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Culture Movies
Culture: Homer but not Homeric
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Thursday, 26 July 2007 Written by Henry Midgley

Homer does it again
but is the film up to standerd
This summer lest anyone need reminding has been the summer of the blockbuster threequel- Spiderman, Shrek and Pirate of the Caribbean all received their third parts, with Hollywood executives rubbing their hands in glee as the pieces of eight pile up and the records fall down before the third parters. The point about these blockbusters is that pretty much all three were certain winners- playing with an established routine and character gives you audience recognition to start with and hence guaranteed ticket sales and guaranteed income from the start. The interesting thing is that all three third parters were critical disappointments- despite the fact that many people saw them, few hailed them as the New Casablanca and 2007 won't be remembered for the franchises but for other great films released this year like the Lives of Others.

Of all the franchise movies guaranteed to make money, the Simpsons always looked the most promising film. The Simpsons has been a cartoon on Fox since the late eighties- based around a dis-functional family unit comprising Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart and Maggie- the series acquired an entire invented universe in the town of Springfield around it. Some of the wit sparkled with an adult knowingness beyond all other cartoons on television (an episode in which aliens impersonating US Presidential candidates manage to stir up a crowd by promising miniature American flags for some and abortions for others remains in the memory for example). Originally peripheral characters acquired a life of their own- Mr Burns the sadistic millionaire and his henchman Smithers, Apu a corner shop owner, Barney the alcoholic, Moe the Bartender, the Comic Book Guy (self explanatory really), the bullies at Bart and Lisa's school led by Nelson, various teachers at the school and other characters were littered through the town including Homer's nemesis Ned Flanders and Bart's more menacing opponent Sideshow Bob. Stories often moved around characters with the Simpsons themselves always present but sometimes the focus of an episode would say be on Apu's struggles to make a life for himself in America or Ned's problems with his evangelical religion. Always they retained that sense of intelligent humour- and the odd piece of slapstick as well.

Transferring that to a film was always going to be hard and so it has proved. The film is fine- there is not much bad about it- a story goes along in which Homer (the David Brent of American animation, though viewed with more sympathy than Brent by his creators) successfully ends up destroying the town of Springfield and then saving it. The story is wonderfully convoluted and it would ruin the film for me to give it away- but suffice it to say if like me you find Homer's incompetence amusing you will enjoy the main lines of the story. Having said that there are minuses- a love story with Lisa and an Irish rockstar's son that never really outgrows embarrassing or contributes much either humorously or plot-wise, scenes between Homer and Marge that are too wholesome for this reviewer to stomach and there are larger flaws I will come onto. Having said that the basic formula of the humour remains the same at least in so far as there is some wonderful visual humour- Bart skating naked through the town comically takes off the way that films strategically cover body parts until that is you do see his member.

There are two serious flaws though that detract from the film when compared to the best of the series- and having set the standard that is what the writers are going to be judged by. The first serious flaw is the lack of the iconoclastic humour- there are a couple of accurate digs at Fox (and a wonderful moment when in a disaster everyone in a church runs to a pub, and everyone in a pub to a church)- but there aren't as many good witty jokes in this as there should be- there is a bit too much melodrama about family relationships. Furthermore the absurdity of some of the characters has been softened- Flanders has lost his dumdiddlydo way of speaking and speaks normally. That brings me onto a second flaw- with the exception of the Simpson's family, Flanders and a couple of cameos- the other characters in Springfield aren't there. We see them as part of a mob, we see them during other scenes but we don't get much of a focus on them- there are jokes which only work with them (say Apu's masochistic desire to be hurt by Burns's dogs) that only work if you know the sitcom. Personally as a fan of the series I wanted more Springfield. To reinforce my first criticism one of the few major individual characters to get time in this film is an Inuit woman with enormous breasts- the joke largely being that she has enormous breasts. Going from Mr Burns to breasts is some climbdown in comic ambition.

There is a lot that is really great about this film- and there were several moments when I chuckled. I do think it is better if you know the series a bit- if you haven't seen any episodes it might be worth watching a couple to appreciate the film a bit more (afterall they aren't going to hurt!). My overwhelming feeling though as I came out of the film was that I had spent an entertaining 90 minutes but I hadn't been blown away. This is a good film- but it comes from a great series and so there is a bittersweet nature to the accomplishment- they have done a lot in making it this good, but they could have done even more.