Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why I Had to Watch "Blades of Glory", and Will Look Upon My Friends' Recommendations as Forever Suspect From Now On.

So my birthday was last week, and I met up with a couple of friends* a few days later. They are well aware of my disdain for Hollywood comedies, and they continue to insist that I'm missing out by not giving in to the charms of their favorites. I meanwhile remain steadfastly committed to avoid wasting my time. But my pals are insidious and manipulative. Knowing that I'd be obligated to watch if they slipped it in with the original art they blessed me with, they included a copy of Blades of Glory in my gift bag. I was honestly crestfallen and immediately resigned to viewing this dreck. And I promised that I'd review the thing on my blog. Well, here it is folks. I can only hope that by giving in I have finally earned the right not to be subjected to this crap in the future.

There was trouble right off the bat, as soon as I popped the DVD in. The previews were all CGI, explosions, and kiddie films. Nothing I'd ever be tempted to see. I understood immediately that the intended demographic was the group of regressed adults who would be excited by a live action version of Transformers, presented through the filters of Michael Bay. I'm talking about the type of audience that considers Shrek a multi-layered viewing experience. There was even a promo for a Will Ferrell mega-pack, the consumption of which looked akin to being subjected to waterboarding. Trailers are supposed to contain the funniest bits of the movies they promote, right? You'd think after making six (or so) flicks that Ferrell could cobble together three minutes of diverting highlights. But you'd be wrong.

The next red flag was the revelation that Blades of Glory was released under the MTV Films imprint. Uh-oh. And produced by Ben Stiller. It figures. Then within the first six minutes the viewer is assaulted with totally arbitrary product placements for Bud Lite and Skittles. There's the clich├ęd setup to launch the story- we get to see one half of the stellar comic duo (played by Jon Heder) as the golden haired effeminate orphan (named Jimmie MacElroy) being targeted for future stardom. That's the character development- a series of mildly amusing set pieces delivered in a few brief minutes. The filmmakers don't want to lose the audience with any depth. Then flash-forward to MacElroy's present success, and introduce the ridiculous black-and-white "conflict". We meet the hypermasculine Yang to Jimmnie's Ying- Chazz Michael Michaels, who's portrayed by Will Ferrell in his inimitably wry style. Oh yeah... and there's a Capri Sun ad at 14 minutes, just as we are bludgeoned with foreshadowing indicating that Heder and Farrell will eventually become a (gasp!) same-sex figure skating pair.

You might think that all of the crass marketing is merely incidental. After all, folks do consume the products that appear on screen. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the paid sponsors all have their products featured with their labels clearly centered and inescapable. When Ferrell breaks that bottle of Captain Morgan, it might be just a lucky break for the corporate powers that the glass shatters immediately above the clearly identifiable sticker. Yet later there's a scene with Jimmie working in a sporting goods store, and throughout the run of it not a single brand name is shown. Not one. Apparently those companies didn't pay to play. When was the last time you were at a sporting goods store? In case it's been awhile, I'll remind you that the manufacturers' logos are EVERYWHERE. Same goes when our heroes eat out at a fast food joint. I've never been at a single one that didn't have every wall plastered with ads. Maybe they have no sense of humor either.

Anyway, I'm not going to get into the merits of the story or the writing. I've already offended fans of this movie. There's everything I expected- juvenile surface humor and inane physical gags. I had a hard time seeing it through. But I have to say that I am more troubled than I expected to be after watching it. Perhaps there's nothing particularly devious about the encouragement of rampant consumerism. Still, movie-watchers are paying to see these feature length commercials. Make no mistake- in between the sophomoric jokes and the homoeroticism, Blades of Glory is pushing product.

While the easily amused are yucking it up, these messages enter their subconscious. Obviously they want you to buy their shit, just as the film's producers believe you will buy into their canned jokes. The state of laughter makes the viewer particularly open to suggestion. Nationwide, Trojan, XBox, Dunkin Donuts, Crest White Strips, Subway, Orbitz... these are paraded before our eyes throughout the movie, with no pretext of naturalism and very little appropriate relationship to the story. I guess I should just be thankful that I didn't laugh.

*Please note that I have chosen to protect the identities of those involved.

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