Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 in Film: Wreck-It Ralph

So I suppose that my initial "review" of Wreck-It Ralph could use some elaboration, and I could write more about other stuff in it generally. So let's go ahead and do that.

So first, the link between Wreck-It Ralph and the Eminem song. I came out of the film kind of enamoured of the idea that, since the movie is framed by "Bad Anon" meetings, one coherent way of reading the film would be essentially as a binge/relapse. The thing that has always struck me about the video for When I'm Gone is how, at the end, as the (A/N)A frame closes, there is a sort of insane, almost frightening narcissism in the way that the other members respond. They clap as though they are fans, not participants; it is the kind of round of applause one receives for a performance, not a sharing. Which, given the content of the song - particularly the line attributed to Hailey, "take another pill, yeah I bet you will; you rap about it, word, k-keep it real" (which has always seemed like a moment of devastating honesty to me given who we are dealing with, but that is beside the point I guess) - speaks to the ways that the interpolation of the personal by the performative, and the freedom of signs from things, can and must be in the end an extraordinarily painful process. It is also a very pedestrian, ordinary process, one that everyone goes through, no matter that it is presented as being a symptom of celebrity, which is the point of the Anonymous meetings, and is at the heart of the idealizing/domesticating dialectic of celebrity (finding its ultimate unresolved realization in the "celebrity crush").

The point being, though, that this is a sort of buried thematic of Wreck-It Ralph as well, although it tends to be smokescreened by the way the movie tries to present itself as a "learning to come to terms with yourself" narrative. Of course, Ralph is less interested in mapping the labyrinth than he is in playing a different role within it. The movie is actually structured more like High Fantasy than anything else, with the ultimate thrust being that the world is fucked up, although no one really knows that, because the rightful rulers aren't sitting on their rightful thrones. Even the main villain, who you don't know is a player at all until the end, is basically the bad guy because he's a cosmopolitan who upsets the landed aristocracy from their rightful positions, and it is only by defeating this menace who dares to do other than what he was "programmed for" that the proper balance can be restored to the world. Add to this the fact that if you close your eyes you might think that you've accidentally stumbled into Talladega Nights 2 featuring Sarah Silverman and I can kind of see how you might want to give this one a pass, maybe.

But of course, on the other hand, I dug this movie. Not fiercely, but not tepidly either, and it is worth saying that the biggest complaint that it leaves you with is that it doesn't do more, that the Games Hub isn't quite cool enough, that there weren't enough game worlds represented. Because what they did do they did well enough with that one assumes if they had made more they would have done well by it, too.

There is also something to be said about a movie inspired by video games that doesn't overwhelm the viewer. It seems as though most cinematic understandings of video games are incapable of dealing with any aspect of the medium except the visual, which is probably unsurprising. But divorcing the visual from the interactive elements of video games leads to hilariously stilted representations. When you hold a controller the neon assault of a video game isn't overwhelming at all, because you aren't trying to see the whole picture. You necessarily focus narrowly on what you are controlling and where you are trying to get it. The idea that video games are all bright visual assaults only makes sense in cinema (or by people watching you play the game, perhaps); all the visual noise is actually designed around the fact that the ordinary player isn't seeing it for the most part. So while Wreck-It Ralph does offer gaudy, sugary, borderline self-parodic designs, it does so in a way that is actually much more like playing a video game than watching one, which is an achievement I don't think I've encountered in film representations of video games before.

I do wish the arcade shooter had been better done though. It was easily the most boring bit of the film, at least as far as I remember. Well that and the denouement. Marriage and Benelovent Queendoms (even, and especially, when they masquerade as democratic) are boring as fuck.

There is something especially difficult, I think, in attempting to offer an incisive or totalizing argument about this film. Maybe that's just because I enjoyed it well enough and don't think it is particularly interesting to claim that the overarching theme of a Hollywood film is basically heteronormative and assimilationist. Or that its themes are about self-realization in a way that means you realize that you just needed to be happier with your lot in life and the structures that exist might be flawed but are ultimately good. Because no shit.

But there is something there about the Anon frame. Something unnecessary, something that presses up uncomfortably close to the themes, like a calculated bungle, at least as awkward as the "it was all a dream" frame but without nearly as much baggage. "It was all a binge. I learned that the system is good, and it works, and all I had to do was relapse" has something toothsome there, I think.

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