August 2000

Tetsuo II : Body Hammer

Yet again, a sequel which isnt a patch on the original. Tetsuo II : Body Hammer is essentially a bigger budget and full colour remake of Tetsuo : The Iron Man but, while it maintains some of the energy of the original film, the frenetic muti-themed plot has been dropped in favour of a simpler mad-scientists/conspiracy of violence story with plenty of action-slowing breaks to explain what is going on.

The story centres on an average Japanese family - father, mother and a young son - and begins in earnest when the son is snatched from between his parents in a shopping mall. The parents give chase in a sequence in which the jarring and disjointed camerawork effectively conveys the sense of panic and confusion experienced by the parents and whose resolution pretty much sets both the storyline and the tone for the rest of the film.

The father becomes the victim of an experiment, sponsored by a violent and destructive conspiracy, to see if he can be induced to sprout weapons if suitably enraged. The results of the experiment are not entirely as expected and the reasons for this are explained via a series of flashbacks to the fathers forgotten childhood. The plot works pretty well and manages to keep you hooked throughout the film, but lacks the dense layering of themes that made The Iron Man such a mindblowing experience.

And, to be honest, my main problem with Body Hammer is that, compared to The Iron Man it looks so plain. The stop-motion animation used to portray the metal morphosis in The Iron Man has been abandoned in favour of more conventional special effects - and these look more cheap than surreal. The characters have names, the settings look ordinary. The film is bizarre but not that bizarre.

There is a lot more explanation of what is going on in Body Hammer which, while making the plot easier to follow, slows it down so that it lacks the frenetic pacing that was such a signature of The Iron Man. The shaky, panicked camerawork used in the chase sequences is initially effective, but is overused later in the film until it becomes more annoying than effective.

That said, there is still a lot in this film that is worth seeing. The relationsip between the father and his wife as the film progresses is well handled and (largely) believable and the action sequences are spectacular. The plot drives the film forward in a manner that holds your attention from start to finish and then resolves itself in a manner that is reasonably satisfying but a little too neat.

Although it lacks the raw stylistic energy of The Iron Man, Body Hammer is still a bizarre and action packed blast of adrenaline and one which Id have probably given four stars to if I hadnt watched The Iron Man. If you can get hold of Tetsuo : The Iron Man, watch it. If not, you could do a lot worse than Tetsuo II : Body Hammer.

Chicken Run

Chicken Run Nick Park and Peter Lord take their superbly original combination of cracking character based animated comedy and wonderfully manic machinery which worked so well with Wallace and Gromit and transfer it to the big screen with the first full length feature from Aardman Animation - the undisputed masters of claymation. And this is a Good Film! Not only does the humour stretch very successfully over ninety minutes, the extra time allows the comedy and the characters to be developed in one film rather than having to make three short films to get there.

This film is essentially The Great Escape with chickens.

The barbed-wire enclosed Tweedy chicken farm takes the place of Stalag Luft North and the plot revolves around hen with a dream, Ginger (Julia Sawalha) and her attempts to organise a mass escape from the farm. After repeated failed escape attempts, a resigned air descends over the farm with Bunty leading the faction who start to say that the problems are caused by the escape attempts and that life would be better for all if they just accepted their lot.

Two events give the escape plans a new impetus. The first is the arrival of Rocky the Flying Rooster (Mel Gibson) who, after pressure from Ginger and swooning hero worship from the rest of the female population of the farm, agrees to stay and teach them all to fly to freedom. The second event is the discovery of Mrs Tweedys plans for the future of the farm.

This is a superb film, packed with great characters all of whom are well realised. Miranda Richardsons characterisation of Mrs Tweedy as a superbly stereotyped northern battleaxe, the two rats who act as scroungers, Wing Commander Fowler and his constant RAF stories and the spinelessly inept Mr Tweedy all effortlessly add depth and humour to this ensemble animation.

And then theres the sight gags. There are tons of these and one with so much going on in the background that youll need to watch the film several times just to see it all.

It took five years to make Chicken Run. I sincerely hope we dont have to wait another five years for the next Aardman feature. But if we do, itll be worth it.