Big Game

By Tim McEown

Mailed on July 16, 2015

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Dear Jalmari Helander

Dear Jalmari,

I didn’t like your movie Big Game very much, but my real argument with you is less about the quality of your particular film and more to do with a larger issue.

First though, here’s why I didn’t enjoy Big Game specifically. The film is poorly written, unimaginatively shot, the performances are flat and uninteresting, and while you got Sam Jackson for the lead, Kyle MacLachlan could have easily replaced him and no one would have noticed, the part was so one dimensional. Still, much of that can be forgiven if the film is innovative or even just energetic, but Big Game is the worst of all possible things an action movie can be—it is irredeemably dull. My god, it is dull. Like sitting-on-the-bus-head–nodding-wondering–if- you-were-drooling-dull.

My real complaint has to do with something less concrete, but perhaps in the long run more important. While it is impossible, or maybe just pointless, to try and make qualitative distinctions about capital A art—is Picasso’s Guernica in some way better than Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa—it is entirely possible to make those kind of distinctions about entertainments. Every artist may be a thief, but if you are stealing sub standard material to begin with then the whole project can’t help but suck. It is here that I really have a bone to pick with you.

I have a hard time understanding why some people fetishize certain films from certain eras. There is, in particular, a tendency to point to the late eighties and into the nineties as some golden age for action films. Films like John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988) or his Predator (1987) are just two examples that people often talk about in bafflingly reverent terms. In your case it is hard not to cite Wolfgang Peterson’s Air Force One or 1993’s _The Fugitive as obviously carrying some weight with you, since these films so clearly influence _Big Game.

All of these were just fine as straightforward entertainments, fun to watch, kitschy in a good way, but for the most part they suffer in comparison to the best stuff being made now. There is a simple reason for that. Since they were hardly transcendent entertainments at the time, they will always suffer with age. They won’t look as good, the stunts aren’t as impressive, the camera work is constrained by technical concerns and the filmmaker’s imagination is circumscribed by what it is possible to actually show onscreen.

While the very best entertainments seem visually timeless (Blade Runner is perhaps the best example of that truth) they were, and still remain, superior in terms of performance, themes and creative execution—the imagination informing the story makes it onto the screen. So regardless of the advances in the technical aspects of filmmaking—CGI, smaller cameras, better and more dangerous stunt work—films like Alien and Raider’s of The Lost Ark still stand head and shoulders above most. This is because the more abstract facets of the craft—performance, direction, art direction, storytelling, editing—don’t suffer as much with age.

But when you set out to make a b-film, a straight up actioner without any pretensions, I can’t imagine why you would go the way you did, Jalmari. Instead of taking advantage of all the latest technical innovations and possibilities inherent in them, you went the other way. Instead of The Raid: Redemption you made some pale echo of Patriot Games.

Here is my entirely unsolicited advice. Don’t waste your budget on Sam Jackson if you aren’t going to use him properly. Instead, invest in some go-pro’s and some stunt work and make use of that unbelievable Finnish landscape. Tell me a mildly interesting story instead of this stupid, derivative crap that parrots stuff that wasn’t that good in the first place.



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