Friday, April 13, 2007

Aqua Teen Hunger Force vs. Grindhouse

athf.jpgI’ve seen at least one article that says the poor box office performance of Grindhouse, which reportedly had a budget of some $70 million but made only $12 million or so its opening weekend, has studio executives looking with great anticipation at films with far smaller budgets but cultish audiences potentially just as large as Grindhouse’s — and this week, that means Aqua Teen Hunger Force, or rather Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, which was reportedly produced for less than $1 million. But I’ll call both the Cartoon Network series (on during the late-night “Adult Swim” block) and the movie, which opens tomorrow, ATHF for simplicity.

In a world of increasingly sarcastic, metafictional, and strange animated series, ATHF is still something special — the surreal yet mundane adventures of three talking pieces of fast food (Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad) who were originally supposed to be superheroes, patrolling the New Jersey shore and fighting off the monstrous creations of Dr. Weird, but have evolved into just a trio of do-nothing males in a shabby, frat-like house who spend a lot of time using their hairy, balding, hypermasculine neighbor Carl’s swimming pool without permission and getting into stupid arguments. (One of the show’s many non-sequiturs is the title sequence itself, which tells us nothing relevant about the show besides the names of the characters, who are seen in highly unrepresentative adventure montages defending Earth from aliens and the like, set to a gangsta rap by Schooly D about how ATHF is “number one in the ’hood, G.” and how Master Shake is the “Shake-zula, the mike-rulah,” when Master Shake is plainly neither zula nor rulah but in fact one of the most delightful combinations of arrogant jerk and nitwit ever to grace the small screen. As he self-importantly bellows after a perfectly reasonable suggestion from his comrade Meatwad: “I was not put on this Earth to listen to meat.”)

From a crudely-drawn show full of almost free-associative, fever-dream-like plots (as in the episode where a robot appears, claiming to be the Ghost of Christmas Past, and explains Carl’s blood-filled pool as the fulfillment of an ancient curse related to the violent true story of the first Christmas), ATHF has now blossomed into a crudely-drawn eighty-seven-minute adventure with a cool promotional poster painted by legendary fantasy-novel artists Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.

I couldn’t be happier for them, and if number-crunching, dimwitted studio personnel end up seeing ATHF as a huge financial success and sit around torturing themselves trying to figure out how to avoid an imagined Grindhouse “formula” and embrace an imagined ATHF “formula,” so much the better (not because I want fewer movies like Grindhouse — I was part of the admittedly small niche audience it was designed for, and I liked it just fine — nor because I think there’s any hope of studio execs deliberately replicating the insanity of ATHF, but rather just because I like the thought of the dimwitted studio execs sweating and being confused).

An added anarchist appeal to the new film is the fact that it was originally intended for a smaller, earlier release but got pushed back for a wider release after the added publicity caused by the idiotic incident in Boston in which local police panicked over promotional signs, bizarrely mistaken for possible terrorist devices (despite having been up all over the country for weeks without any similar panics erupting), which depicted ATHF’s videogame-like enemies called the Mooninites (who, as it happens, often commit acts of mayhem on the TV show and brag about how much smarter they are than Earthlings). The incident led to the arrest of two marketing workers who’d put up the signs, and they rightly refused to take the arrest seriously, spending their subsequent press conference declining to take questions about any topic other than their haircuts. Their lawyer was probably alarmed, but if we’re ever going to laugh off the state altogether one day, as we should, we would do well to imitate these obnoxious but brave men — and never, never forget the sacrifices made by Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I may have to see it twice.

P.S. We could use more surrealism and humor in music, too, which is why I was very pleased to see my friend J.R. Taylor praising the brilliant band Life in a Blender on his excellent blog, RightWingTrash, the other day.

P.P.S. And by the way, Harvey Weinstein’s reported plan to improve Grindhouse’s box office totals by breaking the movie up into two separate films is wrongheaded and doomed — Grindhouse works, to whatever extent and for however dinky an audience it works at all, precisely because it replicates the feeling of being at a drive-in double feature (for those of us old enough to actually remember drive-in double features, however dimly — I think that’s how I saw The Cat from Outer Space, Corvette Summer, Battle Beyond the Stars, the Get Smart movie The Nude Bomb, and, in a tragic technological miscalculation, Battlestar Galactica in SenSurround). If anything, Grindhouse could use some editing to bring it down to the length of one average film. Break it in two, and what you have instead of one decent film that mimics two trashy horror films is just…two trashy horror films. Let this one go, Harvey, and have Tarantino and Rodriguez atone for it with sequels to Kill Bill and Sin City.

P.P.P.S. I haven’t looked into this, but I’d bet a big pile of cash Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse starred — and indeed, was probably written in large part for — Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill stunt double, because she sure looked the part.


cb said...

I did look into this. Zoe Bell was indeed Uma’s stunt double for Kill Bill.

Todd Seavey said...

[...] I bring up the burrito in Captain America’s pants, though, because it strikes me as a sort of cultural crossroads that touches on many of the topics recently covered in this blog. Even as DC Comics has recently depicted World War III, Marvel has recently depicted a Civil War among its superheroes, followed closely by World War Hulk, and in between, tragically, Captain America was shot and killed. It’s bad enough he died mere weeks ago, but the burrito incident makes it difficult to think of him having died with dignity. (And as it happens, a reproductive burrito figures prominently in the plot of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie.) [...]

Peter Bessman said...

ATHFCMFFT was the funniest thing I have seen in a long ass time. Get the soundtrack.