Before Joel Schumacher tried his best to kill the Batman franchise, he actually directed other movies as well. For instance . . .
I like this one a lot — it has a certain nostalgia factor going for it, plus pre-24 Kiefer Sutherland. Still, there are some moments that can be gently mocked. Or not so gently, I suppose.
A group of medical students perform a series of experiments where they temporarily induce brain death in order to see what’s on the Other Side. Unfortunately, everyone who crosses over appears to bring something back with them . . . and whatever it is, it’s clearly not pleased.
1. The very first thing we can mock is the promotional material. I mean, come on:
What is this picture? The Breakfast Club with medical students? Ooh, maybe St. Elmo’s Fire?
This is just silly.
Also, guess who directed St. Elmo’s Fire? Yup, Joel Schumacher. Maybe I should go back and look out for any giant statues or ridiculously oversized faces in that movie.
2. Because seriously. There are statues all over the place in this movie, and while not all of them are enormous . . .
. . . most of them are.
Also, there are tons of gigantic faces, both in stone and in graffiti, just sitting there, watching you. Honestly, I might not have noticed, except that this penchant for gigantic faces and statues pops up a little in Batman Forever and more than a little in Batman & Robin. I have half a mind to go through every single Schumacher movie now and see if he sneaks in at least one six foot tall face in all of his films. (Only half a mind, though. The other half is pretty exclusively devoted to thinking about the Magnum double chocolate ice cream bar in my freezer that’s just waiting to be eaten.)
3. But enough of that. About the actual movie itself — well, like I said, I enjoy Flatliners. It has some interesting ideas, some creepy visuals, and a pretty good cast overall. The main problem people seem to have with it — a problem I can’t entirely ignore, if I’m going to think about the film critically — is how stylized this movie is.
Now, I like a ton of stylized movies. I think it’s cool when a director has a particular aesthetic — as long as that aesthetic doesn’t vomit all over the screen and drown the actual story in flash and sparkle. But when the majority of your movie takes place in a hospital, it would probably help if the one in your film actually resembled, you know, a hospital and not a gothic old church with shitty lighting and little to no chance of a sterile environment. (But super cool archways! Those are therapeutic, right?)
And oh, the filters. You know how, in movies, every morgue appears to be lit by an excessive amount of either green or blue lightbulbs for no practical reason? This is because almost every horror movie director is a fan of shooting with a color filter. And Joel Schumacher? Oh my god, does that man like color filters. You can observe a few of them in this awesome trailer below.
. . . wow, that’s terrible. I should start making these lists: “Trailers That Are So, SO Much Better Than The Actual Movie” and “Movies That Are Thankfully Better Than Their Shitty Ass Trailers.” Flatliners belongs in the latter category.
4. It also apparently belongs in this list: Trailers That Features Scenes Which Didn’t Appear in the Final Cut. I hate when that happens. So, creepy old man laughing? Julia Roberts shower scene? Yeah, not in there.
5. Hm, I seem to have gotten sidetracked. Okay, so I was talking about aesthetic versus realistic choices while making a movie. So, the hospital? It’s ridiculous. But I’m okay with it because, even though it’s silly, it doesn’t ruin the story for me, and I’m very content to do that whole gently mocking thing I mentioned before. Because I like Flatliners and there’s some cool stuff in it, but I can’t say that I’ve ever taken it all that seriously before, either.
On the other hand, Flatliners clearly wants to be taken at least a little seriously — I mean, it’s not a total camp fest and as such has to deal with a higher level of scrutiny than, say, a B horror movie would. The way this movie is shot doesn’t really bother me, but I don’t know that I could really argue with the people who were upset by it, either.
6. Also, there are some medical inaccuracies, probably a lot more than I could actually catch. (I may work in a hospital, but I also have an English degree, you guys, and I’ve always been pretty one-sided when it comes to my academics. It’s not that I was so horrible at science while in school, just that my brain absolutely refuses to retain anything I ever learned in those classes, ever.) Still, even I know you don’t use a defibrillator on someone wearing a bra with underwire.
Then again, if I could make it through a few seasons of House where the three doctors were also apparently phlebotomists, lab technicians, nurses, and MRI techs — as well as detectives — I think I can overlook this. And they did get an actual blanket warmer! I was hilariously excited to recognize not only what the equipment was, but the company who manufactures them.
7. Okay, clearly my priorities are going screwy. I’ve talked about blanket warmers before I’ve talked about the cast.
This isn’t the first movie I ever saw with Kiefer Sutherland in it, but it is the movie where I kind of fell in love with him. Which is interesting because his character, Nelson, isn’t actually all that likable, but the man’s got charisma, a distinctive voice, and a fairly decent I’m-just-a-little-insane chuckle, and those things put together are kind of attractive to me; I can’t lie. But seriously, I think Sutherland makes Nelson much more sympathetic than he has any right to be, and that does take a certain amount of talent.
For the most part, I enjoy Kevin Bacon in this. There’s one rather unfortunate moment near the beginning where he does this hand wave gesture that screams teenage girl to me (“Doesn’t matter, because in the same situation, I would do it all over again” — like talk to the hand, bitches) but other than that, I generally like his line deliveries and reactions to things. There are some silly problems with his character — namely that he’s kind of the Hero and as such is the only with Magic Hands (and occasionally Magic Lips) that bring people back from the dead — but that can’t really be blamed on Bacon.
Julia Roberts, on the other hand, is a touch more problematic.
Now to be fair to her, this is not entirely her fault. There’s a writer problem here, not so much with actual dialogue but with general concept of character: Dr. Rachel Mannus is two cliches put into one character. She is both A) the damaged/beautiful girl who’s icy cold heart slowly thaws when she meets Mr. Right (in this case, Kevin Bacon and his Magic
Penis Hands), and B) the heroine that every man seems to fall in love with despite the fact that she’s kind of bitchy and annoying. (The best example I can think of this is Twilight — particularly in the book, where Bella is not only annoying, but three different boys seem to fall in love with her before she’s actually spoken words.)
Now, Cliche A can actually be somewhat workable when fully fleshed out characters are involved, but it’s considerably more challenging if your heroine comes off as the kind of person that no one really wants to be around. And when Nelson mocks Rachel at one point by sarcastically praising how strong and independent she is — well, I agree with him, and clearly, I’m not supposed to. I think Julia Roberts is going for strong, but she often ends up at bitchy, and I have very little sympathy for her character because of it. The role is problematic, but I think a stronger actress could have made her work, made her a bit more likable. I mean, I don’t absolutely hate her — I just would have been totally okay if a piano had fallen on her head in the middle of the film.
Oliver Platt is the comic relief here and, as such, is awesome. Oliver Platt is pretty much always awesome. I don’t really have that much more to say about him than that. All hail Oliver Platt!
Actually, I really have little to say about Billy Baldwin either. I just felt bad about leaving him out while talking about the other four main characters. Baldwins’s . . . okay. Nothing more and nothing less.
8. There are also a few small cameos by actors I like. (My friend Kirsten mocked me for pointing at the TV screen every time I recognized someone. I can’t help it. It’s like when my sister sees a place she’s been and has to say, “I’ve been there!” This was particularly funny yesterday, when my sister saw one of the monuments in Washington, D.C. and said, “I’ve been there,” and in retaliation, I picked up the book she’s reading — To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis — and said, “I’ve met her!”)
Ahem. Anyway, of the people I recognized, I was most happy to see Beth Grant.
She’s in Flatliners for all of two minutes, but I always like watching her. Her particular brand of crazy in Donnie Darko, for instance? AWESOME.
9. There are some nice moments and images in here. I don’t really find Flatliners to be a particularly scary movie, but I think the creepiest scene goes to the one where a body slowly half-rises from an exam table and extends its arm at Rachel. I also like the different versions of the NDE we get here, how personalized everyone’s experiences are. Before we know exactly what’s going on, Heaven appears to be a wheat field. Or, alternatively, a blue-tinted medley of boobs.
No one, I repeat, no one is surprised by Joe’s version of Heaven.
10. This is an ongoing pet peeve I have with stupid characters: please stop taunting/daring the person/spirit/whoever is trying to kill you to actually kill you. Please. You are driving me crazy.
11. I love laughing at arguments that make no sense. David (Kevin Bacon) is apparently the only atheist in the group and is thus the control of their experiment — he won’t convince himself he’s seen something when he doesn’t believe there anything to see. He argues that he has “nothing to lose” by participating, and by nothing, he means he has no faith to be broken. That’s the context for this statement.
This doesn’t stop Joe, however, from throwing David’s atheism in his face in the stupidest manner possible. When Nelson (to David) is like, why don’t you volunteer to be the next one to flatline, Joe follows up with, “Yeah, you’re an atheist. You’ve got nothing to lose, right?”
David seems to think this is a semi-valid argument, instead of immediately responding with, “Um, what about my life?” Seriously, people. “Atheist” and “suicidal nihilist” are not interchangeable terms.
12. Finally, I have things to do, some I’m not creating a Spoiler Section today. But here are some quotes for you:
Nelson: “Hello, I’m nice. He’s nice. We’re both fucking lunatics . . . can I come in, please?”
Nelson: “You just bring the equipment. I’ll bring my balls.”
Steckle: “I did not come to medical school to murder my classmates, no matter how deranged they might be.”
Steckle: “You’re killing him. It’s called murder? No wonder you got tossed.”
Steckle: “Good thing I didn’t flatline. My 350 pound babysitter would be chasing me for the half-eaten pastrami sandwich I stole from her.”
David: “Die to be a hero someday if you want to, but don’t die to be a celebrity.”
Steckle: “It was as if . . . it were as if we felt no fear, as if we were already dead and had nothing to lose by dying. Or perhaps it was because we had lived life so well, and loved life so much, that we fancied ourselves immortal, overwhelming the powers that be with the force of our passion for science . . . or maybe we were just fucked in the head.”
Atmospheric and enjoyable, if slightly ridiculous.
Ask and ye shall be forgiven.
Alternatively, if you’re going to try and temporarily kill yourself, make sure Kevin Bacon is nearby. Because only Kevin Bacon can bring you back to life.