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HTF DVD REVIEW: Funny Games



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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted June 06 2008 - 09:21 AM

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Funny Games

Directed By: Michael Haneke

Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 2007

Rated: R

Film Length: 111 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Release Date: June 10, 2008

The Film

In Funny Games, an English language remake of writer/director Michael Haneke's German-language original from 1997. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play well-to-do couple Ann and George who have traveled with their son, Georgie (Gearhart), to their summer home to begin an extended vacation. Under the pretense of familiarity with their neighbors and a desire to borrow some eggs, a couple of excessively polite but increasingly creepy young men dressed in white preppy gear (Pitt and Corbet) invite themselves into their home. When first Ann and then George ask them to leave, things turn violent, and the young men take the family hostage for no apparent reason other than to engage in a series of sadistic games that they wager will result in the death of their whole family by the following morning.

I never saw Haneke's original version of this film, but have been assured by others who have that this film hews very close to its predecessor, avoiding any self-destructive deviations along the lines of George Sluizer's remake of The Vanishing. Firm in that knowledge, I now have no interest in seeing the original. To be honest, if this film had not arrived at my doorstep to review, I probably would not have bothered with it since I am not a part of the Saw and Hostel crowd towards which the marketing of this film seemed to be tipped. As with the makers of those films, director Haneke proves to have a sufficiently twisted mind to devise creatively gruesome ways in which to torture and kill his cast. Unlike those films, Haneke keeps most of the actual violence and humiliation just out of frame. His reasons for doing so have little to do with restraint and good taste, though, and run more along the lines of trying to establish himself as morally and intellectually superior to those other filmmakers.

At this point you may be asking yourself: How could this pretentious idiot reviewing DVDs for a web site possibly see into Haneke's heart to divine his intentions? I claim no such power of perception or psychological insight. Haneke conveniently lays things bare by ultimately turning the film into an indictment of the audience to which it is marketed. While this sounds like an admirably subversive thing to do, the execution proves to be far less intriguing than one might hope. Rather than actually turning the genre on its ear by devising some clever way to subvert audience expectations within the reality of the film, Haneke chooses to blow things up first with a few instances of Pitt's character breaking the fourth wall to address the camera/audience conspiratorially, and finally with a piece of magical realism near the end that is the cinematic equivalent of wagging a scolding finger at the audience (or maybe a middle finger – to be honest, it's a little bit of both).

The end result is a film that will drive away those who do not have the stomach for violence and torture in cinema, and deliver a cleansing spoonful of cinematic castor oil to those who would otherwise enjoy such a film. In other words, it’s a film intentionally designed to satisfy nobody. Being more of a thesis on narrative film than an actual narrative film, its entire premise requires that it be dishonestly marketed as an exploitation genre film.

To their credit, the actors participating in Haneke's cinematic experiment version 2.0 are certainly committed. Watts, Roth, and Gearhart convey every ounce of torture and humiliation inflicted upon their characters with convincing detail. Pitt and Corbett are suitably creepy as the excessively polite young nihilistic anonymous sadists.

The Video

The widescreen presentation on the top side of this double-sided single-layered disc fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. The video presentation has some serious issues most evident during the darkest scenes. Horizontal banding is present around bright spots during dark scenes, and there also seems to be some artifact inducing contrast manipulation in the video domain. I did not view the 4:3 full frame presentation on the flip side for this review.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital soundtrack does not make much use of the 5.1 surround field, but it does offer excellent fidelity in its representation of the film's subtly effective if not overly dimensional mix. There is no underscore, and music passages consist of excerpts of classical music not so subtly juxtaposed with noisy guitar-heavy free jazz from Naked City used for the film's opening and closing sequences.

The Extras

Nada está aquí.

When the disc is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with a series of skippable promotional spots. They are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, and the video format and running times are as listed below:
  • Anti-Piracy PSA w/scenes from Casablanca (4:3 - 1:00)
  • The Orphanage DVD Trailer (16:9 enhanced - :47)
  • Lost Boys: The Tribe DTV Trailer (4:3 letterboxed - 1:13)
  • Otis DVD Trailer (4:3 letterboxed - 1:59)
  • Anti-Tobacco PSA (4:3 letterboxed - :31)
Packaging

The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no insert. 16:9 enhanced widescreen and 4:3 full frame presentations occupy either side of a double-sided single-layered DVD-10 with identical promos on both sides. The cover art eschews the modern trend of placing star faces all over the promotional art and instead consists of a single strong image of a bloodied golf club being held by a pair of folded white-gloved hands. It would be just about graphically perfect if it were not spoiled by a couple of hyperbolic review blurbs.

Summary

Funny Games is an experiment in scolding the audience to which a film is marketed that is made with great technical skill, but is by its very conception incapable of entertaining anyone on any level. At best, viewers intrigued by its subversive concept may appreciate it on an intellectual level, but the film will not merit multiple viewings by them unless they intend to repeatedly sabotage their friends and associates who are fans of the survival horror/torture sub-genre. Of course, you could save close to two hours by just telling them that you think you are a better human being than they are outright. It is presented on DVD with a disappointing transfer that has contrast and artifact issues during its many darkly lit scenes. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio rarely exploits the multiple channels for anything but light ambience, but nevertheless presents the skillfully subtle underscore-free mix with excellent fidelity. There are no special features on the disc.

Regards,

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted June 06 2008 - 09:39 AM

Quote:
Being more of a thesis on narrative film than an actual narrative film, its entire premise requires that it be dishonestly marketed as an exploitation genre film.
That's a genuinely interesting observation, Ken, although I think it applies more to the U.S. remake (which I haven't seen) than to the German original (which I have). The premise of the film made a lot more sense for a European release in 1997 than it does for a U.S. release in 2008, which is why I could never understand the reason for doing it.

I keep trying to persuade myself to see the remake, but as you say, once you've been through it, there's not much reason to repeat the experience.

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#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Sandro

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Posted June 11 2008 - 04:15 PM

Since Haneke's intent was to examine cinematic violence as entertainment it makes perfect sense for the movie to be a mainstream Hollywood film and also for it to be marketed as a "normal" horror thriller. This way it reaches the people for whom the "message" is intended (if there is a message).
The age of senseless violence has caught up with us too

#4 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted June 11 2008 - 06:41 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandro
Since Haneke's intent was to examine cinematic violence as entertainment it makes perfect sense for the movie to be a mainstream Hollywood film and also for it to be marketed as a "normal" horror thriller. This way it reaches the people for whom the "message" is intended (if there is a message).
It doesn't reach those people when it only gets released on 274 screens. If you're going to release it like an art film, then market it like an art film. (This applies only to the remake; a German film, almost by definition, would have to be marketed this way.)

If, OTOH, your intent is to deliver a "message" to the torture porn crowd, at least open the thing on 1000 screens. Much worse stuff has been rushed into theaters without critics' screenings for a quick buck, and the production budget of the remake was low enough ($15 million, according to IMDb) that the strategy might even have made business sense.

M.
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#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted June 11 2008 - 07:40 PM

Michael Haneke's self-aware approach to story-telling piqued my interest with his earlier films, but I agree wholeheartedly with Ken McAlinden's review. I understand what Haneke's trying to do, but I don't understand why he wants to take part in an undertaking he despises for an audience, and perhaps an entire culture, whom he holds in contempt. The current trend of making torment and torture a mainstream entertainment alarms and dismays me. I wish financiers and distributors would take the moral high road and turn their backs on this "genre." I wish theater owners would refuse to screen it. As I've said elsewhere on this board, torture porn will only prove to be a bad thing for the movie industry, and for the young minds who flock to it.

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted June 12 2008 - 05:37 AM

Thanks for the review. I missed this one in the theater because it was in and out in one week. I thought the original was very good so I can't wait to see what he does here as I love when director's remake their own films.

I'm really not sure this was sold to the torture/porn crowd though. Naturally, no one went to see it and most of those who did seem to be fans of the director or art films. As Michael said, had they pushed it in more theaters then perhaps it would have gotten a bigger crowd but if it's anything like the original then I'm not sure the 13-17 year olds would have been interested.

#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted June 12 2008 - 07:52 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Elliott
Thanks for the review. I missed this one in the theater because it was in and out in one week. I thought the original was very good so I can't wait to see what he does here as I love when director's remake their own films.

I'm really not sure this was sold to the torture/porn crowd though. Naturally, no one went to see it and most of those who did seem to be fans of the director or art films. As Michael said, had they pushed it in more theaters then perhaps it would have gotten a bigger crowd but if it's anything like the original then I'm not sure the 13-17 year olds would have been interested.
As far as how it was promoted, in addition to the normal online sources, the theatrical trailer is included as a promo on the "Michael Clayton" DVD. For the record, keep in mind that my complaint was more to do with the conception of the film itself which more or less required that it be marketed to an audience which it would then proceed to overtly indict for their poor taste than with any piece of actual marketing.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   DalekPhan1

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Posted June 12 2008 - 09:49 AM

There's another great review of Funny Games over on dvdcorner.net

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   Jon Martin

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Posted June 13 2008 - 03:19 AM

I got the film from Netflix and watched it in Fast Forward mode.

The film is SOOO close to the original, basically using the same house design, that you just have to ask, what is the point? Yes it is in English, with a different cast, but that is the only difference.

It is essentially an artist doing a cover version of their own song.

The original is one that you may want to see once, but never again. So, I really wasn't up to watching the story again.

What I found kind of odd about the reaction by critics who hated the film (and I'm not including Ken's review in this criticism) was how many were unaware that it was a remake. Richard Roeper despised the film yet, from his review, it was clear that he had never seen the original. Shouldn't major critics (as far as their salary goes) do a little more homework? How hard is it to rent the original film from Netflix?

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   Yumbo

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Posted June 13 2008 - 10:02 AM

I disliked this, but on reading can understand. Reminded me of STRAW DOGS.

SEVEN may have started all this torture porn.





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