No Such Thing
MGM // R // $29.98 // July 9, 2002
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted July 2, 2002
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The Movie:

Imagine an art-house, dark, live-action "Beauty and the Beast" or "Shrek" (or maybe even "Lilo and Stitch") and you'll begin to come close to this remarkably strange little indie fairy tale by director Hal Hartley. As acceptably out-there as the film begins, the second and third parts of the film grow increasingly stranger - I'm still unsure whether or not this is a film that simply failed to come together, an abstract and rather expensive cinematic experiment or something else and altogether unexplainable. The film stars Sarah Polley (wonderful in "Go" and "The Sweet Hereafter"), as Beatrice, a reporter from New York City.

When the crew of her tabloid news show (which includes her future husband) goes missing and has reportedly been killed by a legendary Icelandic monster (known as, well...Monster), she volunteers to go investigate and hopefully, bring the beast back to the States. Unfortunately, the journey isn't so easy - on the way up, her plane crashes and she's the only survivor. During her dramatic and miraculous recovery, she starts to change her mind about the beast, apparently looking to understand it. Oddly, she seems to not mind that the beast apparently killed the guy who was going to be her husband. This fact is discussed with the creature, then she moves on moments later to other topics of interest.

The local townsfolk, who are terrorized by the beast (imagine Shrek, only drunken - and where does he get so much booze in the middle of nowhere? - and foul-mouthed, or maybe the cousin of Michael Keaton's "Beetlejuice" character), offer to help her travel the final leg of her destination. Next thing she knows, they're getting her drunk and delivering her, nude, to the beast's doorstep as some sort of sacrifice. She and the beast, er, Monster, get to chatting and she finds out that he's immortal and really depressed because he picks up radio waves in his head and it really hurts him. No, I am not making this up.

The movie does get odder still. The monster finally agrees to accompany the girl back to New York City because there is a scientist who can destroy matter and maybe he can end the Monster's unhappy life. I won't continue to give away details about the picture, but once the duo return to the city, Hartley starts with the satire of media. Monster even gets to play rock star, casually thowing his TV out the window once he arrives in his hotel room. Helen Mirren chain-smokes and snaps at people as Beatrice's headline-chasing boss. Suddenly, Beatrice goes from wearing simple outfits in one scene to wearing some sort of leather bondage wear in the next sequence. Suddenly, the characters are heading back North.

Is it a compliment or an insult that a movie is so surreal that it kept my interest purely in that I wondered what weirdness would occur next? I'm not sure. I can't even say I'm sure what Hartley was trying to say with much of this movie, although it awkwardly attempts to explain everything in a discussion at the very end. Much of the film seemed to be straight drama, then the third act introduces comedy, although I'm still unsure if the comedy was genuine or the film got a few bad laughs.

It helps that Hartley somehow convinced a lot of great actors to participate in this project and they at least are somehow able to portray these characters with a fair amount of energy. Michael Spiller's cinematography is beautiful, giving the chilly scenery an often haunting beauty. Not helpful is Hartley's jarring score, which alternates between sort of light classical and strange electronic.

Thinking further, "No Such Thing" doesn't seem like a movie as much as it seems like an experiment by Hartley. Was my interest kept? Basically, but only for the reason that I had no idea what was going to happen next. I think this really could have been an interesting update of "Beauty and the Beast", but the final film really never seemed to figure out what it wanted to be, going off in too many directions. Some of David Lynch's films seem normal in comparison.


VIDEO: MGM presents "No Such Thing" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is actually quite nice, if not without some faults. Sharpness and detail were usually very good, as the picture remained crisp and well-defined throughout, with no instances of noticable softness.

However, not everything was quite right. Some noticable - and rather bothersome - edge enhancement appeared during a few scenes. No pixelation was noticed, though, and the print looked clear and clean with the exception of a speck or two. The film's cool, subdued color palette appeared accurately rendered and without any faults.

SOUND: "No Such Thing" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Hartley's score is really the one element of the audio that's distributed (if pretty lightly, at that) to the surrounds. The remainder of the movie is purely dialogue-driven, with little else.

MENUS: Basic main menu - no animation or other touches.

EXTRAS: Just the trailer, which is unfortunate. I would have really liked a Hartley commentary - not to explain the film, but how on Earth he came up with the story.

Final Thoughts: Yes, it's certainly original, but "No Such Thing" had potential to be a stronger tale and not just an increasingly strange experiment. I'd have to count it as one of the most surreal and plain odd studio-financed films that I've ever seen. MGM's DVD edition offers fine audio/video, but little in the way of supplements. Those still interested may want to check it out as a rental.

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