Defining Bad

Let’s consider the word “bad” for a quick second, and specifically what I mean when I say a movie is “bad.” You, me, and everybody else, has a movie that we describe as “bad” that we will recommend to every sentient being we encounter. And yet somehow we all have encountered a friend, acquaintance, relative, spouse, or sentient pile of ooze that refuses to take our recommendation because, quote, “you said it was bad.” When they heard that the movie was “bad” they thought of something that’s technically unimpressive and boring, when they should have been thinking of something that’s technically unimpressive and awesome. In the future posts I want to really dig into just one movie and why I think it’s awesome. But today, let’s take a wider look at Catwoman (2004) and Troll 2.

The source of the terribleness of Catwoman is kind of a mystery to me. The movie stars Academy Award-winning actress Halle “Motherfucking Monster’s Ball” Berry. Not to say that she’s only ever been in A+ movies, but she’s been in mostly good things, and at the time had some heat in the industry.

The Flintstones (1994)
Yeah I’ve seen this movie like 3 times and I love it, so sue me

Behind the scenes, the editor and director of photography for this movie were Luc Besson’s (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element) editor/DP for most of his best movies. Two of the people most responsible for the quality of the images you see on screen were consummate professionals. Most of the people who worked on this movie were probably really good at their jobs, but not enough people involved seemed to have cared. It’s like somewhere up the chain someone wrote down a mission statement for the production that said “Y’know, like a cat.”, and nobody cared enough to tell them no.

Pictured: The people responsible for making Catwoman

Which brings us to the basketball scene. In that 104 second scene there are about 115 cuts by my count. Let me do some math real quick…yep, that’s more hard cuts than there are seconds in that scene. The decision to cut this movie in that way is working towards a unifying theme, it’s just not great. It jumps between cameras all over the place to give it a feel that’s fast and frenetic, y’know, like a cat. Halle Berry jumps off the wall and swats at the ball and chases moving objects with her head, y’know, like a cat. And then she does a sweet dunk over Benjamin Bratt’s head, y’know…okay that one doesn’t work so well.

There’s Bad movie moments all over Catwoman, some are even some in that clip. There’s some laugh-out-loud bad acting, bad special effects, weird story choices, weird and bad costume choices, it has all of the things that Bad movies usually have. But, it’s not fun, in fact it’s mostly really boring. I know the people who made this movie are capable of better, and that more than most things about Catwoman makes it less fun for me. The joke isn’t on the movie (and it definitely isn’t in the movie), it’s on me as the viewer for watching it. It’s on me for putting up with someone’s half-assed effort.

I’m going to wrap up Catwoman now, because I really want to get to being positive about a movie that I actually like. Like the whole point of these silly “reviews” is that I want to write about something that I love from a positive perspective.

So in stark contrast to Catwoman, Troll 2 is a movie where everybody on screen is giving it their all every second. They try out daring acting choices, they commit themselves to their characters, they come up to bat ready to try for a home run, and every. Single. Time. They strike out in hilarious and cartoonish ways. The characters they portray are recognizable as people, but only because their unbelievable and inhuman reactions to stimuli are conveyed in our human language.

The camera work exaggerates all of this by providing awkward framing, uncomfortable close-ups, and clumsy zooms for us to witness the bizarre plotline through. Just look at how uncomfortably close we get to Darren Ewig’s wet sweaty face in the famous “Oh my gooooooooooood” scene.

That feeling when they’re eating her…and then they’re gunna eat you

That’s one of the real treats of Troll 2, the editing. Troll 2 clearly has heard of the techniques and tools that movies can use to tell a visual story. However, there’s something about the specifics of how it uses them that is just a little bit off. Shots will often linger far too long, way longer than your experience as a movie-watcher tells you they should last. It’s like when a child says something accidentally hilarious because they lack the context that adults have. That’s what the camera in Troll 2 is like, a five-year-old trying to tell you a horror story that ends up telling you hilarious things instead.

With Troll 2 the joke is most assuredly on the movie and the people in it, and to some people that might sound mean. It might sound like I’m laughing at a bunch of unfortunate people who were just doing their best and coming up short. Well… yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m laughing because it’s funny that a bunch of people with no experience are in a movie that was put onto physical media and sold to consumers, but there’s something else going on too. I end up really really liking the people in Troll 2.

Most movies are produced in such a way that you’re never supposed to think about the camera, or the script, or the people who spend all day dressing sets. Basically all of the people whose job it is to make everything look perfectly believable. In most movies everything works as a cohesive whole to bring you fully into a world, that’s how their immersion and engagement is supposed to work. But Bad movies are different. In Bad movies you can often catch glimpses of the real world bleeding into the fantasy. A boom mic that drops into frame, a set that is clearly someone’s house or back yard, actors who were chosen for reasons that have nothing to do with acting, extras who might not even know that they’re extras in a movie right now. That lack of craft makes the whole thing somehow more intimate. You can’t help but connect to characters and actors when you can see their struggle writ large in the final product.

I root for every single person in Troll 2. Every time they get something right, I cheer their success. Every time I think about the movie, it’s with fondness. If I ever meet any of the people involved I will tell them excitedly of the hours of my life I’ve spent enjoying the thing they made. Did I laugh at them? Sure. But do I think I’m being hurtful? Fuck. No.


P.S.: The child actor from Troll 2, Michael Stephenson, grew up to make a documentary about his experiences on set called Best Worst Movie, and I highly recommend watching it. The context it provides will only add to your Troll 2 viewing experience. It paints a vision of the actors toiling against the demands of an insane god-king, delivering lines written by someone whose grasp of English is not exactly complete. And if that isn’t a recommendation that sounds appealing to you, then I don’t know what is. Just…just go watch Best Worst Movie and Troll 2.

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