Friday, July 12, 2013

"Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan" - - The Gun Goes Off

There's an old writer's proverb known as "Chekov's Gun," named after it's author Anton Chekov.

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

Let's leave that lesson aside for a second and move on with the review of "Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan." This movie tells the tale of a group of first time convicts on a work-camp disturbing the grave of Babe the Blue Ox and  . . .you guessed it, invoking the wrath of Paul Bunyan.

Paul Bunyan is an American folk legend from the 19th century about a giant lumberjack who helped shape the landscape of this country. His mighty axe felled great forests in a day, his footprints created the Great Lakes, and the Rocky Mountains were created when him and his pet Babe the Blue Ox playfully wrestled. I remember all this from grade school so the details may be wonky but here is Paul Bunyan and Babe.

Looks like a friendly pair. Oh wait, sorry, wrong pic.

There we go. That's Paul Bunyan. See, it turns out that Paul was really a hillbilly mutant "who was 6ft tall by the time he was 5!" We are told through painfully long exposition halfway through the film that no matter how big he got, Paul always had the mind of a child. His best, actually, his ONLY friend in the world was Babe the Blue Ox. But one winter was so harsh that the local lumber camp killed and ate Babe. In a fit of rage Paul brutally killed everyone until he was caught (somehow) and thrown into a cave filled with dynamite and then blown up.

Flash forward to the present day and we find Paul Bunyan as a 20-40 foot (depending on the scene) giant and . . .what's that? You want to see a picture of Paul's loveable childhood friend Babe the Blue Ox?

So as I was saying, Paul Bunyan, present day, inconsistent giant, and he's trying to find the horn of Babe that was taken by some douchebag. Before we get there though the first half of the movie is the group of young first time offenders getting to know each other and being tormented by drill-instructor/camp counselor/parole officer who looked vaguely like Commander Riker from Star Trek. There's nudity and high jinks and montages and "fuck this guy, I can't take it anymore" speeches. Pretty standard stuff for these "group of wayward kids find themselves" segments. Commander Riker is a pretty good hard-ass character but his "STUMPS: Stupid Teenagers Under My Protection" are pretty boring.

"Geordi, one half to beam up."

If you can make it through nearly 40 minutes of that, Paul Bunyan shows up and kills a couple people, then it's back to another long story about how Bunyan became crazy, then the last 30 minutes is Bunyan kicking the shit out of a house while the people inside poke him with pitchforks. It's pretty standard monster movie stuff.

The special effects, though, are mind boggling bad. Set aside the top photo of Paul Bunyan holding the woman by the leg, that's bad enough. Let's look at some others:

Exhibit A

Greenscreen after greenscreen after greenscreen. It's Greenception. What is going on there? It looks as bad as those old Full Motion Video games from the 90s like Night Trap. FROM THE 90s! This looks as realistic as walking in front of the screen at a movie theater. No, it's worse than that, it's as bad as filming a guy walking in front of a screen, then filming me walking in front of a television that is currently showing the video of him walking in front of the screen. And then convincing someone else to rent that combination of images for $1.50.

Exhibit B

That . . .that is inexcusable. This is Paul back when he was 5 years old, being dragged into town by the posse. We have the same awful green screen but what's up with those buildings? The perspective is insane, the angles are wrong. It's like the town was built on a Mystery Spot. That fakes dust looks awful and it draws your focus towards Paul's mom jeans. I guess he found the softer side of Sears. Wait. What is that?

What are those people in the doorway doing? That's terrifying!  She already looks terrible herself, I've seen cardboard cutouts with more personality, but what is up with her grey-faced husband? Is he a ghost? Imagine if, today, you were walking down the street and you saw that exact same couple staring out at you from a doorway. Not moving. Not speaking. Just staring.

What would be more horrific, though, is to meet the person who put together this composite shot for this film and thought, "Wow, that looks great. I'm very proud of the way this turned out. Especially that couple in the door way . . .yeah, I'm including this shot in my resume."

If you think I'm nitpicking, I'm not, the SFX look ten times worse in motion. I don't know how many times I rewound the movie to watch Paul Bunyan jumping off a cliff to figure out in what frame he looked the dumbest.

This one. This frame right here.

In the end, though, this is a Slumber Party Movie. It's a movie made for young boys to watch and be amazed and scared and titillated all at the same time. Kids don't care about terrible CGI when boobs and blood are the order of the day. It a fairly rote monster movie with a folk legend in place of Jason Vorhees. Nothing more, nothing less.

So let's talk about Chekov's gun. When an element is presented in a story, it should be used. If it's not used, it shouldn't be there. Fair enough. Usually this stuff is easy to see coming, like in the "Dark Knight Rises" Alfred says "Someday I want to see you in a coffee shop in some other country" and Bruce says "Why,?Yyou can see me right here, everyday" and spends the next two hours fighting Bane and the Joker in the best Batman movie ever made in an alternate universe.

In "Axe Giant," the prologue shows a bunch of lumberjacks eating Babe and Paul showing up and killing them all. The next scene of the movie is in the present, and we see a close up of a recruitment poster for a local militia. Commander Riker walks by, tears the poster down, calls the buffoons and then throws the poster away.

No mention is made of this local group of hoo-hahs until the last five minutes when Paul Bunyan is gunned down by about 20 of the Tea Party's finest. We are treated to a brutally long sequence of gun porn as we see a close up of a rifle barrel, muzzle flare, and then the corresponding wound appearing on Paul's body. This goes on for at least two minutes and then there's the comic relief scene where the militia members argue who shot him the most times in the brain.

Now, there's a lot of things I can say about this sequence. The first one is, obviously, that this is the most mind boggling distracting version of Chekov's Gun I've seen. I think the only reason I even took note of the militia poster in the first place is because I think militias are stupid. If you believe in something strongly enough to prepare for war, and all you do is hide in the mountains that doesn't make you a patriot, that makes you a coward. Stay and fight now, don't hide for the war that may come tomorrow. If I didn't have such strong opinions on militias, hell, if I had just happened to be at the fridge during that 5 second scene showing the militia poster, I would have had no idea what was going on at the end.

That aside, I think what bugs me the most about his ending is that it's unfair. I get Paul Buyan is a giant freak murderer, but he was harmless until the townspeople ate his best friend! He is then punished for retaliating, and blown up in a cave. A hundred years later, he is harmless until some kids desecrate the remains of his dead friend, then he is punished for retaliating by being shot in the brain a hundred times. When did we stop rooting for the underdog? When did we stop rooting for the Goonies and start rooting for the rich kids? I don't understand it, but I'm seeing it in a lot of movies lately.

It would have been one thing if the people that Paul was trying to kill used their wits to kill him. That's the way it normally works. Friday the 13th movies don't end with the National Guard showing up at the nick of time. It's about Cat and Mouse, not Cat and Mouse and Heavily Armed Dog.

The townsfolk who killed him when he was 5 years old were most likely the ancestors of the militia members who killed him a century later. Both of them celebrated the death of a giant retarded guy who they provoked into being aggressive. Sure, it's a Slumber Party Movie but man, what a bizarre subtext to a movie about an American folk legend.


  1. Enjoyed your review. Very well-written. Was going to check it out on Netflix, but you've provided ample warning to do otherwise. Thanks.