Welcome to Mystery DVD Club! The idea behind this is that we went round picking up vaguely interesting looking DVDs that were selling for a few pounds each at best. Our aim is to uncover some kind of gem, and for those on our writing team who signed up to take part, the deal was that they’d have no idea just what film they’d be getting. Let our search for the hidden gems commence, as Ben Jones kicks things off with Gabriel…
As the package fell through my letterbox, I pondered what mystery DVD I had received. Would it be a Bulgarian Superhero film or maybe even a Peruvian musical based on the life of Jimmy Saville (note to self…write that film). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only had I heard of the film, but have been considering buying it for some time. The film I received was the Antipodean supernatural themed action film Gabriel.
At work I quite often go on Wikipedia journeys. You know the ones I mean? Where you start off looking up the films of George Romero and end up reading up on the size difference between a human and a sperm whale. Well on this particular day I had ended up on the page regarding the film Gabriel. Just reading through the film’s synopsis made me think, ‘Wow this is something that I wouldn’t mind seeing.’ Let me just briefly gloss over the outline of the film.
In Purgatory, Heaven and Hell are fighting over the rights to run the place and the souls that are trapped inside. At the moment, Team Hell is doing much better as all Heaven’s Archangels (or Arcs as they’re slightly naffly called) have either been destroyed (if you die in Purgatory quite conveniently your soul dies too) or are in hiding. This has made Purgatory resemble the kind of place you never want to go out in after dark, and unfortunately its always dark. The remaining Arc, Gabriel, has been sent down to try to restore the balance and find out what happened to all those that came before, by the simple use of guns and extreme violence (insert your own ironic religious quip here).
After reading this you may get the assumption that Gabriel could be a pretty bad-ass, if formulaic, hidden gem. Well, when you make an assumption you make a ass out of U and Umption. Unfortunately, Gabriel fails to live up to any of the story’s potential due to pretty much everything being handled poorly. First off, the script. Sweet tap dancing Jesus, the dialogue is so bad it makes all the dramatic scenes unintentionally funny. It tries so hard to be gothically cool like The Crow but whereas occasionally The Crow could have slipped up with the dialogue, it was backed up by solid directing and extremely strong acting that sold the film. That’s two things it has over Gabriel.
Although the actors in Gabriel look the part and can portray the necessary emotions needed on their faces, the second they open their mouths…in the immortal words of Dr Sam Becket, “Oh Boy!”
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is an Aussie film, and I can only hazard a guess that to try and sell the film to the international market (ie America) all the Australian actors speak with an American accent. This would be fine if you had, say, someone like Eric Bana in the film, but ,unfortunately, they don’t.
What we end up with is this weird American accent that keeps slipping into Australian. It truly is bizarre and has to be heard to be believed. It renders what may or may not have been decent acting into a linguistical farce. Case in point, the actor who plays one of the good guy angels, Uriel. He does appear to be quite a good actor and has to take on the difficult role of Basil Exposition. He is then hampered with trying to do this in a Yank accent.
Every actor has this weird accent. Well, except one. The character of Ahriman, who is actually played by an American, is a Rastafarian who has a comically stereotyped Jamaican accent that I’m pretty sure borders on racist. Other than for the reason mentioned above ,I can’t think why this choice was taken.
Although it probably won’t go down well at this current time of the Ashes, I like the Australian accent. After reviewing the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (go watch it, it’s ace) Australians seem proud of their heritage and culture. So by caving in to try and sell to America, the makers of Gabriel turn their backs on their home-market.
The director has obviously taken influence from films such as The Matrix, Nightwatch/Daywatch (not a bad thing) and Underworld (a very bad thing) and all the action scenes are shot in flashy slow motion, usually set in the rain. In some films this can work; in Gabriel it really doesn’t.
When you consider the budget for the film, somewhere around the $200,000 mark, I may be being a little harsh to compare the film to other much higher budgeted films. And to be fair, Gabriel does look like it cost a hell (pun) of a lot more than the $200,000 it took to make. They have stretched the budget further than Britney Spears’ last sweat pants.
But should action scenes be so, well dull? The scene where Gabriel takes on Ahriman and his goons sounds like it sound be good on paper: an explosive shootout in the dark that is lit by the flash of the guns going off. It looks okay, but is really uninteresting.
Fight scenes between two supernatural (or real, sorry all religious types) characters should be an excuse for a knock down drag out battle. What do we get? Bullet time. This was a technique that was perfected in 1999 in the first Matrix and by the time of the sequel was already old hat. So how does a low budget film think it can add something new to this? I’d have rather they had left out bullet time and tried something more inventive. Please, NO MORE BULLET TIME.
Also Gabriel’s weapons of choice are two silenced pistols. In an fantasy action film I want to hear the guns booming out of the screen, not quietly whispering bad guys dead.
Ideas that really should work either fail or are completely ignored. The plot of the film, Archangels against Fallen Angels with guns, trips up whenever it involves religious dogma and really falls on its arse towards the end, when characters start to have moral dilemmas about their roles in the conflict.
There’s a pretty obvious twist that leads to a completely ridiculous character arc (no pun intended) that seems to have been written without bothering to successfully build up to it. I feel there was a missed trick in the scene involving angel sex as well. It could have been interesting and different to see how an angel reacts after having sex for the first time, and would have made more sense to have the scene in the film, rather than just ‘we need a sex scene’. But no, it is just a sex scene (not trying to be a prude, but it seems pointless).
As mentioned when I reviewed the film Dead Wood, I don’t like ripping on films that aim high and then fail. But having no budget is no excuse for lazy writing and poor directing. If you only watch one film about angels in conflict, watch Prophecy. If you have to watch two films about angels in conflict, watch Prophecy 2. But for the love of God don’t ever watch Prophecy 3 or, for that matter, Gabriel. Extras In the extras you get three deleted scenes which offer nothing new to the film. Considering there is a post credit scene in the Austrialian version that may shed a bit more light on the confused ending, it seems a bit weird that this wasn’t at least included in the extras.
There’s also a half decent, making of that makes me feel even worse for rubbishing the film. Not only does everyone seem really enthusiastic in trying to make the film, but you get a scale of just how miniscule the budget was for what the filmmakers were aiming for. After watching this I now feel like a hunter bashing in the skull of a sweet, big-eyed dumb baby seal.
Also, for absolutely no point other than marketing, were 4 trailers for other films. These are pretty standard on DVD releases but none of the films had any genre connection to Gabriel. You would have thought they would throw in some action film trailers or a bit of horror. What we actually get is a trailer for the Jane Austen Book Club. Now, I don’t know much about that film, but unless the trailer is grossly inaccurate, there’s not much shooting or action in it. Just women reading books. Can’t really see the link between the two films, if i’m honest. Made me giggle though. Not the trailer, just the idea of what the Venn diagram would look like with Gabriel on one side and The Jane Austen Book Club on the other. Film:Disc: