Monday 19 December 2011

War Pigs

It's not easy being a pig. At least this time of the year, as thousands and thousands of our porcine pals get slaughtered to bring a Christmas ham into the tables of hungry families. Another thing that has been troubling snout-nosed creatures this year is the bad publicity they've gotten in the media. Like the wildly popular Angry Birds game, for instance. The whole game revolves around killing limbless, green pigs that just stay still, not running or fighting against their impending doom. The game's makers at Rovio are building a media empire around the concept, which will feature a feature-length animated movie sometime soon. While we may hope it will be as innovative and funny as this legitimate trailer suggests, it still makes pigs look like the bad guys.

And for what?!
Well, maybe pigs are tired of being sitting ducks, to be roasted by well-aimed shots of roundish birds or killed for the sake of filling up our stomachs as well as our stockings at christmas. Pigs can also fight back, like movies well prove! For your consideration, we give three films which show the fighting spirit of all piggies.

Animal Farm (UK, 1954)
Directors: Joy Batchelor, John Halas

The most famed pig revolution, of course, is the one that occurs in the pages of George Orwell's satirical animal fable Animal Farm (1945). The film's pigs, among other animals, live in a farm owned by a nasty drunkard. The animals live in the fear of the angry farmer, and have to enslave all day and night with no benefits for the man. The oldest and wisest of the pigs, Old Major calls the animals together to give his piece of mind. In his opinion, animals should be the masters of their own domain, and overthrow the tyranny. When Old Major dies, and the abuse coming from the farmer reaches its limits, the animals stage a coup and manage to drive the mean old farmer away.

But life in the animal-owned farm isn't all peaches and cream. A power battle comes between two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, who had been generals in the revolution. Whereas Snowball attempts to improve the conditions of all animals, and teach them skills such as reading, Napoleon has secretly raised an army of dogs to do his bidding. When the conflict between the two boars inflames, Napoleon orders his dogs to drive Snowball away and takes over the farm. He still claims that the principles of power-to-the-animals on which the farm lives by, remain. But little by little, the other animals start to see how the new boss begins to act more and more the same as the old boss.

This animated adaptation of the book was in fact the first full-length animated film ever to be produced in Great Britain. It is notorious for having changed Orwell's overly cynical ending to a more upbeat one to better suit the tastes of children. But I don't think that decision actually undermines the message of the book, which is to beware how good intentions and socialism can easily turn into Stalinism. The end just gives an additional glimmer of hope to it all. But otherwise, it is almost surprising how violent and terrifying the film actually is. Cuddly animals get killed on screen, and the Napoleonic oppression really feels like a postapocalyptic world. Like in Watership Down, the Brits never seem to worry about scarring their children for life. But as that gives us uncompromising animated classics, who's complaining?

As for animation, this is quite well done, and the animals look expressive and cute. The film employs only two voice actors, Gordon Heath as the narrator and Maurice Denham as the voice of all the animals. It is not perhaps the most modern way of working, but it gives the film's beginning a pleasantly old-school, rural feeling. Of course, when things start to go to hell, it feels even more shocking because of the decision.


Razorback (Australia, 1984)
Director: Russel Mulcahy

One of the most famed Animal Attack films of all time (y'know, besides Jaws and Birds) is this Australian b-flick, that also helped push music video director Russel Mulcahy to Hollywood. He then created such masterpieces as Highlander and... erm, Resident Evil: Extinction. Oh dear. Well, Mulcahy has always been a more visual director than a storyteller. It's sad to say that altough there are some pretty groovy visuals, Razorback isn't really that good a film. Or even well directed. But I'll get to that in a minute.

It's got two stages of being: Dangerous... and Dead.
Such is the warning a Crocodile Dundee -wannabe Great White Hunter gives when describing a huge boar that wrecks havock all across the Australian Outback. It's not just that the beast has razor-sharp fangs, likes the taste of human flesh and wrecks up people's houses for sport. It is that it also has psychic abilities which it uses to turn the entire outback's pig population against the humans. When an American TV reporter goes missing because of getting slaughtered by the boar, her husband Carl (Gregory Harrison) decides to travel to search for her. He joins forces with a group of misfits (really just a bunch of inbred Australian yokels), but as they desert him when he needs it the most, he has to face Razorback in the middle of a desert. Luckily, he is able to find help in the middle of nowhere. And thus a great pig hunt starts.

Mulcahy really knows how to stage a scene, and has some truly breathtaking shots of the Australian deserts. Razorback itself is by contrast, a mean and suitably horrible-looking beast. But the problem is that the film's editing is really spastic. We get a lot of fast shots of the giant boar's snout and mouth, but hardly a look at the entire thing. This is of course due to a limited budget, but it appears that the Australians are being terrorized by a disembodied gaping mouth. Mulcahy's editing is way too fast-paced to be clear, and there is way too little continuity between shots. That means it's hard to tell what's going on from time to time. At least the actors pull all the right strings in B-movie acting, with being as serious as they can. The film also has a few quite funny pig violece-based scenes, so it's not a total waste. But it is still held in way too much regard among B-movies. 

★★ 1/2

Pig Hunt (USA, 2008)
Director: James Isaac

Then again, Razorback is a masterpiece when compared to this schlock that tries to imitate it's spiel. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, for Pig Hunt isn't nearly as bad as it could be. For a Fangoria-produced Frightfest film, it's not the most cheapest-looking, and its music has been composed and performed by Les Claypool, the base player from Primus. But it's a masterclass of a film that tries way too hard to be funny, political, surprising and clever at the same time only to fail in all of the four.

A bucnch of Iraq war veterans get together to go to a remote cabin and to hunt wild hogs in the woods. The cabin is owned by John's (Travis Aaron Wade) uncle, who turns out to be dead in mysterious circumstances. The locals are creepy and threatening rednecks, but the crew makes an uneasy alliance with them to track down the uncle's murderer. Which may or may not be a fabled giant three thousand pound black boar named The Ripper.

The film plays a lot with the stereotypical backwoods hillbillies. And, as anyone who has ever seen a horror movie knows, they are all kinds of twisted over there. The by-the-numbers plot doesn't give too many thrills or surprises along the way. There's not an ounce of sympathy in any of the characters. Not even Les Claypool's cameo as a Preacher has enough of the funny stuff in it. Everything in the movie is forgotten an hour after watching it. But there are a few scenes that at least manage to raise a smile, like the part Ben (Howard Johnson Jr.) wakes up in a harem. And The Ripper in the end is kind of impressive, I guess. But still considerably less so than Razorback.


So, the lesson here, kids is: Be nice to pigs. Or else...

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