get past the torture scene where the Nutcracker is force fed walnuts in the hopes that his wooden head will break, just before another character's real head is casually ripped off and tossed around like a volley ball, just before Turturro's rat face sprouts the most hideous set of massive teeth to signify his rage, then just maybe you can last long enough to be disgusted by the hip hop-ified classical music beat before the helicopter chase across the magical city of Whogivesafuckia. Seriously, they don't even name the place they are trying to save, or ever mention who lives there. You would think it would be living toys, but they aren't. They seem to be humans with toys, which are burned to block out the sun, but then some of them are living toys, I think, or maybe they become human in one world and not the other. I give up.

If not for my shortsighted intentions to defend this film being the reason I sat down to watch it in the first place, I almost certainly would have put this review under another banner of the blog, This Is A Thing That Exists, where I discuss movies too weird not to talk about. This movie is not just bad, but fascinatingly bad, the kind of bad that makes you simply marvel at the fact that anyone would ever think it was a good idea. Who financed this movie and why? Am I missing some grand unifying reason why this was justified as a cinematic enterprise? The why of this movie is as elusive as the snow flake ghosts that threaten to lure a young girl to her death by compelling her to jump off a giant tree with the promise of letting her fly. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about that part. Shit, it doesn't even matter at this point. I'm sure I had some metaphor to throw out just then that made sense in my head, but I just don't have the strength anymore. The Nutcracker 3D doesn't suck; The Nutcracker 3D is suck in movie form. 

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