Monday 2 February 2009

Quarantine...and a rant about sub-titles...

Yep, I'm late in pimping up my thoughts about this flick, but better late than never, eh?

- that was a pretty good flick wasn't it?

The big 'problem' for American studios though - it's in Spanish - so obviously, they've gotta come along and re-shoot the whole thing in America, with Americans, for Americans. It's a bit of a bitter pill to swallow ... that sort of attitude from studios and distributors.

Admittedly I'm not a big fan in general of sub-titling ... there's a time and a place for it - like prestige pictures where the dialogue isn't fast-paced, nor constant ... but as I'm there to watch the flick, I want to watch it, not read it by concentrating on the bottom 20% of the screen every few seconds. Sub-titling doesn't work - for me anyway - in horror films, or anything with fast-paced action or cutting.

I recently re-watched the Japanese zombie indie movie Stacy, and that's only got the original Japanese language with sub-titles, and at times the text comes a little too fast, and of course, distracts you from the images themselves. The solution - when appropriate of course - is what?

Dubbing, is what - it works well in the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. You don't give a shit that the lips don't sync-up half the time, because you're so invested in watching what's going on inside the frame - enjoying the craft on show and how the filmmakers have seen fit to cover the action.

The Japanese movie Versus is a good example of excellent dubbing - it's pretty hectic and fast-cutting for two solid hours - and in the end, the protagonist's voice is far more fitting in the dubbed version, than in the original language version. The original actor's voice is somewhat soft and quiet, whereas in the dubbed version, the guy behind the microphone puts on a suitably gruff "hero" voice. It works.

'But what about the original performance' - blah-blah-blah ... that's why I said it's a case of the right time and the right place. A prestige picture, or a character piece - for example - are all about the acting ... a flick like Stacy has fuck all to do with acting chops. It's about Asian teenage girls turning into zombies and heads getting split open with rainbow-coloured-chainsaws - it's all about what's on the screen - therefore, don't distract me with subtitles and just give me a dubbed dialogue track so my ears can share the workload.

You don't watch Stacy for the script (which essentially turns to a load of old bollocks by the end of it, ham-fistedly yammering on about "love" and so on), you watch Stacy for the zombie teenage girls chowing down on brains.

A time and a place for sub-titles.

Similarly, I think [Rec.] should have been made available with an English dubbed audio track, so you can at least choose to listen to it - and therefore focus entirely on watching the screen, rather than doing that and trying to read the fast-running dialogue printed roughly on the bottom.

Ugh - roughly printed sub-titles, how I hate them - Kill Bill Vol.1 for example ... in the cinema the sub-titles come up when necessary for the English-speaking audience and are properly placed 'within' the film, in a nice font and don't distract too much.

Along comes the DVD however, and the sub-titles have been replaced by a sub-title track that is either on or off - no in-between. I can hear, as can the majority of people, but I can't speak Japanese - also like the majority of people - so why the fuck do I have to manually switch on the sub-titles, distracting me from the movie, so I can understand what's being said in certain scenes - only for me to have to manually turn them off again when it's back to purely English jibber-jabber?

But that's me digressing seriously off topic, indeed off the topic that has already taken me waaaaaay off the original topic.

Anyway - Quarantine - the all-American remake of the excellent Spanish-horror [Rec.] ... the original film had me gripped, and sufficiently wigged me out at certain moments - that moment in the attic being the big-one, that even to this day I refuse to look directly at - the only problem with [Rec.] was that stupid fucking moment when the cameraman rewinds the tape to re-view something, and we see it - on the one 'uncut' tape 'found' in the camera - that really bugged the crap out of me - that DOES NOT HAPPEN!

Actually, the camera did wiggle around far too much in certain scenes - and the incessantly hyper-active use of the zoom function on the camera pissed me off to no end during action/horror scenes - if I was a cameraman, sure the picture would be shaking around - because I'd be shitting my ass in fear - but I wouldn't find the time, nor inclination, to operate the zoom function!

Yet, despite those annoyances, the movie rocked.

Quarantine, is essentially the exact same movie - but with Jay "the dude from Hostel" Hernandez and Jennifer "the chick from Dexter" Carpenter - who actually both do a bang up job, it has to be said. So fair play to the both of them - especially "the chick from Dexter", who pulls off one of the most convincing portrayals of manic hysteria and fear-of-the-dark that I've seen on screen in a long, long time ... if not ever.

Dare I say it ... she at least equals, if not out-acts the original actress from the original movie. I've gotta be honest, I liked Carpenter in the role better.

This said, you still find yourself thinking "dude from Hostel/chick from Dexter" at times, so in turn the actors have to work twice as hard to convince you - which Carpenter succeeds in doing in spades by the end of the flick. The sheer horror she experiences, inflicted by a malfunctioning camera-light in the final scene, is nothing short of it's a double-edge sword you could say.

Indeed, the rest of the film is mostly occupied by "oh it's that dude/chick from...24/Two And A Half Men/a bunch of stuff I've seen" - so again - everybody has to work doubly hard to make the whole thing click ... ... and colour me shocked to say, it actually works (for the majority of the time anyway).

Gore wise - just as impressive, if not more-so than the original - that said, there is more gore than the original - so it's not quite a level playing field admittedly - but bugger me, that broken leg gag wigged me out. But I do have to say - what is in the attic, was scarier in [Rec.] than in Quarantine. Perhaps it's partly down to having seen the Spanish version first, and perhaps it's also down to the Spanish version just being freaky-ass beyond recognition. It shat-me-up something awful.

There's another double-edged sword between the Spanish version and the American remake - the bio-hazard quarantine aspect. In the Spanish version, we're seeing people who we've never seen before playing the characters - so they are those people - and we're unfamiliar with Spanish society in general (anything from how they'd quarantine a zone, to their emergency service vehicles - it's all a bit different to what we're used to) it's both a help and a hindrance to sucking you into the plot.

Likewise - but somewhat the opposite - in Quarantine we see vehicles, uniforms, suits and procedures we're far more used to, thanks to a seemingly endless slew of bio-hazard-fuelled fiction (such as 24) - not-to-mention that it's also in our native language. We're familiar with it, so the representation on screen is perhaps more convincing - although in the all-American version they again work doubly hard to overcome the familiarity of the actors, by making the quarantine aspect far more visceral (heck, it's the name of the movie itself ... and yes, somewhat less cumbersome than typing "[Rec.]" all the damn time).

Unfortunately for those watching Quarantine, who've already seen [Rec.], there's not a whole lot of new shit going down. I've only seen the Spanish version once thus far, and a while ago, so my memory of it is a bit fuzzy and I'm unable to make a direct scene-by-scene comparison, but there are some new elements to the all-American version in how they cover an idea from the original.

But equally (or probably mostly), it's what you've seen before in practically the same way.

It's somewhat troubling to sum up how I feel about Quarantine ... my problem with all-Americanising anything remotely foreign just perpetuates the spread of those numpties you find on a Vegas street who think "Europe" is a country, as well as the fact that it's mostly what has already been seen before, and that nobody follows through with the briefly-uttered-but-quickly-shot-down idea of everyone locking themselves in their own, separate apartments to try and survive the ordeal.

Actually, that last one really did have me yapping at my screen - rest assured, if I was ever unfortunate enough to find myself in such a situation, I'd be pimping that mode of thinking like a mallfucker and make sure it was followed through on.

This does bring me round to dealing with the virus in the movie itself - and tying it to the convincing portrayal of it being dealt with by the all-American authorities - it's terrifying to see the ruthlessness on display as the authorities desperately try to keep this ghastly outbreak locked down. It's one part harrowing, one part completely understandable. You object to the blunt way the authorities practically blank out the innocent residents of the building, but you can also understand the communications lock down - even if the extent is morally wrong (but it is an excellent button-pusher for a horror flick in the safe realm of fiction).

As I've said before, the balls-out effort from Jennifer Carpenter is nothing short of impressive, the intense gore and violence, and the dedication to illustrating a bio-hazard lock down all make this flick definitely worth seeing.

The original director came back to help produce this version ... and as such it does feel like a re-drafting of the original flick. They've seen what works and they've seen what doesn't, and sought to achieve something better - even if the end result is actually a stalemate with the original ... basically.

I'd probably pop the original up front ahead of the all-American version, simply because it came first, but beyond that I'd be hard-pushed to really decide which one I like better, considering all the things I've talked about at great length here. Both films have flaws, but both films also have huge successes.

In summary then - Quarantine is surprisingly good - you hear "all-American remake" (before the original film was even shown in America too!), and you think "pile of shit-gash" ... and that's exactly what I thought. So colour me dumb-founded when it actually turns out to be pretty darn good.

However - that's NOT an excuse for any old numpty at a studio to greenlight the all-Americanisation of anything not American, nor the greenlighting of modernising anything that was made before the turn of the 21st century. I mean come on already...

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