A few days ago, I was rather amused to see that many people remember Sam Raimi for a number of recent horror flicks produced by him instead of the Evil Dead trilogy or “Drag Me to Hell” (2009), and now I am wondering whether these people know Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Like Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton, this French filmmaker delighted me and other audiences via a series of whimsically offbeat works, and I was certainly charmed by “Amélie” (2001) again when it happened to be re-released in South Korean theaters a few months ago.
As reviewing “Amélie”, I checked Jeunet’s recent filmmaking activities, and I was a little depressed to see that he was not so successful or prominent during last decade. After “A Very Long Engagement” (2004), there came “Micmacs” (2009) and “The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet” (2013), but they did not draw as much attention as his more successful works, and that was followed by quite a long period of absence before he worked on his latest film “BigBug”.
After coming to learn that “BigBug” would be soon released on Netflix, I was certainly intrigued, but, alas, I only got mixed feelings when I watched it at last night. Sure, the movie has all those distinctively whimsical touches you can expect from Jeunet, and I accordingly felt a bit nostalgic during my viewing, but I also have to tell you that the movie is too thin and shallow in terms of story and characters as often spinning its wheels in its small fancy playground.
The story, which is set in a suburban area outside Paris around the middle of the 21st century, is your average comic dystopian tale, and the opening scene catches us off guard with a bizarre reality TV show showing people letting themselves treated like animals by android robots. In this futuristic world, almost everything is taken care of by robots and computers, and the early part of the movie gives us several amusing moments as its several human main characters are casually enjoying themselves inside a house while frequently served by their dutiful robots.
Not long after a few more human figures come into the house, something strange begins to happen. At first, the people in the house are not so alarmed by a TV news report on the inexplicable traffic jam in the city, but then they belatedly come to realize how serious the situation really is outside. For some rather unspecified reason, a bunch of android robots called “Yonyx”, who incidentally look a lot like the robot hero of “RoboCop” (1987) without helmet, suddenly start a big-scale dominion on humans with no mercy or consideration, and this sudden emergency leads to the quick lockdown on the house and everyone inside it by the computer system in the house.
What follows next is a quirky cross between the works of Jacques Tati and Luis Buñuel. Helplessly stuck inside the house just like those bourgeois characters of Buñuel’s “The Exterminating Angel” (1962), the human characters try to find any possible way to get out of the house, but, not so surprisingly, their desperate attempts fail again and again to our little amusement. For example, they try to break the glass of the windows, but, of course, these glass windows turn out to be nearly unbreakable, and we later get a funny scene where they try again with a much bigger object.
In the meantime, several robots in the house try to serve the humans in the house as much as they are programmed to do, and then they come to have a sort of evolution process as getting to know more about humanity. Although humanity remains an alien concept to them as before, they still try their best for understanding and then embracing it, and that leads to their silly conversation on some corny matters of existence.
As frequently going back and forth between its human and robot characters, the movie tries to generate more fun and laugh, but it is not always successful in my humble opinion. Several comic scenes involved with the carnal desire of the human characters are rather repetitive and tiresome instead of amusing and tickling us, and there is not enough depth or intrigue on the ‘emotional development’ of the robot characters along the story, which is mostly perfunctory without much surprise for us. Furthermore, both the robot and human characters in the film are more or less than broad neurotic caricatures, and we come to observe them from the distance without much care or interest, though I must tell you that the robot characters are much more colorful than the human characters at least (I actually grew fond of that little cute white robot, by the way).
During its second half, the movie becomes a bit darker and more serious with the appearance of a certain robot figure, and, sadly, that is where it becomes more predictable and pedestrian. Although I enjoyed how the human characters execute a rather brilliant plan involved with lots of frozen clothes, the following action sequence did not engage me much as merely destroying lots of stuffs in the house, and the finale feels pretty contrived to say the least.
Overall, “Big Bug” shows that Jeunet is still a colorful filmmaker who gave us “Delicatessen” (1991) and “Amélie”, but it is a disappointing misfire as being merely quirky and whimsical without much substance to hold our attention. I would rather recommend the two aforementioned films instead, but it is nice to see another work from Jeunet, and I sincerely hope that he will soon get another chance to make a movie.