Anybody Else Think This is Gonna Suck?

Yes, you read that question correctly. And yes, this is blatant click-bait. But at the same time I legitimately want to make a case for why I think this movie isn’t going to be so hot. Because I can tell you straight up that I have a pretty good feeling in the back of my head that it isn’t going to be.

Now, I don’t know what all the die-hard fans are thinking right now. Maybe they’re really excited to see whatever kind of movie Goosebumps is going to be, just because its a Goosebumps film. It doesn’t really matter if it’s awesome, average, or mediocre. All that matters is that it’s Goosebumps. But you know what, it should matter, cause this shiz is getting old. Adapting popular books series should not be this lame or average. And if the book or series in question can’t be properly adapted without changing a whole bunch of stuff, then either don’t do it, or get someone who has a decent sense of frugality and creativity to make the proper changes necessary so that the spirit of the story and the characters remain intact, while the “necessary” changes allow the story to translate well to moving pictures.

But time and time again, I have seen many fantasy books and horror stories fall flat on their face because the filmmakers just don’t seem to have a good sense for how to interpret the work properly and do it some damn justice.

I’ve only read a few Goosebumps books myself way back in elementary school, but I can still remember how palpable the atmosphere was, how creepy and crawly I felt while going from page to page, how the front covers pretty much established the cinematography and the mood of my imagination for the duration of the narrative, and how effective the story flowed and kept up good suspense in such a short novelette. It never felt too quick or too slow. It did what it needed to do and it didn’t drag things out. A perfect shape and size to adapt to an hour and a half script: any one of them.

Even the Goosebumps TV series, for all of its corniness and bad acting, I think captured the general feelings that we all had having read the books. Because we’d all go and watch the related episodes, and they’d basically fit the bill alright. It could have done slightly better, but it’s not easy to find an entire town’s worth of professional child actors for episode after episode of a show like that. So you deal with what you can find from local talent searches.

So now I look at this new trailer for the Goosebumps film, and the first thing I say is: “Why is the acting and the dialogue so lame?”

Seriously! The dialogue here is terrible half the time. It sounds so cheesy and run-of-the-mill. It sounds like it was torn out of an C-grade early-90s horror film with young teenagers running away from Pumpkinhead or something. And what “good” actors we appear to have here sound all the worse for reciting these lame lines. This is 2015 people! We survived the Mayan apocalypse and we can’t afford to hire better writers or better actors to perform these lines? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Some familiar bits of dialogue include: “We’re the only ones who can do this,” “Does she have a friend?,” and the classic set-up and reversal punch line “Maybe their friendly?” (pause) “Not friendly. Definitely Not friendly!”

Now the actors I think look and might even sound okay, at least for what this film is trying to be. I’m sure they’re a bit older than most kids featured in the Goosebumps books because they’re supposed to be characters who are about the age that we are; that way both the audience and the protagonists will be nostalgic for the old stories. But what in the hell is Jack Black doing here?

I mean… he’s playing R. L. Stine. Does he look anything like R. L. Stine to you? Not even if I were drunk and wearing beer goggles would I think these two look alike. They didn’t even stick stick on his trade-mark forehead mole. And of course: hipster glasses. Don’t worry, I wear rectangular hipster glasses… but still… “hipster glasses.”

Now granted I don’t think anyone could really look like R. L. Stine without looking a tad grumpy and tired, and you can’t really drive a film along unless you add just a bit of whimsy into the casting of the fictionalized R. L. Stine for a film of this type. Cause he’s not just some creepy old guy that the protagonists find through Google searches in order meet him and consult him about his work, now that his creations are running amok: he’s actually an active character in the film, running around, doing stunts, and potentially getting his ass kicked. So this R. L. Stine has to be more fit, more agile, a little bit younger, and he must have more energy to spare.

And Jack Black is a fine and fun dude. He is awesome in the right project, and he’s always a great addition to any ensemble comedy cast. I loved him in Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2, really enjoyed him in School of Rock, and I’m sure plenty of us have a fondness for Tropic Thunder. But Jack Black isn’t even on the same facial and physical scale as Stein. And he’s not the right personality to fit well into this role either. What’s worse, though, is that this short-tempered and over-enunciated way of speaking that Black creates for his portrayal sounds really awkward. He sounds like he’s forcing it through his rapsy sing-songy vocal-cords, and I can’t take him seriously as a strict father figure because I just know that he can’t be sincere when he’s acting this way, because he isn’t naturally like this.

You can try to put Jack Black in serious films with a lot of drama and hard-hitting emotion, and you might just get a good result out of him depending on the material. But put him in a role that takes him out of his element and his comfort zone, and try to fit him inside the skin of a character that is the farthest from who he is, and he will sound like a community theater actor. Not at all what you want to drive home what is essentially the creative nucleus of your film: as Stine here is the “creator” of all that the characters battle and face up against throughout the story. So I’m not so sure this fictional author is going to play well on screen.

Moving along… gettin’ kinda tired of the “new kid who just moved to town due to single parent’s new job discovers a strange mystery next door” establishing event. I’ve seen it way too many times. And in fact, I’m seeing that exact thing happen right now in The Spiderwick Chronicles. So it’s not looking promising when the reason your main protagonist is here in the first place is for the exact same reason dozens of other kids are inexplicably thrust into strange circumstances.

Then there’s the main premise. Why is it that whenever someone tries to adapt something like an enormous series of books like Goosebumps, or develops some sort of concept where some kids inadvertently unleash a horde of creatures upon their local town, that the film has to pan out like a Monster Squad/Small Soldiers/Night at the Museum/Jumanji sort of thing? You know, where the characters have unleashed Pandora’s Box, or a legion of zombies upon their neighbors and nearby main-street, and must now travel from area to area dispatching with the hell-beasts that have taken shelter there. And then by the end, all of the monsters and ghouls all gather together in a final battle in the middle of town, or at some school grounds on the outskirts, and the young protagonists succeed in sending all the creatures back to where they came from, either through some incantation, or by some count-down clock event that will open up a rip in the space-time-continuum. Cause that seems to be a trend.

I also have the unshakable feeling that at least one of these creatures that’s brought out of the books is going to become a tragic sympathetic antagonist whose not really all that bad, and will actually help out the kids in their quest to catch all of the monsters back inside their Poke-tomes. I’ll even bet you anything that it’s going to be the freaking abominable snowman, because he seems to have a little bit of intelligence to him as opposed to the other horrible creatures. And he also has an air of innocence. So he’d be the most likely candidate so far.

The concept behind why the monsters all go loose also doesn’t make much sense. I’m sure the film is going to explain how and why the original Goosebumps manuscripts are “enchanted,” and why the ink can manifest itself into something from each book. But that still doesn’t explain why only one element–the monster, horror, or antagonist–from each book comes alive and leaves the book’s world, while everything else from each book doesn’t do anything. How come other human or animal characters don’t leap out of the stories too (or will they)? How come entire environments like houses, or garages, or school classrooms don’t fly out? And how come the leading characters from these stories aren’t allowed to help solve the mystery along with our movie’s main protagonists? You’d think that might be a cool way to end this film: where every character who ever actually stopped one of these crazy critters teams up with R. L. Stine and his daughter, and the two dudes from next door, to push back the monster horde in one final battle atop the nearby water-tower.

Obviously I can’t say much of anything bad about the film’s look or cinematography, other than it looks pretty average and typical for today’s kid-friendly fantasy flicks. Adult-oriented fantasy is typically either pale gritty brown, with a frosty blue glow to its more magical elements, or it’s the opposite with a frosty blue hue to everything the magic is warmer; whereas the family and kid-oriented fantasy is very rich, vibrant, and golden so as to reflect a more inviting atmosphere. This movie lies in the latter camp. I also rather like how soft and yet how crisp they’ve managed to make the image look in every shot. The color grade on this movie is rather unique. I haven’t quite seen something as strong as this before, with the character’s faces so brilliantly bright against their richer darker surroundings, at least as far as my immediate memory goes. So I can say that I enjoy the look at least.

But as far as its prospects go, the film doesn’t really impress.

The trailer take no effort to conceal any plot points, it doesn’t build any real atmosphere, and it basically tries to hide nothing of the film’s inherent flaws. The acting is average here, and so is the script. And I’m pretty sure you can’t make that magically change once you watch the entire film in a linear fashion.

I really wish that film marketing teams would go back to the real teaser trailers: trailers that were designed solely to advertise the film with completely original content, dialogue, and imagery, and that did its best to only “hint” and “tease” at what the full story for a film would be about. Because that might actually build some legit hype, and you could conceal any cosmetic and structural issues that you want for as long as you want. It might not really help you in the end, but at least there’s a chance that a real “Teaser Trailer” could help drum up interest and perhaps convince certain fans that the film really could be better than a trailer like this lets on. It’s all about perception and psychology. Help them develop an initial opinion that is totally in your favor, and then hope that they keep that opinion no matter what else you show them, all the way until they get to their theater seats. Don’t lie to them, just give them a good up-front impression and hope it sticks. That’s all. It’s just good presentation skills. Something which Hollywood has shamefully lost.

I have absolutely no high hopes for Goosebumps. It sounded dead on arrival the moment I knew it was in post-production on IMDB, and it still looks pretty average now. Will I give it a watch once it comes on Blu-ray and DVD? Sure, it’ll give me a chance to see if all my predictions and preconceptions were right or not.

I could always hope that my gut feeling and my previous experience with trailers is leading me wrong and this will be better than it looks. But considering how nearly every trailer of this type is edited the exact same way, and considering almost every film like this has ended up the same way, the evidence is stacked against it.

So tell me, what do you think?

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