Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Family-Surgery-Revenge-Tragedy-Drug-Rock Opera

If I were thinking of exploring themes such as elective and non-elective surgery, rampant capitalism, the relationship of media to both, drugs, grave-robbing, and scantily clad females I might well come up with the idea of a near-ish future SF story. It would likely involve organ failure diseases which can only be cured with genetically engineered organs. These could be bought from the company which created them, but if you fail to keep up on the payments, they can be legally, bloodily and fatally repossessed. It's quite likely I'd come up with some sort family story, with many secrets from the previous generation winding around the main story. Having got this far, I'd quite likely go down the Revenge Tragedy route[1], as there's already lots of cutting and a family with conflicts. And I might even decide to make it a musical. Of course after all that I'd sober up and realise that the idea is silly for many reasons, the most important one being that to get anywhere near pulling it off I'd have to be unspeakably talented.

The people behind Repo! The Genetic Opera are unspeakably talented.

I'm not going to talk about the story (if you want more than I've hinted at above you could try here) but about the spectacle and the songs and a little about the cast. It looks fantastic. Apparently it was done on a small budget of both money and time, so maybe the slightly shabby dark-grunge-goth look isn't just about creating a Bladerunneresque atmosphere for the film, but is because shadows hide flaws in the set. Still, if it works both ways, that's a bonus.

The back story is framed with cartoon interludes, drawn by co-writer, co-composer and actor Terence Zdunich[2], which painlessly fill us in on needed information while adding to the atmosphere. On the other hand, I think they draw us out of the fiction. This isn't as much of a problem as it might be in another film as we also have some of the slightly unfamiliar conventions of opera doing the same - so for example, every character about to die gets a song about their regrets.

My usual problem with musicals is that if a song contains an important story or plot point, I don't always get it as I miss the lyrics the first time around. One way around this is to repeat the important bits in the song half a dozen times, in which case I tend to hear it the first time and then sit around waiting for the song to finish so that something will happen rather than them keep singing about whatever it is they're doing. Repo! is mostly successful in avoiding these problems by 1. stating clearly the important points in songs; 2. repeating then extending each point; and 3. making sure the action on screen is as interesting as the plot points in the song. As an example, here is the aforementioned Zdunich as the dual narrator/character Graverobber explaining the use of the drug Zydrate to Shilo (Alexa Vega) followed by the arrival of Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton previously appearing in a Heckler and Kochk review here) to re-iterate the use of the drug and tell us something about Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) in the song Zydrate Anatomy.

And I tell you this now; if you liked that clip, you'll like the film. If it's too much; too loud, too blatant, too bloody, too sexualised, too grungy, too much going on; then you probably won't like it as there's more than that in some scenes. In addition, as with most musicals it stands or falls on it's songs so if you're on the fence check the soundtrack on youtube or favourite music provider.

There's one final pleasure in the film, and it's Anthony Stewart Head. His dual role is revealed fairly early on, but look away now and come back for the next paragraph if you don't want it spoiled. Okay? Anyway, he's brilliant as the Repo-man, the surgeon/butcher/serial-killer who repossesses organs from those who fail to keep up payments and he can sing well enough to keep up with Sarah Brightman (who, so far as I can tell, isn't holding back).

Anyway my final verdict: it's a little rough around the edges, and the default choice is excess (more blood, more volume, more goth, more sex, more grotesquery) when a little moderation might have done better. But it adds up to a satisfying whole (even if we can see the stitches). I intend to try and introduce this to movie night as soon as possible.

The V_ classification board rates the film as gruesome.

[1] I'd probably write it in blank verse at the rate of about 4 lines a day, so would take me about 5 years to write the first draft. Fortunately this is all a hypothetical.
[2] Have I used the phrase "unspeakably talented" yet in this review?


  1. "My liver was wrecked, but now I can drink whatever I want!"

    Susan and I quote from the film. Sadly the clip of "We started this Op'ra Shit" isn't available on youtube, probably due to the breasts. Yes, the film has breasts! Shocking.

    Surgery, murder, and drug abuse seem to be fine on youtube though. Hooray!