Sunday, 10 April 2016

Goosebumps (2015)

Back in the mid 90's there was a TV show that was basically a children's version of 'The Twilight Zone' for all intense and purposes. The show was based on the Goosebumps book series and was something I had heard of, had seen here and there, but never really watched, but I knew it was popular. I could say the same thing for the books honestly, I had heard of them back in the day, but I never really got into them, I think I was maybe a touch too old for the franchise because I remember brushing it aside thinking it was something for kids. On reflection I'm now not so sure I was correct with my decision back in the day as it seems Goosebumps isn't entirely for children after all. After some research it does appear that the series has a very nice adult undertone that isn't too heavy, yet can be fully appreciated by adults, maybe like a slightly softer 'Tales from the Crypt' perhaps?

Anyways the plot isn't overly original (unsurprisingly) and pretty much follows the same route taken by the movie 'Jumanji'. Jack Black plays real life author of the Goosebumps book series, R.L. Stine. The story is actually a fictional account of the authors life for the sake of the movie, whilst his book series is also referred to in the film as it is in reality. In other words his books are just the same in the movie as they are in real life, no changes for the purpose of the movie. So in the film Stine lives a lonely life with his daughter (although he actually has a son in reality), they travel from town to town for, at first, unknown reasons. One day a young boy (Zach) moves in next door and starts getting friendly with Stine's daughter Hannah, Stine is angered by this and warns Zach to stay away. Over time the young duo become more and more friendly to the point that Zach tries to rescue Hannah when he thinks her father has possibly done something nasty to her, like murdered her or whatever. This leads to Zach and another young lad breaking into Stine's house to find Hannah. Eventually the pair do find Hannah but at the same time unwittingly unleash a monster from within one of Stine's storybooks. With the secret now revealed Stine must inform the new kids about his creations and help him stop more of them escaping at the wooden hands of Slappy.

We are informed by Stine that he wrote his stories as a child, based on monsters, ghouls, zombies, demons scare the people that bullied him, when he was a child. Apparently these stories came to life and the creatures he wrote about escaped from their paper prisons and ran amok terrorising everyone. So Stine had to trap these creatures within the very storybooks he wrote. Questions, how exactly did these creatures come to life? Why did they come to life? Why are they vicious? How did Stine work out how to trap them within the books? How does Stine have these weird literary powers? and lastly, how on earth would writing spooky stories enable you to get your own back on bullies? Wouldn't these bullies have to read the stories first? Why would they do that? They would have to be pretty good stories to scare these people that much that they stop bullying you out of respect or terror, seems unlikely, but hey its just a fantasy flick right. The thing is these are all questions that entered my mind whilst watching, and there are no explanations for anything, it just happens because, reasons.

Now the main focus of this movie is clearly the effects, the CGI effects, and if you've seen films like 'Jumanji', 'Zathura', 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' will have a good idea of what to expect. Naturally the effects are better than all of those films but in all honesty its not by a country mile or anything. Much of the CGI you see here is average at best, it swings from looking serviceable, to downright amateurish, but admittedly not all of it is supposed to be highly realistic. For example the giant praying mantis definitely looked more like a loving homage to certain old 50's giant bug, black and white horror movies, it looked hammy but in a fun way. The giant abominable snowman was more of a main character, an antagonist paired with the werewolf, but he looked much more lazy effects wise. Like the werewolf the hair looked great but the rest was rather cartoonish, the werewolf faired slightly better with a more classical, Universal monsters, visage. Then you had really lame looking things like giant Venus flytraps, some aliens with ray guns, bog standard zombies and a really bad CGI pink blob. The hovering demonic poodle was quite a scary moment for kids, Slappy the ventriloquist dummy was quite eerie but could of used more wisecracking I thought, and the killer garden gnomes were probably the most effective effect overall.

Jack Black is easily the other main lure for the movie, his chubby, cheeky chappy persona has always been great for family comedy, and adult comedy. Here he starts off with a more serious side playing a creepy, grumpy and rude character, but as time passes he lightens up, becomes more open and we eventually see some good old fashioned Black shenanigans. He is definitely fun to watch in this but I really did think he could of been much funnier. I realise this is supposed to be a more spooky affair but I really couldn't help but think they missed out by not utilising Black to his full potential. Sure he makes some amusing faces and when he snaps at the kids its kinda funny, but I really think Black was yearning to break out with both barrels at times, but was restrained (or maybe cut out?). I didn't think much to the whole plot device of Stine getting his fingers broken though, was the wooden dummy really strong enough to break human fingers by shutting a typewriter case lid down on them? Would your fingers break that easily in that way?? Also you notice the broken fingers don't hamper Stine too much during the rest of the movie, in fact I think they forget about it at times, I do feel that was a bad plot decision right there, much the same as how the invisible boy manages to evade being captured in the finale...(for sequel purposes).

Despite that Black's character really is the only human aspect that's worth anything as the kids are your standard predictable types. The young boy Zach is the handsome one, Hannah is of course a looker too, and then you have the stereotypical goofy sidekick kid who isn't anywhere near as good looking as Zach the lead kid. The awkward nerdy sidekick is also terribly unfunny when he clearly was supposed to be the main gag route in the movie, watching him scream like a girl or look petrified isn't funny. Look out for the brief but clever cameo of the real Stine as a teacher character called Mr Black, he says hello to the fictional Stine played by Black, as they pass by each other.

The movie chugs along nicely from one set piece to another, is doesn't really challenge you or overly engage you, it merely does its thing which is throw tonnes of big CGI sequences in your face. I think it most definitely helps if you've read the books or are familiar with the franchise in any way because you'll have fun spotting all the various monsters and such that have been in the books. Its very obvious that there are too many for one movie, hence lots of background creatures that make brief cameos, or have brief screen time just for the fanboys/girls to see (to satisfy everyone with a favourite). The whole feature is just one big cliche really, one big predictable, cookie cutter Hollywood production...if we're being brutally honest. The plot plays fast and loose, its more of a zippy creature feature for kids, its hammy, cheesy and of course it sets itself up for further sequels in a money spinning franchise possibility. Nothing entirely new then really, again, but nonetheless it is a passable fun time with a likeable kooky character in Stine/Black. Its still nowhere near as good as 'Jumanji' though.