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"Now, homager..." (thin jokes, in-jokes and unjokes)
A film review of SHREK 2 by Camus

Get this.

In Shrek 2 there is even an homage to a film made by the same company that HASN'T EVEN BEEN FRICKIN' RELEASED YET. Jesus. Homage, Schmomage. Here's the rule. Homages do not entertain in any movie. They are self indulgent effluence that used to be fun when Artoo Deetoo appeared upside down on the emerging mothership in Close Encounters. Homages and allusions to previous works of cinematic art work in one place and one place only – Springfield. Only Matt Gröening can pull them off with aplomb. Everyone else has to heed the rule. Homages make film-makers look desperate to be in the audience's club. Forget it. Just make the movie and ixnay on the references. PLEASE.

When the young 'movie brat' Brian DePalma gleefully homaged Hitchcock at every turn in his work from the mid seventies all the way to... well the rest of his career actually, I started to really distrust the dictionary.

"homage: special honour or respect shown publicly."

OK. So DePalma was respectful of a man whose talent was clearly worth 'homaging'. He was also public about his respect, not at all reticent about letting people know what shot was modelled on what Hitchcock set up, which angle took off the angle in the master's film... Fill in the blank. In fact for all his blatant stealing, Mr. Quentin Tarantino is just as publicly vocal about his 'homages'. In a BBC Omnibus post Pulp and pre 'Bill killing', the two film-makers were in the same room talking about their homages. Like minds comparing cinematic loot. Tarantino seemed to deconstruct his entire oeuvre with clips from those films he gleefully stole from. "He's nicked everything!" I remember thinking. Then just as quickly, I thought "Well, a lot of us do." Where is true originality? It's in our inimitable voice. I know where 'homagers' are coming from movie passion-wise but it's all so chokingly redundant nowadays. You want to breathe in a good movie, not get a lung full of recycled ideas posing as deferred respect.

So, in the Devil's Dictionary (with respect, public or otherwise, to Mr. Ambrose Bierce) I suggest the following:

"homage: the wilful and self-confessed stealing by the temporarily poor
and lazy from the richly creative."

I rate both DePalma and Tarantino as gifted film-makers, no question (hence the jammed in word 'temporarily' in the above definition). I just wish the impact of any artist's work wasn't so hugely diluted once you find out where the ideas really came from and it's not the space between their own ears. Every time I mention to Slarek, "God, did you see that scene in 'so-and-so movie' where..." and before I can finish the sentence, he has beguiled me (and shocked me) by telling me which film-maker has literally already been there and done that. Vastly depressing.

It's also oddly disconcerting how one's respect for John Williams' Star Wars main title can plummet if you play Eric Korngold's main title for the forties' movie King's Row . Scary. And Williams got an Oscar for Star Wars too. Well done, Eric. The real shame of it is that Williams' full score for Star Wars is sublime. But that main theme IS King's Row and it tarnishes great work by association.

Shrek 2 takes homage to such a level that it's actually difficult to keep track of the narrative so chock full of nods and winks to the parents of the children the green ogre apparently appeals to. But what is the point of homage within Shrek 2? "Hey, we know the theme to Hawaii 5-O too!" What? Why? I'm sorry? Or is it "We think Tom Cruise is great so we had one of our characters do a scene in his honour..." Yeah and with the Mission Impossible music just in case you didn't get it – but here's the kicker. Cruise is homaged by a wooden boy playing Tom Cruise. Ain't that a blast? That's an affectionate nod with fathoms of sub-text (and splinters).

The land of Far Far Away is Beverly Hills of course and we have to sit through all the damn product placement ('Farbucks' anyone? Bet that one took a week or two to think up). It's so relentless that the subtleties of the first Shrek now appear as mystical beats in a heavenly chorus. It's almost like Dreamworks has decreed, "Right, you've had your fun, now it's our turn to make the mazoola." There is a slight irony at work here. Spielberg has been quoted saying that sequels were like having a winning line on hold on a slot machine. In business, no one can hear you cream (the enormous profits). Spielberg also said (granted, in his younger less corporate days) that profits from mega-hits were good things because then smaller movies like Diner get made... God, one Diner a year and I'd be clicking my heels. Alas.

If Shrek B.O. = 80 x Diner Budgets, where are the other 79 Diners?

Shrek was a curious beast that a great many fell in love with. I appreciated the film; for its subversion of fairytale; its cavalier "Screw you, Disney," disregard for the wrath of Eisner – compliments of ex-Mouse Man Jeffery Katzenberg; and that one lovely US car park gag – Shrek and Donkey trudge through the 'Lance-Lot' But I wasn't as touched as others were even by the 'Hallelujah' song. It was fun but nothing to e-mail Rome about. It did well so we knew that 'happily ever after' was a financial consideration not a fairy tale ending. So Steven and chums lined up No. 2 perhaps a few months before No. 1 had been released. You can never tell – though No. 3 and No. 4 are in the fast track pipeline due to the extraordinary success of No. 2.

And so how do you turn 'homage' into 'ha ha' bucks? How well does 'homage' work – to be merely and obviously reprising another movie – to elicit that laugh; apparently very well indeed if Shrek 2 is anything to go by. You make Shrek 2 and watch as not even the strong index finger of the little Dutch boy can stem the dollar dyke overflow. I despair. "Look at how much money we're making!" has somehow in this dollar deluded world translated into "Look how good this movie is!"

It isn't.

Look how good The Sun newspaper is!

It isn't.

If you had the wit and wherewithal to count the 'humorous' references, the winking allusions to popular culture, the "Hey, we're so hip, we come up to Douglas Adams' knee caps..." swaggering, then you'd be the dullest person on the planet. Shrek 2 is just a winker's paradise masquerading as children's entertainment. It's a sheep in wolf's clothing. But it does have its moments (to nod to Dreamworks' pride and joy for one acquiescing second). My seven year old had me take him twice in 24 hours and you cannot agree to those terms unless (a) your child has the negatives of some major parental misdemeanour and/or (b) it was an entertaining film (oh, OK).

The bald truth is that Shrek 2 could be a mildly amusing stand up show but no. It's a computer generated movie so we have to appreciate it as such. Why? To anyone who has never heard of a 'nurb' – watch Toy Story and then Shrek 2 and tell me how far advanced the latter is to the former. Betcha can't do it. CGI strives for photo realism. Why? I assume that Cameron Diaz (when in front of a camera) is photo realistic. What is it about Shrek that has to be CG photo realistic? Nothing. It's a cartoon. Accept it. What makes any movie work?

SCR-bloody-IPT!!! Not technology. You cannot point to a photo realistic oak tree in Shrek 2 and tell me that makes a difference to the experience of watching the movie. Well, maybe it does to some people but... I sat there watching a crane shot down an oak tree and all I could think of was NOT "I wonder why both Shrek and Donkey are wandering in the woods?" but "Jesus, those leaves must have taken months to render..." Not good.

So – Shrek 2 – worth the admission? Just.

Myers' Scottish accent is as poor as his last one. Diaz is Diaz but with more copious wind breaking (both ends). John Cleese plays Basil in voice as Shrek's father in law. I kept seeing his face so couldn't really work with that character. Julie Andrews (bless her) plays the Queen. What else? Jennifer Ab Fab Saunders did a great fairy godmother if only the CG character wasn't so primly drab. And of all people (on the slippery 'impartial' slope?) Jonathan Ross does a turn as an ugly sister. It's painfully clear he's a much better critic than voice talent. And I am really not talking about the 'r's.

The story? Oh, alright. Shrek and Fiona return to Fiona's parents in California (whatever, where ever) who are unhappy at the ogre-esque state of marital affairs. Things happen and everything turns out fine. OK?

But the performance honours go to a man much maligned because God gave him physical perfection, at least in the eyes of Madonna. Here was a man whose looks unlaunched a thousand zips (no, I don't know what I mean by that either). Here was a man who was not being hired because of his looks (despite the fact that he was hired because he played a hero very much like the one he would be providing the voice for). I give you his name, Antonio Banderas – the real star of Shrek 2. His delivery is perfect, his 'Puss In Boots' character a scream but even though the actor had nothing to do with the two best moments in the film, I still salute him.

Puss clutches his giant hat and looks into Shrek's eyes with his own larger than 8 balls. Both audiences I saw the film with both went "Aaaaah" very loudly and very appreciatively. There was hardly any animation in the shot but it was wonderful. And the film-makers had the balls to realise that (like Shrek 2) if at first something succeeds, then do it again.

It worked better the second time around.

Which is where I came in. All hail Shrek 2, not as good as the first but you have got to love those pussy eyes...

Shrek 2

USA 20045
92 mins
Andrew Adamson
Kelly Asbury
Conrad Vernon
David Lipman
Aron Warner
David N. Weiss
J. David Stern
Joe Stillman
David N. Weiss
Michael Andrews
original music
Stephen Barton
James McKee Smith
production design
Guillaume Aretos
Mike Myers
Eddie Murphy
Cameron Diaz
Julie Andrews
Antonio Banderas
John Cleese
Jennifer Saunders
review posted
5 July 2004