the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Monday, January 22, 2007

Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me

So I finally got around to seeing The Illusionist now that it’s out on DVD.

I guess I was more interested in checking it out since I’d seen and disliked The Prestige. I was assured that if I didn’t like the one, the other was up my alley.

Frankly, I wish I could make both of these movies disappear.

I simply do not understand why either of these films garnered the critical and mass acclaim that they did.

The Prestige was predictability parading as perplexity (how’s that for tongue-tying alliteration) while The Illusionist was something even worse—a film that doesn’t even attempt subterfuge until the last seconds when it presents a heavy-handed flashback montage, the sort of which is utterly unconvincing and crudely unsophisticated. It pretends to have fooled you all along though the reveal shows it for what it truly is—an after-the-fact manipulation of an uncomplicated script, the sort of artifice that is not built into the narrative but instead cobbled together from incidental plot points, the raw material of which is constructible from just about any film.

At least with The Prestige you spent the film trying to watch for the deception. At least you left the theater trying to figure out how you’d been fooled (if you had, which I had not). With The Illusionist, there isn’t even that luxury. You simply don’t care because it was all so obvious to begin with.

Though both films took place in the gullible 19th century, their philosophies and hence, cinematic audiences couldn’t have been more different.

In The Prestige, those witnessing Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale’s magic knew they were seeing exceptional smoke and mirrors. Though they could not explain it, they knew there had to be a logical explanation (of course the film cheated on even this by fabricating a ridiculous science fiction rationalization).

It’s different in The Illusionist. Here, the dark arts are emphasized (which I liked). Edward Norton is not simply a magician; he is imbued, supposedly, with supernatural powers. Too bad supernatural powers necessitated the need for excessive (and excessively bad) CGI. While The Prestige took it’s diagetic and non-diagetic audience along for the same ride, The Illusionist did not even attempt to submerge its theater patrons in a modicum of plausibility. The bad effects never let the viewer forget that he or she is being fooled twice—once by the character and another time by the filmmakers.

The Illusionist is a flimsy love story masquerading as a movie about magic.

And there is the biggest illusion of all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still haven't seen The Prestige but I just watched The Illusionist, and I must say, I ABSOLUTELY agree with everything you say here, particularly the part about the gulf between the diagetic and non-diagetic audience. On the commentary, the director repeats several times, "we made sure that every trick has a logical explanation."


Because that's not at all playing fair. And, like you say, I also didn't care about the subterfuge revealed at the end, because it was all so damn obvious to begin with.
The film looked sumptuous, but that's not nearly enough.

Let me know if you respond to this, as I'm sure I'll forget to check it.

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was me, Nate.

5:48 AM  

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