a little east of reality

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

movie review: æon flux

My part of this will be short and sweet and only about the movie as a stand-alone creation. After my review, I've got some other information regarding the transition of the original Æon Flux from animation to film.

My review:
If I hadn't seen The Matrix, The Island, and about six other futuristic 'society is not what we imagine it to be' type movies in the last several years, I might have found Æon Flux fascinating. Sadly that wasn't the case. Despite adequate acting, decent action/fighting scenes and some innovative details (a character with hands for feet, an amusing little visual play on words featuring some blades of grass that were actually blades, things like that), there was mostly a sense that you'd seen it all before.

Having said all that, kudos to Cherlize Theron for her kickass babe skills and thrills. She was quite amazing at times, and that low crouching run/crawl must have taken some time to perfect. She also looked uber cool, as you can see from the pictures (click to enlarge...you'll be glad you did). Characters like that make me want to work out. At least they made her prettier than the original comic book character, who was a bit of a mutant. (Actually come to think of it, she may literally have been a mutant...)

Conclusion: Worth a look, but maybe just when it's a weekly at your local DVD rental place: 3 stars

Now let me quote a couple of things that clearly show the real problem with this movie (I believe the phrase that best captures it is "lack of nerve"). Firstly, here's a comparison of the two worlds as depicted in the animated TV series and the recent movie, quoted from the Wiki entry on Æon Flux:

The worlds of Æon Flux vary between the original MTV series and the film adaption.

Television Series
Television versions of Æon Flux depict the two separate countries of Bregna and Monica, adjacent to each other and separated by a wall (although very small). Citizens of Bregna are not permitted to cross through the wall, which is protected by a range of cruel traps. Trevor Goodchild is not the original ruler of Bregna, instead taking control in "Utopia or Deuteranopia". According to The Herodotus File graphic novel, Bregna and Monica were originally a single nation called Berognica. When the separation occurred, memories of Berognica were erased among the Breen citizens. However, the graphic novel suggests, Monican citizens launched the Relical, an airship containing artifacts proving the existence of Berognica. It should be noted the TV series makes no reference to any of this, and it is not known if The Herodotus File is considered canon.

Hollywood Adaptation
In the Æon Flux film, Monica is not a separate country. Instead, Monicans are a group of political rebels who live in secret among the citizens of Bregna. Whereas the television series saw Trevor Goodchild seize command of Bregna from a previous ruler, the Bregna of the Hollywood film is established by the Goodchild family, after they cured the industrial virus. Instead of a barren, desolate landscape (although some vegetation is featured in the TV series) Bregna is constricted by an aggressive, regenerating jungle. The walls of Bregna frequently spray a chemical acid to keep the jungle from moving in and destroying the city. Additionally, the Relical is also featured, however it was created by the rulers of Bregna and for an entirely different purpose.

Why, you ask, would the movie makers veer so sharply from the original (and in many more ways than this, including plot and characterisation)?

Some insight can be gleaned from this answer given by Peter Chung in an interview he did for the Monica Spies community on LiveJournal:

Q: How do you REALLY feel about the movie Æon Flux? Considering it couldn't really ever touch upon how effective the cartoon is.

A: With apologies to both Phil and Matt - who have publicly been effusive in their praise for the show - the movie is a travesty. I was unhappy when I read the script four years ago; seeing it projected larger than life in a crowded theatre made me feel helpless, humiliated and sad. I know it's bad form for me to voice my disapproval in a public forum, but it's silly for me, of all people, to continue playing dumb, considering most of the critics have voiced their disapproval using every mocking and condescending expression possible. I know that the studio made a lot of cuts against the wishes of the writers and director. Most of the cuts concerned further development of the secondary characters. Since my main problems are with the portrayal of Æon and Trevor, I doubt that I'd have liked the longer version much better. I didn't when I read the script, and there are definitely some things I'm glad WERE cut-- like Catherine's pregnancy.

Maybe the makers didn't understand the source material and thought they were being true to it; or they understood it, but didn't think it would appeal to a wide enough audience and altered it to suit their presumed target. They claim to love the original version; yet they do not extend that faith to their audience. No, they will soften it for the public, which isn't hip enough to appreciate the raw, pure, unadulterated source like they do. The argument for the Catherine Goodchild movie is that an accurate live-action version of the Æon Flux would have been too inaccessible for a mainstream audience. It would not have made money, ergo there's no impetus for the studio to make it. It's a circular argument which attempts to shift responsibility away from the individuals who make the film to the presumed audience. Presuming to know what an audience wants to see and tailoring the product to fit is a method that sucks all the drive I'd have to ever create anything. It's self-defeating disingenuous.

I'm not naive about the realities of making unconventional films in the arena of "mass entertainment". It's possible to make good unconventional films; it's also very hard. In any case, if you're going to risk failure, I say do it boldly, with conviction. The problem with the movie is its failure of nerve.

The fact that Catherine decided to disobey her orders and investigate the source of her feelings for Trevor is offered by viewers as a sign of her independence. Is that how little some fans are willing to settle for? Æon never took orders from anyone, never went into a mission without understanding her motives.

The original impetus behind the Æon Flux "Pilot" was a critique of the manipulation of sympathy in Hollywood movies. That method is most transparent in the action genre. Æon Flux was never an action vehicle. The only two episodes in which Æon does much physical fighting are the shorts Pilot and War -- in which her violent actions are portrayed as preposterous and futile. Not heroic. How can anyone watching those shorts NOT GET IT?

Interesting, no? Now of course I must rush off to my favourite bittorrent site to see if the TV series is available. It sounds awesome.