Jackson Very Terrible Try to Make Better

It’s that time again, where I watch the entire filmography of the director of the film I’ve been assigned for Cinema 52. Unlike Tony Scott or Robert Zemeckis, however, the director of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring can’t seem to ever release just one cut of his films. So, not only am I cramming twelve movies into one exhausting weekend, but specifically the longest available version of each film. That’s right, it’s not just the complete Peter Jackson… it’s COMPLETER JACKSON. Let’s do this.

THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

IS THIS A PAINFULLY LONG PETER? Oh boy, so I’ve got the “Peter Jackson’s Director’s Cut,” which runs 123 minutes and is precisely worded that way because this was clearly being marketed to Lord of the Rings fans that wondered what else this guy did. It opens with an introduction by Peter explaining that the computers built for the effects in The Frighteners went on to do The Lord of the Rings, SO BOW BEFORE THIS FILM, NERDS. I’m glad I’ve already seen this movie, because Peter then shows you a bunch of special effects shots from key plot points like a fucking asshole.

“Enjoy!” said the man cruelly, for he knows what he does.

THE PLOT:
You wanna know what’s kinda sad? This is the second time I’ve seen this movie and I still couldn’t care about the plot.

I rented it solely because hey, Michael J. Fox is a good actor.

Okay, the entire story isn’t boring, but the first half is far more entertaining than the second. Michael J. Fox IS Frank Bannister, a buster of ghosts who busts ghosts in a manner that certainly isn’t an attempt to recreate the ghost busting charm of the popular 1980s ghost busting film franchise Apparition Capturers.

Whom do you intend to telephone?

Frank is a paranormal con man, but not a John Edward type, because he can actually communicate with the dead. He tells his ghostly pals (Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, and John Astin) which houses to haunt, and then he collects the dough for getting rid of them. Frankly, that’s a pretty slick twist on Bill Murray’s spectre-nabbing pals, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Any movie where babies are horribly maimed is fine by me.

Then the movie starts talking about something or other in the spirit world and there’s bad guys and ghost rules and holy shit, whatever.

THE STYLE:
Hmm, the protagonist is played by Michael J. Fox, just like in Back to the Future, and the bad guy is played by Jake Busey, just like in Contact, and the special effects are over-the-top insanity at the expense of the story, just like Back to the Future Part II and Death Becomes Her and The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol and–

Ah, hello again, my old friend.

Peter Jackson and Robert Zemeckis might seem like a match made in heaven. In the late ’80s they made Meet the Feebles and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, two dark skewerings of entertainment for children, and in 1992 they were both obsessed with slapstick comedy involving the mangling of the undead, making Braindead and Death Becomes Her. The similarity of their subjects is almost eerie, but they clash for two very important reasons: Jackson uses practical effects rather than digital, and Zemeckis never went harder than PG-13 in his effects movies.

I am feeling two different feelings right now!

This results in a fun (?), violent (?) supernatural film for teens (?) that’s rated R (?) with lots of gritty, realistic (?) digital (?) effects.

A good time was had by nobody!

I’m not going to knock blending genres or toying with audience expectations; Gremlins brilliantly combines horror elements with a kiddie Christmas movie to make a true classic, but that film had great puppet work and actually threw an old woman out of a window.[citation needed] Fans of splatter horror flicks aren’t usually crying out for more CGI, please. And so, we’re left with a soft R film that can’t find its tone, made by two filmmakers who’ve already struggled with that problem individually.

THE EFFECTS:
These are actually my favorite ghost effects in any movie.

Cool. As. Shit.

While your typical see-through movie ghost is just pasted over the scene at 50% opacity, take a look at the way our friend Chi McBride is actually warping the background. It’s not as impressive in stills, but when these ghosts are moving around, they feel like they’re actually in the room and occupying three dimensions. It wowed me when I first saw it and still wowed me today.

The ghost gags, however…

Ha?

There’s just something about the supernatural comedy effects that don’t work in this movie. Number one, they’re digital, so they don’t have that real world slapstick factor to them. Number two, there are so many of them that you start to get tired; it’s like spirits can’t have a five-minute conversation without getting stuck in a wall or sucked into a garbage disposal or trapped in a vibrator or whatever. Number three, ghost gags just aren’t the same as Braindead‘s zombie gags. The hard and fast rules for zombies are that their parts keep moving until it’s not fun any more, and that’s about it. Ghosts, though, go through stuff and haunt stuff and are stuck on this plane for various reasons and why do they have clothes and guns owned by ghost cowboys can hurt them, what the fuck?

Okay, I will never complain about Ghost rules again.

So, the effects are certainly an achievement, but less CGI and less of them in general would be nice. And speaking of a lack of practical effects, why couldn’t this entirely digital Death figure…

…been made more convincing with a real guy in a hood? Just to pick a random example, oh, maybe this?

Wait your damn turn, Hobbits.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
This is a dark time for Peter Jackson. While The Frighteners has many good ideas and is generally enjoyable to watch, it gets derailed by an overload of digital gags and can’t seem to get its story back on track when it really matters. With the threat of Zemeckising upon him, will a shift to CGI effects make or break Jackson? Yeah, fuck fake suspense, you know what’s up next.

UP NEXT: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended DVD Edition (2001)