Under the Skin

May 10, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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There is ample room for debate around how literally a director should translate a book to film. Peevish Potterites complaining because a single scene on film was not in the book will try the most patient critic. And I am caused to think of Jodorowsky’s psychedelic vision for “Dune.” Had his movie ever been made, it would have been a radical departure from the book. However, I do feel that if one is going to radically depart from the original story, the final product should be worth watching (and here I cannot help but think of the criminal “World War Z”). So, what to do with  “Under the Skin?” When I found out that this film was based on a novel, I looked it up. I can see the briefest of outlines of the original story but the film is so vague and so detached that very little of the story comes through. What was, apparently, a deeply detailed and allegorical sci-fi story about factory farming became a blurry and lifeless film about…  Well, honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure. There were parts of the plot of the book that I thought, “oh, I kinda guessed that in the movie,” and other parts where I thought, “oh, really?  It would have been nice to have understood that.” Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast” & “Birth”) has a history of making odd little independent films with big names in them. I admire him for that but this one just didn’t work for me. Scarlett Johansson can bring real depth to her characters (she may have been the best part of last year’s “Don Jon” and think of how expressive her voice was in “her”) but she does little here. In fact, all of the actors play it pretty cold and expressionless. In addition, there is little dialogue and really no dialogue of consequence (there’s no exposition or anything to move the plot along, explain motives, provide context…). The audience is left largely in the dark. There are a few arresting scenes visually, made all the more evocative for the fact that the backdrop was otherwise a very dully, gray, washed out, working class Scotland.  In addition, the soundtrack was fascinating in how aggressively non-soundtrack it was trying to be.  It was harsh, discordant and chilling and really worked with the mood of the film. This is the problem: there are kernels of brilliance here.  Had the story just been a bit more fleshed out and, had the characters been real enough for us to invest in, this might have been a brilliant film.  Sadly, it wasn’t. In the end, it was mostly confusing, unfulfilling and a little dull.

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