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Meet the Feebles

Year: 1990
Production Co: Dead Alive Productions
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Peter Jackson
Writer: Peter Jackson/Danny Mulheron/Fran Walsh/Stephen Sinclair

Sometimes a director’s debut is so auspicious they become inextricably linked to the genre and style. Think Kevin Smith and the slacker trash talking of Clerks or Quentin Tarantino with the motor-mouthed ultra-violence of Reservoir Dogs.

Most new directors who emerge with such a distinctive style all their own inevitably try to break completely free of it at some stage. After a career of films that coasted and riffed on themselves and each other with the View Askewniverse, Smith is as we speak trying something radically different with Red State. Thus far, Tarantino hasn’t fallen out of love with the cultdom of his favourite movie references but it’s only a mater of time before he branches right out. Not for nothing was there talk of him doing a James Bond film.

Brain Dead was the natural successor to Bad Taste, just like Pulp Fiction was the more assured, better-budgeted progeny of Reservoir Dogs.

But between the two, Jackson went in a direction that in hindsight was as interesting for the choice as for the result. The concept, inasfar as we can ascertain, was The Muppets for adults – particularly fans of Bad Taste. What was most interesting about it however is that it showed an adult sensibility we’ve never seen since. The Rings trilogy was an all-ages romp and even his dour drama The Lovely Bones was child-like in its outlook.

The team that would go on to create a billion dollar franchise and redefine 21st century adventure epics took all the familiar tropes from The Muppet Show, the colourful cast of animal characters and their on-stage and backstage antics, and gave them distinctly grown-up (and fucked up) problems and concerns.

Need some selling points? What about the show’s producer embroiled in various scams, including his rat assistant who shoots porn on the side? The crack-addicted Vietnam vet lizard suffering nightmares and flashbacks? The rabbit falling apart from sexually transmitted infections? The female star (a hippo) mixed up in a love triangle that will end in an orgy of automatic gunfire? The camp floor manager determined to do his own number, which turns out to be an old-style ode to anal sex when they finally let him?

The concepts alone are enough to make you want to watch, and both Jackson’s rough and ready design and his script with co-writer Walsh keep it buoyant all the way through.

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