Sunday, November 8, 2015

Goosebumps – Early Thoughts

Reader beware the spoilers are everywhere.

Well a Goosebumps movie has been in development hell practically since the books started coming out in the early 90s so I wasn’t expecting much from this film and at first it seemed my low expectations were going to be met with the laziest opening credits ever!  I mean seriously guys it’s Goosebumps and the best you could do is show a car driving on a highway with everyone’s name in lime green?  The old TV show was creepier than this.  The closing credits had cool text and used images that matched the book covers so I don’t know why the opening credits weren’t like that too.  I was also disappointed that the music from the old show wasn’t used either.  The music here is good it’s Danny Elfman after all, but I still think it would have been a nice nod to what’s come before.

However, since this is a nostalgic property and the story basically throws all the books at us instead of just adapting one the references are fast and furious; from monsters, to the characters’ names, plot points, and even a cameo from RL Stine himself.  I’ve actually had the pleasure of hearing Stine speaking at comic conventions and he is a very nice and funny guy and I actually would have liked to have seen more of him in the film.  Oh well there’s always sequels, and yes I fully expect this to get a sequel, not only does it have a hook for one with the Invisible Boy typing on the type writer at the end, but also a possible prequel with younger Stine first bringing the monsters to life when he was a kid.  Stine himself has said in interviews that he brought an old typewriter down from the attic as a kid and just started typing short stories and funny magazines so the thing practically writes itself.    

Anyways back to this story, I really like the idea of combining all the books into one film and the whole idea of the monsters of the books coming to life to terrify the town sounds the plot of a real Goosebumps book so this fits right in.  The characters are for the most part standard.  Champ is goofy best friend, Zack is the awkward new kid, Hannah is the innocent helpful one, but they’re enjoyable none the less.  Lorraine the bedazzling aunt is fun and I wish they had done more with her instead of shoving her off screen to get frozen at the police station right after her badass moment of throwing the werewolf of fever swamp into a dumpster with her car.  Although the real stand out here is Jack Black as Stine.  When I first learned about the casting I was skeptical, but he really pulls it off.  It probably helps that he isn’t playing this as an autobiography, outside of the typewriter I don’t think there’s one thing that applies to Stine in real life.  Still the arc that he goes through about connecting with people again and learning to let go of his anger works well for me probably because it’s pretty subtle, outside of him and Zack talking about everything randomly in a classroom near the end.  He starts out being angry at everyone, but as the group gets chased by everything he starts to ask if everyone is okay and talks to them about personal things when asks Champ about his name and I thought that worked.  What didn’t work for me was Zack supposedly being a mirror for Stine by also putting up walls against people.  It’s a informed trait as his Mom and aunt Lorraine talk about it but we don’t get to see it.  Instead Zack instantly gravitates to Hannah and is willing to go along with her to the carnival grounds when he still doesn’t know her very well.  He pulls Champ into his rescue Hannah shenanigans and he doesn’t get mad at anyone unlike Stine.  So there really is no arc or growth for him and as the supposed main character that’s a problem.

There are some plot details that don’t make sense to me either.  Like if Stine has apparently been moving around and using a false last name why does the high school have his typewriter on display?  That would make sense if he was an alumni maybe, but then why would he move back to his old town and why would no one recognize him?  Where did Hannah go when Zack thinks Stine hurt her?  If Stine just sucked her back into her book so on one would find her how does he maintain the illusion that she is real to herself?  Although I do credit that scene for showing us right up front why the kids don’t call the cops later when things start going really wrong, a common problem in horror films, because the cops have already been proven to be useless.  Another fun twist on formula was having Slappy take out the cell phone towers so we have a reason they don’t work and Stine telling everyone to save themselves when he gets stuck at the cemetery and Champ just running off.     

Weighing down the story again though is all the romance stuff that is completely unneeded. Lorraine and Stine were the only romantic anything that I thought sort of worked.  Probably because we were already shown that she is always on the lookout for dates so her flirting with Stine immediately is totally in character for her, and Stine is socially awkward and kooky already so to me it’s no surprise that he goes for it.  All the rest of it is pointless.  Champ getting the hot girl at the end after he saves her is cliché and frankly offensive.  The gym teacher hitting on Zack’s mom goes nowhere and achieves nothing, and even the relationship between Hannah and Zack doesn’t work.  They have known each other for less than a week!  I felt nothing at the end when she is disappearing with all the other monsters and Zack is trying to hold on like this is his one true love, it’s not.  I also have conflicting thoughts on her coming back at the end.  On the one hand it totally ruins the idea of Zack having to learn to let go and move forward, even if that was poorly put together in my opinion, and thus grow as a character.  And on the other hand…nobody reads Goosebumps books to learn morals that’s a given so having the movie basically give us no moral is perfect.  It’s a roller coaster ride where you scream you laugh and everyone gets off safe and happy at the end.      

So all in all I can’t call the film good given the standard stock tropes we get for the main characters the overabundance of romance subplots that aren’t needed, and gaping plotholes, but I do like the references, the humour, I think the story idea is inventive and fun, and I do like Jack Black’s acting enough to call it a guilty pleasure.     

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