Elephant White deserves to be defended. Yes, it’s stupid, the action is ridiculous, the twists are obvious, and the ending… oh boy. But, in the scheme of direct-to-video schlock, and to establish the talented Djimon Hounsou as an action player, Elephant White does what it’s supposed to.
Hounsou is Curtie Church, named so due to a typo on his birth certificate, the deepest bit of information we have on him. From the beginning, he’s shooting people, chasing after a British weapons dealer Jimmy (Kevin Bacon), and taking cash from a local Thai. Shot on location, the locale gives this one some flavor,a unique look and intensity as Church begins to unravel a human smuggling operation, with assistance from a young girl Mae (Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul).
Motives are simply a steady cash flow and a beginning to Church’s morales coming to the surface. That’s a nice character arc, assuming of course it had a beginning prior to him shooting everything. He’s an insane shot by the way, twisting and turning a sniper rifle as if it were a plastic toy, then bolting into a forest using the scope’s night vision to singularly disarm an entire army. It’s stupid but impressive, Hounsou then showcasing some aggressive, rather brutal martial arts as he chops and kicks his way to his goal.
Elephant White saps most of its budget likely traveling to Thailand, meaning Bangkok is sadly confined to a few locations, including a monastery and a nightclub. The city is still alive though, the gang territories drenched in over saturated neon, crowded with bodies, and enough guns to equip most of the nation.
Rough edges are abound, from the rather obvious forced British accent coming from Bacon’s mouth to the quirky supernatural ending that seems come from left field… in other ballpark… in another country. The pieces fit, explained in one of those rapidly evolving M. Night Shyamalan wrap-ups, yet the film isn’t headed for that type of conclusion, and the other aspects take on greater weight. It’s as if there’s a lesson to be learned here that only those involved understood, leaving the rest of us to soak up Hounsou’s karate and gun ballet. Gladly.
“Hey, what cameras do we have available for this shoot?”
“There’s a Red One over there in the corner. It’s pretty inconsistent and…”
“Screw it. Let’s use it.”
And that is probably how every direct-to-video production comes to be these days, the only reason directors seem to put up with the mediocre black levels, rampant deviations in high-fidelity detail, and sporadic noise that dominate every production created with this thing. Don’t take that the wrong way. The Red One is capable, Hounsou’s deeply textured face rife with clarity on most close-ups, and a couple of locations pleasing enough.
The digital intermediate doesn’t assist much, the color scheme bleeding and infused with neon, dousing the screen in an irritating barrage of pinks, reds, and purples. Kevin Bacon’s skin tone isn’t scorching in the sense of the now familiar bronzed tint, but blindingly bright as if he’s been exposed to a special kind of radiation.
So, White Elephant has been tweaked to the ‘nth degree, that forgiven based on a stylistic choice, the other imperfections not so much. Vertical layers of noise can drown darker areas of the screen as the blacks give out. Their gray-ish push doesn’t help much of anything. Of course, we’re also dealing with the give/take benefit of digital, extreme clarity at the sake of fine textures. Mild softness can make itself known with regularity, faces taking on a slightly smooth appearance in that process.
Problems also occur with motion blur, exaggerated here during many of the action scenes, giving the movie not only a cheaper, stock feel, but also one that seems a little too heavy on the artifacting. Image stability and tightness falters when it needs it the most, this AVC encode more than keeping up its end of the bargain, the source material soaking up the blame.
Millennium’s TrueHD mix sounds somewhat cheaper, lacking a real driving force behind it, while still delivering the type of split and separation needed. Stereos are no stranger here, making themselves known during a fun early chase through a traffic jam, cars honking their horns in all channels, the fronts especially. The movie adores gunfire, almost worshiping it, spreading it where need be and tracking it seemingly without a care.
The mix is competent, loading not just the usual array of directional channels. Subwoofers like to play too, acting up like a kid given a bucket in a sandbox. Reaching analogies or not (and it’s hard to reach more than that one), clubs produce dominant low-end aggression, nicely pounding away as the camera pans through the crowds. Sniper fire is great too, Hounsou blasting away while the sub does the same.
What it’s lacking in terms a higher budget production it makes up for with consistency, always keeping the listener engaged. It has plenty to work with outside of the action scenes too, stuff like swirling winds, a thunderstorm, and the reverb of a bell being rung to hide Hounsou’s actions.
Like trailers? You’d better, because those qualify as extras here… the only extras.