G.I. Joe: Camp Retaliation

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G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2012)

No one would claim there haven’t been some silly films made in 3D in recent years: Men in Black 3 (2012), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2013) Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), Bait 3D (2012), Piranha 3D (2010). In many ways G.I. Joe: Retaliation’s (2013) Hasbro toy source material gives it ample excuse for throwing away the finer points of narrative development and character exploration. Why worry about plot and story when you can use every technological development in recent film history to create increasingly absurd action scenes. CGI, stereoscopic effects and intense use of green screen filming are combined in a film about some evil antagonists (it is never entirely clear who they are), some soldiers led by one named Roadblock, and a plot to: destroy the planet with nuclear weapons/install a military dictatorship/disarm the planet’s nuclear weapons (it is also not clear which of these is the main aims). Although it often feels as if the script were given to a group of excited children with the mandate to let their imaginations run riot over real world logic, there is at least an attempt to provide a fantasy outlet for male and female fans alike. In contrast to recent Hollywood blockbusters (Oz the Great and the Powerful (2013), Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)), the female lead in G.I. Jose, Jaye, is given equal opportunity to flex muscle and computer skills in the film’s ostentatious battle scenes.

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While based on the Hasbro series of action figures, comic books and cartoons, G. I. Joe seems to pay greatest debt to the media franchise’s foray into video games as well as the development of visually sophisticated games in recent years. The structure of endless cycles of death (or near death) and rebirth in Hollywood actions films as well as the tendency to set increasingly difficult missions for character to complete are well known to mimic the reset function and task based narratives familiar to gamers. G. I Joe has all these elements as well as a propensity to limit our engagement with the death of secondary characters. There are numerous ‘baddies’ beyond the principal antagonists, Zartan, Storm Shadow, Fire Fly and Cobra Commander, but they are given no sense of individuality. Unlike the main antagonists, the henchmen are usually wrapped in headgear that makes it impossible to distinguish them. This takes place during the drop into a Pakistan arms factory where the enemy faces are all covered by scarves and again when lycra balaclavas are used in the battle in the Himalayan Mountains.

In many ways, the nod towards gaming form and aesthetics opens the path for a presentational mode that acknowledged the audience. Although the characters never break through their diegetic world in order to address the public directly, the film make frequent use of negative parallax (stereoscopy’s ‘pop-out’ effect) in order to make it clear that it interacting directly with its viewers. While critics deride negative parallax’s gimmick effect, G. I. Joe revels in the ability to point and throw objects towards its audience.  At the beginning of the film, the barrel of a gun protrudes into the auditorium but is out of a focus in a way that suggests the film will avoid overt use of negative parallax. Nonetheless, only a few scenes later, numerous weapons are thrust towards the audience and this tendency only increases throughout the film. There are a large number of scenes with explosions and almost all utilise negative parallax in order to throw embers and other stereoscopic debris towards the audience. In one of the battles in Pakistan, the aspect is enhanced when the exploding embers are executed in slow motion, making the overt negative parallax even more obvious.

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The potential negative parallax has for thrusting weapons towards the audience is often utilised with a type of phallic intention in 3D cinema. In G.I. Joe the constant fetishization of military arms leans towards this tendency yet there is (whether intentional or not) a sense of camp play throughout the film that makes it hard to take any of the plot points seriously. The male G.I. Joes’ muscles bulge around the screen space in a hyperbolic manner and the ‘boys toys’ are a source of sexual glee rather than a serious military endeavour. As if to drive this point home, two of the G.I. Joes attempt to shoot the candle of a cupcake towards the beginning of the film. Later, when Zartan (disguised as the US president) tells us ‘everybody wants to rule the world,’ it is impossible not to remember Tears For Fears’ 1980s pop synthesisers.

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While these various aspects mean that G.I. Joe will struggle to become a modern classic, the film does make effective use of stereoscopic techniques. During the film there is a real sense of a varied depth budget that is willing to create deep space throughout. When at one point a buzzing electronic insect appeared from down left of the screen space to surprise Roadblock, I jumped with my own sense of surprise. The insect seemed to appear in the auditorium space first and moved into the film’s space second.

G.I. Joe also makes use of the tactile stereoscopic field created by liquid in two separate sections. In the first, the Joes hide from an attacking enemy by submerging underwater in a deep well shaft. The shots underwater fill the auditorium with a sense of thick penetrable liquid which is enhanced by the tension on the characters’ faces as they hold their breath. In another section, Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander and Destro are encased in liquid filled tubes. Numerous shots are shown as if from inside the tubes and the bubbles that stream around the screen space created a bridge between the audience and the assumed subject position of the captured characters. It is hard not to feel the tangible difference of screen space in these shots when compared to non-liquid shots.

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It is difficult to justify watching G.I. Joe on a 2D screen as there is very little that makes the film memorable but the stereoscopic effects do at least make the visual field sufficiently engaging to endure the 110 minute running time.

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  1. Stereoscopic Samurai: 47 Ronin | miriamruthross

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