The way we see a film can affect our perception of it. Ideal viewing circumstances can give us a fond memory of a mediocre piece of work. Poor viewing conditions can highlight the strengths of a film if it lets you forget where you are, or highlight the weaknesses if you do not. Such was the case with The Greatest Showman and Rampage, both of which I missed on their theatrical release and caught up with in somewhat unorthodox ways.
For the former, I attended my first Pop-Up Pictures event and saw The Greatest Showman outdoors, sitting on a deck chair with an appreciative but still respectful audience. As the evening wore on it became increasingly cold and I wished I had brought another layer. These far from ideal viewing conditions might have been overcome by a more engaging film, which proved to be the case at a Pop-Up Pictures screening of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Unfortunately at The Greatest Showman, I found myself getting uncomfortable and not involved in the film. Various dramatic opportunities are missed, such as the significance of fabric and the treatment of those designated as ‘other’, be that due to class, race or physical difference. While the songs have subsequently proved fun to listen to, as part of the film they lack weight, which is a problem with the film overall. A lot of running back and forth fails to convey dramatic importance; tensions between P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams) and Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) is sorely lacking; romance between Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) is simplistic; the various other characters seem like sketches. Meanwhile, the set design smacks of artifice, and not in a way that suggests the film is making a point about performance and theatricality. In the end, it feels hollow and fake, as The Greatest Showman proves to be far less than the greatest show.
RampageI watched on a train on a tablet, and enjoyed it immensely. This is despite the small viewing device, headphones and regular glare on the screen. Whereas The Greatest Showmanhas pretensions of grandeur that it never successfully meets, Rampageis exactly that – a non-stop, rollicking rampage in which giant animals break things. That is what it says on the tin and that is what you get in spades. I laughed, I cheered (quietly), I applauded (inside). The creature design is effective, director Brad Peyton balances action, plot and humour. All the performers play their roles exactly right, from the boo-hiss villains Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacey) to the maverick federal agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Playing the scientist who knows what’s going on, Dr Kate Caldwell, Naomie Harris keeps a commendably straight face throughout. As Davis Okoye, Dwayne Johnson balances his trademark wit, charm and charisma with genuine befuddlement over the increasingly ludicrous scenarios and a touching sense of friendship in his interactions with gorilla George (Jason Liles), that Davis talks to through sign language, and seeks to save even as George becomes larger and more destructive. This is the great strength of Rampagethat is sorely lacking in The Greatest Showman: have all the razzle-dazzle you like, but even CGI extravaganzas need a beating heart.