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Weekly Musings #18 - The Case for Irreverence
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: October 18th 2004
The high point of the last weekend I had wasn't video games - in fact, I played almost no video games at all, with the exception of some Guilty Gear Isuka. The high point was getting out to the movies and seeing Team America: World Police. (trailer available from Team America is of course the latest movie offering (the fourth now) from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creative geniuses behind the animated series South Park. True to form, the movie goes out of its way to offend people - but it's an equal opportunity offender. Hollywood actors that believe their fame makes them authorities, overzealous policing and military policies, terrorists, Michael Moore... nothing is held back, everything is satirized.

Despite this, the movie will probably not see an Academy Award nomination, as South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut did. Heck, given that they went after big members of the Screen Actors Guild (thinly disguised as the Film Actors Guild and referred to constantly with the appropriate acronym), it might just get them blackballed for a few years. Which is too bad, because the movie does an amazing number of things right.

The first thing the movie does right is special effects. Yes, they're using marionettes. Yes, you can see the wires. Yes, when they walk - or fight - it's with the traditional jerky marionette movements, on a scale even worse than old puppet-animation shows like Thunderbirds. Despite this, they spent an enormous amount of time making the faces believable; they're not just wooden heads with flapping mouths, but complex animatronics that are manipulated to show emotions incredibly well. The scenery sets open up wonders too; except for moments when the movie deliberately breaks the fourth wall (I'd tell you, but it'd be a spoiler) the sets are amazingly, intricately decorated. Even when obviously puppetry, there's something just wrong about seeing Paris destroyed, followed by Team America telling the French "it's okay, we've stopped the terrorists."

In terms of music, just like in South Park (and with one transplanted song, the "montage" song from the South Park episode "Asspen"), there's brilliance at work. The music is campy, cheesy, and of course without shame; whether it's the roll-out music ("America, fuck yeah"), the opinings of "Roneryness" from Kim Jong-Il (they used the patented "City Wok" voice for him), or the "love song" about how badly Pearl Harbor sucked, it's at once compelling and comedic.

The real brilliance of the movie isn't its use of animatronics or music however - it's the irreverence, the behavior that has made Parker and Stone lasting pop icons. It's the same behavior that keeps South Park fresh; when the old formula (Oh my God, they killed Kenny) got old, they just up and replaced it - nevermind that the fans were against it at first, it made the show better. Pride in their work and never ignoring a possible joke are what made South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut golden, what made Baseketball funny, and they work here too. It's like watching the Kentucky Fried Movie; even if you know, based on what you know of the creators, what is coming next it's still funny.

Irreverence isn't everything, of course. Without serious movies and events to make fun of, there'd be very little to it. And unlike previous offerings, Team America probably won't seem as fresh and funny a few years from now. But the important thing is that we laugh and enjoy - the irreverence is what puts it all in perspective.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at)!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!

Weekly Musings #18: The Case for Irreverence

Added:  Monday, October 18, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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