Color me shocked, but I didn't even know there was an audition special for Ultimate Film Fanatic. Lo and behold, this past weekend while I was looking through my little DiVo guide trying to find a showing of the SouthEast regionals, I happed upon it. The 20 minute (they couldn't fill a full half-hour?) infomercial was really interesting, especially seeing it after having
watched been disappointed by three episodes of the actually show. It reinforced several things I've thought about IFC's attempt at a game show.
First, the producers definitely had their head the right place: the concept and even to a certain degree the format sounds really great when they describe it. It's just that their execution has been for shit.
Second, Chris Gore really is the perfect host for this show, but they script him way too much. When he's reading cue cards, he sounds like it. When he has tossed-off ad libs, he's clever and funny. He also, as he outright states in the special, is one of these film fanatics; while he's hosting, he wants to be playing. That's why he's a natural, because he can show some level of respect even for the most geeky of contestants. That's also why the weekly stupid line, "Some of these guys scare me" completely falls flat; it tries to separate Gore from these guys when his appeal is that he's one of them, just a bit slicker. The best example is at the end of the special, in an interview set-up, Gore is sitting there and in a grave voice with music in the background he states, "But there can be only one ultimate film fanatic." Then after a moment, the music stops, and he breaks into a more relaxed look and says, "That was my bad Highlander version. If you saw the film. Highlander. Which that was a reference to. Highlander." Highlander certainly isn't the most obscure reference he could make, but it's much more of a cult than mainstream hit, and its followers are actually fanatical about its greatness. Gore understands that, and regardless of how that segment was planned, I sincerely doubt he was reading because there is a noticeable difference in his verbal cadence when he's staring at the cards.
Third, I don't understand their casting process at all. For one thing, the end of the audition special highlighted six of the regional finalists. That provides the impression that personality is important on this show. However, the nature of the game limits any real opportunity to get to know these people. And, having seen three of the episodes, a few of the people at the end of the audition special didn't even make it out of "The First Cut." Why highlight them?
Also, during (very brief) clips of some of the auditions, people were showing their memorabilia and making "debate" arguments that were far more impressive than many of the things I've seen on the actual series. I think it's great that they wanted to make getting to the actual show difficult, but their process must be somewhat flawed because it seems that instead of sifting through thousands of people and winding up with the best, they let tons of duds sneak through. A perfect example is last week's contestant Eve who couldn't produce the name "Dirty Harry" as an answer to a very simple Clint Eastwood question.
The special also made a point of noting that many of the contestants may have come to the wrong place since this was an IFC show yet they mentioned mainstream pop films and directors like John Hughes and (ugh) Kevin Costner as their favorites. But then you watch the actual show and (as is especially evident in this week's episode), most of the questions deal with the same kind of mainstream big movies. There's nothing wrong with having a mix, but the indie or obscure films are definitely represented as a minority, so why did their casting decisions supposedly discount people who didn't have the proper indie-cred?
I actually give them some credit for having much more difficult questions this week during "The First Cut." Yeah, they always started easy as they were supposed to, but no face-off round lasted more than 6, and some of them were pretty difficult. While I'm sure a trivia-heavy film fanatic should be able to, I couldn't have named the sword in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (And neither could contestant Eric.) Do you know how many "Sarah Connors" the Terminator killed in the original film before finding Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor? (Two; and contestant Jeff got that right!) Or what was the name of the pet rat in The Abyss that was submerged in liquid oxygen in a scene that was found unacceptable by the Humane Society? (Beanie; contestant Jeff got that wrong.)
There were other harder ones too, but more importantly, is a category all about James Cameron right for a channel that's making fun of people who like big-budget Hollywood movies? Is it right to include a question asking to name one of the three female stars of Charlie's Angels? I don't think they should get rid of the mainstream questions and topics, but why can't they balance it out a bit?
After "The First Cut," we get to the painfully scripted moments of the show again. This week's secret word was "destruction": "I promised you destruction, and I think we delivered…. We've tested their knowledge, and these guys really scare me." Sigh. As I complained about last week, changing one word in an already stupid sentence is not writing.
When it came around time to "The Great Debate," I was again reminded of how much more coherent the auditioners in the special sounded. The first debate between contestants Josh and Reed focused on the very indie film-centric topic of Steven Spielberg: Love him or hate him. I can't really blame the too-short time clock completely since at least one of the guys didn't even use all his time. Suffice to say, this was the worst of all the debates I've seen so far. Neither of them had much to say, and I give judge Richard Roundtree props for one of the obviously few moments of unscripted honesty when he said he was "underwhelmed" by the two of them. Still, for whatever reason, Reed got the judges votes (he was arguing the "Spielberg is brilliant" side) which I didn't understand considering that all he did was list movie titles and say, aren't they great? At least Josh in his misguided attempt to explain his hate for Spielberg had some sort of argument, even if it was misguided.
The second debate covered Bill Paxton. Josh loves him while contestant Jamie is not a fan. This one again went against Josh for completely no good reason. After his rebuttal during which he started to make the obvious argument that it's "a matter of opinion" as to whether Paxton is a good actor or not, Jamie responded with, "I don't see how it's a matter of opinion when it should be a fact," or something to that effect. But as John Kerry might have stated Thursday night, just because you say Paxton is a bad actor does not make it so. I think Josh actually had a great argument which didn't state that Paxton was brilliant but claimed that he was very good at a certain type of role and when he plays such roles he's great – hence his long resume. Jamie's argument was something akin to, No he's not. Twister sucked. Whatever.
So Reed and Jamie were the obvious contestants the producers wanted in "The Obsession War," and while the ultimate winner was again the right guy, the fix was still in so that we could experience all three "battles."
Face-off 1: Jamie had a model of the Delorean from Back to the Future. Apparently he was on a high school band trip and with $25 of his last $30 he bought the model even though he wouldn't have enough money to eat for the rest of the trip. While that is a great item and story for this contest, it didn't stand-up to Reed who brought a large chunk of his collection of action figures. The special thing about this collection is that his focus isn't on a character or movie; he collects action figures of Oscar-nominated stars. So, he had Bruce Davison (I believe an X-Men action figure) who was nominated for Longtime Companion and a Matrix action figure of Laurence Fishburne who was once nominated for his portrayal of Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It. IN an effort to suck up to Roundtree, Reed also pulled out a Samuel L. Jackson (nominated for Pulp Fiction) action figure, but one from the Star Wars prequels as opposed to from Shaft. Jamie's model was a good try, but such a specifically organized action figure collection gave Reed the edge, and the judges agreed. Reed won.
Face-off 2: Here we go again. Reed started off by telling a story of how Dennis Quaid wasn't quite a movie star when he came to Reed's hometown of Chattanooga to shoot The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. In an attempt to prove how long he's been fanatical, Reed described writing a story about Quaid for his high school newspaper (he held up the article and a bunch of pictures he took on the set) with some very flowery language about how a new star was born in Chattanooga, blah blah blah. While that was the weakest of Reed's "attacks," Jamie's was kind of bland. Apparently, when the Star Wars was released in theaters prior to the prequels, Jamie ran out and bought whatever Star Wars related memorabilia he could. That's it. End of story. (When hearing his part of the next face-off, this bit of show and tell becomes even lamer.) While neither of these were a slam dunk, I'm once again convinced in order to make "The Obsession War" go longer, the producers intentionally leveled the field so that a third "battle" could occur. Jamie won.
Face-off 3: This one really made it no contest, and thankfully, the right guy won. Jamie apparently heard that Criterion Collection was taking an Alfred Hitchcock box set (I'm guessing it included Rebecca, Spellbound and Notorious) out of print. Apparently at the time the box set cost $130, so poor college student that Jamie is, he called his Mom and begged her for the money to buy this box set because he figured if it was going out of print, it would be worth a lot more down the road. Oh Jamie, no. True film fanatics don't collect their collectibles for financial gain. Sure, that may be an element of choosing certain objects, but true fanaticism means you buy a lot of crap no matter how stupid or what the cost because you're compelled to. For example, take Reed's entry in this round. Reed collects movie posters – long narrow half-sheets in fact. Apparently, he has over 200 of them at home. On the show, he pulled out rolls of them and just started showing them and tossing them on the ground. Impressively, the movies he has run the spectrum: Risky Business, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Purple Rain, Monty Python's Life of Brian, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, All That Jazz and Pennies From Heaven. As I said, no contest. Reed is way more obsessive, and obviously not stimulated by greed. In fact, once again supporting my contention that host Gore is much better when he ad libs, while recapping the two show-and-tells for the judges and having noticed Reed just unrolling and tossing aside poster after poster, Gore tosses off the comment, "Reed doesn't seem to care about the condition (of the posters)." (I know it doesn't read funny, but it was.) So, thankfully, Reed won.
Reed will represent the Southeast region. Thanks to the audition special, I now know that there are SEVEN regions. Shame on me for assuming six since each show starts with six contestants and the winners from each region meet in the finals. Apparently, the finals will have seven people. Maybe they changed up the format at that point. We can only hope. Mountain, Midwest and West Coast remain.
This is riveting shit, no?