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April 10, 2006

Thoughts upon seeing the trailer for "The Simpsons Movie"

It begins. I've known that it was coming for awhile, but there it is. They've picked the weekend of July 27, 2007, over 15 months away, but the hype machine starts working now. Hype is going to be a big word for this film.

The first thing that struck me about the trailer is that it's not at all funny: quite predictable, actually, to the point at which one knew almost exactly where they were going within about a second. One who has internalized the Simpsons style of humour through hundreds of half-hour doses would know, at least. It's an interesting exercise in anti-hype hype, actually; they're parodying the hype that will inevitably be generated over the Superman movie - oh the absurdity of generating so much fuss over Homer Simpson - but of course the creators of this trailer are well aware that "The Simpsons Movie" will be anticipated with more hype than the "Superman" marketers could ever hope to whip up. One doesn't produce trailers 15 months before a release date unless one expects to make a big splash. So they mock the very hype that they're strategically massaging. Clever.

One of the greatest parodies of the Hollywood hype machine that has finally swallowed "The Simpsons" comes, ironically, from "The Simpsons" itself - before the shark jump, of course. Season 4, actually - right when the show really hit its stride - the "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" episode. As history has so often proved, movies based on television shows are usually desperate, pathetic affairs, though occasionally they can make for a successful series. What they all share is a firm belief in their own self-importance; they're also the films that the studio-bought shills who masquerade as journalists will inevitably deem "the movie event of the summer", thus fulfilling whatever ambition these small people had to attend a press junket with an open bar and see their name appear on television, however illegibly. "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" is so similarly elevated that its release assumes historical significance.

The episode's authors made two particularly clever decisions as the plot develops: never showing any of the film's content until the episode's very end - 40 years later - and choosing Lisa to embody the frenzied reaction to the film when she describes it to Bart. The quality and content of the film itself is tangential to the point that the authors are making, just as the hype surrounding blockbuster films is tangential to the actual work on the screen. The authors instead parody the hype; the hype that Lisa most memorably falls for. Lisa; cautious, insightful, immune to equivocation and duplicity ("Mr. Hutz, are you a shyster?"); Lisa returns from the premiere under a mound of merchandise - another face of a film's commercial ambitions - and raves about the use of celebrity voices. The latter is a favourite trick of the producers of animated films*, lest their customers focus too much on an otherwise uninspiring enterprise.

Both Bart and the audience catch their first glimpse of "The Itchy & Scratchy Movie" well after its historic eight-month run, when Homer's parenting has paid off and Bart is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In a rather grim-looking future, they wander past the now decrepit theatre, which is showing "Classics of Animation", with "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" taking first billing. Bart suggests they see the movie, and Homer agrees. Stripped of the mass hysteria, the marketing hype, the media fascination, we see the movie for what it always was: nothing but a rehash of any Itchy & Scratchy episode, typically sadistic and insipid, with only the slightest acknowledgement that what is featured differs at all from the program's daily appearance on television. Homer asks which is the mouse.

"Itchy's a jerk."

*"So when the snooty cat and the courageous dog with the celebrity voices meet for the first time in real three, that's when you'll catch a flash of Tyler's contribution to the film . . ."


Blogger Lawyerlike said...

Me, I think the zenith of the Simpsons was when Bart and Lisa played hockey against each other. It has that five minute scene right in the middle which is the height of all its comedic efforts, when Bart and Lisa fight in their room, and Homer goes after the pie by chomping air. It ends when Marge flicks the light to stop them fighting and Homers flicks them to start it.
It ends with the tender moments that the Simpsons is so good at producing after all the laughs. I don't know what season that was, but it was brilliant.

9:15 p.m.

Blogger Dave Peer said...

I can't argue against this, only add that it was a long zenith, perhaps beginning in Season 4 with Episode 12, "Marge vs. the Monorail". "Lisa on Ice" is Season 6, Episode 8. And I agree that the end made for a very complete television experience, one that the current writers, in there desperate groping for laughs from absurdity, could never match. I always used to think of my little sister when I saw it. If only my dad would have exchanged love for athletic excellence, I might not suck at hockey.

P.S. A visit from Ryan. Honoured.

1:07 a.m.

Blogger Lawyerlike said...

Honoured indeed - you've now been added to my hallowed "Blog Des Amis" section. Soon you might enjoy the spillover from the 20+ visitors that enjoy my site daily. With numbers like those, you could rake in a pretty penny advertising. But just a penny.

8:39 p.m.

Blogger Dave Peer said...

Oh I see, first you drop me a little charity, but then get all A-list and show off about the number of readers you get, numbers that I would obviously kill to get myself. I'll take your spill-over Austin, but not your attitude.

7:56 p.m.


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