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Do the Wrong Kind of People Like SPLICE?

While I haven’t been able to catch a showing of Splice yet in theaters, I have kept up with the reviews and commentary. There have been a few exceptions, but most of the commentary has been very positive. This is especially the case with Steve Biodrowski’s review at Cinefantastique Online, a reviewer and website with an opinion that I value. Boidrowski places Splice on a part with Moon, calling it “a thoughtful little movie guaranteed to be the best filmed science fiction of the summer.”

If Splice is such a good film, then why is it doing so poorly at the box office? The Los Angeles Times tries to answer this question in an article titled “Horror of horrors: Did the wrong kind of people like ‘Splice’?” In the piece, author Patrick Goldstein provides several suggestions, including high praise from critics, a “hare-brained scheme” as a basic part of the film’s plot, and perhaps most tellingly, that the film is too intelligent for most audience members:

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis gave away the game in her review, where she dropped the name of one cerebral filmmaker after another, comparing ”Splice” to David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” seeing affinities to the work of David Lynch and Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and spotting allusions to James Whale’s “Bride of Frankenstein.” For Dargis, it was a delight to see an intelligent film that “explores chewy issues like bioethics, abortion, corporate-sponsored science, commitment problems between lovers and even Freudian-worthy family dynamics.”

In his conclusion, Goldstein seems to give more weight to the “hare-brained scheme” idea as the best explanation for Splice‘s failure to attract a major audience at the box office. But in my view this doesn’t suffice. As Goldstein’s piece itself recognizes, horror and science fiction films, particularly those of the “mad scientist” variety, routinely incorporate plot devices that include scientific practices that push the envelope. In addition, a number of articles can be found on the Internet with discussion on genetic experimentation that some say is not too far away from the fictional scenario of Splice. If this is the case, then perhaps the best explanation is represented in the lengthy quotation from Goldstein above. The film is not the normal fare in horror, science fiction and fantasy. It is reserved in special effects and action, and attempts to interact with key social issues of the day. As I state in this blog’s “About” page, “we live in an age more interested in finding spectacle than substance in popular culture, particularly in regards to the fantastic,” and for this reason I believe audiences have not been attracted to this film in great numbers.

Do the “wrong kind of people” like Splice, film critics as well as reflecting and thoughtful audience members? Probably. But even if the major studios decide not to take another chance on an intelligent horror and science fiction film due to Splice‘s disappointing box office receipts, my hope is that at least independent filmmakers might continue to produce films like it, as well as Moon, and District 9. Is it too much to ask that we have a little intellectual meat and potatoes with our entertainment?

Comment Pages

There are 11 Comments to "Do the Wrong Kind of People Like SPLICE?"

  • Ryan says:

    You raise some interesting points and questions here. I saw SPLICE last weekend and have been thinking about it for my review. Like many critics and reviewers, I thought it started off great but around the half way point devolved into a mess. To use your About statement, the 2nd half becomes
    more spectacle than substance, and quite offensive spectacle
    at that….and I’m rarely offended. To me SPLICE’s major failure was an unimaginative, weak script that couldn’t deliver on the promises or follow through with the potential of its first half.

  • GL says:

    I haven’t seen it, but this is the second time I’ve read in the last five minutes that the movie was too intelligent for audiences. I don’t buy it.

  • [...] Theofantastique has raised an interesting discussion about the lack of attention that Splice is receiving in theaters and questions what type of audience is seeing or refusing to see the film.  I think when critics on one side of the argument claim that the film is substantive and intellectual is simply saying too much.  It raises substantive questions and intelligent points but is not intelligent enough to provide any answers of its own aside from grotesque, contrived, half-hearted responses.  Perhaps the “intelligentsia” are staying away because they can smell crap from a mile away. [...]

  • Justin says:

    If were going to talk about the struggle between films having substance verses spectacle then we should keep in mind that the average movie goer, even those who are adults, are rather like little children. If you want them to eat their broccoli you first have to cover it in melted cheese. Films are the same way and some of the most intelligent films ever made are those which hide their substance behind a lot of spectacle. “Terminator,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Matrix,” “District 9,” “The Fly,” “Akira,” and even John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London” are all great examples of films which do this.

    “Splice”, on the other hand, is all substance and very little spectacle. It has too much thought provoking dialogue and not enough scenes of the monster attacking and eating people. It is too overt about the issues it wants to deal with and lacks the rich intellectual undercurrent of the films listed above. It doesn’t attempt to hide its substance behind spectacle for those individuals not interested in substance.

    So maybe that explains its poor box office numbers.

    …or it could just be the fact that everyone thinks it looks like “Species,” which was a terrible movie.

  • Oh – boy. No no, please don’t compare Splice with the far-superior Moon. Splice had some good moments surrounded by plot and scientific idiocy (MINI SPOILER: The creature that is created from the DNA labeled “animal” – kidd you not – is a hybrid of many animals as it has legs like a cheetah, wings when needed, a scorpion-like fang, has gills for lungs – so can breath under water, can climb ceilings, and can move really really fast. Really). The interesting moments are more associated with the human drama – and some of the darker elements are actually interesting. But ultimately, the movie is let down by its numerous inconsistencies and simple plot idiocies.

    You can check my post and an podcast-review of Splice at http://sciencereligionnews.blogspot.com/2010/06/film-autopsy-of-splice.html

    For a contrast, here is the review for Moon:
    http://sciencereligionnews.blogspot.com/2009/07/alone-on-dark-side-of-moon.html

    -Salman

  • Splice has certainly proven divisive in the science fiction and horror community. I think this is a healthy debate if it sheds light on the need for more depth in such films. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • michael says:

    The best horror or sci-fi films always have a lot their “minds” and the most intelligent of these rely upon the inherent subtext in the horrific elements of the story to disturb the viewer. Audiences don’t appreciate being told, visually or verbally, that a film has big ideas, especially if they are the same Freudian or Christian dogmatic cliches seen in hundreds of better films since Edison’s Frankenstein. That said, I find it annoying that everyone around seems to think that spectacle and substance need be mutually exclusive, with spectacle clearly the negative in the equation. Perhaps it’s not a matter of a film being too smart for the masses but rather film makers displaying a general lack of taste and imagination.

  • Gary and I saw Splice a couple weeks ago. I disagree that the issue is “style/spectacle v. substance”. Like Salman and Ryan said, it starts off fairly well but degenerates into an ideological mess at the end – the problems are script- and idea-related. I’d admit that the quality of the ideas they’re trying to work with rivals MOON, but the plot payoff in Splice is horribly lacking. And, if I can put it this way, there’s a certain… lack of respect for human-ness, for humanity at the core of Splice vs. the pathos at the heart of MOON. At the end of Splice, after having rolled my eyes at the pile-on of transformations of the creature, I was left with the moral equivalent of the message of John Mayer’s snarky, ambivalent song, “Who says I can’t get stoned?”

  • I had an opportunity to view Splice over the weekend on DVD. I thought the film was a fresh piece of science fiction with horror elements that tapped into a key scientific and ethical issue of the day. In this way it was in the vein of Frankenstein-like films. I’m afraid I have to come down on the side of those who found this film worthwhile, rather than those who thought that it fell apart in the end. It may not have been as good as MOON overall, but it is still a good piece of science fiction.

  • [...] of EW also includes another item of interest. Earlier this year the film Splice generated some controversy with individuals on the one hand arguing that it was an intelligent piece of science fiction, and [...]

  • [...] 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, The Final Cut, The Matrix, District 9, Surrogates, Avatar, and Splice. Certainly the quality of these films differs, as does the type of social issues and degree into [...]

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