I like a post film natter but for my long suffering wife that normally takes place in the car ride home as I dissect each scene and debate what worked and what didn’t. Tonight’s drive included a fond reminisce over the best movie trilogy of recent times. Step aside Bruce Wayne and Frodo Baggins, this is the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.
That’s Shaun Of The Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013) to the movie fan that has slightly less free time on their hands than us self-declared film freaks. So named as a cheeky nod to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s scholarly (and let’s face it, less entertaining) Three Colours Trilogy, the Cornetto trio is chiefly held together by its creators, writer/director Edgar Wright and actors/writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. But there’s a lot more than that binding this trinity together, and as the final part staggers into cinemas we raise a pint to the movies that, if let loose on a film set, most British movie fans would have tried to make themselves if only we had the talent. Wish fulfilment then, three films made by movie fans for movie fans.
Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
If you’ve enjoyed the Cornetto Trilogy and haven’t checked out Edgar Wright’s debut television series Spaced do yourself a flavour and snap up the dvds. The groundwork is all there, the loving nods to popular culture and Hollywood, the familiar cast of Pegg, Frost, Jessica Stevenson, Julia Deakin and others, the uniquely British sense of humour that so often leaves our foreign cousins mystified. It’s a superb show, even more so considering the fact that for nearly all concerned this was their first foray into acting and filming. The light-bulb moment that became Shaun of the Dead sees Pegg’s Tim midway through a Resident Evil 2 marathon; in a chemically enhanced state he imagines a zombie attack on his London flat. Long time fans of Romero’s Dead franchise, you can picture Wright and Pegg sharing mischievous grins as they filmed amide their zombie costumed cohorts; lets make the first ever zombie comedy.
There had been some attempts at the formula before, Redneck Zombies (1986), My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), Idle Hands (1999), but no one had used the backdrop of a full-on Romero infestation as a canvas for straight up chuckles. It certainly hadn’t been done in Britain before, or with a side of romance sprinkled on top. The rom-zom-com was born. Twinned with Zach Snyder’s brilliant Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake, Shaun revived the zombie sub-genre and made stars of its cast and crew almost overnight.
It was success that was well deserved though. The fact that it was a British "zomedy" film was key. Pegg and Wright’s script made full use of swapping the Pennsylvania countryside for the suburbs of London. How would us Brits respond to a zombie plague? With good grace and ironic quips, we’d pop back inside and stick the kettle on. Or pop to the pub for a pint. Or pop down the shop for a Cornetto. The now infamous ice cream scene was a happy coincidence, Wright throwing it in after discovering the creamy treat was an excellent hangover cure back in his college days. Walls were suitably impressed and even supplied free ice cream at the Shaun premiere. A trilogy was born.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Where the idea for a set of three films somehow inspired by a summer foodstuff came from isn’t exactly clear, but Wright, Pegg and Frost had a whole raft of favourite films that wanted to pay tribute to. So for their next Cornetto outing (Shaun is the blood red strawberry flavour, Fuzz is the boys in blue wrapper of vanilla, World’s End is the alien green of mint) they cooked up a bizarre brew of Point Break (1991), Bad Boys (1995) and The Wicker Man (1973). A premise that balls out barmy had to work, and work it did. There were undoubted high points in Shaun that had to be replicated. Perhaps the least obvious, until you remove it from the trilogy, is Wright’s wonderfully unique shooting style, the whip pans, the jump cuts, the imagined montages. This, coupled with the witty scripting make the Cornetto trilogy a triumph more than any amount of ice cream munching or garden fence wrecking. But then the boys knew not to scrimp on that either, so in went Nick Frost totalling a creosoted fence panel, Omen-esque death scenes with plenty of gore, and enough well delivered swears to satisfy Peter Cook.
The success of Shaun allowed Wright to pull in talent from the four corners of these acting aisles and to their credit they didn’t mind sending themselves up for Fuzz; doff of the cap to Timothy Dalton, Edward Woodward, Steve Coogan, and Cate Blanchett (you’ll have to look closely). Just as Wright progressed as a director, Pegg and Wright developed their acting styles also, perfecting their onscreen bromance schtick but growing as individual performers as well. The big time beckoned one and all, with Star Trek (2009), Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010) and Attack The Block (2011) following.
The World’s End (2013)
So back to our post Odeon drive home. The missus asked why the gang left it so long to get back together to finish off their three-part project. Hollywood is a greedy bitch and they certainly wanted a piece of the Cornetto boys. They were making money and the movie world is quick to sidle up to anyone who can turn a buck. But while Pegg was able to craft a career as the lovable fool (creating a more than believable action hero for Fuzz did little to temper stereotyping) Frost and Wright didn’t fare quite so well. Wright directed Scott Pilgrim but it failed to pull in the dollars despite being one of the most original films of 2010 and Frost found only a few casting directors calling for his sidekick skills. Hollywood, as usual, couldn’t see the talents that Frost and Wright could offer beyond the obvious brilliance of Cornetto parts one and two. So as I said to my better half, it was time for the lads to regroup for a project they could fully control themselves, Hollywood profits and expectations be damned.
I’m not sure about you, but I didn’t enjoy the latter stages of school life. I wasn’t an unpopular kid but I certainly wasn’t in the "cool gang”. Most of us hated those guys. They were always more successful with the ladies, never seemed to do any work, got most of their kicks from taking the piss out of the rest of us, and got away with it all. We all hoped that whatever it was that made them such a "hit” at school, they would fall flat on their arses when the much tricker task of navigating the adult world arrived.
And wouldn’t you know it most of them did. Thanks to the modern keeping-up-with-the-Joneses phenomenon that is Facebook we can gloat over these previously smug bastards as their ten status updates a day paint a picture of someone whose life hasn’t turned out quite how they hoped. In fact being the cool kid in sixth form was as good as their lives would ever get. "Tough shit” most of us would offer. But what if there was a real person behind all the teenaged bravado?
As a premise for the third part of what had been a strictly comedic series to date, it hardly sounded like a rib-tickler. And its true, The World’s End has fewer belly laughs than the first two Cornettos. Its humour is much more melancholic, with the sort of underlying character layers Shaun and Fuzz came nowhere near to touching. But it’s more satisfying because of it. Perhaps Pegg and Wright weren’t able to write this sort of sophisticated comedic character study before. They’ve already stated that they will never return to write another series of Spaced because they’ve moved on from that part of their lives, the truth behind that subject isn’t there anymore. Approaching their forties, a new kind of writing has taken its place. As has a new level of performing. Frost and Pegg have never been better, reaching a confidence in their craft that they effectively reverse the roles they played in Shaun for World's End without missing a beat.
The climax to World's End is a revelation. Amid a film awash with exploding blue alien heads (surely green would have made a more fitting, minty colour choice) the climatic scene almost jerks a tear as Pegg’s Gary King finally rolls up his sleeves to reveal the extent of his post school life. You start to wonder if you’ve been a tad harsh in judging your own one time school colleagues. It’s a reveal you sensed was coming as Gary’s enthusiasm grows ever more fragile, signalling an inevitable tragic end. But while a lazy scriptwriter would have had Gary sacrificing himself to save the day, Pegg and Wright went for something much more human and true, casting a downbeat shadow on the preceding humour. What Pegg and Wright have created is Withnail for the twenty first century.
But just as you prepare to leave the cinema with a heavy heart, the boys reach for their movie tribute playbook one last time and leaf to the pages marked Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Mad Max 2 (1981). The result is a second conclusion that blows the scope of The World’s End from small English town to global event of history changing proportions. You wonder how the story could ever provide a satisfying turnaround for Gary and the answer that Wright and Pegg provide us with I challenge anyone to predict. It’s a staggering increase scale and a perfect sign off for the trilogy; the cinematic equivalent of finding an extra large chunk of frozen chocolate at the bottom of your Cornetto cone.