One of cinema's more mind-boggling moments took place at the Academy Awards, when Peter Jackson won the Best Director award for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In his acceptance speech Jackson thanked those who had been with him from the early days of "Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles."
It was hard to say which was more startling - that two fairly obscure and insanely gory films (Ian McKellen said that if he'd known about Jackson's early work he might not have consented to be in the Rings movies) should get such international recognition, or that unsuspecting people who loved the Rings movies might stumble on Meet the Feebles at a video store and rent it.
And have the shock of their lives.
Meet the Feebles, Jackson's second film, can best be described as The Muppet Show with sex, drugs, and violence. The Feebles Variety Hour is a popular TV show in which all the cast are puppets of varying species (there are no humans in the film at all). We see a quick introduction of the show and its performers, then it's backstage to get a more intimate (in every sense of the word) look at the actors and their complicated lives.
Star and songstress Heidi the Hippo is fighting both her food addiction and the break up of her relationship with the show's producer, Bletch the Walrus. Bletch has a lot going on - in addition to an affair with Samantha the Cat he's also financing porn films and orchestrating a big drug deal. Harry the Rabbit is in the throes of terminal VD and being pursued by a (literally) shit-eating fly tabloid reporter. Wynyard the knife-throwing frog is a heroin-addicted Vietnam vet (whose Deer Hunter-inspired flashback is the film's highlight). Sebastian the Fox, director of the show, is trying to put on a special live performance and yearns for a chance to perform a song he's written about the joys of sodomy. Sid the Elephant is fighting a paternity suit from Sandy the Chicken. In the midst of the filth and chaos are innocents Robert the Hedgehog and Lucille the Poodle, striving to find true love even as Lucille is lusted after by porn film director Trevor the Rat.
Jackson includes something to offend every sensibility, and doesn't leave a thing to the imagination as we watch cute puppets have sex, do drugs, get sick, and eventually try to kill each other. It's hard to decide if the use of puppets makes the film easier to take - you're torn between the "Well, at least it's only puppets doing these things" and "Look at the awful things these cute puppets are doing". The end result is both hilarious and appalling. At times you don’t know whether to wail in disgust or scream with laughter - the best solution is to do both.
As he did with Bad Taste, Jackson makes every cent of the low budget work. The puppets are a mix of hand-operated (a la Kermit the Frog) and full-body costumes, and very well done if not quite in Jim Henson's league. The songs are good as well, with my particular favorites being "One Leg Missing" and the ode to sodomy. Feebles is also an improvement over Bad Taste in terms of story, with a greater variety of characters and storylines to follow (and no twenty-minute gun battles, although there is a machine-gun rampage). The Vietnam flashback scene is particularly well-done.
But ultimately Meet the Feebles is limited by its very excess. There are so many characters and storylines, and the pace so rapid, that it can take more than one viewing to sort it out (and many viewers simply may not be up to a second viewing). So much violence and filth is paraded out that the effect is numbing after a while. Like its predecessor, Meet the Feebles feels like a bit of juvenilia that Jackson had to get out of his system before he could make more mature films (of which Dead Alive is the first - violent as it is, it's definitely the work of a more grown-up director).
Meet the Feebles is like no other movie I've seen - it's not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but at times it's also one of the funniest films around.
As for the DVD, normally I'd simply be happy the film is on DVD at all, but this is still an undistinguished release. It's full-frame but that's how the film was shot. The only extras are trailers for Meet the Feebles and other Dead Alive Productions, most of which I've never heard of. The most noteworthy thing about the DVD is its case, with the proud proclamation "From the director of Lord of the Rings". Can't wait to see those preteen girls with a crush on Orlando Bloom watch a diseased rabbit barf up thirty gallons of vomit.