Even if it were a mediocre film, you would want to give NBC's "Extreme Close-Up" some sort of critical pat on the back. It's not often that the networks venture onto even semi-experimental turf, and such journeys need encouragement.
But, it's easy to praise "Extreme Close-Up," which will be on Channel 2 (WMAR) tonight at 9 o'clock, because along with its cutting-edge mixture of film and videotape and its impressionistic montage of images that mix up time and place, this film delivers solid drama and genuine emotional impact.
Written by Marshall Herskovitz, from a story he and Ed Zwick came up with before their series "thirtysomething" got on the air, "Extreme Close-Up" is the story of a boy and his video camera. It is directed by Peter Horton, Gary on ''thirtysomething.''
As it opens, teen-ager David Toll is returning to school not long after the death of his mother. At some point, David's imagination was captured by the video camera. He carried it wherever he went, taking stark video images of his family.
Now, even as he seeks to continue chronicling his life -- as if it would disappear if it weren't captured on tape -- he looks at the tapes he has made, letting the audience join him as he tries to put together the pieces of this puzzle, to make sense of the death he confronts.
What he sees is his mother as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Blair Brown capturing perfectly a happy, creative person drawn inexorably to the dark and dangerous regions within her. Craig T. Nelson's father is an essentially well-meaning man whose world view cannot deal with the situation. And Morgan Weisser as David does a tremendous job portraying the excruciating period of adolescence when the most impregnable defenses are really signs of the most delicate vulnerability.
Horton's direction is particularly deft in the home video scenes, which have that totally unrehearsed, slightly chaotic, but still occasionally self-conscious feel of the genuine article. He let Weisser hold the camera for most of the scenes to help ensure their amateurish quality.
"Extreme Close-Up" has its problems. And a whole segment with a counselor at school could have been lost. David's relationship with a girl is never properly developed. Some scenes are a bit too precious. Occasionally you wonder how even someone obsessed with a video camera would have let it keep running under the circumstances you see.
But it is fascinating and compelling, an interesting journey into the world of images and reality, ultimately an affirmation of an individual's ability to master technology and transcend tragedy.
*** A teen-ager, obsessed with his video camera, reviews the tapes he made of his family as he examines the events that led up to his mother's death.
CAST: Blair Brown, Craig T. Nelson, Morgan Weisser
TIME: Tonight at 9 p.m.
CHANNEL: NBC Channel 2 (WMAR )