Uwe Boll – is he the worst director ever?
2007: Bush was still president of the United States, NME were trying really hard to make everyone like Glasvegas and critics were lining up with socks full of wet sand to punish Uwe Boll for his atrocious video-game-to-movie adaptations.
2011: We have an American President who can probably do actual magic spells. My Glasvegas t-shirt is in a box with ‘Car boot sale’ written on it. And as for Boll, well… in 2007 he made Postal (a satirical screwball comedy which was neither satirical nor comic) and the breathtakingly rubbish Bloodrayne sequel, and the critical community has had sod all else to say about him ever since. So Uwe finally took all that constructive criticism on board and gave up the ghost, right?
…nah. He’s actually directed and released TEN more films, six of which he wrote himself. Even legendary workaholic Michael Winterbottom only managed four films and a six episode TV series in that time. Stranger still, only two of these films are based on video games, and one of those is another Bloodrayne sequel, which everyone definitely wanted. My curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to check out a handful of these flicks. Is Boll due for a reappraisal? Has he learnt from his mistakes?
Well, this is awkward, but I had way too much fun with Far Cry, the non-Bloodrayne video game adaptation and the most expensive of Boll’s recent films (more on that in a minute..). Not to say that it’s actually good. Far Cry is textbook straight-to-DVD fodder, with an awful script, dreadful visual effects and a largely hopeless supporting cast. That said, Til Schweiger (though clearly miscast as the originally American protagonist) makes for a charming and engaging action hero, chewing up some god-awful lines with gusto and somehow surviving history’s most awkward seduction scene – it’s the ‘shared bodily warmth’ bit from The Spy Who Loved Me, but stretched to eight minutes. The antagonist is pleasingly nasty in a mad scientist kind of way, the pacing and running time are spot on, and at least half of the action sequences are competently executed. We’ve forgiven Arnie for worse. Should Uwe be elected to government and allowed to spawn hella illegitimate kids?
No. HELL NO. See, we knew Uwe wasn’t quite the full shilling when he challenged his critics to a fight and subsequently beat the tar out of them, and anyone who caught his ultra-violent-and-actually-alright horror Seed and its *shudder* hammer scene will know that he dabbles in extreme content. But none of that excuses Stoic, a prison drama which is about stoicism in much the same way that rain on your wedding day is ironic.
Opening with a mind-numbing poker game which precedes an hour of unprovoked, comically horrific torture, Stoic is an ordeal, not a film. Even without taking the grotesque ‘set pieces’ into account, there’s the stunted improvised dialogue, the turgid pace and the pointless, repetitive talking head interviews which take up half of the runtime and are mostly made up of weeping.
The only interesting thing about Stoic is its tiny $2 million budget, a huge step down from Far Cry’s $30 million. There’s a reason for this; if you’ve ever wondered ‘How does Uwe Boll keep getting such big budgets?’, here’s your answer. Until 2005, the German government offered a hefty tax break to any business who invested large sums in German film. Until the plug was pulled on the scheme, Boll was one of the only directors who took advantage of it as was intended, and, luckily for him, the quality of the end product was irrelevant. Unfortunately for us, Boll decided to struggle on after the scheme, scraping together miniscule budgets and making small, largely handheld features on the fly. But could he recover from the Stoic fiasco?
The answer: kind of. Rampage, which is about an Angry Young Man who dons a homemade Kevlar suit of armour and decides to tackle what he sees as an overpopulation problem, sounds downright evil on paper. However Rampage, though tragically flawed, actually has a lot going for it. Again, it’s stupidly short, and actually seems to be missing its second reel; the protagonist starts gunning folk down before we’ve seen him have any cause to do so. It’s full of moments that make no sense, such as a mid-massacre scene in a bingo hall where he simply has some lunch, in full armour, and doesn’t shoot anyone. There’s also the slightly worrying fact that Boll doesn’t seem to have picked a side; is he for this nutter, or against him?
That said, the hand-held camera work is spot on, the soundtrack is genuinely great and there are a few fine, naturalistic performances. It also boasts Boll’s best ending by a country mile, with a twist that might actually catch you napping. And so, annoyingly, what should have been Boll officially declaring himself psychotic in front of an audience became halfway watchable (if morally dubious)…
We finish with both of Boll’s most obvious attempts at worthiness: Darfur and Auschwitz. Not only do the two titles together look like a staggeringly ill-advised romantic comedy, but they can also be reviewed using almost exactly the same words. For example: ‘Darfur/Auschwitz is Boll’s attempt to expose an atrocity that the world knows little about/is well aware of, but it’s fatally undermined by its graphic and exploitative violence (such as the bit when someone puts a baby on a spike/in an oven).’
It’s a shame, because the ongoing conflict in Darfur really, really needs the exposure – so kudos to Boll for at least having a go, albeit an amateurish, basically unwatchable go. However, less praise is due for the slightly better but utterly pointless Auschwitz. He claims that it finally reveals the real truth about the final solution, which implies that he actually wasn’t on earth during the 90’s. The cynic in me might accuse Boll of exploiting Germany’s history for a few shock dollars. And I’m a right cynical bastard.
Boll appears to be a man not entirely in his right mind. There’s a childlike element of idiocy to all of these films: the infantile sexual banter in Far Cry, the extensive use of bodily fluids in Stoic, the oppressive parents in Rampage, the belief that extreme violence is the most effective way to inspire sympathy in his cause films. He has clearly picked up some filmmaking ability during the last few years, but who wouldn’t after making that many films? You don’t read a lot of books without learning a few new words.
There’s also the problem of his chosen subject matter. His video game adaptations at least came pre-packaged with plots (kind of) and themes (again, tenuous), whereas when left to his own devices Boll consistently goes to dark, unpleasant places: torture, mass murder, genocide. Tellingly, his next feature after Auschwitz is Blubberella, a violent action comedy about a woman with chronic obesity who fights Nazis.
Boll may have shown signs of improvement, but once you’ve been declared the worst director of your generation one of two things happens: you improve, or you reach critical mass and the subsequent explosion destroys Germany. To cap an unwieldy conclusion on this whole experiment, Boll is not worthy of a reappraisal. A little improvement doesn’t mean he should be encouraged to continue.