Friday, January 18, 2013

Razorback (1984) dir. Russell Mulcahy

Logline: A gigantic razorback has been terrorizing the denizens of the Australian outback, decimating houses, stealing grandchildren, and scarfing down wives, with his existence only acknowledged by a few true believers. The husband (Gregory Harrison) of a North American reporter who was gobbled up by the mythical hog arrives down under to investigate and smells some wicked bacon cooking in the air.

Animal of Choice: A big ol' hog.

Thinking Ecologically: Ecological concerns are minimized in Razorback, if not dismissed outright. One native Australian laments, "these boars are eating us out of house and home," and we're informed that their newfound voracity is a result of an increasing illness among the population, but there's no chatter as to the sickness being human-made. By way of the efforts of the American investigative reporter (Judy Morris), there is some fleeting concern expressed over the wanton and widespread hunting of Australian wildlife for slaughterhouse processing, but the film evacuates any validity from her cause the minute she's devoured by the same wildlife that she has come to Australia to protect. The film's Australian landscape possesses a harsh beauty, but it's the beauty of nightmares. Razorback does not romanticize the land it sees as rotten, dangerous, and in need of bloody cleansing.

Thinking About Animals: The titular pig is monstrously sized-- as big as a hippo-- and unambiguously characterized as an insatiable and unstoppable demon. In the film's opening scene, he explodes through the wall of a house, stealing a child and leaving the decimated abode in flames. He appears suddenly and mysteriously in the night like some creature of legend, spooking the locals without ever confirming his own existence. And yet, in spite of the threat he poses, the film backs up the assertion that he's just a dumb animal. We're told that because boars have small brains and extremely basic central nervous systems, they only exist in one of two states: "dangerous or dead." This allows our big boar to take multiple gunshot and stab wounds and keep moving, but it also compels him to follow our clever hero down a conveyor belt at the slaughterhouse, tricking the pig into stampeding right into some whirring fan blades. The significance of the razorback dying by use of what essentially becomes an enormous meat grinder is not lost: the avenging spirit of the hunted Australian wildlife, exacting supernatural revenge against the human hunters for all of their cruelty in murdering kangaroos and boars, is converted down to a status that devalues the symbolic significance of his reign of terror. Pieces of meat.

Evaluation in Brief: Russell Mulchay was the premiere music video director of the 1980s, crafting numerous videos for Duran Duran, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Ultravox, and countless others. Heck, in directing the watershed video for The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," the first music video to be aired on MTV in 1981, one could claim that Mulcahy established the general tone and format of the next two decades of music videos. But then he made his first feature film, Razorback, in 1984 and it completely bombed at the box office (not even a $1 million return on a $5.5 million investment). He recovered his film career (if only momentarily) with the modest though enduring hit Highlander (1986), but his films never gained the critical or commercial acclaim that they perhaps should have. For one, Razorback is a fine film, composed with a mind towards atmosphere, suspense, and visual dynamics. Courtesy of Mulcahy and DP Dean Semler (who also worked, not coincidentally, on the second two Mad Max films), the sun-ravaged Australian landscape takes on a nearly hallucinatory feel at points, illuminating odd rock and land formations bathed in high contrast primary colors, as the razorback lurks just out of the camera's sight in the brush, perhaps himself a gruesome mirage. Razorback, for its intensity and the surety of its cinematic vision, is one worth tracking down.

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