Hey everybody, please welcome a newcomer to our little DVD reviewing club, Grant. If you're a follower of The League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, you may have heard him pop in on there a few times (he is, after all, an official member of the "League of Support Heroes."
Anyways, this here's his first review "officially" presented by Spill. I got to see this movie in the theater with Tarsem there and even with finding the director to be quite an entertaining speaker, I still felt pretty much the same way Grant does. Anyhow, listen to Grant's "officially" suggested music (don't ask me) and kick back and read his review of "The Fall."
Planned for over 17 years....
Shot in 18 different countries....
Filmed over a span of 4 years....
Sound like a passion project to you?
"The Fall", directed by Tarsem Singh, is a visual masterpiece with a playful and exciting plot, but definitely one you have seen before. Tarsem Singh is most well known for his 2000 directorial debut "The Cell", featuring J-Lo, Vince Vaughn, and an uber-creepy Vincent D'Onofrio. While visually dazzling, that movie didn't have the greatest box office success and Tarsem faded back into the minor leagues, directing music videos and television commercials again (See the award winning REM video "Losing My Religion" or his famous "Shaolin Soccer"-esque Nike commercial). Dissatisfied with the new movie opportunities rolling in, he took it upon himself to make his own film. Tarsem took gigs shooting commercials in various foreign countries as a means of both helping fund his sophomore film, "The Fall", and transporting his crew to various exotic locations to get every shot.
"The Fall" is based on the screenplay of the 1981 Belgian film "Yo Ho Ho" written by Valeri Petrov. Set in a hospital in 1920's Los Angeles, the film follows Roy (Lee Pace from "Pushing Daisies"), an injured Hollywood stuntman who crosses paths with an young girl with a broken arm (Catinca Untaru) and proceeds to tell her a fantastical story in exchange for stolen pain killers. The tale Roy weaves unites five heroes, an Indian avenging his wife, an Italian explosives expert, a masked bandit, an ex-slave named Ota Benga, and Charles Darwin, in a quest to kill their common enemy, the evil Governor Odious.
Interesting sidenote: Ota Benga was the name of an African pygmy brought to New York in 1906 and placed in a human zoo exhibit at the Bronx Zoo alongside an orangutan. The horribly racist exhibit was intended to promote the concept of human evolution, a concept developed by none other than Charles Darwin.
Visually, this film is absolutely stunning. Like "The Cell" before it, Tarsem carries on his strong aesthetic, although this film is thankfully more restrained and not such a Matthew Barney-esque surreal mind-fuck. His vibrant color palette and vivid contrasts make each shot a work of art. The locations in which he filmed are breathtaking. Tarsem truly had a unique vision and listening to him speak about his artistic process in the directors commentary is actually quite fascinating.
The story itself isn't really anything new. Childhood escapism in fact seems to be a current trend in recent movies, contrasting the magical world from a child's imagination with the painful realities of life. Think "Pan's Labyrinth", "The Chronicles of Narnia", and "Bridge to Terabithia". Tarsem even went so far as to base the visual tableaux of Roy's tale on the interpretations that the young actress Untaru had of the story. This explains why, when Roy tells the tale of the Indian with obvious references to a Native American, an eastern Indian is depicted. While the portion of the film set in reality works well, Tarsem fails to make the viewer care about the characters in Roy's t ale, which is a considerable portion of the movie. The disconnect the viewer may have with the five heroes is amplified by the odd juxtaposition of childish fantasy and intense violent action, a reflection of the director's struggle to balance his vision with the vision of Untaru.
The movie plays out in a predictable fashion. While the story Roy tells the little girl is muddled at times and relatively lackluster, the chemistry between Pace and Untaru is excellent. This brings us to Tarsem's 'great ruse'. Determined to achieve verisimilitude and avoid another Jake Lloyd incident, Tarsem deceived his entire crew into believing Pace was an actual paraplegic so that Catinca would treat him as such. While filming for 7 1/2 weeks, Pace had help getting into and out of a wheelchair and laid in bed, pretending the whole time he was indeed handicapped. While admittedly messed up, the results were undeniably successful. Catinca also did not speak English when she was cast in the role, creating a slight language-barrier resulting in some great ad-libbed dialogue from both actors (Tarsem shoots his films script-less and storyboard-less). Two accompanying behind-the-scenes featurettes on the DVD go into this deceit briefly, but overall the featurettes are quite boring.
The other special features, aside from the audio commentary are equally lame. There are a whopping two deleted scenes included on the DVD. Two?!? Really?!? For a film that was shot over four years with such elaborate sets, that's all they give us? On top of that, the deleted scenes aren't even interesting.
Overall, "The Fall" DVD is a beautiful epic film. A nice bit of eye-candy with a decent story.