Category Archives: film

Who should have really won Rat Race? A comprehensive study.

Rat Race is a near-perfect film. Coming out in 2001, the same year as Shrek, it was very much part of the peak of pre-9/11 wacky comedies that embodied the turn of the millennium. It even has Smashmouth in it – literally on stage singing All Star at the end of the film.

It’s one hundred and twelve minutes of pretty much pure nonsense. A crazy squirrel lady, a bus full of Lucille Ball impersonators, a song by the Baha Men, Hitler’s car… the film really has it all.

I remember first seeing the film in 2002 or so. We’d rented the DVD from the local village shop because they had nothing good available, and I was sceptical. The film looked like garbage. Just completely stupid and dumb. The cast were pretty much entirely nobodies to me, expect for Rowan Atkinson and John Cleese, and the fact that Atkinson was being wasted on a bizarrely offensive Italian tourist character put me off.

But do you what happened when the ending credits began to roll? I went back to the DVD menu and watched it again. In full. An entire second time. Something I hadn’t done prior, or since with any other movie. There was something special about this film, something I had to watch again. And I did, again and again. And now this movie lives forever in my dreams and soul.

And because of that, I’m particularly fixated on answering one particular question about it, which I’ll get to in a bit. But first, let’s review what the film’s actually about.

1. A brief overview of the plot

Rat Race is primarily a rip-off of the 1963 movie ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ – a film I have never seen and have no interest in seeing. But the plot of that movie, as I understand it, is a bunch of strangers chasing after some money in zany ways. And yep, that’s pretty much Rat Race.

John Cleese plays an eccentric casino owner – Donald Sinclair – who wants to offer his highest rollers a new game to bet on. Instead of betting on cards or horses, he invents a new sort of race – where people chase across the country to win a prize. To do this, he plucks a variety of guests from the hotel and informs them that two million dollars in cash has been placed in a bag in a station locker in New Mexico. The first one there gets to keep it. And they’re off!

That’s it. It’s a very simple premise. Well, there’s at least one layer of dramatic irony going on – the participants in the race don’t know that they’re the subjects of a larger bet. But that doesn’t really play any significant role in the plot. It’s more just a contrivance for the setup to make any sense, and to give Cleese a few more scenes scattered throughout the film. The film could just as well be the same characters chasing the money without that element, and it’d be more or less the same.

So what the film represents is a logistical challenge. All the characters start off in the same spot, and each has to reach the same end point. What they need to do is find the most efficient way to manage that. Things go wrong, hilarity ensues, and that’s basically all you need to know to understand this film.

2. The most efficient way to win

To figure this out we need to determine two things: where the characters start, and where they end up. As Rat Race is a piece of fiction, it makes identifying this an interesting challenge. Thankfully, the first part of this is pretty straightforward: it’s explicitly stated that the characters are in the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. That weird casino that has a mini-Venice built inside it. To each their own.

The end point is more difficult. They have to get to Silver City, New Mexico – which is a real place. But the train station containing the locker containing the money does not exist. Silver City just doesn’t have a passenger train station. The exterior shots of the station are actually of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely, Nevada.

So the most obvious approach would be to simply pick a central spot in Silver City and say that’s roughly where they were going. A problem with this is that Atkinson’s character (Enrico Pollini) is clearly seen travelling to the station by rail, and ends up nearly winning as a result. (OH SORRY I DIDN’T GIVE A SPOILER WARNING FOR THIS 17 YEAR OLD COMEDY FILM).

But the stand-in location above isn’t any good either, as the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is 800 miles away from Silver City. And there aren’t any really good rail stops nearby that could act as approximate locations. So let’s just say that Silver City in general is the location they’re heading to.

Let’s plug these coorindates into Google Maps and see what we get.

I’m not buying that ‘7 hour 10 mins’ travel time by plane that Google is giving me there. But I’m not able to find any actual flights that go between the two airports. Instead, as the characters in the film attempt, you’d be best off getting a flight to Albuquerque, taking about 1 hour and 25 minutes. Followed by a drive of just over 4 hours to Silver City. So your total travel time would be about 5 and half hours.

Let’s add in some time for general airport faffing. It’s a domestic flight so no border control, and they probably wouldn’t take any baggage: so about 90 minutes extra seems right. So maybe 7 hours total? And that’s if they could instantly get a flight the moment they reached the airport. Which seems unlikely.

So clearly a plane trip is the most efficient way to do this. Unless they just missed a flight, in which case the direct car ride is the best – at around nine and a half hours door-to-door.

All this is purely academic anyway, as none of the characters end up sticking to any kind of plan or take anything close to an ‘efficient route’. But it gives us an interesting yardstick with which we can measure the film’s correspondence to reality. If seven to nine-and-a-half hours is a realistic time range for getting from Vegas to Silver City under normal conditions, then we should expect at least ten hours and upwards for the wacky routes our heroes take to get there.

So let’s get to it. I’m now going to take each group of characters in turn, analyse the route they took, and attempt a fair approximation of their trip. A lot of guesswork is going to be involved, but I’m approaching this from a disinterested perspective (I don’t really like any of the characters enough to be rooting for them), so I’m not concerned about any impartiality on my part, conscious or otherwise.

3. The Journeys

3.1 – Duane & Blaine

Duane and Blaine are brothers, and they’re basically hustlers. We’re introduced to them as they attempt to commit some ‘personal accident compensation’ fraud. They’re probably the most ruthless of the group in their pursuit of the money, and willing to go to the most immoral lengths to win.

They start by driving to the airport. The Venetian Resort is a ten minute drive from Vegas’ McCarran International Airport. (We’ll use this as a standard for the other characters too).

At the airport they find they’re unable to get a seat on the next flight, as the others have got tickets first. So they decide to, erm, use their truck to destroy the ground radar and prevent anyone from flying. (As a reminder, this film came out in cinemas just 25 days before 9/11). Let’s rewatch that scene, a masterpiece of film-making, combing physical comedy and a classical score.

Let’s say this whole thing takes 15 minutes.

Somehow avoiding domestic terrorism charges, the pair head over to a car hire place (10 minutes) and hire a new car (10 minutes).

They then drive for an unspecified amount of time. Off-screen they meet the squirrel lady, but I’m not able to determine whereabouts she’s locate; the “Totem Pole Ranch” she references doesn’t seem to be a real place. Let’s just assume they’re doing the normal drive.

At some point along the way they stop to get a second key cut (15 minutes) but it’s stolen by the locksmith. They chase him down the road, into a hot air balloon festival. Again, this could be anywhere. Can we reverse engineer some of the missing times here from what else we see in the rest of the film? Maybe!

Following a 4 minute episode where they fight the locksmith for the key they end up back on the road, with a signpost indicating they’re 28 miles from Silver City. An interrupted drive from from Vegas to to the town of Buckhorn (roughly 30 miles from Silver City) would take 8 hours 40 minutes. So let’s assume that as a base amount of time to add everything else onto.

But they’re not they’re yet! Distracted on the road, they end up driving into a Monster Truck rally. Again, I can’t find a decent contender for this within 30 miles of Silver City. But let’s say they spend at least 20 minutes at the rally, for the both the events in the film and then stealing the truck off-screen. They then drive the rest of the way – about a 30 minute drive. They then run for another 2 minutes from the truck to the station. So..

  • Drive to the airport: 10 mins
  • Airport sabotage: 15 mins
  • Head to car hire: 10 mins
  • Hiring a car: 10 mins
  • Car travel: 8 hours 40 mins
  • Key cutting: 15 mins
  • Locksmith fight: 4 mins
  • Monster truck rally: 20 mins
  • Remaining drive: 30 mins
  • Running: 2 mins
  • Total: 10 hours and 36 minutes.

3.2 – Enrico Pollini

Enrico Pollini is an Italian tourist character, portrayed by Rowan Atkinson. Similar to Mr Bean, he’s a bumbling idiotic character that the others look down upon. He’s also a narcoleptic, which – rather than being used as a chance to highlight the impact this illness has on people’s lives – is basically just used as a punchline a few times to reiterate how useless he is.

He falls asleep pretty much immediately, in the hotel lobby. He then stays asleep for about half of the film before waking up and continuing. Sadly, there’s no accurate way to determine how long he was asleep for. We can see he’s amassed a crowd of children around him, watching him sleep – so he’s been there a while. But not so long that he’s received any medical attention or intervention by hotel staff. (They could of course be under instructions not to intervene by Sinclair, but who knows?).

From what I understand about narcolepsy, sleep attacks are common but not especially lengthy. These microsleep attacks can range from a few seconds to a few minutes. I’m going to give a generous high-end cap of 30 minutes on Pollini’s sleep, as that seems about right for the way the sleep is cut in the film, and the limit of what seems to be medically appropriate.

After his sleep, he leaves the hotel and is almost hit by Zack Mallozzi – an organ transplant driver played by Wayne Knight. Mallozzi is driving to El Paso, which does indeed go close by Silver City. They drive for a while, before stopping after Pollini throws a human heart out of the van window.

Mallozzi attempts to murder Pollini and take his heart (????) and Pollini escapes by jumping onto a nearby moving train (???). Can we figure out where this takes place?

I think so! On the Interstate Route 10, between Steins and Lordburg there’s a stretch of road that has a train track running alongside it. This is along the route they would have taken from Vegas to Silver City/El Paso, and also matches the geography. So it’s a safe bet.

To get here, it’d take an 8 hour 30 minute drive. Pollini escapes onto a train and is on his way to Silver City.

Now, since Silver City doesn’t actually have a train station we’ll have to use some imagination. This spot on the road is 45 miles from Silver City. In the USA, passenger trains are limited to 59mph. So, assuming they were travelling at top speed, the time it would take for a train to cover that distance is about 45 minutes.

Let’s assume him arriving there counts as winning, narcolepsy aside. So..

  • Initial sleep: 30 minutes
  • Car time: 8 hours 30 minutes
  • Train time: 45 minutes
  • Overall time: 9 hours and 45 minutes

By car, the distance covered by the train would have taken about an hour. So we can also give him a ‘realistic’ time of a round 10 hours if it comes to it.

3.3 – Owen Templeton

Owen Templeton is Cuba Gooding Jr’s character in Rat Race. He plays a disgraced football referee, universally despised for making a bad call on a coin flip. His is one of the most pitiful misadventures in the film, and particularly varied.

He also starts by going to get to the airport (10 mins), finds he can’t make the flight (5 mins), and goes to grab a cab. Meeting the same cabbie, he instructs the driver to head to Silver City. After some time,he’s left stranded in the desert by the cab driver, since he’d lost money on the football game Templeton had refereed.

Now, I doubt that the cab driver would drive over an hour to exact his revenge on Templeton. And while there’s no clues as to the exact part of the Nevada desert that Templeton was left in, I think somewhere around Boulder City would be suitable.

It’s surrounded by desert, on the way from Vegas to Silver City, and is only a 30 minute drive. Let’s add another 10 mins for the cab driver’s shortcut, plus another 1 hour for Templeton’s time spent wandering the desert – he’s clearly been out there a long time and is suffering from dehydration.

This also makes sense in terms of what happens next. He reaches a coach stop, where a bus is parked full of Lucille Ball impersonators, on their way to a convention in Santa Fe. If they came from the Vegas direction, it’d make sense they’d pass by Boulder City on the way too. So the facts add up.

After 5 minutes of coaxing the coach driver into giving him all his clothes, Templeton is on his way. The drive from Boulder City to Silver City would take about 8 hours 45 minutes. But since a coach full of Lucys is going to be slower than a car, and Templeton is shown to be an inexperienced coach driver, I think we can add another hour on top of that.

This time also includes the coach breaking down scene, and Templeton somehow coming into possession of a horse.

Then the 2 minute run from the coach to the station. So…

  • Travel to airport: 10 mins
  • Time in airport: 5 mins
  • Cab to desert, including shortuct: 40 mins
  • Lost in desert: 1 hour
  • Coach stop: 5 mins
  • Drive to Silver City: 8 hours 45 minutes
  • Extra coach time and horse: 1 hour
  • Running to station: 2 minutes
  • Total: 11 hours and 47 minutes

3.4 – Vera and Merrill

This pair are an estranged mother and daughter meeting for the first time, played by Whoopi Goldberg and Lanai Chapman respectively. And they have a pretty wild time.

Like the others, they try the airport. Merrill is a wealthy businesswoman and is able to secure a charter jet. She offers a bonus for the pilots if they can reach their destination in under an hour. Was she heading for Albuquerque airport like the others, or the closer Grant County Airport? We don’t know, but it doesn’t matter as the flights all get cancelled. So let’s just work with the standard 10 mins drive to the airport, with maybe around 15 mins of faffing because they actually make it onto their plane.

Like the brothers, they go to hire a car (10 mins) and are frustrated by the slow car hire worker (let’s say 20 mins). Then they’re off!

Driving for a bit, they get a bit lost trying to locate the interstate. This is brought up several times in the movie and I’m not sure what it means. If they mean Route 10, then it should be clearly signposted after cutting through Phoenix.

Sure, they could be trying to cut onto the interstate early. But that would add extra time onto their journey (checkout Google’s wild suggestion that adds two whole hours onto the journey). So I’m not sure what their route is, or how they’re getting lost. But whatever. Crazy squirrel lady happens.

They take the squirrel lady’s directions and end up driving into a ravine. Let’s say they lose 30 mins for this detour / near-death experience. They then wander the desert for a bit – let’s give them the same hour we gave Templeton for this bit. And they come across the testing area for a high speed rocket car.

Since we can’t say where they start or end up during the rocket car bit, it’s a bit sparse in terms of the calculations we can do. But the scientists state that the girls break Mach 1 during this part, meaning they were travelling at about 767mph. So they definitely winning the ‘fastest moving at any point during the film’ part of the movie. Assuming they were in the car for 5 minutes, they’d cover about 63 miles. A car travelling at 75mph (the speed limit in New Mexico) would take 50 minutes to cover this distance.

So I propose that rather than trying to incorporate the rocket car in as an additional calculation, we simply deduct ’50 minutes’ from what would be otherwise be a standard trip.

They wander the desert a little more. Clearly still dizzy from the rocket car, they can’t have been walking around for more than 15 minutes, before getting bundled into a bus. Since we can’t tell where the bus started, we can’t say how long this would have taken. So let’s think about this.

Nine and a half hours is the average amount of time it’d take a normal car to do the full journey. Let’s deduct the fifty minutes saved by the rocket car, then add another 10 for the extra slowness of travelling by bus. That gives us a total ‘on the road’ time of 8 hours 50 minutes. Are you still following along?

Their bus actually ends up closer to the station than the other racers, so let’s give them 1 minute of running time. So…

  • Airport travel and faff: 25 mins
  • Detour: 30 mins
  • Desert time: 1 hour
  • Second desert time: 15 mins
  • ‘On the road’ (initial car time + bus time – rocket car time): 8 hours 50 mins
  • Running to the station: 1 minute
  • Total: 11 hours and 1 minute

3.5 – The Pear Family

The Pears are a mother, father, son, and daughter enjoying a family holiday to Las Vegas. The father, Randy Pear (Jon Lovitz), is recruited into Sinclair’s race but neglects to tell the rest of the family about it, thinking that his wife wouldn’t approve. The lie he gives instead is that he has a job offer in Silver City (working in “ink, for fountain pens!). His family all believe this lie and they set out for the airport (10 mins journey time, 5 mins faff).

Like the others, they end up grounded so opt to drive to Silver City instead. His daughter needs the toilet soon after, and Randy makes her go out of the window of the moving car. He’s stopped by police as a result, probably being detained for about 10 mins.

They stop off at a ‘Barbie Museum’ on the way – which instead of being a museum about the popular doll, is in fact a museum about the SS officer Klaus Barbie. They spend about 15 minutes at the museum (why did they take the tour) before leaving to find that Duane and Blaine have sabotaged their car. Somehow they are able to steal what in the universe of this film is explicitly actual Hitler’s actual car. Which is apparently roadworthy and contains petrol.

A series of highly-plausible events take place where Randy smears black lipstick on his upper lip, burns both his tongue and middle finger with Hitler’s cigarette lighter, is attacked by bikers, crashes into a WW2 Allied veterans rally, and is shot at. But I can’t imagine this adding more than 30 minutes to the family’s overall journey.

After this, the family are next seen in a truck stop, wanting to quit the journey. Randy refuses to let them give up and illegally drugs them all, before bundling them into the back of a truck. Sleeping pills take about an hour to take effect, so let’s say they were at the stop for 1 hour 15 minutes.

The family then arrive in Silver City and spend the usual 2 minutes or so running to the station. Despite the diversions along the way, the family spent most of their journey on the road (in their car / Hitler’s car / the lorry), so using the standard 9.5 hours as the base time feels fair, with some fuzzy lines around the speed of the lorry and the reliability of Adolf Hitler’s car. So…

  • Airport: 15 mins
  • Police stop: 10 mins
  • Barbie Museum: 15 mins
  • Weird Nazi stuff: 30 mins
  • Road stop: 1 hour 15 mins
  • On-the-road time: 9 hours 30 mins
  • Running to the station: 2 mins
  • Total: 11 hours and 57 minutes

3.6 – Nick & Tracy

Nick and Tracy are unique amongst the racers in that, although they travel together, they didn’t know each other between the film. They agree to travel together (mostly because they happen to be reading the same biography of Charles Lindbergh) and a romantic element develops. But we can count them as one unit because all their timings should be the same.

So they both head to the airport (10 mins) but faff around for a bit longer. They strike up a conversation over the book, and Nick is excited to hear that Tracy can still fly as she’s a helicopter pilot and only the airplanes are grounded. Let’s call this another 10 mins of chat/plan time.

Now, if they’d just taken the helicopter the entire way they’d have easily won. Assuming the helicopter travelled at 160mph they could cover the 450 miles in about 2 hours 48 minutes – and probably land right near the station. But they don’t.

Instead, Tracy begins by flying the helicopter north – which Nick expresses some concern about. Tracy explains that it’s so they can visit her boyfriend. Where they end up isn’t clear, but it’s presumably a bit far east as well. After Tracy fights her boyfriend, they crash the helicopter and steal his truck.

In the next scene we see them, they’re sitting in a diner where Nick brags: “If everybody else had to drive, we have a three-hour head start.” Nick’s got a map in front of him, so we can take his word on that. So, let’s take our usual 9.5 hour calculation and subtract three hours to get six and a half hours driving time.

Not much else happens to them along the way. They spend a scene arguing with a mechanic who’s trying to rip them off. Call that 30 minutes. And they run out of petrol and stop to siphon some from a police car. But that can’t be more than 5 mins as the policeman drives off pretty sharpish to chase the brothers.

Does that all add up? This scene in the film geotemporally locates Nick, Tracy, Duane, and Blaine in the same spot. We could attempt to reconcile this all into one consistent timeline, but it doesn’t matter too much. We’re interested in how long each group would have taken, independently of each other anyway. Remember that the brothers still have to deal with the Monster Truck bit. We don’t see Nick and Tracy again until the end, with two minutes of running time to the station. So…

  • Airport: 20 mins
  • Driving: 6 hours 30 mins
  • Policeman: 5 mins
  • Mechanic: 30 mins
  • Running to the station: 2 mins
  • Total: 7 hours and 27 minutes

4. The Winners

We have a winner! Here’s the countdown:

Sixth place: The Pear Family (11 hours 57 minutes)

The Pears spent a good deal of time hitting the road, but racked up way too much stoppage time. The lag on the sleeping pills is a particular hard-hitter. And the Nazi Museum was just unnecessary altogether.

Fifth place: Owen Templeton (11 hours 47 minutes)

A surprisingly high ranking for someone left to die in the desert. But even a solid commitment to driving a coach under stressful conditions sees Templeton just missing out on a spot in the top four.

Fourth place: Vera and Merrill (11 hours 1 minute)

The rocket car wasn’t enough to help the girls out and claw back time from two separate sections of them carless in the desert.

Third place: Duane & Blaine (10 hours and 36 minutes)

The brothers ruined everyone’s plans with their airport sabotage and this ruthlessness saw them through to making up good time on the road. But it wasn’t enough in the end.

Second place: Enrico Pollini (9 hours and 45 minutes)

Incredible scenes from the plucky Italian. Despite falling asleep at the starting block, Pollini really ‘hauled ass’ to almost make it into first place. Of course, within the film itself he makes it there first, but we can’t ignore the reality that there is no rail station in Silver City. So he just misses out.

First place: Nick & Tracy (7 hours 27 minutes)

They had a bloody helicopter. Of course they won.

Whether they used it all the way or not, the “three hour” head start is simply too much of an advantage to ignore. We’ve established that travelling by air is the most efficient way to win this race and since they were the only two able to take advantage of it, they were the clear favourites from the outset.

5. Concluding remarks

Rat Race clearly isn’t a film meant to be taken this seriously. The fact that all the characters end up in basically the same place at the same time isn’t the result of careful and deliberate planning by the screenwriters – it’s just a convenience for the sake of the plot.

But I think we can conclude that if an eccentric billionaire offers you the chance to win $2m dollars in a race, you should probably go find a helicopter pilot as soon as possible. And don’t trust women who sell squirrels.

I’ve probably made some basic errors in the above, so please do let me know if you spot anything. Or have a go at doing all the calculations yourself. It’s only taken me five and a  half hours!

Now, let’s all enjoy some Smashmouth.


Further reading:

In my research for this… thing, I really enjoyed this article about the plotholes of Rat Race. It really is a very silly film.

The rhino scene in ‘Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls’ deserves to win every single Oscar

Ok, here’s the scene.

Back story: Ace is trying to find out what the bad guys are up to blah blah blah. It’s basically a contrivance to allow this scene to happen. And what a scene it is.

43 seconds in and Ace is already fully nude. The remaining two minutes are simply the funniest acts ever recorded on film. Yes, I really do think this.

Go on. Watch it again now.

I think we can all agree that this deserves to win every single Oscar going. And let’s go over the reasons why.

(Note: I’m using the current award categories, rather than those of the time, because we’re judging the scene by today’s standards and also this is my blog so shut up).

Best Picture

This one goes without seeing. There’s nothing better than this piece of film.

Best Director

The film, and so presumably this scene, was directed by Steve Oedekerk. Steve’s had a mixed career of directing, producing, and acting in a whole load of films – including the criminally underrated Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. But you probably haven’t heard of him.

Surely Ace Ventura 2 was the height of his directing career. And this scene is the height of the movie. Therefore, this scene deserves the best director award.

(As an aside, surely the best director award should go to whoever directed best picture? Otherwise, you’re basically saying “Great job on making that film! It’s the best film. But… we’re giving the best film-maker award to someone who made another film instead LOL!”)

Sure, Spielberg could make us weep for Neeson’s Oskar Schindler. And yeah, Scorsese drew a monster of a performance out of Dicaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. But has either of those directors ever forced an actor through a rhino’s bottom? NO. And that is their failing.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

It just has to be Carrey, right? Jim gives the performance of his life, while fully nude. We feel his sweat. We believe his agony. He makes us feel something real and true.

The only performance I’ve seen that even comes close is Danny Devito’s Frank Reynolds squeezing out of a sofa in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And that’s only because it’s basically the same scene anyway.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The dad! Just because….. look at him!

That subtle transformation from delight to realisation to horror displays a range of emotion that’s tragically missing from the majority of today’s blockbuster movies. Bravo, sir!

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Excuse me, Oscars? Did you just use ‘actress’? How insulting.

But if we’re talking about the best actor in this scene that is female, it’s gotta be either the mother or the daughter – by virtue of being the only two present. I’ll go with the mum, because she has a great reaction.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Ok, the daughter can have this one.

Best Animated Feature

Animated (adjective)
1. full of life or excitement; lively.

YES.

Best Animated Short Film

Consider this scene not as part of a larger whole, but as a standalone short film in its own right. Maybe some kind of weird experimental art piece. It’s not so much of a leap.

Best Cinematography

Best Costume Design

Sure, Ace is nude for most the scene. But he starts out wearing his iconic open Hawaiian shirt. Is there a more memorable costume in comedy movie history?

No. The answer is no, there is not.

Best Documentary Feature

A challenge this.

BUT, the scene documents a very funny occurrence. Sure, a human has never actually passed through the anus of a robot rhinoceros. But I believe the scene faithfully depicts what that would be like. It’s at least close enough to be judged for and win this category, in my opinion.

Best Documentary Short Feature

See above.

Best Film Editing

The editing is legitimately spectacular.

The cuts between the family and the rhino. The way the ‘birth’ goes on for way too long. The way he finally flops out onto the ground as a kind of punchline for the scene.

It’s all very beautiful, in it’s own way.

Best Foreign Language Film

Eh, I guess you can watch the film in a foreign language. In fact, you can do that right here –

Like, if this was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival, maybe in black and white, with these voices over it, and with the title ‘bébé rhino’ it would win every award going.

Best Live Action Short Film

Goes without saying.

Best Makeup and Styling

Makeup: Ace’s sweaty, sticky body at the end.

Styling: Ace’s hair at the start.

Best Original Score

The use of sound in the scene is pretty minimal. But that doesn’t matter so much when it’s this good. IT GETS THE OSCAR.

Best Original Song

Must…
…have…
…air!

It’s not a song. But it expresses something about ourselves that we can all relate to.

Don’t we all need air, after all?

Best Production Design

I’m not 100% sure what ‘production design’ even is. I mean, the rhino looks pretty good? I fully buy into the conceit that he is squeezing out of a rhino’s behind.

Best Sound Editing

Yeah, sure?

Best Sound Mixing

How is this a different category to sound editing? You guys have too many awards.

Best Visual Effects

OMG YES. HE IS BIRTHED BY A RHINO.

And I believe they didn’t use any CGI for the scene, either. Carrey delivers the real deal.

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) / Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Combined because they’re the same.

Kind of hot in these rhinos‘ is a truly fantastic line. Just think about how good it is.

Think about how good it is, then join me in awarding it the Oscar.


And that’s the lot!

Congratulations Jim & Co, you’ve swept the board!

Property damage costs in Paddington

Paddington is a really great film. It’s got something for everyone, not just kids. And Ben Whishaw (aka Me), brings loads to the role. Basically, go and see it.

But one thing struck me about the film. It’s very much a fun family comedy. Paddington gets into lots of misadventures, but a much stronger emphasis on slapstick than in classic Paddington. He gets in so much trouble, that I found it almost jarring.

RIP the inner child in me, as I sat in the cinema thinking “who’s going to pay to clear all that up, eh?” Perhaps the filmmakers were aware of this to an extent, as the characterisation of Mr Brown as a ‘risk analyst’ sets up a juxtaposition to Paddington’s chaos that forms the thematic core of the movie.

I wondered, is it possible to put an actual value on the amount of damage that Paddington causes? It’s worth a go at least.

Oh, and [SPOILER WARNING] I guess???

Here are the rules:

  • Any damage directly caused by Paddington on screen is counted.
  • As is any damage that can be inferred from what the other characters say.
  • Damage caused by non-characters is not considered (ie. the earthquake at the beginning)
  • Damage caused by other characters is not considered (eg. Mr Brown causing damage to the exterior of the Natural History Museum whilst scaling it)

For the most part of the beginning of the movie, there isn’t much damage that we can count. Paddington’s journey from Peru to London mostly involves sitting in a lifeboat eating marmalade. The discarded jars can’t really be construed as property damage, and would fall under some littering offence instead most likely. Moving on then.

There isn’t really anything to speak of until Paddington arrives at the Bond house. The famous bathroom scene is the first major set-piece where major damage occurs. Here’s a rundown:

  • 2 x toothbrushes ruined by Paddington inserting them into his ears (Average non-electric toothbrush price: 99p).
  • Shower hose. Ruined by Paddington tying it in a knot to stop the water flow. Average price: £8.
  • Antique traditional-style toilet. It appears to be an old one, so extra value should be added for that. £150.
  • Bathtub. Paddington literally rides it down the whole staircase. That’s got to need replacing. £200.
  • Flood damage repair to the bathroom. Taking into account labour and supplies, I’d place this around £1000, given the need to likely replace the floor, doors and walls.
  • Brown family toiletries. Judy explicitly says her beauty products are ruined, so we can assume the same for the whole family. Worth around £20 in total.
  • SUBTOTAL: 1,379.98

But wait, Richard, you’re probably thinking, doesn’t Mr Brown’s insurance cover accidental property damage? Well, it’s hard to say. We see Mr Brown attempting to temporarily add Paddington to his home insurance during the bathroom scene. But given that the damage is already happening, I’d say it’s highly unlikely he’s going to see a payout. You can’t call up for fire insurance while your home is burning down, after all. And the fact Mr Brown is trying to add Paddington at all suggests he’s not covered under their main policy (and as a risk analyst, he surely knows best!). So no it doesn’t.

Also, property damage is still property damage even if the insurance pays out. Someone is still paying for it.

Next up, Paddington and co. head to Portobello Rd. market to get his hat appraised. During this section, Paddington apprehends a pickpocket. But along the way he gets into some misadventures. Here’s the costs:

  • Skateboard. Paddington borrows this from a child and isn’t seen to give it back, so we can assume it’s lost/destroyed. £30.
  • Gift stand. Paddington smashes into a stand (ending up with a police hat and umbrella in the process). It’s hard to put a value on this, but let’s be relatively conservative and say £100.
  • Aerials. Paddington smacks into about four of these whilst flying about the rooftops. At about £20 each, let’s call that £80.
  • SUBTOTAL: £210

After this they head to the guild of explorers. This is a tricky one because the main property damage is to the central pneumatic tube system. Looking online, I’ve found a 1 tube, 2 station system for around £5000. The system in the movie is much more complex than that, featuring potentially hundreds of stations and dozens of tubes. So for this one we have to basically pluck a high number out of the air.

  • Pneumatic tube system. Clogged up by a sandwich and burst. £100,000.
  • Damage to historical archives. Again, hard to be exact. But let’s call it £1000.
  • SUBTOTAL: £101,000

Back in the Brown home, Paddington gets into some trouble when the villainous Millicent breaks in and attempts to kidnap Paddington. This is again a grey area, as the damage is partly caused by Millicent, though Paddington himself is at least partially responsible for much of it. There’s one major cost though.

  • Hob oven. Exploded after Paddington leaves the gas on and sets off the pilot light (actually quite a violent sequence in retrospect). £300.
  • Assumed property damage to the kitchen caused by gas explosion (parts + labour). £100.
  • SUBTOTAL: £400

The final sequence revolves around Paddington’s capture and escape from Millicent in and around the Natural History Museum. Most of the damage here is caused by other characters, and there’s potential damage to the exhibits – such as when Paddington slides down the Diplodocus in the main lobby. But this appears to be only cosmetic damage at best. We’re also not counting the damage to the museum’s infrastructure caused by Jonathan’s DIY dynamite explosion (somewhat inappropriate for a kid’s movie, I thought).

  • Two handheld vacuum cleaners, used during the incinerator escape scene. £20 each.
  • SUBTOTAL: £40

And there we have it! There’s presumably plenty more damage along the way, and I don’t actually have a copy on me to check so this is all relying on memory. Given that, along with some of our frankly arbitrary estimates, we get a grand total of….

£103,011.98

Assuming this all comes of the Brown family pocket, that’s a pretty hefty amount. Plus Mr Brown could be considered criminally liable for much of that, especially given his breaking and entering during the explorer’s guild scene.

I actually thought it’d be more though.

Well, at least Paddington didn’t actually kill anyone. In real life, a stray bear in London would have likely killed/injured many many people.

Nativity Sequels

So this happened:

After the unnecessariness that was Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger they went ahead anyway and made a Nativity 3. And they called it “Dude, where’s my donkey?!” Because of course they did.

And this got me thinking: where does it all end?

So without further ado, here are my proposed titles for continued entries in this family-favourite series:

Nativity 4: Back Inn Time

Nativity 5: Bethlehem Drift

Nativity 6: Gold, Frankincense, and Mayhem!

Nativity 7: Return of the King

Nativity 8: Three Wise Men and a Baby

Nativity 9: Baby’s Day Out

Nativity 10: Dude, where IS my donkey?!

Nativity 11: While Shepherds Washed Their Socks

Nativity 12: Lemme See Dat Ass

Nativity 13: No Way! In A Manger

Nativity 14: Holy Moly!

Nativity 15: Gabriel’s Angels

Nativity 16: Heavens Above!

Nativity 17: Electric Jesus Boogaloo

Nativity 18: Wise Men Can’t Jump

Nativity 19: Nativity Forever

Forever and ever. Amen.

Why are all Shrek cakes so utterly hilarious?

This is my third post now either concerning or referencing Shrek. And that’s obviously not a bad thing at all.

So during my research on Shrek I came across a strange phenomenon. It seems that Shrek is a popular subject of birthday cakes. And why not? I mean, kids love it (and adults too!) so why not bake a cake of our Ogrelord?

Except the thing is, people don’t seem very good at it. Example:

I don’t remember Shrek having huge feminine eyelashes. But hey, maybe this is fine. Artistic license and that. Maybe it’s for some poor chap with big bushy eyebrows and lady lashes, who gets called Shrek as an affection in-joke. Without knowing the whole story, who are we to judge.

But then you have this:

Something’s just clearly gone wrong here. It barely looks like anything, let alone Shrek.  A cake that has truly gone wrong.

This is more like it. This actually looks like Shrek (if you can’t tell, just compare it to the Shrek fairy cakes orbiting Shrek Prime). He’s almost too expressive though, in an ‘uncanny valley’ kind of way. Haunting.

Hope you like nightmares, Killian! (Also, KILLian? This kid confirmed for serial killer in the making).

Not even going to fix that lazy eye then? Fine, I won’t judge!
I will however judge the floatation ring around Shrek. Utterly baffling.

Plain. Simple. Terrible. Sorry, Ammar!

Maybe if Shrek was put in a wind tunnel he’d look like this. But he hasn’t been, and doesn’t look like this. I have no further comment.

A rare ‘full body’ Shrek. The proportions are all wrong though. But I do appreciate the happily jaunty angle.

This Shrek comes from the eight dimension, where they communicate only in varying extents of pain.

Fat Shrek cake.

Kudos on the Super Mario Bros pipes as ears. This cake sucks at everything else. I’m not even sure if it’s meant to be Shrek.

My personal favourite. A lot of love and care has gone into those teeth.

This Shrek has a melted face.

Probably the most accurate attempt in this list. However, I doubt a one year old is going to be able to appreciate that fact.

Everyone involved with the production of this cake was dead within the month.

Wrong green. He looks sad.

Unbelievable.

No ears on this one. He can’t hear your screams.

Well, at least he’s smiling! Sort of.

This one is just all chin.

Hey yeah, I’d like to order a Shrek cake please. Shrek. Yes, Shrek. The ogre from Shrek. But could you also make him a tiny bit cross-eyed? Not noticeably so, but like so that if you looked at it for a while you’d be like ‘those pupils don’t quite sit right with me’? That’d be great, ta.

Great shading! Terrible everything.

Seriously, how many of these are there?

HAHAHA WHAT KIND OF 25 YEAR OLD GETS A SHREK CAKE FOR THEIR BIRTHDAY? I MEAN, LOOO-

Oh wait, that was my 25th. It was made by my Mother and I think you’ll agree that it’s the best of the bunch. My Mother is a fantastic baker, and will literally make any cake you ask for.

RIP HARAMBE

Shrek: a cultural icon for our times

Introduction

I believe that Shrek is the greatest cultural icon of the past two decades. This is not a widely held opinion, but I believe it can be fully justified. To demonstrate my point I will begin with an history of the Shrek franchise, followed by a look at its ongoing impact on popular culture. I will then follow this up with what has been deemed “the Shrek renaissance” (or Shreknaissance) by some commentators on social media. This will bring us to the conclusion that not only has Shrek’s contribution to popular culture been severely understated in the standard historiography, but that his true place is at the very zenith of the cultural pantheon.

A brief history of Ogres

Shrek’s history actually begins with a 1990 book by William Steig titled simply “Shrek!” Not a lot of Shrek fans (hereafter “brogres”) know about this work, and the cultural impact of this book itself is negligible. It’s importance is limited to simply being the genesis of Shrek as we have come to know him.

All the elements of modern Shrek are there in Shrek! – Donkey and Fiona feature for instance. As do Shrek’s parents, who are notably absent in the film adaptation. Shrek’s appearance is similar, but not quite identical. The trademark “bunny” ears are there, and the green skin. But in Steig’s illustrated work, Shrek features an odd bump on his head (modern Shrek has a streamlined, more rounded appearance overall) and wears a rope-tied toga with stripy trousers. Modern Shrek wears the same costume mostly throughout all the films: a simple peasant white gown and brown waistcoast, with some brown stockings and shoes.

The evolution of Shrek is important here. Steig’s Shrek is a terrifying creature, drawing directly from the Indo-European mythological and folklore roots (the exact etymology of “ogre” is unclear and I wouldn’t venture to favour any particular theory here). Modern Shrek is a rather more accessible creature, which at once both exhibits the archetypical ogre features and at the same time explicitly draws them out into the open for satire. Hence, modern Shrek is born out of juxtaposition, which I will elaborate further with the history of modern Shrek.

Shrek on the big screen

The rights for a movie adaptation of Steig’s Shrek! were acquired by Steven Spielberg in 1991. However he neglected to do anything with it, and the rights were reacquired in 1995 by Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks. Why Spielberg didn’t do anything with Shrek is an interesting question, but not one I’ll speculate on (though it’s known he wanted Bill Murray to play Shrek, which I personally would still love to see). We should however note that Spielberg himself clearly saw the value in Shrek. Think on that. One of the most celebrated film directors of all time thought this ogre anti-hero held value. Was Shrek lined up to be the next ET?

In any case, DreamWorks was the new up-and-coming studio at the time. Shrek wasn’t their very first animated outing (that being the Woody Allen vehicle Antz), but it was arguably the first one to have absolute mainstream acclaim. I will now spend some time examining the movie as it came out.

The first Shrek film came out in 2001, six years after the rights were initially acquired. Rather than going down either a traditional animation route (a la Disney at the time, still) or a live-action/CGI hybrid (a la Small Soldiers, distributed but not produced by DreamWorks in 1998), Shrek was fully animated using computer generated images. Today we take this for granted – with Disney/Pixar being the current champions in this arena – but at the time it was a rarity. In this way, Shrek literally bridged the analogue-digital transition and this alone constitutes an important legacy in cinematic history.

The result of adopting this approach was a very beautiful film that audiences were able to experience in a new and exciting way. But I argue that the Shrek-audience connection goes deeper than this. Audiences connected with Shrek at a fundamental, mostly subconscious level. We can see this through an analysis of how Shrek is presented in Shrek.

As stated before, modern Shrek is a much cleaner and accessible character than Steig’s Shrek. Everything about him is rounded out in the character design, despite ostensibly being a disgusting ogre. This extends to other aspects of the character too. Rather than having a disgusting personality, Shrek is shown to instead be an actually rather gentle character who is forced into a charade of meanness by the persecution of a society that fears him. Even his voice is mellowed out; Mike Myers (who audiences already have a connection with from the Austin Powers film et al) reportedly tried out a series of accents before settling on the Scottish voice we all know and love. There is nothing harsh or jarring in this voice, everything comes out smooth and pleasingly – even when he’s shouting furiously at Donkey.

The character of Shrek, then, is a bundle of contradictions. Qua Hegel, we see an exemplar dialectic in action-
Thesis: Ogres are horrible and disgusting.
Antithesis: Shrek is actually nice in all respects. Society is actually “horrid” towards him.
Synthesis: We learn a valuable lesson about how we judge others through the ultimate redemption of Shrek as the hero.

Shrek is the protagonist of the story, a prime example of the anti-hero in action. He’s reluctant to even leave his swamp, let alone take down the villainous Farquaad. All his actions are motivated simply by a desire to get his swamp back, and later his love for Fiona. This provides an emotional core to the character, which – in conjunction with the important learning we receive from the above dialectic -makes us really relate to Shrek on a character level. In short, we care about Shrek.

To elaborate, Shrek is a powerful character because he appeals to our aesthetic expectations in a extremely elegant way. We laugh at his jokes, sympathise with his desire for a simple life and love for Fiona, whilst at the same time having our expectations challenged. Shrek is the least likely hero, but ends up saving the day many times over. Compare him to Luke Skywalker for instance – essentially a flawed character and by no means an outstanding person in his own right (prima facie just the son of a farmer) but one who ends up saving the galaxy. Shrek is at least a hero on the same scale as Skywalker, but he brings with him an important messages cloaked in a fairytale satire. We learn something from him we don’t learn from the Star Wars movies.

On that point, it’s worth mentioning the tone of the humour in the Shrek films, established in the very first Shrek film. We’ve already covered how Shrek is born out of contradictions, but we find that this principle applies to everything else in the film. The setting of the film is Far Far Away, a land where fairytale characters live – but always with a twist. Take Fiona for instance; her story is simply Sleeping Beauty. But the twist is that she’s sort of faking it, not sleeping at all, and gets angry at Shrek for rescuing her when she doesn’t want to be.

The contradiction there is clear: Sleeping Beauty is a classic story of romance and mythology, whereas everything about Fiona is crass and heavily grounded. We’re sneaking dialectics in at every turn, reinforcing the overall theme of not judging things on how they appear (it’s no coincidence that Fiona’s beauty is itself a facade for the ugliness of an ogre underneath).

Shrek therefore can clearly be said to be an excellently effective vehicle for a deeply important message about acceptance and appearances. And its presented in a way that even children are able to accept, not even realising it. We laugh, but at the same time we are enriched. Going back to Star Wars again, the lessons to be learned from that film are of a far more limited scope. Of course, we are excited by the Death Star assault sequence, and the emotional core of Skywalker’s yearning for an exciting life is a strong one, but it falls flat on teaching us a useful message. At most, Star Wars teaches us that good can beat evil, or that we should stand up against tyranny. Shrek not only covers these themes, but covers more themes, and also does it in a more compelling package.

As Shrek himself says, ogres are like onions. Shrek the character, like Shrek the film, has many layers. We don’t immediately realise the full import of the work as we consume it, but it’s built in a way that this doesn’t matter. And this is a key part of explaining the longterm importance of Shrek.

Shrek makes it big in Hollywood

After the runaway success of Shrek, it’s no surprise that sequels soon followed. So far, we’ve had Shrek 2Shrek the ThirdShrek Forever After, some spinoff mini-films in Shrek the Halls, Scared Shrekless, Puss in Boots, as well as Shrek the Musical. Of course, many of these are simply shameless cash-ins, the Hollywood machine in action, but their prevalence indicates an ongoing acceptance and relevance of the Shrek character.

Audiences love Shrek, which I can without hesitation attribute to the reasons outlined above. He’s the lovable antihero that teaches us important life lessons. He fills a gap that is created by the dearth of soulless summer blockbusters, remakes, and unfulfilling superhero movies put out year after year. Think of the most recent film you saw at the cinema. It’s likely an American-made film with high production values. Maybe you laughed, cried, screamed at the scary bits or had your pulse race at some exciting bits. But did it teach you that a grouch can be tender? Or that an annoying upbeat singing Donkey can turn out to be the most loyal friend? Unlikely.

A point I’d raise here more as an aside than anything would be how the humour evolved in the films, though not necessarily for the better. In the first Shrek film the humour mostly derives from the parody of famous fairytale characters. If you can think of a figure from a fairytale story, it’ll be lampooned in Shrek. For example, Big Bad Wolf is not actually big or bad at all, he’s actually quite softly spoken and is unexpectedly friends with the Three Little Pigs.

But in later films, this basic parody principle slightly shifts. The references stop being the original fairytales, but instead modern day things. Shrek 2, for instance, largely takes place in Far Far Away – now a city loosely based on the Los Angeles area. And we get things like a strange COPS parody. It’s a subtle move, but it’s apparent when watching the films with this in mind.

The reason this is relevant to our main argument is that the underlying principle is still the same. Shrek 2 and the later films are still broadly within the genre of parody as the foremost comedic device. And it’s through parody and satire that the elements of Shrek that we’ve identified as important – namely the delivery of the dialectical synthesis via appreciable aesthetics – are effective. So whilst the odd humour of Shrek 2 onwards could potentially have been a stumbling block in my thesis, I’d argue that in fact they reinforce my main points.

I would now like to move onward from the Shrek cinematic works onto his ongoing legacy.

Shrek lives on

I’ve already listed the many sequels and spinoffs that the original Shrek film spawned. But beyond this, Shrek’s indirect influence is obvious through a number of spiritual sequels. Computer-animated films are now the norm. Disney puts out films like Cars, and Wreck-It Ralph (sometimes via Pixar) and it doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Even DreamWorks themselves have ridden the Shrek-wave. Would Kung Fu Panda have been made if it hadn’t been for Shrek? (I think Wreck-It Ralph might be an ever more direct influence, if you examine the relucant hero character traits and even partial character design elements, to some extent).

What these films are trying to do then, is recreate the Shrek magic – with mixed results. Pixar receive a lot of acclaim for their films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo Up. But none have produced a character with the same ongoing appeal as Shrek. And Shrek still sells, with a fifth film rumoured to be in the works by some sources.

Shrek merchandise can still be bought, even when a Shrek movie isn’t currently out. And he has other influences too; the ubiquity of Smashmouth songs in films of the early 00s (play someone All Star and they’ll likely attribute it to either Shrek or Rat Race) can be directly attributed to a resonance in the collective consciousness (what Hegel himself termed the Zeitgeist) inspired by Shrek. I’m even willing to coin the term Shrekgeist to describe the situation, especially as we come finally to examine Shrek’s evolution into an internet cult figure.

The Shrekgeist cometh

I personally can’t recall where I first read about Shrek on the internet, but it’s apparent that I was late to the party. Inexplicably in recent years, people on the internet began exhibiting a newfound appreciation for Shrek and his contributions to society. They began to revisit the Shrek films, with a cultlike adoration. I’d attribute this to the longterm lingering Shrekgeist. We’d loved Shrek all along, we’d just never stopped to think about it.

A good source of information on the Brogre movement would be the /r/brogres subreddit, which contains many useful resources, most famously the Shrek is Love, Shrek is Life [NSFW] greentext story from 4chan. But you’ll notice it in any online community if you look hard enough. Common elements include references to Shrek’s love of onions, and how anyone who doesn’t like Shrek is a “Farquaad.” The group can hence be legitimately identified as a legitimate movement by the characteristics of an established membership, communal values and shared points of reference. It’s undoubtedly something we ought to take seriously.

On the face of it, of course, the internet’s love of Shrek might look like just another fad. A kind of ironic faux-appreciation for an average early-CGI family film. Granted, this has been true for so many other things – just look at rickrolling. But with this phenomena, the ‘joke’ is that the thing is knowingly bad. We rickroll because we place low aesthetic value on Never Gonna Give You Up. Our protestations to the contrary all become part of the joke. But Shrek is different.

The internet’s love for Shrek doesn’t have this self-conscious awareness of the object of adoration being unworthy. The love for Shrek is real. And there are really only two explanations for why this is:

1. The internet has reached a new level of irony – one that ascends to a pure, unbridled genuine appreciation. But if so, this cannot be called irony at all, as it’s impossible to distinguish from genuine appreciation either externally (the observable behaviours being compulsive watching of Shrek, talking about Shrek, and purchase of Shrek merchandise) or internally (the qualitative experience of loving Shrek).
2. Or, brogres do genuinely have an appreciation for Shrek. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s just that straightforward.

The second possibility seems to me to be the correct one. The age of the average brogre would match up with someone who grew up with the Shrek films during their aesthetically formative years. So Shrek is kind of deeply rooted in the consciousness of the brogre. And it’s not even that far-fetched that Shrek could be appreciated sans irony. The films are funny, Shrek is likeable, and the plot is utterly unobjectionable. If any character is worthy of a true renaissance, it has to be Shrek.

One could draw a parallel with the ‘brony’ movement, which is similar to the brogre movement down to even the name (bronies are grown male fans of the children’s animated series My Little Pony). But the brony movement is laced with an awkward self-awareness that drives it closer to the ‘enhanced level of irony’ hypothesis suggested above. Brogres don’t have conventions.

The brogre movement doesn’t show any signs of slowing. If anything, it’s accelerating everyday.  It’s only a matter of time before this niche internet community goes viral. It’s likely we’ll see the whole thing come full circle and open Shrek appreciation becoming the norm.

Concluding remarks

I’ve set out a narrative that charts Shrek’s rise from a simple children’s book character to viral internet sensation. I’ve provided some insights into why Shrek initially had immediate acceptance, and why these can go on to explain his ongoing appeal to this day.

Shrek is one of the greatest comedy creations of our time (or at least, the past two decades) – that goes without saying. But not so much for anything in particular he said or did; instead, we need to recognise that Shrek has come to form a key part of the collective consciousness that has gone on to impact everything else. The exact mechanisms that this works through are not always immediately clear (I would be keen to see an analysis of the influence of Shrek on the current Marvel run of films such as The Avengers) but are there. Shrek’s always in the back of our minds.

He’s the ogre we deserve. He’s the ogre we need.