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Stale Movie Reviews: Elephant

Guest - December 10, 2005

Submitted by GST

I just finished watching a movie on HBO called Elephant by Gus Van Sant, the fellow who made the movie about the junkies with Matt Dillon, which I remember liking, though I don’t remember much else about it now.  I realize that Elephant came out in 2003, but I didn’t see it until almost 2006, so only now do I have something to say about it.

The end credits had one of the lamest disclaimers I’d ever seen, and I read lame disclaimers for a living.  You may recall that the movie is based  on the massacre of students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999.  There are a few notable differences between the Columbine Massacre and this movie, but there’s no mistaking the fact that this movie is about that day in Littleton.  Nevertheless, those that wait to the bitter end of this execrable movie are treated to a standard movie credit disclaimer, approximately: "The characters and events depicted in this movie are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to any actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincindental."

Give us a break!  Purely coincidental?  I wonder if, after Gus Van Sant made this movie and then someone told him about the actual Columbine Massacre, he said, "What pure coincidence!  That’s just like my movie!"  I want to meet the movie business lawyer who thinks that he can secure protection from false light invasion of privacy or defamation claims with that fatuous disclaimer.

I realize that this is something short of an actual review.

Final note: This clinker is my last post here at Nine Moons.  Thanks to Rusty for being a gracious and indulgent host, especially considering, well, you know.


  1. Isnt that disclaimer at the bottom of every movie except the ones that say bassed on a true story?

    Comment by Bryce — December 10, 2005 @ 7:32 am

  2. Bryce,
    I think that disclaimer is on all movies. Period.
    I quite liked Elephant. The sense of menace was excruciating. You knew what was going to happen, and yet everything seemed so normal. The violence was stark and realistic, I thought too. What didn’t you like? (I think Van Sant was clear that it was about Columbine.)

    Comment by Ronan — December 10, 2005 @ 8:09 am

  3. VanSant had nothing to do with the disclaimer, it’s simply a way for studios to avoid being sued, regardless of a filmamker’s vision.

    I agree w/ Ronin, “a sense of menace” is a good way to describe the film. Another interesting thing about the movie, is that all the dialogue was improvised and all the teens were not actors – giving a greater sense of realism.

    Comment by Dallas Robbins — December 10, 2005 @ 9:24 am

  4. Yeah, it’s on all movies and books. Even if the author publicly admits that a character was based on someone they know.

    Comment by Eric Russell — December 10, 2005 @ 10:04 am

  5. I understand that it’s on all movies. My point is that it offers no protection from lawsuits.

    Comment by gst — December 10, 2005 @ 11:59 am

  6. I also recently watched “Elephant” on HBO, but I fell asleep before it was over (in my defense it started at 3am).

    I hate how HBO movies are full-screen. No one rents full-screen except for children’s movies, so why am I paying $10 a month to watch full-screen movies?

    Also, I hated the improvisational dialogue. It sounded wretched and very fake. These are just kids (if I remember correctly, most weren’t even actors), they don’t have the skills to improv realistic dialogue. Van Sant didn’t want to shill out the money for a bunch of writers.

    Other than that, I thought the movie was shot beautifully. One day I will rent it in letterbox and watch the whole thing.

    Comment by NFlanders — December 10, 2005 @ 2:47 pm

  7. By the way, gst, it’s been great reading you over here. We will miss you.

    Comment by NFlanders — December 10, 2005 @ 2:48 pm

  8. Ned, I discovered in my extensive research last night that the movie was shot in a format approximating the relative dimensions of a TV screen rather than normal movie screen dimensions. I’m sure there’s a good arty reason for that.

    Thanks for your kind compliment.

    Comment by gst — December 10, 2005 @ 3:16 pm

  9. Movies are filmed either in cinemascope (scope for short) or flat. Scope is what most of the better movies are shot in. It is the wide version.

    Flat is almost square and close to TV format.

    When you go to the movie theater, sometimes you’ll see the side curtains (called masking) move in and the bottom and or top move from the scope setting to the flat setting or vice versa.

    Comment by don — December 10, 2005 @ 8:21 pm

  10. Yeah, and Tolkien really didn’t mean to put metaphors of Christianity into his writings, either.

    Comment by Bret — December 11, 2005 @ 1:48 am

  11. I thought the argument with Tolkien was that there were metaphores for World War I/II … Did i just have a really bad source?

    Comment by me — December 11, 2005 @ 4:04 am

  12. I think both metaphors are in there strong

    Comment by Bret — December 12, 2005 @ 3:29 am

  13. It is interesting that Elephant was shot in that format, GST. It doesn’t change the fact that all other HBO movies are shown in wretched “Pan ‘n Scan” format. I am surprised that they haven’t got more complaints.

    Comment by NFlanders — December 12, 2005 @ 6:21 pm

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