Source Code – Worth Doing Properly

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So I went to see Source Code (shiny new Jake Gyllenhaal time-travel – sorry “time reassignment” – flick) last night, and it was… fine. Jake Gyllenhaal travels through time, into a dead guy’s memory, to try and identify a ruthless trainbomber before they strike again and obliterate the whole of Chicago with their big ol’ dirty bomb. And it was… fine. 

Here ends my review.

Here begins the small rant following on from said review. This film was simply…  fine. I was never bored (and I managed to have a little nap during Black Swan, so I do bore fairly easily), but the film was nowhere near as good as it should have been. The script sounded like a first draft, not a bad first draft, but not a finished, polished, honed, perfected piece of work. Many of the plot-holes could so easily have been ironed out during the editing process, if anyone had thought to try. The tension of finding the bomber could have been ratcheted up, by drawing out the characters on the train and making us wonder whodunnit, rather than rattling through a handful of unrelated false starts before walking right into the bomber with little or no preamble. The inate humour in Gyllenhaal’s character’s mini Groundhog Day could have given the whole film more variety in tone, if anyone had thought to suggest even a single joke.

The failure wasn’t in the premise. Clearly the premise – and specifically the “scientific” explanation of the premise, which can broadly be summarised as dead people remember the last 8 minutes of their lives, so if you find another recently dead person you can send them back into those 8 minutes to see what went on, is twaddle of the highest order. But a twaddley premise does not necessarily make for a twaddley film. The premise behind Back to the Future – if you hit 88 miles per hour you travel in time, cos of the flux thingummy; look stop asking questions, it just works– is twaddle, but the movie, itself, is a thing of near perfection.

The problem wasn’t in the budget either. The special effects looked good. Mr Gyllenhaal himself, presumably doesn’t come cheap. All those boxes were ticked perfectly adequately.

The problem with Source Code wasn’t the premise or the money, it was the lack of care and attention involved in making the actual film. It was a movie that felt like a flea-bitten kitten sheltering under a parked car from a storm – ultimately the kitten will retain an element of kitteny cuteness, but you can’t avoid the impression that nobody really loves it. This was an unloved kitten of a film. It seemed that nobody had bothered to lavish upon it anything beyond the level of care that was absolutely required to claim their paycheque. People decided that “fine” was good enough, and I paid money to watch the outcome, which ultimately means they were right.

And that makes me cross. Surely, if it’s worth spending the amounts of money studios lay out making films, it’s worth spending a little bit of creativity making them good. If you’re going to make something for other people to enjoy, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t make it as good as possible. And, sure, if you aim for greatness, you will very often fail, but you will end up with much better results than if you never aim for more than fine. “Good enough” just shouldn’t be good enough.

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3 thoughts on “Source Code – Worth Doing Properly

    John Harrison said:
    April 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

    All fineness and no finesse then? I don’t think I’ll bother with that one. I would however disagree with you… people that aim for greatness and fail often end up with much worst results than those who aim for ‘okay’ and achieve it. Compare George Lucas’s “GREAT” ep 1 with the “just having fun” ep 4. The coen brothers “maybe it wouldn’t be huge….who cares?” Fargo with the intended “mainstream, comercial success” Hudsucker, they’re most expensive and lowest grossing movie. Aim for greatness, achieve mediocrity!

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      alisonmay responded:
      May 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

      Very slow reply. I am officially a Bad Blogger. I think you might be right about the aiming for greatness thing though – that might be the wrong emphasis. Possibly I’m more offended by the lack of care and attention. It doesn’t have to be the best film ever, but it should be the best film that it could be? Maybe that’s more what I’m driving at… hmmm.. scratches head and does thinking…

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    Mikki said:
    April 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Having been to Chicago I can’t help but think it would be greatly improved by the tender attentions of the Vogons, which is my main problem with the premise of the film: why bother? It’s like trying to save Wolverhampton – too late, just evacuate everyone to the Merry Hill centre and let the baddies do their worst.

    Thinking through all the films I’ve seen though (which is not many) I can’t help but conclude that there is some cosmic rule that says you can employ good special effects people, or good writes, but definitely not both, unless you are Pixar.

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