Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The Time Has Come...
The time has indeed come. I owe it to several of my friends, (especially Lara, Jamie and now Tamara too) to discuss, fully and responsibly mind you, the simple genius of: Into the Blue (2005).
Why do I maintain that this is a great film (admittedly for all the wrong reasons)? Why do I put my reputation repeatedly on the line for a seemingly throwaway, disposable, and unexceptional film? Well, simply put, I strongly admire the film's blatant and obvious transparencies. There's no lie with Into the Blue, it is everything it claims to be and more, AND it delights in its simplicities. That, friends and neighbors, is admirable. Nobody says a word when I champion exploitation films from the 50s, 60s, and 70s - there is a built in assumption that if I am exerting energy to champion them - then the courage of my convictions regarding them is somehow enough to avoid cocked eyebrows. But, poor, poor Into the Blue, I can't tell you how often this film is icily condemned from people who have never even seen it.
It should come as no surprise (especially to those who know me) that I often debate the politics of taste and the points of concordance between high and low art aesthetics - it's my area of scholarship. But, Into the Blue does not fit into this niche of discourse. Instead, I debate its, oh I don't know - "authenticity as a commodity" if you will (with commensurate acknowledgment of its aesthetic, both visual and thematic).
You may ask:
Is Into the Blue really worth my time? Yes.
Is it a "great" film? Well, there are great things about it.
Can it truly rate with the great cinematic masterworks of the 20th century? Uhm, absolutely not.
So, do not get me wrong. I am not endorsing this film as particularly substantive or possessing of uncommonly sophisticated narrative strategies or that it is a "one for the ages" classic with universal connectivity, etc. etc. etc. Please do not leave comments informing me that I set it up to be "great" and you were "let down" and it was a deplorable turkey. This is NOT the intent of this article. I merely mean to suggest here that Into the Blue's "greatness" rests in its unabashedly uninhibited nature.
Let's get a little kick-start here. Joe Utichi at Filmfocus.co.uk wrote one of the greatest (and I truly mean that, and I have read works on cinema for twenty plus years), truthful, and efficient reviews I have ever read. Put plainly, he gets it sooooooo right. I just HAVE to reproduce a portion of it here as he truly gets to the heart of Into the Blue's appeal. He writes:
It's hard not to fall madly in love with a film that's this unashamedly contrived. In the grand tradition of the Hollywood popcorn picture, it's as though finance meetings were held to decide just how far they could push an essentially empty story to create something so beautiful that people would have to buy into it. Because Into The Blue is all about beauty. If you're not beautiful, you're almost certainly one of the bad guys. If you are beautiful, prepare for the camera to focus on your behind at every opportunity. There's a rulebook, I'm sure, that all major studios worship; if the title of your big-budget entertainment flick doesn't end in a number or isn't plucked from some form of source material, Jessica Alba must wear very little. Be under no allusions - Into The Blue is, and remains for all of its 110 minutes, beautifully uncomplicated. You'll follow the story, you'll become engrossed in its simple sense of peril and you'll laugh yourself silly at such witty ripostes as "Shut up, you coke whore." Take a handful of your friends, make sure you're in a noisy cinema or well away from anyone there taking things seriously, and enjoy one of the most communal films of the year. You'll want to talk and laugh and joke through it. Such actions are usually never to be endorsed, but I'm willing to make an exception for Into The Blue if you are. God knows I couldn't resist. The truth is that we don't get enough cinema like Into The Blue. Films with such little ambition that they seek simply to dull those cerebral centres of your brain and provide you with something to take your mind off the humdrummery real life for a little over an hour and half.
I agree Joe, i did fall madly in love with it too.
So then, we could possibly surmise that Into The Blue could very well be used as a figurehead for Adorno and Horkeimer's classic Enlightenment as Mass Deception: The Culture Industry. After all, I agree with Joe that there is little ambition to this film other than to dull your senses (minus that of "sight" of course) and that it does fail magnificently at "engaging" the audience in the way that Adorno would have wished. If they ever got around to publishing just that chapter from the Dialectic of Enlightenment, surely any ad-mat from this film would serve as a great cover. But, you know, on second thought, I'm not so sure.
Adorno and Horkeimer do include in their title: MASS DECEPTION. Into the Blue, while it is a wonderful example of culture industry horseshit, is just too on the nose for it to be taken as anything other than culture industry horseshit. As I said, there's just no lie to this film. I ADMIRE that. Most people prefer to know they're being conned. Into the Blue steals your lollipop and knowingly winks at you simultaneously, you are NOT conned. There are other films that we could claim this of, but none of them work for me quite the way Into the Blue does.
I can't help but think that Adorno and Horkeimer would appreciate the stones of this film. It has some big ones. I was making a comment to friends over drinks last night, a simple analogy really, that the sharks in the film serve as a sort of meta-commentary, or more specifically, a meta-signifier. Sharks are just pure evolutonary genius. To quote Matt Hooper: "Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that's all." Well, Into the Blue is also a perfect engine: all this film does is shamelessly promote conventional beauty (to the point where you want to start doing some push-ups right away) and obsess on Jessica Alba's ass, and that's all. To this I say - there is beauty in simplicity.
And, credit the screenwriters who ACTUALLY pull off a character driven plot. No, it's not character driven in the sense that Umberto D or Out of Africa is character driven, but it does take quite a bit of time setting up our two young heroes, their respective foils, and the major villian(s). The plot is standard, but the film rises above its clichés with honest, sincere, visual bullshit.
I actually DO care about Jessica Alba and Paul Walker's characters in this film, their relationship and love is strong and their courage and conviction are true. So is this film.
I'll wrap this up by saying:
To the people I have repeatedly recommended this film. It is NOT that I would recommend this film in general. If some people in a Blockbuster asked, gee which should I get, Dr. Strangelove or Becket? I would not say, NEITHER, YOU'VE GOT TO SEE INTO THE BLUE! It is that your immediate condemnation of the film without having seen it forced a defensive stance despite no common frame of reference. I have always steadfastly maintained that it was a great film for all the wrong reasons, but I always got so much resistance. Pity. The choice is yours, and to paraphrase Jim Garrison, nothing you will do will ever be more important.
Thank you Don May Jr. for making me buy it that cold January day in 2006.