Saturday, 2 February 2013

The ‘Worst’ of Cinema [Dominator (2003)]


Dir. Tony Luke
United Kingdom
Film #25 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema
There’s no point attempting to explain this film, the first all-CGI animated movie to be made in Britain. Just watch this extended clip...

Everything that I needed to explain about this Dominator is in that clip. Everything. I was masochistic to view it all the way through the first time, and I was masochistic enough to see it again years later just for this review. It’s catharsis for one of the worst films I’ve seen. It’s sad to say this because I should adore the ridiculously cheap looking animation, and get a goofy laugh from its heavy metal stereotypes. I feel guilt because, researching what little is available about the film, its director had just hastily recovered from lung cancer when he was working on it. But I cannot hide the pain I felt.

When the three daughters of Dr. Payne (Doug Bradley) play the contents of one of his occult books, The Lost Cord, they bring into the world the Dark Lord of Sonic Hell Dominator (Dani Filth from the band Cradle of Filth) but also leave open the gate to Hell for the individuals after him for a key, one which if returned to their leader Lord Desercater (sic) (Doug Bradley again) will help him take over the known cosmos as well as Hell. It is supposed to be as ridiculous as possible. With its rudimentary look, it is impossible to take it seriously beyond every cliché of heavy metal iconography put together in a work that is clearly influenced by the tone of Japanese anime. This is of importance as, surprisingly, the original source, a comic strip in Metal Hammer magazine, was readapted into a quite popular comic in Japan, one of the few cases where a Western creator, and probably the only case involving a British artist, created work for a solely Japanese market as actual manga. My problem with the film is not its look, or animation, as I should have fallen in love with this. It’s the story and ideas themselves behind them.

As a heavy metal fan, I can except and enjoy immensely all the clichés that are usually derided in its imagery – the obsession with Satan, motorbikes, skulls, and ridiculous large shoulder spikes – but I also find most of it embarrassing and unoriginal. Dominator is cringe worthy in how it trivialises heavy metal as much as it does, where character names like Dominator, Decimator, Hellkatt etc. are acceptable even in the context of a goofy animation or for the names of demons. The character designs and the look of the film is aborrant because of the tackiest heavy metal album designs and promotional images it brings up, of skulls on everything and random tentacles and spikes coming from everywhere. The only interesting looking character, in the clip above, that’s not a mess of adolescent metal cover designs or stock character models, is the awfully named Lady Violator, taking the fetish, almost-completely-naked-but-part-machine-in-cock-teasing-places design to ridiculous limits, and with the late Hammer horror icon Ingrid Pitt voicing her, but she was created specifically by another person in the production team.  And that this has such individuals like Doug Bradley, Pitt, and in another role the director Alex Cox staring in it is worse. This will not be said of for extreme metal singer Dani Filth. His main character Dominator is all the worst ideas of how an antihero should be – those repeatedly mentioned spikes everywhere on him, face masked all the time, and no charisma except wanting to shag all of Payne’s daughters, and any other women in the vicinity, at the same time like a horndog – and is made even more embarrassing by Filth’s voicing of him. Using his same raspy growl from his band Cradle of Filth’s music, you cannot take him serious even if its self deprecating as the attempt to sound cool and demonic is so forced. I feel pity for him if it wasn’t for the terrible feeling that, as is the whole problem with the film and large swaths of heavy metal and alternative culture, he is taking himself seriously for something that is childish in an empty way and marketed for anyone who wants to wear designer brand pentagram t-shirts and black hair dye without actually taking in the cultural and pop mythology heavy metal draws from. Two of my favourite metal groups, not taking account of the various sub-genres, are Rammstein and Mastodon. The former is known for their insane pyrotechnics and songs about sex, but have a political edge from their East German heritage mixed with songs drawing from fairy tales and literature, a melancholy to their slower songs, and a wicked sense of humour that goes against every stereotype of German culture. The later have made a concept album about a wolf man going up a mountain and fighting monsters, but not only melded it with a unique personality and an obsession with prog rock, but made it a follow up to a concept album about the novel Moby Dick. Some great songs and bands delve into the clichés of heavy metal, but as far back as Black Sabbath, they distance themselves from the limited, adolescent mindset by their other musical interests that influence their work, their interests in other art forms and their unique quirks.

What makes this even more worse with Dominator is that, as a British work viewed by someone born in the country, a bad British film is truly unbearable and drags into it talented people who should know better. In cinema, the British have been repeated kicked to the curb despite being the birthplace of director like Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell, not just from the bias of François Truffaut, and it is quite justifiable at times. We as a country champion laziness and lameness over quality as virtues when such ideas should be burn with fire. I get the feeling that Dominator was made with everyone involved having ‘fun’, words that now are dread inducing for me thanks to this film because it means that a movie like this is made, with a script full of pointless swearing and references only the British viewer could get without any meaning to them, and everyone calls it a day. It is a lack of quality control in favour of ‘enjoying’ oneself that makes this impossible for me to enjoy too. The only thing close to a salvation were the characters Decimator and Extricator (sic again), played by radio personalities Marc ‘Lard’ Riley and Mark Radcliffe, their lame and terrible humour actually amusing, and in a film which turns centuries and decades of mythology, rock music culture and Christian theology into a teenager’s lacking mindset without any sense of thrill or titillation to it all, they’re almost a demonic Greek chorus ripping into the awful film by not participating in the plot at all and being more interested in getting drunk instead.

That I returned to this film under the glib idea of reviewing it for a ‘Worst Of’ series is shameful on my part, but it becomes clear that it should be pulled up from the grave of mass obscurity as a warning of how this film’s mentality plagues pop culture. This lame, bastardisation of Christian mythology and alternative culture is still infecting heavy metal music, and will never create a song as great as Black Sabbath’s N.I.B. or Heaven or Hell, and for every good British film, or comic book, or TV series, or other cultural item except music or literature, which have grand canons of great artists to rest upon, there are too many creations which were made ‘for fun’ and make country look bad to myself and others, a cultural malaise that should have died long before I was born. Dominator is one of the worst films I’ve seen, but it’s also a tragic mirror to how bad British culture can be.

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