LeviathanJuly 19, 2018
You’d better hurry if you want to see the film “Skyscraper” as I’m not sure if it will last long on the big screen – I went to see it last night at the Embassy – the Grand’s capacity is about 800 or so – and I was one of about a dozen people who did. I’m not sure how public opinion can make or break a film so quickly – word of mouth is a cruel mediator on quality. Yes, I know, it’s escapist nonsense with Dwayne Johnson in the lead role, and loads of CGI special effects, but then so is the “Fast and Furious” franchise and that seems to be doing fine – so fine in fact that I think they stopped putting numbers on the sequels after about 4.
Skyscraper should be compulsory viewing for all of us in the architecture and construction industry – the star, after all, is a building, with the Rock playing second fiddle. Normally the Rock plays second fiddle to no one, as he is generally just too physically amazing to be humble, but here they’ve taken a limb off him, and put him in a domestic situation with a suit, a tie, a wife and two cute kids just to try and make him look normal. Still doesn’t work – he’s still awesome. With a physique like his (much like mine) he is generally an impressive piece of Samoan beefcake, and surprisingly keeps his shirt on almost the entire movie.
The building, of course, is the real star – its the world’s tallest, of course, and at about three times the size of the Empire State building it’s not to be sneezed at. The setting is in Hong Kong, on the point at Kowloon, and it has the appearance of a sub-Zaha squiggle with lots of swooshy bits including a giant basket ball stuck in the mouth of a snake. That’s not a very exact architectural description – but then again, how seriously are we meant to take it?
As you know, I take buildings very seriously, and this one none less so just for being virtual. Despite the Burj Khalifa being (currently) the tallest building on the planet, and featuring some pretty big foundations and structural systems in order to do so, this Pearl is taller, but with a less certain structure to do so. Architecturally, it doesn’t really make sense, but then again, neither does Athfield’s building for PWC down at Site 10 on the waterfront, and that didn’t stop them building that one. While Ath’s building inexplicably sticks its head out of its arse over the Whitmore plaza, the Pearl inexplicably places what looks like a large baseball in the frenulum of the building, looking like nothing more than an awkward and highly uncomfortable medical procedure. Inside the ball appears to be a complex and fairly unnecessary pop-up movie theatre, possibly for only one man. Rich people, huh?
Reviews are in already and none of them are good, but the film is not really that bad. Comparisons are being made with The Towering Inferno, but no one alive is old enough to remember that plot line, or why Robert Redford was up there in the first place (but no doubt, Starkive will inform us when he comes to this sentence in my post – thanks!). More comparisons are being made with Die Hard (1988 !), which the young things will have watched because it seems to be played every Christmas since. And, oh boy, the similarities are thick and fast. Bruce Willis climbs building and dangles from the outside – so does the Rock. Bruce Willis sneaks up the back stairs and does some stuff with the building services – so does the Rock. Bruce Willis blows up the entire Nakatomi Plaza – actually, no, here the Rock saves it – correction – actually, Rock’s wife, played by Neve Campbell, saves the building, largely by treating it as an iPhone…. Don’t ask. Go see the movie and it will make sense, as much as any of this does, on the night.
But where the movie falls down (as opposed to the building falling down, which it doesn’t) is the baddies. Alex Weinberg’s review of Skyscraper over at CityLab notes that the baddie just isn’t bad enough. Despite having a South African accent (automatically making him a horrible person, as soon as he opens his mouth), the bad man in the movie really isn’t that bad, as he just wants a McGuffin.
There’s a bad woman as well, who is so bad she doesn’t even have a name, and despite looking suitably Asian inscrutable, as well as reasonably good looking, she has as much on-screen charisma as a week-old wilted cucumber.
What I am most worried about though, is: how does this work as a flashing detail? (below) I mean – surely! there must be some suitable way of keeping water out – but this is not it!
Weinberg sums it up nicely:
“A product of the algorithm that seems to make all Hollywood action movies, Skyscraper is mostly forgettable, punctuated by a few fun sequences. It mimics Die Hard so overtly that a comparison is warranted. Both movies feature a European villain taking control of a tall building as part of an elaborate heist, leaving the action hero to single-handedly foil the plot and save his family. But whereas Die Hard gave us Alan Rickman as the delightfully evil Hans Gruber, Skyscraper offers two villains who lack any compelling motivation or strong character traits (and in the woman’s case, even a name). When Will Sawyer performs self-surgery, it’s a weaker version of Bruce Willis’s John McClane pulling glass out of his shredded feet. The Rock’s character understands the building’s security and fireproofing systems, but he never gets into the guts of the tower the way McClane does. In spite of its height advantage of a few thousand feet, the Pearl stands wholly in the shadow of Nakatomi Plaza.”
Still – go see the movie. Spot the mistakes with the reinforcing through the bridge, the implausibility of the construction crane, the inexplicable lack of the sprinklers to work, the propensity for floors and ceilings to spontaneously ignite, avoid thinking about the Grenfell tower if you can (this movie is not going to go down well in West London, I suspect), suspend disbelief that a one-legged man can climb up the outside of a construction crane for over 98 floors without using the ladder on the inside, don’t even think about the feasibility of having a single elevator just for the top 100 floors, even if it is shaped like a chrysalis for a monarch butterfly and works on a single wire… suspend your deeply cynical nature and go see the movie. But hurry – it’s going fast.