Friday, February 8, 2013
Here is a film that sneaks into theaters today and will be in your video store in a month. It is a movie that is clearly planned for a straight to DVD release but probably had contractual obligations to play in a certain number of theaters to get the kind of promotion and upfront fees it needed. I went and looked and even BoxOffice Mojo did not have the number of screens it was playing on. Spiders (3D) is being played off pretty quickly because that is the way the movie business has gone. It won't be long until all these kinds of movies never play in real theaters, just home theaters.
I have to say from the standpoint of a guy who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, that's too bad. Creature feature ought to be enjoyed in a theater on a Saturday afternoon with a bag of popcorn and three of your buddies. Spiders (3D) is not a self aware camp classic. There is no tongue in cheek here. I saw a trailer for a very similarly themed film called "Big Ass Spider" and it looks like it will fall in the same venue as "Snakes on a Plane"or "Eight Legged Freaks". Movies with a high level of irony and hipster sensibilities. Spiders (3D) is not hip, it doesn't try to be funny or fresh. In fact in some ways the story is downright creaky. All it does is tell a traditional Sci Fi/Horror story for a brisk ninety minutes. It has a lot of traditional elements to it and it is exactly the kind of movie that you might have found as a second feature attached to the main attraction in a 1970's film release.
Basically, spiders from an experiment on a old Soviet Space Station, end up in the subways of New York and bad things start to happen. There have been dozens of movies with giant creature themes and almost all of them have been entertaining in one way or another. The giant bunnies in "Night of the Lepus" are so silly that you will laugh at the movie. The swarm of spiders in "Arachnophobia" will make your skin crawl as you are laughing and squealing. The giant ants in "Them" are clunky but creepy for the time, and the bugs that attack the Earth in "Starship Troopers" are swarming with CGI badness. "Spiders" has some of the same kinds of thrills but they are all very mild. Early on we get the creepy from the way spiders move and the idea of them planting eggs inside a body. In the later parts of the movie we are treated to Godzilla style spectacle with Army and Air Force units fighting against the arachnids. None of it is very gruesome, this is not a spatter zone like Troopers was. This is just fighting back against big spiders.
Two very traditional archetypes are present here. First you have the splintered family being tested and restored by adversity. The lead characters are a NY Transit official and his soon to be ex-wife public health inspector, who discover the nature of the threat. They have a tween daughter that is neglected but loved and an older babysitter who plays protector when the mom and dad can't be around. The second cliche in the movie is the military conspiracy which wants to weaponize the species. There is a hard headed colonel who leads the network of evil insiders against the general population but also the troops themselves. Nether story goes very far, they are just convenient frameworks upon which the story can rely to move to the next scene. There are no surprises in the resolution of the story, there is not a high level of fear, just a little bit of creepy.
The film was competently made, none of the actors seemed amateurish even when the story and dialogue seemed to be. The special effects are mostly screen work and CGI with a few practical on camera prop pieces. I did think there was a nice shot early on in the film when the one of the small spiders aggressively attacks a rat in the subway tunnel as the bureaucrats are talking in the background. This is a family friendly little science fiction flick that was put together on a budget, tells a conventional story and finishes quickly. It would be a very high class film for the SyFy network, but it would only rate graveyard hours on most cable networks. Don't go out of your way to find it, you can show it to the ten, eleven and twelve year olds in your house on a rainy day. Afterwards you can play a game of "Monopoly" or "Clue" and have a safe,pleasant evening at home.