FULL BLEED: ARMIES ARE USELESS, ESPECIALLY ZOMBIES
So one of the things that happens whenever you talk about a certain field of work for a long enough time is that you're expected to have an opinion about high-profile outings in that field. Particularly when the field itself might have some level of mainstream acceptance but is still out there on the fringes. Which is probably a silly thing to think about zombies, since THE WALKING DEAD is as mainstream as things get (and is often the only "horror" thing that a lot of folks regularly consume. Just as GAME OF THRONES was that for "fantasy" and maybe STAR TREK was for "science fiction.") Those things have gotten a life outside their genre category, an audience outside of it.
This time around, it's ARMY OF THE DEAD, which is an original movie for Netflix directe by Zack Snyder, who's put his mark on a string of films, all usually marked as visually innovative and outstanding, even if you don't actually like them. For my view, he's pretty hit and miss. I have no patience for his DC-related work. Whether I like it or not is almost immaterial.
However, it's nearly immaterial whether anyone likes it or not. But we'll circle back to that later.
Snyder is also decently well-known within genre circles beyond his DC adaptations due to his translation of Frank Miller's 300 into a film, the fantastic mind-trip (ahem) of SUCKER PUNCH, and his remake of George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD in 2004. That last one scripted by James Gunn long before he went on to fame on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and others. And really, that movie lives and dies on its script. Snyder's big visual moments are there, to be sure, but in a much more exploratory form, less central to things (and a smaller budget probably kept that throttled back as well, given his relative newcomer status back at the time.) For the record, I like his reworking of DAWN OF THE DEAD. But I hate fast zombies and parkour zombies and that whole thing (though they've certainly been done for a long time before that -- RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and RE-ANIMATOR both played with that. I've also talked about fast vs slow zombies to death elsewhere and will not spend too much time rehashing it here.)
So lots of people have had high expectations for ARMY OF THE DEAD, genre folks, horror folks, zombie folks (and while I play in all those worlds, I hardly count myself as members of them, much to my professional detriment.) Lots of chatter. Embargoed reviews, features, thousands of people waiting to smash PLAY and then record their reaction and explainer videos and get 'em out to their fans that first day.
Folks, ARMY OF THE DEAD does not require an explainer video.
Oh, I should say right now that if you haven't figured it out, there will be spoilers for ARMY OF THE DEAD after this point. You probably didn't even click on this to read it if you were worried about those, but let's be clear about things. I will spoil the movie for you.
I mean it.
Of course, if you've seen ALIENS, you already had the movie spoiled for you.
For a review that would fit in a tweet, AOTD = ALIENS x A zombie movie I once saw that was low budget but had Ving Rhames in it and they faced a zombie tiger at the end with some dollops of Znyder's visual style (mostly evident in the opening/credits sequence of the movie.)
I didn't really like the movie, but that doesn't matter. In fact, it's about the least important part of things in the age of the Howling Pit. All that matters is that I have an opinion about it and post it out there. It would be better if I got mad and people who wrote positive revies about the movie and got in their faces online. It would be even better if I posted like a cold-blooded psychopath and said awful things about the crew and cast and anyone who liked it. Maybe I could get swept up in one of those "FANS SAY AWFUL THINGS ABOUT MOVIE MAKERS" articles that I'm sure will be coming out of this. I should post in comments sections and get in fights in YouTube comments and tell everyone that they're wrong if their opinion is different than mine.
That's what the Howling Pit wants. That's engagement now.
A thoughtful, long-form review that carefully states a thesis and backs it up, perhaps exploring some of the history of the form or relating things to a forgotten motion picture and startling similarities there, sure that's possible. But it's the last thing the Howling Pit wants now. The Howling Pit is not made for that sort of thing. It maybe never was. All it wants is your takes. "'Zombie' is a dumb song for this" vs "No, 'Zombie' is actually super-smart for it!" and counter-takes until your will to live has been sapped.
It doesn't matter whether they're bad-faith or not. Hell, bad-faith takes not only support whatever view you want to, but they're guaranteed to get folks to bite and repost and form these little nuclei of discussion that might become conventional wisdom, something for lazy writers/commenters to regurgitate when the moment seems right. That or they'll just pass from view and hell, you showed Snyder what's what. You got your kicks in on him, and you'll get your status out of that.
I should note that I'm on-again/off-again reading Alice Marwick's STATUS UPDATE, which is a book sort of about the sociology of the Web 2.0 folks and how that filtered out into the tooks that they created, and thus became sort a reinforcement mechanism for those tools. One of the concepts she plays with is status, not only as an off-line thing, but as an extremely online thing. So yeah, kicking a creator in the shins shows you're a badass and maybe you'll even get their notice and things can spiral out of control, but hell, at the very least you'll be famous. Or you can boast to all your online friends about how you stuck it to the man.
Not saying I haven't done this, by the by. I ain't pure by any stretch of the imagination. But I like to think that I've outgrown it. Perhaps I'm just fooling myself.
But that's not changing the whole status as component of all this. And that status isn't just from picking a fight with someone involved in the project, but also from the whole idea of being an expert on a thing, therefore your opinion and observation is certainly enough to make someone sit through an explainer video or a reaction video or (ahem) your blog post on any old movie. Particularly if its a big franchise movie with a fan-base who's active online and likely to get mad and engage with you, helping your ad-space become more valuable, etc etc. Maybe you'll pick up some patreon subs.
So, sure, it's fine and natural to have an opinion on a piece of culture. But that opinion can't just be "meh" or "it was there" or "I've had worse times." Loving viciously or hating full-heartedly are encouraged. Mostly because that sort of extreme is going to get you out there and posting and engaging and retweeting, maybe even acting as a vigilant Brand Defender because you've staked a chunk of your identity on this whole thing. Then all bets are off.
Oh, did I mention that there's folks out there doing nothing but name-searching on their favorite Opinion-Proof-Entertainment and just looking to mix it up? You bet. Same with creators. Yeah, it's not a good idea. It's a really bad idea for creators, particularly big ones. I mean, if you've taken notice of a user badmouthing your work and you go after 'em? Yeah, there's no winning. Hell, it just gives the badmouther a massive ego boost. They're not scared of you (unless you bring an army, and a creator that sics an army on someone who doesn't like their work is just a bully. Yeah, there's exceptions for folks on a bad-faith trip I suppose, trying to score political points on the backs of something as cretinous as "The Empire did nothing wrong!" takes about STAR WARS.)
Back to the regular matter at hand, though. Stuff like all this is not only review-proof in terms of critics, but opinion-proof. But then, maybe it ought to be. Maybe it always was. I've said for a long time that if my not liking a thing and saying so in public is so offensive to your eyes, maybe that's a you problem. My statement of opinion regarding the quality of any film, ARMY OF THE DEAD in this instance, shouldn't have such power as to change your opinion on it. And hell, in a one-to-one setting over a barbeque in a backyard or drinks in a quiet bar, I might even talk to you about it. But out where there's folks whose money depends on the opinion flex or the churn of discourse? Yeah, ouch. So yeah, I probably won't be making any podcast appearances talking about That Hot Franchise Entertainment.
Yeah, it's exhausting. Even having a genuine opinion is something that becomes a weight in the days of the Howling Pit.
Much less creating something that someone's going to have an opinion about.
One of the reasons why I like the writing side so much and am so terrible about literally every other component of the job.
Oh, the movie? It's not amazing. That's all script-level stuff. The performances are all very watchable. The story is not great. The turning zombies into something more just doesn't work unless you're willing to go all the way that Matheson did. My opinion, mind you. It kept them from dealing with a shambling army of corpses but made it something that wasn't really a horror movie at all (though there's plenty of horror moments) but the whole just doesn't go to the right place. Yeah. That stinger scene. Ooooo.
I mean, If I really cared about the world/franchise they were setting up, it might have some weight. But it also hinges on a thing that couldn't have happened, for several reasons, so it's just not great.
The script still makes the movie. Visual flash (of which there really wasn't that much) isn't enough.
Back to work.