White House Down

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on June 28, 2013

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Dear David Loveday
Senior Pyrotechnician

Dear David,

You blew it, Dave.

I know you were badly outgunned. I know the numbers were stacked against you. But you should have fought harder. When faced with a modern high-tech enemy, one hell-bent on rendering you obsolete, you need to stand your ground. It's the basic principle of every action movie--even the really bad ones (ahem). Instead, you let Hollywood supervillain Roland Emmerich win the day. His cheap, labour-saving, 90s-grade digital explosions undermine any sense of emotional stakes White House Down could have hoped to earn. When that first CGI flash erupted in the Capitol building, the only loss I mourned was your profession.

There's just no substitute for real fire. It's the reason Backdraft will still hold up 50 years from now*. Bad computer-generated flames lack any sense of danger and presence. They're an easy stock effect included in even the most basic consumer-level editing programs. Big budget movies usually manage to blend the practical effects with the computer wizardry, but this desire to integrate the real deal says something .

Hell, the fact an old-fashion fire-starter like you was even hired says everything.

Seeing a real pyrotechnic display really gets the blood going. It could be an actual hospital building, like in The Dark Knight. It could be a splintering miniature of the White House, like Emmerich previously blew up so effectively in _Independence Day _(which becomes a surprisingly unlaboured meta-reference in this, his new film). But a well-placed, well-executed blast accomplishes everything an action movie sets out to do. And trust me, this movie needed all the help it could get .

Where to start? The plodding pace that fails to generate an ounce of tension? The choppy slow-motion thrown in as an afterthought? The ham-fisted attempts at iconic moments, like the diplomatic president who, after being taunted for his "…mightier than the sword" philosophy, eventually stabs a villain with a ballpoint pen while shouting: "I choose the pen!" Yup, that actually happened--despite how hard the sound designers tried to bury it in the mix. But at least that moment was trying to do something new.

This is just another Die Hard cut-and-paste_ job. Even the title is lazy (another way that Olympus Has Fallen proves itself a superior film). From the self-narrating hero to hackers who cue up Beethoven music, _White House Down _is paying tribute in the worst way possible; by being derivative without being ironic. The tone is even insultingly mawkish, with spectators gathering outside the White House during a 9/11-level attack, cheering the military as if they're watching a rock concert. The film eventually devolves into a full-out comedy-- well, at least _I burst out laughing at the way the day was finally saved.

When everything feels fake, we're allowed to laugh. When things look great - like the wide shot of the crumbling Capitol building - we can't help but marvel. And that draws us in. There are a number of well-crafted moments in which the danger feels at least a little bit palpable, and in those scenes I can feel your work. But even Channing Tatum's undeniable charm isn't enough to bring the house down. Further down, I guess.

All fired up,


*I'’'m amazed it took me this long to finally reference my favourite film growing up. Christopher

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