Sunday, August 28, 2011

TrollHunter - DVD Review


Blu-ray/DVD Release Date: August, 23 2011

And yet we have ourselves another movie that has gotten wide spread recognition due to the large amount of press it has received from blogs and review sites all over the internet. The one question I always find myself asking though when a film gets a lot of attention merely because of all the people talking about it is whether or not it actually DESERVES that attention.

Review Vital Stats:
Format: DVD
Player: Xbox 360
Monitor: Samsung 40' LCD Series 5
Picture Quality: 480p
Sound Quality: Standard 5.1

Loves: Fresh ideas, originality
Likes: Independent films
Neutral: Mockumentaries
Hates: The "Found Footage" concept
Trolls: Are real!

The northern European film market is starting to become a breeding ground for innovative filmmakers. Last year I caught a little movie from Finland called Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale which was about a mythological Santa Claus that killed kids instead of giving them gifts. This year Norway has graced us with the "mockumentary/found-footage" film TrollHunter in which we follow a small group of people trekking all across the Norwegian countryside in search of the fantasy based creatures. The reason I bring up both films here is because they share a couple common traits with one another beyond their country's of origin, the first of which is that they both have terrific premises. With so many Hollywood films regurgitating vampires, werewolves, zombies and all sorts of other over used creatures it is kind of refreshing to have some new monsters thrown into the mix. But unfortunately the other trait both films share is a poor execution that puts them in a sort of limbo where they are competent and entertaining but they just don't live up to the promise of such original and intriguing ideas.

College students Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Morck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) are out searching for an infamous poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen) who has been accused by the local hunters of illegally killing bears and leaving them to rot. Their goal is to find Hans and ask him a few questions regarding the allegations aimed at him. Once they have tracked him down he is anything but talkative and after telling the kids to go away they still persist and secretly follow Hans into the forest to see what it is he is doing out there all alone in the middle of the night. Without much warning they are suddenly attacked as Hans comes running out of the dark forest yelling "Troll!" as they run for their lives. Despite the sincerity that Hans displays while telling the group of young filmmakers the job he has as the resident Troll Hunter for the TSS (Troll Security Service), Thomas doesn't believe any of it for a second but is amazed by the idea of this man who thinks trolls actually exist and decides to document Hans troll hunting exploits for the next few days.

I don't think this guy is poaching bears.

This was a very frustrating movie to sit through. The world created here is impeccable, the rules and reality constructed for the characters we follow is just plausible enough that it sparks the imagination like no other films of its kind and then it goes ahead and ruins it by presenting everything to us as a documentary style film. Now I have no real issue with documentaries but it is the films that attempt to be "real" by shooting everything from the perspective of the camera man in the movie that rubs me the wrong way. This style of filmmaking works and has worked well, I am a huge fan of things like Cloverfield and even Paranormal Activity but there are usually so many hurdles or obstacles that the film must overcome in order for it to work. What are those obstacles?

First of all I think it is time for any future movies to completely ditch the idea of "found footage". And for anyone unfamiliar with the idea of "found footage", it is when the filmmakers try to make it appear as though the footage we are about to see is from an unknown (but authentic) source and has been edited down to a more digestible portion for viewers. This worked like a charm some 15 years ago when The Blair Witch Project came out and the internet was in its infancy but now that shit doesn't work any more. When I see text at the opening of a movie that tells me the footage I am about to see was found by someone and its legitimacy is still inconclusive I tend to call bull shit on that. I understand they are trying to set a mood but for the love of god it is just all so annoying. I don't mean to take it personal but do they think they are really fooling me with this?

Is that a three headed troll?

Then you have the whole idea of "why would someone be filming this instead of running". This is a question that can never be answered properly or at least to any real satisfaction. While they at least have the premise of these kids being from college and doing this for a project it still doesn't figure in to why they just don't drop their shit and run when they are about to be eaten. As much as this issue bothers me I understand and thus accept the fact that it is a conceit of the genre that will most likely never be remedied. At the very least though TrollHunter handles this problematic issue with grace and was the least distracting fault of the film.

One of the biggest problems with a "found footage" movie though is that of the characters. It's not so much that the characters aren't interesting or the actors do a bad job (although that is often the case) but the format usually robs any sort of attachment we would normally get from a "real" movie. By trying to trick us into thinking this is all real and it is actually happening (note: I stopped being tricked about a decade ago) we never really get to know these people we are following and the abrupt ending that all films, including this one, have is just frustrating and somewhat lazy. Now I am not saying character revelations aren't made because they most certainly are, especially with this film, but what I am trying to get across is that I have never once got invested in a character from a "found footage" film. I don't think it is because I am heartless (although some may say different), I think it has more to do with the fact that because these characters are being portrayed as being "real" they most often come off as giant assholes or complete idiots.

Thomas makes for an appropriately idiotic host for the documentary they are making.

Maybe the right movie just hasn't been made yet to address this issue but as it stands I still cannot get emotional caught up in the lives of these "real" people. The kids in Blair Witch were idiotic and immature, the adults of Cloverfield were all yuppie trash as well as idiots, the parents/couple of Paranormal Activity were complete douche bags or in some cases just way too conceited and the small group of characters in TrollHunter are mostly idiots as well with numerous moments that occur to show off just how stupid they really are. Why do characters or "real" people in these films have to act like this? I know people like this exist in the "real" world but there are also plenty of intelligent people out there as well. I suppose all the intelligent people are too smart to pick up a camera and film stuff with little regard for their own safety. However, there is always an exception to every rule and for TrollHunter that exception goes by the name of Hans.

When I think of a guy that hunts Trolls for a living I picture in my head a fairly crusty, beaten down and weary old man who drives around in a battle scarred truck filled with every conceivable tool needed to take down one of the giant creatures...and that is exactly who Hans is. He is played with just the right amount of disdain and admiration towards the trolls he hunts by Otto Jespersen, when the kids interviewing him call him a hero and he quietly replies back by saying that he isn't a hero because he has a dirty job not a glamorous one, you really get to know everything you need to just from that one sentence. If it were not for the creatures he hunts I would consider Hans to be probably the best thing in the film but the trolls stole the show and deservedly so in my opinion cause if there is one thing the movie gets right it is the malicious and very ill tempered beasties it introduces us to.

Hans is the most well rounded character in the film.

Trolls are not something that is usually used as a basis for an entire movie. They make cameo appearances in just about every popular fantasy franchise you can think of (most notably Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings) but until now they have never been the focal point of the narrative. Another aspect regarding the lore of trolls that TrollHunter rolls out is why there are so many different kinds while also addressing many of the legends surrounding the mythical creatures. Whenever the film would go into full on exposition mode I perked up because I just found everything revolving around the trolls of this world to be fascinating. Through Hans we learn what the differences between a Tosserland, Jotnar and Mountain King troll is and why some turn to stone when exposed to sunlight and others explode into a bloody mess.

The mythology created for the trolls is extremely fleshed out to the point of being kind of ridiculous. As the film progresses we are constantly being introduced to new breeds of trolls and the rules of the game so to speak (the idea that trolls can sniff out someone that believes in god is quite interested for instance). For all my complaints regarding the structure or framework of the film I never once felt bored, it spoon fed me just enough at all the right times to keep my interest level up. The film is often times extremely inventive with its creations and how it is all integrated into a "real" world scenario but for every moment that excites or intrigues it is usually countered by the mockumentary trappings of the genre it is in. There were moments when our lead characters found themselves in some very tense situations but thanks to the idea of us seeing everything through a single camera most of that tension is drained due to us either not being able to tell exactly what is going on or it comes off as overly manufactured and you find yourself taken out of the moment because the "reality" of the film has been broken somehow.

Can you guess what happens when UV light hits a troll?

There is a very good film with a very strong concept backing it buried somewhere within this feature. Everyone had clearly done their homework when it came to creating a world where trolls exist and how we deal with them but it is unfortunately let down by the genre it was placed in. I can only imagine what could have been if it had been treated as an actual movie with an actual story and characters we could get attached to. I understand that there were most likely budgetary concerns that made the filmmakers go the "found footage" route and if that was the case I can't really argue against that. For what they had to work with I think the film is a resounding success, the effects (from multiple companies) were for the most part believable and the acting (the actual characters not withstanding) was good across the board and they constructed a world unlike any I have seen before. If I were to rate it on just the filmmakers ambitions alone it would score extremely high but unfortunately I have to take into consideration my overall lack of enthusiasm for the finished film. While it succeeds at being a modestly entertaining excursion it fails at being the triumph it should and could have been if given the full feature film treatment.


What's on the disc?

This feels kind of like a lost opportunity. There are plenty of features here (more than I was expecting considering how small the film is) and they deliver for the most part but what I mean by a lost opportunity is that given how much effort was put into the actual film to make us think it was "real" footage we were watching I would have thought the people putting this disc together would have made more of an effort to present these features in a manner befitting the format of the movie. If there were any one person who actually bought into the idea that this was a "real" film, cough....dumb ass...cough, that reality would have been shattered the minute they saw there were visual effects used and deleted scenes. I am not going to pretend that any of what I am saying matters but it would have been nice just for continuities sake if the reality they were trying to create in the movie were carried over to the extras on the disc. That being said though there is some good stuff to be found here.

Since when does "real" footage have improv scenes?


Note: All the features in each category are available to be played together or individually.

Deleted Scenes - These deleted scenes are really rather unimportant and it is easy to see why they were cut.

- Hans is Collecting Evidence (:36 min) - Small scene showing Hans going through the motions of collecting evidence of recent troll activity.

- If You're Driving at 80KPH  (:24 min) - Small talk between Thomas and Johanna while driving.

- At Finn's (:43 min) - Hans meets Finn at a hotel for more intel and work.

- Wolf Wolf! (1:24 min) - Our group at another location where a troll attack occurred and the locals think it was a wolf attack..

- Troll Hairball (:27 min) - Hans finds a pile of twigs, branches and rocks that a troll had apparently spit up.

Improvs and Bloopers - The first two scenes are improvs and the third feature is the collection of bloopers. Don't know why these weren't given their own two categories but whatever.

- Trashed Car (:52 min) - Thomas accuses Hans of blowing up his car with landmines.

- Frozen Pizza and Hunter's Stew (:28 min) - Hans introduces Thomas and friends to his special stew.

- Bloopers (:45 min) - A very small assortment of on set screw ups.

The director gives some thoughts about his film.

Extended Scenes - These extended scenes were much more interesting that any of the deleted scenes with a couple of them that would have been nice if they were kept in the finished film.

- The Electricity Goes Nowhere (2:27 min) - At the power station Thomas asks a few more questions to the person in charge about why the power grid goes in a circle and leads nowhere.

- Pioter's Painter Service (3:28 min) - Extended interview with the guys that supply Finn and Hans with the dead bears.

- Breakfast at the Diner (1:59 min) - Hans explains in more detail about Trolls as some of the local residents overhear his conversation.

Visual Effects - (Note: There is no audio for any of the features in this section) - These rather brief and to the point looks at how the trolls were created are informative and was also when I realized that different effects houses were responsible for different trolls (each video has the studio name watermarked on to the footage).

- Visual Effects Breakdown: Ringlefinch (1:24 min) - A very simple montage of different effects used to create the Ringlefinch encounter.

- Digital Models (:27 min) - A trio of digital models broken down along with some provided statistics.

- Jotnar (2:09 min) - A breakdown of how the entire Jotnar scene was achieved.

- Tosserland & Mountain Kings (2:06 min) - Footage shown in montage form from both scenes however there isn't much information given on how the effects were achieved.

The effects created for the film really are remarkable.

Behind the Scenes - Now this is some pretty good stuff and probably the most informative bits of information on how the film was made.

- Troll Foot (2:23 min) - The "real" film crew constructing and filming the scene where Hans smashes the foot of the Tosserland troll.

- Good Vibes at the Shoot (2:01 min) - We get to see the high spirits of everyone on set while shooting.

- While We Wait (3:05 min) - The crew discussing and dealing with having nothing to do on the set for a day.

- Russian Bear (2:09 min) - The filming of the news crews who find the remains of a bear under a bridge.

- The Tin Man (6:41 min) - Filming the Ringlefinch scene at the bridge.

- The Beard (2:37 min) - The actor who plays Hans getting his beard applied; I had no idea that wasn't his real beard.

- Movie Stars (4:26 min) - The cast acting silly and showing off as they go through their daily routines. My favorite bit from this was when the actor who plays Thomas tries to repeat a famous phrase, "When the tough gets the worse of it, the tough gets going".

The atmosphere on the set was pretty light.

Photo Galleries - These are nice additions but it would have been nice if they were presented in a fashion where we could just skip through them instead of it being a video.

- Troll Sketches (1:20 min) - Sketches played to a rendition of "In the Hall of the Mountain King".

- Troll Habitats (4:51 min) - Images of the beautiful Norwegian landscape used as the backdrop for the film and once again played to a longer version of "In the Hall of the Mountain King".

HDNet: A Look at Troll Hunter - (4:20 min) - It was kind of funny that I didn't even realize there were no interviews or after the fact comments from any of the filmmakers until I got to this feature. While it is only a few minutes it was still nice to see what the director had to say about his film.

Everyone involved in the film seemed to enjoy the experience quite a lot.

Final Verdict:

I cannot deny the originality in this film's premise of a man that must wrangle and hunt trolls while also trying to keep it a secret from the populace. If that sounds intriguing to you then I think you just might find a lot to like from the film. My complaints about the style of filmmaking used for the movie may not be shared by others but I cannot fully recommend a movie that felt lifeless to me. I did not care about anybody in the movie, I could care less about the mission they were on and it was only the scattered moments when a troll came on screen or when someone was talking about trolls that the film ever transcended its failures. The extra features are abundant and help show off what I can only guess was a labor of love for the filmmakers. As for the audio and video, although I saw this on DVD, given the picture quality for the hand held camera used I cannot imagine it having much sharper of an image for Blu-ray. Despite the flawed framework of the film I would still recommend you...

Movie   -  B-
Video   -  A
Audio   -  A
Extras  -  B




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