Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Faculty

(1998) ****1/2

Starting with the faculty of a small town Ohio high school, parasitic mind-controlling aliens start their takeover of the Earth. The story is quite neatly summed up as Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Breakfast Club, as a group of six students from varied social strata figure out the plot and attempt to foil it.

1996's Scream brought writer Kevin Williamson a boatload of hype (for better or worse), but in my opinion this taut little number is the superior effort. Just like The Invasion brings up some of free will's sticky discussion points by having all Middle East conflict come to an abrupt halt, The Faculty brings it even closer to home by setting the action in high school, where everyone can remember that constant, visceral need: fit in or die.

I probably like this movie more than anyone I know. I'll admit it's the kind of movie that loudly champions certain ideas about How Things Are using dialogue you'd never hear in the real world: "The established pecking order is head cheerleader dates star quarterback, not academic wannabe." Sure, the world is like that, but you don't hear anybody involved actually admit it with such clarity. For me, however, real dialogue is overrated; if you like your entertainment cooked that way, there's plenty of tedious reality TV. (And I wonder, did the people in the seats watching first-run Shakespeare actually converse like the actors on stage?) Watching TF this year I pretty much dug every speech applying alien takeover to the complex jock/nerd/geek/bitch hallway politics. They only chatter I didn't like was the aside about science fiction literature as a softening-up mechanism for the inevitable takeover -- it was way too Screamy. As far as I'm concerned, the self-referential train left a long time ago (although having a sci-fi buff in the group to help parse out the plot just makes sense).

On the plus side, you've got Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Clea DuVall, Famke Janssen, Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett when he was still cool. You've got a fast-moving plot, some creepy critter effects and a graphic depiction of that day all nerds know will come, when you're trapped in a school bus at night and a hoard of football players in full game gear are outside baying for your blood.

And I love that the secret weapon is caffeine. Would any extraterrestrial life form really have a chance?


DCD said...

I remember really digging this movie as well. As usual based on Octo's recommendation at the time!

JPX said...

First of all, that first picture is excellent! I watched this a few years ago and thought it was fun. My chief problem with it is Kevin Williamson, I just hate the way the guy writes dialogue. I once dated someone who made me watch Dawson's Creek and I always wanted to punch the TV. Williamson's dialogue consists of people always responding with a "perfect" analysis of complicated issues with the "perfect" comeback. Think about that episode of Seinfeld where George is insulted in a business meeting and only much later thinks of what he "should have" said. What Williamson does is have his characters ALWAYS know what to say in the moment, which has the effect of taking me out of the story. Still, I love Robert Rodriguez and his touch makes this a Horrorthon-worthy adventure.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I remember this being decent too but ****1/2??? Another one to add to next year's list...

Jordan said...

Yeah, baby! The Faculty all the way. I totally dig this movie. (Octopunk showed it to me about ten years ago, back when he was only Quadropunk, in Brooklyn.)

Other points:

1) Jon Stewart! If you're going to run through the cast you've got to mention the "edgy" science teacher he plays.

2) No, they didn't talk like that in Elizabethan times; the theatrical convention is "blank verse" or iambic pentameter, but you knew that. I've been wondering exactly the same thing about the Sherlock Holmes stories. They didn't have movies then and the whole idea of actually showing reality was completely foreign; I wonder if they actually turned to each other and said "'Pon my word, there you do me a grave disservice, if I may be so bold" etc.

3) jpx, that's called "Aaron Sorkin disease" and it's what makes The West Wing utterly unwatchable for me. But that's just me, I guess.

4) Famke Jannsen is awesome. She's like Cindy Crawford with talent. (Okay, maybe 60% of Cindy Crawford, but still.) In Woody Allen's Celebrity she played a Random House book editor, which was just fine with me.

5) Elijah Wood is also very good in this movie. I recall him and Tobey MacGuire in The Ice Storm, playing two glum, doomed buddies who had no idea that their "glum, doomed" talents would make them into Frodo and Spider-Man.

Jordan said...

50% of Cindy Crawford. Cindy Crawford is like plutonium.

I'mnotMarcbutmyboyfriendis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I'mnotMarcbutmyboyfriendis said...

someone should go back and do a count of how many times jsp exclaimed, "****1/2? really? another one to add to the list..."

this isn't the first time, i know.

he might have carved himself a new subgenre: things that surprise even Johnny Sweatpants.

Jordan said...

Okay, what's the deleted comment? :)