Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Une Couleur: Blanc

Directed by Dominic Sena
Optimum DVD Region 2

Very minor spoilers here... not much peril but proceed with caution.

Whiteout is a thriller starring Kate Beckinsale as a US Marshall based in Antarctica. It’s also probably going to be one of my comfort movies for a few years to come... you know, one of those movies you put on sometimes just to unwind to and not necessarily have to pay attention to and will allow you some time to think through the days problems.

Why is Whiteout a good candidate for this? Well, to be honest with you... Whiteout is not a great movie. It’s certainly not a terrible movie and it’s made with some obvious skill and talent both in front of and behind the camera... and it just manages to keep it’s head above mediocrity for the majority of the film without making you feel bad for possibly wasting your time on something like this.

It is not thought provoking. It has no twists which you won’t see coming, in that, as soon as a certain actor walks on the screen for the first time... you just know they’re going to be revealed as the bad guy at the end. There’s no really clever framing or immaculate mise-en-scene which draws attention to itself and nor is that probably the point... it seems quite work-a-day in its atmosphere and pacing and I am sincerely keeping my fingers crossed that this is what the director was going for.

But it’s not terrible either... Tom Skerrit (Captain Dallas in ALIEN) turns up in it and he’s a fine actor to watch and, also, a fine actor to watch other actors react to (take note). A very naturalistic actor who, perhaps at the behest of his director, maybe telegraphed certain things a little too early in the plot than this audience member would have wanted.

I remember seeing this at the cinema last year and being quite pleased with it. It was always going to be a DVD purchase for me after that because... like I said, comfort movie.

Whiteout is very much a High Noon by way of it’s remake Outland, kind of movie because, although nobody is specifically gunning for our heroine, she has to solve the problem of a series of murders, a box full of “what?” from a plane crash 50 or so years before and stop the killer from killing again, before it’s time to evacuate the base, get out of Dodge and get in the last helicopter before the winter sets in and nobody gets in or out of the base for a good many months. So it has that "time is running out" element from those two movies I mentioned constantly ticking in the back of your mind.

This film also continues the tradition of films in which heroes take a beating in pursuit of the truth. In Chinatown, Jack Nicholson got his nose slit and had to wear a plaster throughout the rest of the film, which was kinda unusual in Hollywoodland. I remember when Kathleen Turner played V.I. Warshawski for the first time (in the movie version... she also played her a few times on the radio if memory serves) and the studios wouldn’t let her keep her bruising and general state of dishevelment after she is beaten up halfway through the movie. In Whiteout, I am happy to report that Kate Beckinsale gets two fingers amputated after she exposes them to extreme cold and gets frostbite trying to evade the killer in a sequence about halfway through the movie. She’s got two bandaged fingers for the rest of the movie and at least the scriptwriters tie it in to a reveal scene for the villain later on in the movie... that would have been really great if, as I said earlier... the villain had been in any way a surprise. Actually, lets not call him a villain... he's actually a quite likeable and sympathetic person. Bad guy will do.

There are two things which made me stand up (metaphorically) when I first saw Whiteout at the cinema... two things that is, apart from the snow. I love snow and I love snow in movies... if a movie has got snow in it (so McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Great Silence) then I am going to be able to watch it no matter how bad it is... in fact, I’ve just realised as I was writing those last few words that maybe that’s partially why my favourite movie out of the original Star Wars trilogy is The Empire Strikes Back... it started up on an ice planet, what more do I need? Blood and snow... a winning combination in a movie if ever there was one.

Now where was I?

Oh yeah. Two things which made me pay attention. One was in a scene with Kate Beckinsale just after she has had her fingers amputated and she is taking it out on her quarters in the base by throwing a tantrum and wrecking the place. One of the DVDs in her collection, making a blink and you’ll miss it appearance, is the 1954 sci-fi B-movie THEM! Of course, it would have been more a comment on the kind of film Whiteout is in terms of setting if it had been The Thing From Another World or even John Carpenter’s remake of the same (just The Thing) but I’m always happy for movies involving giant ants to make an appearance. I love THEM! and happy to see it referenced whenever possible. The last time I remember a nod to it in a movie was in that great Area 51 how-many-sci-fi-references-can-you-cram-into-a-scene sequence in Looney Toons Back in Action. The same sound effect as the giant ants from THEM! was used.

Okay... thing number two is... the score. Never been the best follower of John Frizzell but I do like his style and I’m probably one of the few people on the planet who bought the soundtrack CD to a small sci-fi show he scored back in 1995 called VR5. The show was cancelled after less than ten episodes if I recall so the CD release must have been part of the deal before it started to air is my guess. I liked him then and I like him now. His score for Whiteout is quite breathtaking... it’s not really a score that relies on leitmotif to tune in the viewer, at least not that I can tell and that doesn’t seem to be Frizzel’s thing. His window into the material seems to be similar to the work of Bernard Herrmann... not in style, they're worlds apart, but in terms of scoring for the landscape and the psychological atmosphere of the environment rather than tying anything into a specific character. Some of his more sweeping, snowbound cues reminded me of his work on the score for Jeunet’s Alien: Ressurection (a score that I feel was much maligned when it came out but which I think people should maybe take another listen to).

So there you have it... not a great movie by any standards but certainly not an absolutely terrible one. Good thing to watch if you don’t want to think about anything in particular (everything is well telegraphed and spoonfed for you) but with some standout music and a reference to giant ants! Not the best kind of art in the world... but sometimes a light, unchallenging dessert is just the kind of comfort food you need.

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