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Olympus Has Fallen – Through the Floor

March 28, 2013

I don’t often review movies. Books are more my thing. But occasionally I stumble upon a film so awful that I can’t contain myself. The last one that drove me to apoplexy was 300, in which Gerard Butler and his band of CGI-enhanced, muscle-bound Spartans hold off the Persian army of Xerxes, at Thermopylae.

As a classicist by education, it offended me to the core. Here’s an extract from my purple prose at the time:

“The sad thing is that a generation of Americans will grow up thinking that the Persians deployed regiments of Orks against the Spartans, that Xerxes was a seven-foot body-piercing fetishist, and that the Ephors were a bunch of deformed, leprous perverts who lived on top of a cliff and spent their leisure time groping the Oracle.”

The movie didn’t go down too well with the Iranians, who banned it on the grounds that it was a gross distortion of the nation’s glorious history, which it was. Apart from the historical perversion, it was a supremely awful movie, so the Iranians has the additional menefit of saving their money.

Mr Butler seems to like winding up the Axis of Evil. His latest vehicle, Olympus has Fallen, for which he is co-producer as well as leading man, pits him against the yellow peril – or more specifically a renegade band of North Korean terrorists. These guys are made of sterner stuff than the unfortunate orks. The Olympus in question is a metaphorical home of the Gods: the White House. The yellow peril infiltrates a South Korean delegation visiting the White House at a time of tension between the two Koreas (good timing, huh?).

With more hardware than a company of Navy Seals they proceed to lay waste to the White House and kidnap the President (Aaron Eckhart) and most of the senior members of his administration. It’s left to Morgan Freeman, the Speaker of the House, to don the Presidential mantle he last wore in Deep Impact and negotiate with the terrorists.

Meanwhile the redoubtable Gerard Butler, a Secret Service agent sidelined to the Treasury after saving the president in a car accident at the expense of the First Lady’s life, steps forward. Or rather blasts his way into the body-strewn White House to attempt to save the day.

I will not give the rest of the plot away, but you won’t be surprised to know that many bodies later, Butler prevails over the lead peril (Rick Yune) in a cliffhanging finish that that draws on just about hackneyed device in the book. You just know the world is going to be saved from way back, except that it’s not President Freeman who stands before the world and delivers a rousing endorsement of American values (we will rebuild etc, etc), but President Eckhart.

It’s as though the plot was designed by a computer programmed to select bits from just about every best-selling action movie over the past couple of decades and bolt them together into what is effectively a frankenplot. For example, the destruction of the White House (with references to cheering mobs in the Middle East) begs the question of how the terrorists got hold of a US Air Force C-130 and truckloads of explosives when the 9/11 plotters had to make do with box-cutters.

Whether or not the plot was computer-aided, the CGI was laid on thick and badly (according to my daughter, who knows about these things). I can’t say I noticed. I was too busy counting the bodies and marvelling at each successive cliché. Did I hear “let’s do this”? I’m not sure, but it was there in spirit.

Ironically, about the only saving grace – apart from a muscular score from Trevor Morris – was the performance of Butler himself. He’s actually a versatile and charismatic actor in a Bruce Willis kind of way. When Daniel Craig finally declines the Golden Martini, our hero would make a very acceptable James Bond. The rest of the cast were not challenged. Morgan Freeman was grave and statesmanlike. Susan Sarandon as the Secretary of State feisty and defiant. The rest: typecast baddies and goodies.

Unfortunately Bahrain, where I saw the movie, seems to have an insatiable appetite for the action genre. There’s not much else to see beside romantic comedies and Bollywood. The cinema was packed with young Bahrainis and Saudis enjoying the school holidays. There were even one or two babies who seemed have slept through the whole thing – aurally battered into submission, I suppose. This was another similarity to 300, which I saw in Raleigh, North Carolina – babies there too, unbelievably.

Olympus Has Fallen is a seriously awful movie. You have to wonder why in credit-crunched America anyone in their right mind would finance such crap. I guess because crap sells.

Strange times in Hollywood. Endless sequels and prequels. Sexually explicit movies are apparently on the wane because everyone can access porn these days – making love bad, making war very good indeed. Yet here and there, a few out-of-genre gems remind you that there are still some creative spirits lurking among the dross-makers. At least that’s what I hear, because their work rarely comes to Bahrain.

From now onwards I shall be very careful before going to any movie with classical references. If the redoubtable Professor Mary Beard, classical scholar turned fashion anti-heroine, were to try her hand at scripting a movie, that would be a different matter.

From → Film, Media, Middle East, USA

  1. Nice review. Granted, it is entertaining to watch, but there’s stuff like fake-looking CGI and shaky cam in some parts that get in the way. Still, it can be a very, very fun ride.

    • Thanks for your comment. CGI has become so important in movies these days that sooner or later there’ll be a separate category for it in the Oscars. “Best Visual Effects” is too broad. And what’s the defined point at which a movie becomes “animated”?

      Anyway, I guess I’m getting tired of that kind of ride.


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