Bunnies, bunnies, bunnies. Why they heck not? We’re going to write about flipping rabbits.
On the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast, William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I were joined by the effervescent presence of one Ariel Schudson to review Peter Jackson’s newest flick The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which we all agreed was just not a very good film. We all agreed that the story was uneventful and lugubrious, and the dazzling visuals only served as a distraction to the fact that Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit, isn’t really having much of a character arc in his own movie. Indeed, he doesn’t even seem to be the main character anymore, having been replaced by a mass of dwarfs keen on reclaiming their homeland.
We also discussed Jackson’s new technical process, and how the brand new digital cameras that run at 48 frames per second (which is twice as many frames as you’re used to) make the entire film actually look cheaper and soapy; 48fps more closely resembles reality TV shows and news broadcasts than it does old-timey film. Digital film and projection has spent about a decade trying to look like 35mm film, and Jackson has enlisted a process that pushed the digital aesthetic in the exact opposite direction; everything looks a little too fakey and digital now. Ariel is keen to seen the new process, (she watched The Hobbit in 2D and at 24fps), but, seeing as she is a studious film archivist, I’m guessing she will always have a natural preference for good old solid film strips. Ariel? Chime in.
The one thing we could all agree on about The Hobbit, and one of the things we all liked about the movie, was the rabbit-driven sled helmed by the hobo wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). Seriously, those digital bunnies were fun to watch. Rabbits travel in colonies, but I have learned that the word herd is also accurate, as are warrens, downs, traces, buries, and trips. I’ll choose trips. That was one fun trip of rabbits. We liked the rabbits so much, Ariel Schudson elected to recommend William F. Claxton’s 1972 creature feature Night of the Lepus as her B-Movie of the Week. Night of the Lepus is, if you don’t know the film, a notorious killer animal flick about hundreds of six foot tall rabbits ravaging the countryside. It’s more cute than scary, and it’s a total blast.
It’s not Eastertime, but now I’m thinking about bunnies. Specifically bunnies in movies. We’ve had some pretty bad ideas in B-Movies Extended articles in the past, so why not continue that tradition this week with an article all about rabbits in movies? I love rabbits. I used to raise them. I think they’re cute and cuddly li’l creatures. Why aren’t they used in movies more often? I guess because you can’t really train rabbits to do tricks the same way you can with a dog. Also, they’re not exactly the most expressive of animals. But they do appear from time to time.
Let’s look at some now! Whee! Bunnies! Kill me!
The Rabbits in Watership Down
Martin Rosen’s 1978 animated film Watership Down, based on the popular novel, is one of those movies like Poltergeist and The Watcher in the Woods that ruined so many children by posing as something wholesome and safe, and turning into something completely dark and horrific. At first glance, Watership Down is a delightful tale of animated talking rabbits, and their quaint quest to find a new home, but in practice, the film is a harrowing and violent tale about the costs and pain of survival. The rabbits are cute and well-animated, but when they start fighting, bleeding, and dying, you’ll begin weeping. Watership Down is a taut and bleak drama about withering ecology and violent desperation. And it’s all from the lips of talking rabbits. Watch it sometime, and enjoy the nightmarish atmosphere and death. But for the love of God, don’t show it to your kids.
Rabbits from Inland Empire
After he made Mulholland Drive, David Lynch began devoting a good portion of his creative energy to his website, davidlynch.com, which at the time was constructed as a pay-only site, offering a few new original short films to its members. In addition to his daily weather reports, and his awesome and grating cartoon series Dumbland, Lynch made a short film called Rabbits, which was a dark mirror of family sitcoms featuring human actors with enormous rabbit heads. The rabbits would converse in terse and simple sentences, no real drama would arise, and canned laugher would howl on the soundtrack. Lynch eventually took most of Rabbits, and put it into his 2006 magnum opus Inland Empire, making for a particularly off-putting scene in a 3-hour-plus movie full of them.
The Beast of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
So few can resist the killer bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the famed British comedy film, and a seminal flick in the geek canon. Arthur and his knights are led to a mysterious cave protected by a legendary beast. The beast appears to be nothing more than a cute little white bunny, no more threatening than a pleasantly crocheted throw-pillow. Then, famously without warning, the rabbit leaps through the air, attaches itself briefly to the neck of Sir Bors, and rips his head off. The cute little bunny, it turns out, is one of the most lethal creatures imaginable. I know any reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail is considered a mite jejune and gauche in these geek-heavy days of frequent reference and repetition, but this bunny is still, through it all, worth mention.
The Nightmare Creature from Sexy Beast
Actor Ray Winstone first caused a stir in the U.S. with the 2000 release of the British crime indie Sexy Beast. Winstone played an ex-gangster named Gal who was trying to the best of his abilities to stay out of the world of organized crime, perfectly content to bake in the sun by the pool of his remote desert mansion. His idyll is interrupted by a cold-eyed bestial associate named Don (played brilliantly by Sir Ben Kingsley), who has arrived to rope Gal back into the criminal life for One Last Job. Gal begins having strange and violent dreams about a giant killer anthropomorphic rabbit with a machine gun, who resembles a kind of commando version of Frank the Bunny from Donnie Darko. I know many people who are already creeped out by rabbits. This creature will only cement the deal for those people.
The Hat Trick from Twilight Zone: The Movie
Well-made and scary, but often considered ill-advised by Rod Serling fans, 1983’s omnibus film Twilight Zone: The Movie was constructed of several modern retellings of classic Twilight Zone episodes using new actors, color photography, and updated special effects. The film is an uneven whole to be sure, but contains at least one or two scary moments. As a kid, I caught this film on TV, and it scared me out of my poor fragile wits. The third segment of the film, directed by Joe Dante, was based on the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” about a young boy with omnipotent powers, who rules over his family with an iron fist. In the film version, the tyrannical young boy (Jeremy Licht) forces his father (Kevin McCarthy) to perform magic tricks for his amusement. The father reaches into a hat fearfully, not knowing what he’s going to magically extract at his son’s behest. What he extracts is one of the scariest effing things ever seen in a movie for children, as it’s a giant rubbery and colorful rabbit monster with fangs. Seriously, that rabbit scared so many kids.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
As I mentioned on this week’s B-Movies Podcast, I have enjoyed – to one extent or another – every single motion picture adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels until now. So it’s a little depressing that the only thing I can think to write about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – besides my rather negative review – has to do with Radagast’s damned rabbits. It’s not that I hate this movie. It won’t come anywhere near my Ten Worst Movies of 2012. But while I know this first installment of The Hobbit has its admirers, I couldn’t get past the fact that all the new storylines Peter Jackson added to turn Tolkien’s shortest book into a three-hour trilogy detract from the carefully constructed storyline.
It’s a straight shot from The Shire to The Lonely Mountain, interrupted by episodic vignettes in which our heroes are distracted by orcs, elves, spiders and so on while the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, grew as a person. The novel of The Hobbit worked just fine without these new constant digressions, promising audiences that The Lord of the Rings trilogy will eventually happen. The scene with Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman (Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee, respectively) hinting broadly that the geographic location of the orcs in this first film can only mean the return of Sauron feels about as organic as the brief, pointless Death Star cameo in Attack of the Clones. It’s fan service, and it’s not even properly disguised. It just makes the movie longer. Did The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey really need to be longer? If Peter Jackson had made three movies out of every Lord of the Rings novel, would you have considered it a good idea? Imagine if The Fellowship of the Ring ended with Frodo getting to Rivendell that first time. Now, imagine that it took nearly three hours to get there, and that every subsequent movie accomplished exactly that little in exactly that very long amount of time. Would that really be the best way to adapt the franchise?
So The Hobbit could have been one movie, or maybe two movies, or at most three short ones, and for those of us who didn’t particularly care for the first installment – and we are legion – we have to focus on the little things that made us happy. That hedgehog was pretty adorable. The “Riddles in the Dark” sequence worked like gangbusters. And then there’s those damned rabbits. Big mothers, weren’t they? Makes you think of rabbits, doesn’t it? So let’s accentuate the positive and take a look at some of the best cinematic rabbits in history. Witney already picked some of the best bunnies ever captured on celluloid, but I think he missed a few, so… let’s hop to it!
That Poor Bunny from Fatal Attraction
Director Adrian Lyne has made a career out of dissecting modern sexual anxiety, but while I actually prefer his 2002 infidelity psychodrama Unfaithful, it’s Fatal Attraction that has the damned bunny in it. The film stars Michael Douglas as a casual philanderer whose brief affair with Glenn Close (in an Oscar-nominated role) turns dangerous after she refuses to be ignored. Douglas deals with her increasingly disturbing tirades and ominous messages throughout the film as he attempts to preserve his family’s safety – and the lies that keep them blissfully ignorant of his selfish behavior – but the one everyone remembers most is the part where Close boils the beloved pet rabbit belonging to the “hero’s” daughter. It’s horrifying, cruel and, perhaps scariest of all, fairly random. Fatal Attraction served as a splash of cold water on the face of adulterous husbands, and a chilling warning to rabbits everywhere: stay the f*ck away from Glenn Close.
No picture provided, because it's just too depressing to look at. Poor little guy.
The White Rabbit from Alice
There’s no shortage of Alice in Wonderland adaptations, ranging from the good (Disney’s 1951 version) to the atrocious (Disney’s 2010 version). But one of the better versions, and the one you probably haven’t seen, is a surreal stop-motion animated adaptation courtesy of The Czech Republic's Jan Svankmejer, who is probably best known in the United States for his 2000 horror parable Little Otik, about a childless couple who adopt a piece of wood that comes to terrifying life. His 1988 movie Alice is pretty damned creepy too. In the film, Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) is brought to Wonderland after a taxidermy rabbit comes alive. Instead of a befuddled bunny, this time he’s the Queen’s lead executioner, beheading the accused with a pair of scissors. Most of the other Alice in Wonderland movies play out like a harmless fantasy adventure. Alice treats Lewis Carroll’s novel as a genuine nightmare, which is fitting, since you probably won’t sleep well after watching it.
The Easter Bunny from Critters 2: The Main Course
The Critters movies have somehow escaped the overwhelming wave of Hollywood remakes, and I suspect that has to do with the franchise’s campy tone. These movies are about little furballs from outer space with razor sharp teeth, hunted by shape-changing bounty hunters. There are four Critters movies, and while the third one is only notable for an early performance by a then-unknown Leonardo DiCaprio, the other three are lots of fun. My favorite kill in the whole franchise comes from Critters 2: The Main Course, directed by Mick Garris (“The Stand”). A local sheriff has been convinced to dress up as The Easter Bunny for the community’s children. After unsuccessfully trying to zip up the costume’s fly, and ultimately deciding to let the children have a look (what an assh*le), the critters all leap into the hole in his crotch and bite him to death. Then the bloody Easter Bunny crashes through the window of a church in the middle of mass. He’s not technically a rabbit, sure, but it's still one of the best bunny-centric movie scenes ever filmed. Watch it for yourself.
Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Who Framed Roger Rabbit probably seemed like a gamble at some point, and it’s easy to imagine why. It’s a film noir murder mystery set in a fictional version of 1947 Hollywood where cartoons – including real ones like Betty Boop, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse – are real and have their own segregated community called “Toon Town.” A Walt Disney-like producer named R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) gets killed and a movie star toon named Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) has been framed, thanks in part to an investigation by human detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins). They team up to solve the mystery… the end. But Robert Zemeckis’s wonderful and inventive film is rapidly approaching the “timeless classic” qualification. It was a period piece to begin with, and works as a film noir just well enough to cement the Looney Tune craziness in a little bit of reality, even though that reality is also stylized. And although he’s original creation, Roger actually feels like the sort of cartoon character who would be popular, at least as a flash in the pan, in his own series of shorts. He’s funny, lovable, and he has a ridiculously hot wife, Jessica Rabbit, who earns an honorable mention on my list of greatest cinematic bunnies because, hey… she married into it.
Elle Woods from Legally Blonde
We’re fudging it again, but someone had to show up in a Playboy Bunny costume and it might as well be Reese Witherspoon. Legally Blonde is a better-than-average 2001 comedy from director Robert Luketic that stars future Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a stereotypical “dumb blonde” who gets herself admitted to Harvard Law School because her ex-boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), thinks he needs to marry a woman with more serious ambitions. Surprise! Elle is actually good at it, and despite the efforts of Warner’s new girlfriend Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair) to humiliate her – by inviting her to a “costume” party where everyone mocks Elle for dressing as a Playboy Bunny when everybody else is in their street gear – the heroine learns a valuable lesson about growing up without losing her own identity. Legally Blonde spawned a terrible sequel and a popular stage musical, but the original still works thanks to its curious mélange of effective story tropes: the fish out of water, the innocent in a world of cynics, the sorority school clichés, the heartwarming coming of age tale and the paper-thin but structurally necessary legal drama. Plus, Reese looks really cute in that outfit.
King Kazma from Summer Wars
Not everyone saw Summer Wars, a fantastic anime film from director Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), but everyone should. The film takes place in the near future, where a social network combining elements of Facebook and iCloud has tapped into every aspect of society, and into which a computer programmer named Kenji has accidentally unleashed an artificially intelligent super-virus capable of ending the world as we know it. It sounds like a formulaic thriller, but Hosoda’s decision to set the film at a rural family reunion – where the political machinations are meaningless and only the human cost of the potential catastrophe matters – places the film in a profound social context. The extended family into which Kenji has been plopped is full of colorful characters with various interests, not unlike the internet itself, and when they team up to help save the world Summer Wars actually becomes a hopeful sci-fi parable about the power of the internet to bring humanity together, not a paranoid warning about its dangers. It’s a rare treat to see technology in science fiction portrayed as a powerful source for good, and Summer Wars illustrates it beautifully and entertainingly.
Oh yeah, and one of the characters has an internet avatar named “King Kazma,” an anthropomorphic rabbit who does battle with the virus in cyberspace. It’s a really cool rabbit. But regardless of the bunny, you should seek Summer Wars out. It’s one of the best films of the last few years.
Oh god, I really just wrote "regardless of the bunny," didn't i? Make me feel better by letting me know what your favorite movie bunny is.