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AT LARGE: Video killed the movies

AT LARGE: Video killed the movies

Don't go see The Transporter. By the time you read this it will have been out for several weeks, and I know for many of you that will mean this advice is far too late to be helpful. But for those who haven't seen it yet and may be considering parting with their hard-earned moneys, please heed my words.

It's an awful film.

In it, Jason Statham, who I believe is British (hard to tell - he affects a bizarre Cockney/Bronx accent that's very hard to listen to without becoming irritated), plays an ex-military type who hires himself out as a sort of "super driver", delivering packages, driving getaway cars and whatnot. The opening scenes imply that he Knows About Cars at a deep, fundamental level and that he is Not To Be Trifled With on that subject. Not only does he know how to operate his car in ways both subtle and spectacular, but he knows how to modify it to the requirements of the job at hand - different shock absorbers depending on the weight of the passengers and the likely terrain, and suchlike.

To extend the simile of my column of two weeks ago, he's like a Linux geek for BMWs.

Problem is, it doesn't follow through. After the "super driver" setup, the car chases are just car chases. There's nothing preternatural about them - in fact they're kind of ordinary. When he's forced to drive a lesser vehicle, a run-down Renault, he drives it beyond its limitations and leaves it belching smoke at the side of the road.

Crime scenes

The film's major crime, though, is its video-game logic. I've said it before and I'll say it again: whoever was the first person to say that video games have "plots" has a lot to answer for. There have been more movie adaptations of video games than I care to enumerate here, and I would be hard-pressed to name a good one.

A typical modern computer or video game has a beginning and a middle and an end. There are clearly defined goals (in good games anyway) for the players to strive towards. Often there is a back story that fleshes out characters and explains who the evil minions are and why one should attempt to defeat them rather than recognise that one is outnumbered and just get used to the new regime.

This doesn't count as a plot, but the surfeit of game-adapted movies has lowered the expectations of audiences to the point that they accept that this much is sufficient.

Thus, The Transporter. It's not based on a video game, but it may as well be. Witness the seemingly interminable fight sequence that forms the film's centrepiece. One minion after another lines up to take on Statham, who always wins because the baddies take him on individually even when they have the advantage of numbers. As he progresses through the fight sequence, the baddies become more difficult, occasionally attacking in pairs or even threes. Note that there will be three or four sets of three baddies lined up to take him on at any one time, but each group still acts individually. Lazy programming.

As the fight becomes more difficult, he is given the means to increase his strength: conveniently placed bicycles, drums of motor oil and other props appear, magically, at the edges of the fight arena.

As well as increasing in number, of course, the minions increase in strength - just like in a video game. In real life, evil people such as crime bosses and Bill Gates (it's a joke, Bill, please don't sue me) are just normal people who surround themselves with very strong minions to disguise their own weakness. In video games, evil supervillains are extremely strong and capable fighters, who surround themselves with weak, feeble-minded troops who may or may not be capable of repelling an attack by Smurfs.

And so it is in The Transporter. Having dispatched the minions, Statham then has to take on the ultimate big baddie, who is tougher than all of them put together. There is a back story to the film, just as there is for Tekken 4, but not as interesting as that one. It has to do with smuggling illegal immigrants, and it's such an afterthought that several people I saw it with didn't even notice it.

A better and cheaper evening's entertainment would be provided by staying home and watching someone else play Quake.

Matthew JC. Powell wants to see something decent this weekend. Suggestions to mjcp@optushome.com.au.


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