26
Nov 09

It’s Oh So White

FT/1 comment • 239 views

There is a sequence in Werner Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World, where we see the Camp McMurdo safety training procedure. There is a large proportion of it that involves people wearing buckets (which the recruits have painted happy smiling faces on) on their heads to simulate the complete lack of visibility caused by a whiteout, a storm where literally all you can see is snow. Its a well shot sequence, funny without ever losing the edge of danger.

There is a similar sequence in Whiteout, the South pole crime thriller whose trailers pretended it was potentially a horror film. In the Whiteout sequence the camp Doctor gets some newbies to take their jackets off outside, to explain to them how quickly the cold will effect them. There are no happy smiling faces on buckets, just a man vaguely injuring people to tell them how much they would be killed if they were to do something as stupid as what HE TOLD THEM TO DO. It is symptomatic of Whiteout’s stupidity and lack of conviction that this sequence exists to tell the audience that “The South Pole is cold”. We knew that.

Herzog’s documentary is another of his “isn’t nature wonderful – but you know it wants to kill us” films he does so well. There is a terrific section when he realises that the kind of people drawn to working in Antarctica are just travellers, telling more tedious travellers tales about the time they were in Guatemala. He manages in that one sequence (where he cuts a very long story, very short) to humanise everyone on the base. Whiteout, with its flashbacks to Kate Beckinsale’s US Marshall past, doesn’t manage to humanise its characters beyond twinkly eyes or moody frowns. I quite liked the Greg Rucka comic it was based on, a hard boiled crime thriller whose mystery was enliven by its setting. It also helped that the art took full advantage of the very name of the book, on a white page, a few white panels really does convey blindness perfectly, it is something comics rarely does, the white panel*. The same should be true of cinema. Its black canvas is the white cinema screen, though notably a all white sequence of film will still be considerably brighter than a blank screen. But Whiteout never has the conviction of this simplicity, it rarely attempts to represent the Whiteout of its title, and even then we get powdered snow and shades of white thrown at the screen with a cacophonous volume. I doesn’t help that the mystery which just about sustained a few comics, is pretty obvious, or indeed that one characters sex has changed to remove one intriguing aspect of the original. Frankly there is more suspense in Encounters At The End Of The World, albeit waiting for Herzog to go stir crazy and kill one of the hippies he finds himself locked up with!

*Except when multiverses end. Then they are de rigeur.

Comments

  1. 1
    swanstep on 26 Nov 2009 #

    Whiteout does indeed sound (from all reviews) like a waste of a movie. Snow etc. gives you an incredible combination of lots and lots of light around with abstraction/stylization/purification of the landscape. That often has helped make for wonderfully atmospheric films (Fargo, Sweet Hereafter, Affliction, Simple Plan, The Claim, even Eternal Sunshine, etc.). This has perhaps tempted inferior filmmakers to use the same element, without really thinking about what they want to do with it.

    I’ve been in one true whiteout, and I can report that it was an amazing experience. Most surprising part: losing all depth of vision confounded the vertical. I was in a car and had the *very* vivid impression(for at least 15 minutes) of driving into nothing, and moving slowly, not forward (no depth remember) but *vertically* up a blank page.

    Lastly, straight guys everywhere shed a further tear for Beckinsale’s inability to get herself into a watchable film.

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