Wednesday, October 25, 2017

IN-FLIGHT MOVIES: What "Baby Driver" Owes to a Critical Bomb

Potentially the best experience I've had stuck in a Boeing 747 for eight hours was my first viewing of Baby Driver. It's one of those movies you know you're going to see and like, and getting around to it isn't for lack of trying. In retrospect I wish I'd taken the time to see it in theaters, as the visuals and soundtrack are stunning at any speed. Then again, it's Edgar Wright, who's a master at visual storytelling. And seeing him turn his eye from comedy and pastiches to straight-up action was always going to be a treat.

Also a treat was the innovative nature of the film. As I told one friend, it's the best jukebox action flick I've ever seen. The music becomes an integral part of the setting, guiding the beats of the action, the sound within the scene, and even the scenery itself.

For example, check out the opening credits scene -- equal parts Shaun's morning shuffle in Shaun of the Dead and Kylie Minogue's Around the World video directed by Michel Gondry.

In point of fact, Baby Driver was in development for a very long time -- so long that the original opening scene concept was turned into a separate music video almost 15 years ago. Also directed by Wright, the music video for Mint Royale's "Blue Song" features Noel Fielding as a bored getaway driver. Compare the "Blue Song" video to the film's actual opening scene:

A great bit of visual, but the film version only hints at something that the music video made quite clear: the in-universe use of music as timing.

Without giving away too much (because really, you should see this yourselves), music is extremely important to Baby in a variety of ways. And the soundtrack of the film exists within the film itself, driving the action in more ways than just background sound. We see low-key examples of Baby keeping the pace of his jobs via his playlist. And it's an inventive idea -- that we've seen before.

I can't blame anyone who hasn't seen Hudson Hawk. It didn't exactly blow the roof off box office-wise, and the only people who consider it Must-See Film will also unironically buy Hong Kong edition DVDs for the bad English subtitles. (I happen to be one of those people.)

The 1991 film was co-written by Bruce Willis and features him as a recently-paroled safe cracker blackmailed by Richard E. Grant into recovering the pieces needed to rebuild Leonardo da Vinci's legendary alchemy machine. No. Seriously. That is the plot with zero exaggeration. Whether you'll like it or not depends on whether it's Saturday, how bored you are, and how much Zima is in the fridge. Or how many friends you have over.

One of the most memorable moments in the movie involves something fairly familiar if you've watched the above clips:

Hard to tell whether this is homage or coincidence -- though Edgar Wright strikes me as the type who'd have seen Hudson Hawk. Regardless, seeing this playfulness with soundtrack return to action films is delightful.

I'm not sure I'm ready to send you off to watch Hudson Hawk with 100% certainty, but I'm more than ready to send you out for Baby Driver. What was a brief scene in Hawk and a 3-minute music video years ago actually expands well enough to drive an entire movie. Or maybe Wright just really knows what he's doing. I'm willing to bet about half and half.
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