Sunday, May 22, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #3, Pinocchio

One has to imagine that during a great and prolonged tragedy, those suffering just shut down mentally. When things are so bad for so long, the mind understands that there is nothing better coming along and that it can only get but so much worse, so everything goes numb. There can still be hope, but it's mostly all about just making it through, surviving.

This is what it's like to watch Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio.

Well, it's unfair to say that Benigni's Pinocchio is so awful, not in how he intended it to be. It is in Italian and produced as if it is a stage play, with intentional overacting. I watched a bit of the Italian version with subtitles and it comes off as very foreign. It's not made with American sensibilities, so who are we to say it's bad. In fact, it won a number of awards in Italy. Yes, it's bizarre that Benigni is playing a little boy, but it's no weirder -- if you look at it as a stage adaptation -- than Sandy Duncan playing Peter Pan at an advanced age.

No, the Pinocchio that is ranked by Rotten Tomatoes as the third-worst movie of the first decade of the twenty-first century is the English dubbed version. It was dubbed with recognizable English-speaking actors and released in theaters here, so it's okay to apply American sensibilities. So, it turns out not to be Benigni's fault, but the Miramax people who decided to bring it over here and turn it into one of the handful of worst movies I've ever seen.

Benigni playing a little boy puppet? Weird. Benigni playing it with Breckin Meyers' voice? Nearly unwatchable. It's not just the strange choice in voices, but the way that the English speakers read the Italian translation almost literally, making the dialogue choppy. Plus, it just sounds read, not spoken, giving the entire movie a disjointed feel. And Eddie Griffin shows up in another on of these bad movies, as he and Cheech Marin play a couple of crooks. But more than anything, really, Breckin Meyers speaking for Roberto Benigni playing a little boy.

The whole thing was weird, with the puppet prancing around and getting into stupid problem after stupid problem. The cricket special effect is awful, as is the one for the nose growing. Gepetto has a ridiculous toupee and the related humor falls flat. People exclaim way too many things for the sake of exclaiming them. There is a lot of licking of lollipops, with the licking sounds being disgusting and distracting. It's a mess, enough of one that it destroyed Benigni's career in the United States even though he was coming off a Best Actor Oscar for one of the great movies of our time.

Yet, I found myself after a while watching it and thinking, this isn't so bad. It's weird and stupid, but it doesn't belong this high up on the list. But then, Pinocchio talked to a donkey and pet its face as it died and kissed it and tried to get it to lick a lollipop, and I thought to myself: "What is this crap that I'm watching?!" Indeed, the movie had been so bad throughout that no one part felt worse than any other and it all just felt average. It was a coping mechanism for getting through the atrocity of this movie. Benigni's greatest film triumph, La Vita e Bella, was about a man doing what he could to keep hopes up in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Damn, I could have used him when I was watching this.

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