That’s my one line review of Grindhouse.
I was impressed and amazed even as the credits rolled, but it took me a while for the three hour epic/homage to grimy movie theaters and exploitation films to soak in. This morning I decided to read the reviews and see what others thought of its hard to classify format.
Grindhouse is two movies in one, plus some trailers and commercials for good measure. The big question on many of the reviews is which of the two films in the pre-packaged double feature by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino is the better one. Unfortunately, I think this analysis misses the point.
It’s not hard to see that the directors of each of the segments wanted to do something more than package their movies together, although it does make for great bang for your movie going buck. This is not only two movies by Hollywood power-house directors, it’s an immersive theater-going experience about a whole genre of movies.
The reviewers who noticed this like Rodriguez’ film much better than Tarantino’s. After all “Planet Terror” plays affectionate homage to hundreds of b-movie zombie films, at once mocking the plotless action of these films, and yet playing it out with special effects and action that those low budget films could only dream of. Like a b-movie directors wet-dream, you can almost hear them saying: O what I’d do if I had all the money and support of a real studio… this is it.
And while the reviewers who get the whole tribute to grind-house theaters love “Planet Terror”, they feel cheated that Tarantino goes and breaks the very rules the producers have set up by taking the evil car chase film into new territory with (well, I’ll admit it, sub-par) Tarantino dialog and characters. The poor reviewers are angry because they thought they were getting a salute to b-movies and Tarantino’s contribution isn’t really such a film at all. They wonder what the director was thinking..after all, we’re not actually supposed to get to know, let alone, like the characters murdered needlessly in such films.
But what would be the point of simply repeating the exploitation fair that Grindhouse is so affectionately mocking? Instead of arguing which film is better, reviewers would simply suggest grabbing a couple of old movies from the back of the video store and making your own double feature at home.
One genius stroke of this film is that it introduces the genre, exploits it passed it’s own original aspirations and then adds to it in a way that brings it to new heights and depths at the same time. One of Tarantino’s signatures is that he can make an audience laugh at completely inappropriate moments. When a head gets blown off in the back seat during Pulp Fiction (a scene we never actually see, we’re only shown the results) the audience finds itself laughing. What the heck is going on?
In this film get to witness a car crash four times in a row, just to give us enough time to see the gory results for each of the victims. I, for one, was put off by this level of violence, but you can’t but help admire Tarantino for his ability to control the viewers like a puppeteer behind the screen. It’s as if he’s saying: you think you’re desensitized to death from Die Hard I, II, III, CCXIXV? Well, what do you think of yourselves after you’ve thought of laughing at that?
And making you think, even while you’re entertained, is what good film making often achieves. But I still don’t think you should bring a date.