Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Dead Toymakers Society
I have seen two-thirds of this film before.

The bottom two-thirds.

Way back in the day, old friend Brian and I went into what was commonly known at the time as a "Video Rental Shop".

These were a bit like today's local DVD-outlets, only instead of hiring out movies on DVD, customers would be given a "Video Home System cassette", called "VHS" for short.

These comically huge things usually cost about thirty pounds each, and had to be kept indoors at room-temperature for a minimum of two hours before they could be played. They were often only in mono, too.

A popular misconception is that, after the "video-tape" (slang term) had been inserted into the top of the equally criminally-named "video-recorder", they would take an entire two seconds to "thread-up" before playing the recording.

Obviously, since today's DVDs take more like two minutes to get started, that seems rather unlikely.

Anyhow, that particular halcyon day, Brian and I hired-out a video-cartridge of Robin Williams' talking-picture Toys, took it back to his place and, after waiting the requisite two hours for it to warm-up to room-temperature, placed it into the VCR ("Videographic Cinematronic Repeatarama™" unit) to watch and enjoy.

Alas, despite the unit featuring a cool "tracking" device, we were unable to get the rotating heads to exactly line-up with their helical tracks on the tape, resulting in their falling in-between two adjacent ones.

In layman's terms, the result was that for the entire two hours of the photoplay, we could only see the bottom two-thirds of the picture. The top-third was just interference. Or maybe it was the other way around. Ironically, of the picture that we could see, I have since wiped nearly all of my own memory. Vote Major.

Fast-forward to the present, (little in-joke there) and this afternoon Toys was enjoying a special screening on Channel 5. (NB. that's "Channel 5" the present-day TV station, not "Channel 5" the rather rashly-named VHS label operated by W H Smith in the 1980s – sheesh this is confusing)

Anyways, today I decided that it was high time I found-out just what had been going-on in that mysterious remaining third of the screen, all those years ago.

As it turns-out, and this is the sentence that sums-up this whole review, Toys is about the most visual talkie I've ever seen.

There's scarcely a single shot that doesn't have some sort of subtle gag hiding behind it.

Sorry, does that make it sound like it's a comedy? Well maybe it is, but rarely does it ever feel like one. Its plodding pace makes the whole thing run very slowly, and several of the performances just don't have much vaudevillian spark going on in them. The whole 118 minutes feels like a rough cut.

For all that, if you can invest the time in it, then this is wall-to-wall fascinating. Nothing is in any hurry to happen though, so you mustn't be either.

While I found the ideas and the concepts to all be brilliantly clever, it is a shame that Zevo Toys just does not come across as a very fun place to work at the outset. In fact, it feels downright sinister. As a result, when General Leland takes over the running of the company and imposes his own oppressive regime on its employees, it just doesn't feel much different to before.

There are so many good comedy scenes in here though, all of which seem quite assuming and happy about themselves, and with no interest whatsoever in whether or not you get the joke. The whole MTV sequence is contrived, subtracts from the narrative, and is completely unnecessary, but it is still terribly well executed, and highly watchable for it.

I really liked this, and its message about balancing passivity with discipline, without going too far to either extreme, is one that usually scores points with me.

Tremendous. Nine out of ten.

(last time I assume I only gave it six)


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