Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Cheap Critic: The Fallen Ones


The Fallen Ones is a made-for-TV film (SyFy Channel) that offers an extremely enjoyable, immersive viewing experience... to me and a few of my fiends -- but possibly not to anybody else. My DVR caught it almost a year ago. I watched the first bit of it then told the machine to save it so I could finish it later. I was not particularly excited by the first few minutes and it took me a while to get back to it.


There are two ways a film can offer an immersive experience -- can take you out of yourself for a while. The first way is for the film to provide a transparent window on the story. That way, one moment you are sitting in the theater watching the opening credits, and the next you are in the tomb with Indiana Jones, batting at spider webs while you wade through piles of snakes and dodge blowgun darts that seem to come out of everywhere and nowhere. Making that kind of movie requires a high degree of craft for the writer, director and actors.

The Fallen Ones doesn't offer that kind of immersive experience. It offers another kind. One moment you are sitting on the couch watching the tube and the next you are there on the set with the actors, wondering if this will all look as cheesy in the rushes as it does during the shooting; you finish your bit and wait for the director to yell "CUT", hoping that the caterer's trailer still has any more of yesterday's ham sandwiches which were really good, especially the pickles.

The Fallen Ones is totally opaque. While you are watching it you can think about the script, the wooden dialog, how much fun it must be for young actors to work with well known, semi-retired celebrities, and whether the arid location where the film was made is that lot just outside of L.A. (the one where half the westerns of the forties were shot -- and most of the B-movie science fiction films of the fifties). You are free to daydream about all these things without being particularly distracted by the story line.

By any objective standard the film is dreadful... but many god-awful films tend to be uneven and The Fallen Ones has its odd glimpses of failed potential. For one thing, it has a decent concept (from which an appallingly bad script was written) and a few brief sequences that are really, really good. One sequence in particular sticks in my mind. I won't trouble you with too much of the plot but it deals with a 40-foot tall mummy that is found in the desert southwest. We spend most of the movie waiting for it to come to life and then comes a sequence where we think we have finally seen it. We see something in the distance, lumbering through the darkness, but when we get closer it is... something else. That sequence is wonderfully macabre and, although it lasts less than a minute, quite wonderful. It was worth watching the whole mess just to have seen it.

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