Monday, February 06, 2012

"Chronicle" is a "Cloverfield"-style Dogme sci-fi hit; you want the kids to be all right

Chronicle” may first be perceived as named after a book of the Old Testament, or it may be indeed constitute a troubled teenager’s video record of his life as it spins out of control.  The movie, shot in hand-held Dogme style, up front, seems like a mix of “Cloverfield”, “Paranormal Activity” and “Super 8”.  (Okay, this time “Hollywood” tanks Seattle rather than New York.)  Unfortunately, the underlying concept, for a film about kids making movies (to start with) is much weaker than in the “Super 8” film. Yes, there’s the three part structure, and a lot of blowup at the end, but we’re left disappointed by the tragedy.

The film is directed by Josh Trank, with story and screenplay by Max Landis.  The film was made mostly in South Africa and Vancouver, with 20th Century Fox using its own brand on what looks like an independent “art B Movie” film, intended eventually for midnight shows.  (Hollywood seems to be rediscovering the “B-art” concept.)  Why isn’t this branded as “Fox Atomic” or Fox Searchlight?  I would say that 3-D would have helped for the sky tricks – but maybe you can’t do that with handheld.  Because of the handheld close-ups and “in your face” shooting style, the director kept the aspect ratio at 1.85:1.  Many of the Seattle and other outdoor locations were simulated by CGI.  

Now for the kids. Dale DeHaan plays Andrew, a nerd who has to deal with a dying mother and disabled and abusive alcoholic dad (Michael Kelly, who is quite strong here).  The movie actually opens with a black screen until we figure out that Andrew is videotaping his life, narcissistically.

He clings to stronger people at high school, Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the latter a class star. One day they go to a rave disco party.  Some people don’t like Andrew’s filming them, and a scuffle ensues.  Andrew’s camera gets broken as he is tossed, but somehow he recovers it and fixes it as the trio goes off into the wilderness, and then down into a sinkhole, drunk, where they encounter (apparently) a blob oozing from a crashed UFO.  The police are on their way to rope it off, but not before the kids are exposed to it.  Soon, all three of them have telekinetic powers.

This may sound like a replay of Smallville. In that ten year series, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) had to fight off some demons (red kryptonite) and temptations before settling in and becoming a hero.  Unfortunately, Andrew will not prove up to the challenge that “with great power comes great responsibility”.  He seems to take hurting people lightly, to say the least, even if he rescues one driver from a wreck he causes telepathically. His father’s pressure, to box him in because of mother’s illness, breaks him. Only one of the trio will turn out well.

The film makes some good points about things. One regards photographing people in public. Although maybe constitutionally protected, it has generated a lot more objection in just recent months, possibly because of the debate over Internet privacy and tagging.  Another good point is that telekinesis might be within our technological reach (as with Stephen Hawking).  But it would destroy our security systems and fail-safe (separated function) procedures so critical to the modern workplace .  Imagine that hackers could change digital files telepathically, or place logic bombs in secure systems.

I wondered if Andrew could have been played by Richard Harmon, who had appeared in Smallville as another troubled teen with kids, and then played an outstanding character as a young gay filmmaker in the sci-fi flick Judas Kiss (June 5, 2011).  Harmon's demeanor is similar to DeHaan's.  But with Harmon, you want him to turn out all right.  (There was a technical oddity in one of the flying or skyscraper scene's -- DeHaan's hairlines was blow back much more than expected.) 

I have met very talented kids, in various circumstances (such as when I worked as a sub), and maybe some of them (perhaps in college now) will find this review. I’ll say, keep your moral focus. Don’t blow it.
I suspect this film will have sequels. After all, there’s a buried UFO to explain.  And (at least) one kid survives the mayhem at the end.

Fox has put its only official permanent site on Facebook, here.

The film has done surprisingly well at the box office for a “small” sci-fi film. It runs a brisk 84 minutes.  I would have liked to see more media reaction to the human flying scenes at the end -- but that would have added some length.  How would CNN report this?

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