Friday, November 29, 2013

2013 in Shit: The Croods

Can you believe it took until 2013 for a film adaptation of the popular Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game franchise to happen? I'm not sure why they reskinned it as some awkward "caveman" story, but hell, its good to see that someone finally gets it; the game had such a beautifully epistemology of objects that it was always only ever a matter of time.

That old saw about how hammers only ever see nails or whatever was never quite what made THPS the game that it was. You could skate on fucking anything, of course, and so all the world's stuff was reduced to an extension of the tool; but this was a simulated, bounded three dimensional space activated through a series of abstractions mapped to a physical object that was set within a historical relationship to other interface devices, providing a structural grammar of a medium. It's not like any game ever isn't a collection of nails. Admittedly some of it was that it wasn't your ordinary hammer; as fun as making those little divots in the walls of Goldeneye 007 was, the sort of hammer that turned all planes from barriers to surfaces was pretty exhilarating. Way more than that though it was about how the tool itself finally became transparent: that fuckin blackslide though.

To be completely honest, The Croods only really gets the former point; but then, it would be hard to imagine the filmic equivalent of the latter. If this was a culture in which B-roll footage was the real shit that everyone went for, maybe making what we now consider an ordinary movie would do it. But that isn't the case, and a simple inversion is lazy and useless. The way the characters bound off their animated landscapes, though, that's pure THPS. Even the nods to 50s Looney Tunes are mediated through that aesthetic of plane-as-mechanic; when Wile runs and hangs there's still the implicit knowledge that represented planes impose systemic boundaries. For Eep, though, its nails all the way down.

The movie isn't great, but there's enough there to keep it going even if Nic Cage is pretty disappointing. Granted he doesn't do a bad job; his turn as reactionary dad gesturing vaguely to unspeakable terror to keep his authoritarian grip on the family is what it needs to be, and the flourish of didactic storytelling as a mode of closing possibilities is a nice bit of weight, given its relation to the form, that pulls against and, in doing so, gives weight to the joyous bounding off walls that really interests the movie. And he gets a little turn as the salvage puzzlemaster as well, cobbling together the things and events seen prior that sutures the movies end to its beginning, as it wears itself out and yet keeps pushing forward. Narratives can't just be abandoned, you know, or cut off when everyone dies.

If Riddick’s being read through D&D is primarily a way of structuring how the narrative is impacted by the film’s slightly-less-than-obvious aesthetic decisions, by way of the genre switching, then reading The Croods through Tony Hawk Pro Skater is sort of the opposite. Where Dungeons & Dragons as frame is concerned primarily with justifying the fiction of a linear agent around whom the rest of the stuff is organized, while THPS is, no matter how far I go to try to make it seem smarter by way of obfuscation, mostly an excuse to say there is a clear level on which this film works, and it is analogous to the act of playing a particular video game that many people have probably played, and in being analogous it does something interesting and worth considering, even if the things it does that fall outside of that analogy are almost uniformly dull.

The Croods still holds a space in my mind somewhere in orbit of Wreck-It Ralph, maybe alongside Rise of the Guardians; I'm never sure how much the organization of space in these films (Guardians' architectural hegemony and Ralph's hub world) use of animated space actually stands in contrast to the Shit That Came Before. I'm certainly not encyclopedic in much of anything, and especially so in the history of animated film (much less television, no matter how many times my teenage ass rewatched Neon Genesis Evangelion in one sitting). I expect my punchy ahistoricity here to be especially potentially aggravating. There's only so much fucking it I can get away with, of course. And yeah, the movie rehabilitates bad dad, and even if it hadn't Ryan Fucking Reynolds (as Guy, get it) is Eep's love interest, so it's safe to assume those nails are going to rust on a bed of reproductive futurism. Here's to hoping for tetanus.

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