What a Blast!
Friday, July 27, 2007
In "The Simpsons Movie," no good deed goes uncrushed.
This merry celebration of mayhem, hostility, carnage, wanton destruction, power lust, dysfunction, nihilism and the proper application of gigantic plastic domes to American cities will certainly satisfy those who've seen all 400-odd episodes of the TV show twice, as well as those who've only glimpsed the Simpsons on a transmigration to more sports programming. Happily, it's full of things that are bad, but in a good way.
Plot. Well, I suppose. Trying to describe it is sort of like trying to describe an explosion: Lots of stuff is flying through the air, it's really loud and it changes so violently one second to the next that no 13th-century technology like the English language can hope to keep up.
Nevertheless, here's a stab.
Homer, the dad from hell with Nixon's blue jowls, Fred Mertz's cue-ball skull and a monkey's eyes, has acquired a pig, and like all dads from hell, he loves the pig more than his family. Hmmm, who can blame him, since Marge's hair looks like the Leaning Tower of Blue Chewing Gum?
Anyway, the problem with the pig is that what goes in must come out, alchemized by pig amino acids into a foul putrescence about the density of depleted uranium. What to do with this stuff? Homer might dare Bart to eat it, as part of the constant Oedipal war with his son, or he might get his daughter Lisa to saxophone it straight to hell. But instead, he packs it up and takes it to Springfield's lake, more or less unaware (Homer is in a permanent more-or-less-unaware state) that Lisa has led a crusade to get the citizens of Springfield to turn the sleazy burg into environmental perfection. Avoiding a slalom course of "No Dumping" signs, Homer gets his GTO close enough to the lake to dump it. Instant eco-catastrophe. The lake and the pig-product combine into a stew of DNA-twisting, eyeball-cloning, stink-rising gelatinous gunk. The government, led by EPA eco-Genghis Russ Cargill (voiced by Albert Brooks), immediately fools President Schwarzenegger into authorizing the doming of Springfield.
Now there's something you don't see every day: 400 EPA helicopters lifting a plastic dome the size of half a small asteroid onto the fabled city on the border of Kentucky, Florida, Maine and California. Suddenly, bonk, the citizens are imprisoned in three-foot-thick translucence. They quickly track the source of the sacrilege to Homer and, being normal, empathetic, forgiving Americans, decide to lynch him.
He and his family somehow manage to escape to Alaska. Meanwhile the EPA decides to do a tactical nuke on Springfield and build a new and better Grand Canyon in the crater (with Tom Hanks as the new canyon's spokesman). The Simpsons, minus misogynistic Homer, head back to help.
Homer sees the light and heads back, too, to try to prevent the nuclear munitions from turning the domed dystopia into radioactive shredded wheat.
Hmm, perused, that almost makes sense, but of course in execution, no "sense" can be readily observed, much less experienced. The Simpsons' comic aesthetic might be described as nightmare surrealism punctuated by violence and slapstick projected on characters of cartoon simplicity, held together by an internal logic whose flimsiness is part of the joke. Also, everyone seems to have a hyper-articulated, almost prehensile upper lip. The upshot is like a cross between the early mayhem of the Bugs Bunny cartoons with dialogue by Edward Albee. And of course, the whole movie is poorly drawn.
Well, not poorly drawn, but ironically drawn, so the proper descriptor would be "poorly" drawn. It's supposed to be poorly drawn, just as comedy is supposed to be poorly staged, so only the comedy and never the filmmaking stands out.
And indeed, there are only a few times when the makers (originator Matt Groening and 10 more credited co-writers) get fancy and revel in the big-time, computer-assisted possibilities of the big screen. In those scenes, cameras pull back to reveal elaborate gridworks behind and an illusion of depth otherwise almost totally lacking. It's not bad, it's just wrong. The sequences shout, "Hey, we're makin' a freakin' movie!" as opposed to the TV show's disciplined insistence on the small in scale and the primitive in design.
The genius, then, is in the writing and in the writing supervision -- the overall editorial view in which all gambits created by individual writers are kept in sync, so the piece has a tonal consistency and narrative flow. A lost art in Hollywood? I wouldn't want to say, but it was something severely lacking in, say, something like "License to Wed."
Some "Simpsons" lifers may miss the prominence of certain favored characters. Apu, the convenience store manager, doesn't get much screen time. Neither does the misanthropic C. Montgomery Burns, who only gets to sic his dogs on the peasants once. Krusty the Clown has a little more time and maybe Ned Flanders (the mellow next-door neighbor who's an idealized dad) gets a little too much.
It's really one of the best movies of the year.
The Simpsons Movie (87 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for adult material.