Thursday, February 26, 2009

A to B Back and Forth Review: Slumdog Millionaire, Part II

Yesterday, Kozy and I started with our analysis of Slumdog Millionaire, posting Part I of our back and forth conversation. Here's Part II.

Sun, Feb 22, 2009 at 8:43 AM


Before presenting my final answer on the game show question, let me briefly backtrack to the soundtrack issue. I concur with you that the soundtrack moved the movie and in many ways was the most innovative and interesting part of the film. The chase scene during the Christian raid on the boys village is my favorite sequence in the movie. Not since Run Lola Run have I seen music so successfully intertwined with the pace and balance of the storytelling. Rather, my point was that I will not be running out to Media Markt to buy the CD.

I also agree it is important to discuss the game show technique used to tell the story. At first glance, it appears somewhat interesting, non-obtrusive and novel, especially when compared to Slumdog Millionaire's Oscar competition. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button chose (or was it pre-destiny?) the worn-out, pathetic device of granddaughter reading grandmother's diary to her on her deathbed, I felt like I was watching Fred Savage and Columbo in The Princess Bride.
Anyways, the quiz show technique is of course not new, or novel. During Slumdog Millionaire I was actually thinking more of Running Man (as Schwarzenegger Sunday author, a film you are surely intimately familiar with) and Robert Redford's Quiz Show. But more distractingly, with the Rupee denominations getting higher and higher, the images dancing through my head were of Howard Stern and his radio bit Who Wants to Be a Turkish Millionaire, where strippers and other non-dilettantes provide stupid answers to stupid questions. Yes, having Stern and strippers running through my brain was a bit distracting.

Other options? Of course it is rare to find Memento, Reservoir Dogs or even Back to the Future, movies that break the mold of traditional storytelling and present linear alternatives that are vastly better than what has been done before. Imploring a less traditional vehicle would have eliminated the smarmy one-dimensional game show host character and lessened the negative pre-destiny issue you refer to in your email, which I also found distracting. I will imagine that for the hopeless romantics out there, this notion of fate providing the ideal questions to this student of the streets is overly satisfying. The equivalent of me wildly cheering Rocky Balboa as he chops down the Russian in Rocky IV. But for a movie like Slumdog Millionaire, that is at its heart supposedly telling a serious story of abject poverty, it is hokey.

Of course I am interested in how you will relate Slumdog to Citizen Kane, The Usual Suspects and Trainspotting. Tonight is the 2009 Oscars. Unfortunately the time zone's are unkind to me and I will not be watching live. Will fate be with Boyle and crew tonight? We'll soon find out ...


Sun, Feb 22, 2009 at 9:22 PM

Ah, Kozy,

I was actually thinking that I would totally buy this soundtrack. Maybe I can blast these tunes for you sometime and forcibly have them win you over. Regarding the gameshow, the whole thing played out in a very gimmicky way. I referenced Citizen Kane because the big theme of that film is, "How do you tell the story of a man's life?" For a 19-year old chaiwalah, it's remarkable that he has had enough trials and tribulations that his existence could warrant a feature-length narrative. The gimmick in this case has a paint-by numbers feel. Citizen Kane went through the character's life in sequence by talking to the people he encountered. The procedure used here also mirrors The Usual Suspects, with the police officer interrogating the main character as his responses tell the story. Maybe it's every person's dream that they could be on a gameshow and have every question be luckily tailored to their life. But that, again, makes for pretty hokey theater.

However, I did enjoy the ego battle between Jamal and the host of the show. As Jamal's confidence grew, he began to stick it back in the smug host's face, and was clever enough to defy him when he needed to. At that crucial moment of defiance, I couldn't help but think that everyone he's ever encountered in his life has screwed him over. He sensed that it was happening again and parlayed his instincts into millions more. I thought the same thing about Howard Stern at least five or six times. Incidentally, his grand prize nets out to $411,600 which doesn't sound like all that much, but in India, he'd be rollin' in doughnuts. As far as The Running Man goes, I certainly see how Richard Dawson's presence would improve this, or any movie. But I wasn't expecting Buzzsaw to ride by on his motorcycle swinging his chainsaw overhead at any point.
I mention Trainspotting just because you have to wonder if Danny Boyle has a strange fetish after sending two protagonists, uh, down the tubes. Well, that and the banging tunes while people are chased by police. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

As you mentioned at the oustet, the hype has been tremendous. It certainly seems fated that Slumdog will take home the big prize tonight. And I think it's right up the Academy's alley. They have a long track record of picking inaccurately, particularly on Best Picture (I'm looking at you, Dances With Wolves!). It's also clear that they didn't do a good job picking nominees this year. Other films such as The Dark Knight would have given Slumdog Millionaire a good run for its money. But if it wins, hey, what're you gonna do? It is written. God is great.

Let's see how the awards play out and then we can serve up our final thoughts.

Hasta mañana,

We'll be back with part III tomorrow

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For a long time I havent watched a film with such different kind of story.The script was very intelligently connected with present life and past life.This is an amazing mix of "story" and "real life".I love every actors' performances and also appreciated how the kids acted too naturally.Overall I think this movie should be rated 4.5/5.This movie has now become one of my evergreen favorites!