Modern Hollywood event movies owe a huge debt to the New Hollywood movement of the late 70s - primarily led by Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas - which saw a move away from the aesthetic progressivism of the earlier part of the decade into what is now popularly known as the modern-day ‘blockbuster’.
Since the days when a gigantic shark terrorised the tourists of Amityville Island in Spielberg’s seminal Jaws, the influence of these film-makers - and the special-effects driven movies that they created - has probably cast its shadow over the modern movie-industry more than any other. It is this shadow that is omnipresent throughout much of Finnish director Jomari Holander’s second feature Big Game.
Featuring Samuel L. Jackson as the President of the United States (or ‘POTUS’ as seems to be the in-vogue description of the leader of the free world nowadays), Big Game follows the rudimentary story of Jackson’s leader, who finds himself stranded in the Finnish wilderness following a terrorist attack on Air Force One. Subsequently hunted by the terrorists who targeted him, Jackson encounters young local boy Oskari (Omni Tommilla) and together this odd couple must attempt to turn the tables on their pursuers and stay alive until a US Navy Seal team can be deployed to rescue the situation.
It’s a pretty standard premise for what on the whole is a pretty standard film. Whilst this is far from must-see - and indeed will not be to everyone’s liking - there is still enough charm to be mined here aslong as you are fully aware of what it is to expect. The films pre-release marketing seems to depict Big Game as a big-time action movie replete with explosions, gun-fights and seismic set-pieces - Whitehouse Down in the woods perhaps - however, it is hard to pin down the tone entirely and the film never quite seems to settle on what it is aiming for as it flits from action to rights-of-passage drama to comedy whilst all the while bearing more than a passing resemblance to a children’s adventure movie.
For what could easily be mistaken as a tough-as-nails actioner, there is more than enough 80’s adventure nostalgia on display to bring back sentimental memories of The Goonies and most of Spielberg’s back-catalogue. None more so than the highly impressive sets and practical effects - which are now, unfortunately, somewhat of a by-gone phenomenon in modern Hollywood. It is refreshing to see a film return to the practical roots of cinema in what has become a CGI for CGI-sake era and this is perhaps Big Games big appeal. The atmospheric sets act as not so subtle homages to a wide variety of classics that seems to range from Close Encounters to ET and at the very least this should pass the time for anyone who is quickly bored with the by-the-numbers plot.
Natural environments are also utilised to an impressive level with some of the most strikingly beautiful cinematography that is likely to be displayed this year. The vast countryside is a gorgeous, picturesque green that contrasts strongly with the pure, harsh whites of the rock faces that envelope our heroes on all sides and adds yet another graphical layer to this rich tapestry.
Whilst the visuals are indeed the films stand-out, sound too plays an impressive role with one of the most delightful scores that has been created in a long time. With what appears to be a honing of the classic John Williams soundtracks of the past, the excellent use of both music and sound effects evokes whimsical images of Raiders of the Lost Ark in particular and adds another sensory element to proceedings. For those of us unlucky enough to be heading towards our 40s there will be more than enough nostalgia on display here to bring back strong childhood memories and provide a knowing smile.
It is certainly the case that the audio/visual elements of Big Game appeal far more than those of theme, plot or character definition - yet to claim that these lesser qualities are non-existent would be unfair. Whilst plot and theme are either too thin or too muddled respectively, there is a decent amount of character development on display with the majority provided by Oskari as he seeks to live upto the legend espoused by his father that “a boy sets out into the wilderness but it is a man who returns”.
Setting out on this journey into adulthood, Oskari attempts to conquer his short-comings as a hunter – and indeed his feelings of isolation within his own community - and ensure that his family heritage is safe and sound. Themes of father-son relationships and cultural peer-pressuring are touched upon lightly, but perhaps further evidencing the family adventure undertone, they are never fully explored. There is also plenty of growth to be seen in Jackson’s originally pampered – and quite frankly incompetent - president. Quite how a man who appears so generally helpless and cowardly at the outset has found himself in such a lofty position would be hard to believe where it not for the existence of other such real-world politicians that have no-doubt served as an inspiration to Helander.
Any mention of character in Big Game also needs to include the as-ever excellent Jim Broadbent in a small supporting role as a CIA field expert. Played with the right amount of humour and laconic intelligence to give the impression of a man who’s been there, done that, and counter-measured the terrorist t-shirt the movie really should of given him more to do – particularly seeing as the terrorists who pursue the main protagonists are about as bland as any villains in recent memory have managed to be.
There are a few negatives that are hard to ignore - the flimsy plot, instantly forgettable secondary characters and some highly dubious moments that suspend belief to an almost impossible level - but that aside this is a film that is supposed to be over the top and extremely silly and never fails on either front. This is much more an old-fashioned adventure romp than a serious action drama and aslong as you keep that in mind throughout there is more than enough here to keep your interest.
Whilst this won’t be bothering anyone’s ‘best of 2015’ lists it is diverting enough and at the very least contains an old-school visual style and vibrancy that is sadly lacking in a lot of today’s computer generated releases. They often say that imitation is the highest form of flattery - and with Big Game I would assume that Spielberg and Lucas will be greatly flattered indeed.