TOOL: Vicarious (DVD)


Review by Gregory S. Burkart

Those of you familiar with Tool?s videos know to expect strangeness, and lots of it. Nightmarish alien landscapes, mutated humanoid characters with severe nervous disorders (it wouldn?t be a Tool video if someone wasn?t twitchin? like crazy at any given moment) and highly-developed metaphysical symbolism.

The visual thru-line in these eerie epics is no accident, as it invariably stems from the dark imagination of the band?s co-founder/guitarist Adam Jones, whose roots in visual arts included monster-making at Stan Winston Studios, where Jones worked as a designer of special makeup and prosthetic effects on big-budget films like Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and several Nightmare On Elm Street sequels. Jones soon added stop-motion animation techniques to his repertoire, and the visual synthesis of his combined skills resulted in some of the most memorable music videos ever made ? anyone exposed to the promos for Tool?s ?Sober,? ?Stinkfist? or ?Prison Sex? soon found those creepy images etched into their subconscious.

Tool is not known for adhering to a rigid release schedule for any of their material, and the video for ?Vicarious? is no exception: the Grammy-nominated single from 10,000 Days was released nearly two years prior to the completion of the clip which accompanies it, which is quite a stretch, even in light of the band?s lengthy gaps between releases. Part of the reason for the delay is due to the extensive programming involved in what would be the band?s first completely computer-generated video.

Although the computerized approach seems antithetic to the organic, tactile nature of the earlier Tool promos, Vicarious is every inch a Tool project. All the visual themes, movements, pacing and textures of its predecessors are front-and-center here: a translucent, skeletal humanoid quivers with trepidation as he surveys a parched, desolate landscape ? although the claustrophobic nature of the prior works is replaced here with a vast, apocalyptic panorama over which a tentacled leviathan hovers menacingly. The humanoid (named simply ?X? in the storyboards) gets a closer look at the elements of his environment (mainly floating translucent portals and a gigantic flea) by releasing eel-like creatures (known as ?The Specters?) from within his irises, which appear capable of independent thought.

The eye imagery that features prominently in all of Tool?s artwork ? primarily from regular artistic contributor Alex Grey ? is magnified exponentially here, with eyeballs springing up just about everywhere you can imagine. The climactic moment comes when X passes through the portals into a 3-D landscape that is an exact CG reproduction of Grey?s massive painting ?Collective Vision? (also integrated into the 10,000 Days CD art), essentially an infinite nested system of all-seeing eyes. Grey?s visual concepts are also the inspiration for the X character, which resembles a fusion of Grey?s ?Visible Man? imagery and Jones?s twitchy meta-human denizens of earlier Tool videos.

The 8-minute film accompanies an extended version of the single, which features ominous sound augmentation by dark ambient artist Brian ?Lustmord? Williams (primarily in the opening and closing moments), and moves briskly despite the seeming inertia of its main character (his eye-eels do most of the work until the end), culminating in a shudder-inducing final image.

Also accompanying the film are twin commentaries ? and this is where things get even stranger. Both tracks are recorded by comedian David Cross (?Mr. Show?) in his New York home (you can hear his dog playing in the background), and were obviously added as a way of disarming any pretensions that one might associate with this obtuse little film. Cross was apparently given no setup or explanation whatsoever for the clip, narrates as one completely baffled by the weirdness passing before his eyes, and makes some pretty funny observations as a result. He also names the characters in the piece ? X is now named ?Geoff,? and the Specters become ?Brandy & Mandy? ? a cute touch actually used in the menu, which is otherwise unlabeled except for the extra features section.

The aforementioned extras are comprised of documentaries on the making of the video, as well as perspectives on the works of Adam Jones and Alex Grey. The making-of material is pretty standard, showing the progression of the images from Jones?s storyboards to the rough ?animatic? versions to the final product, but the bio segments are quite enlightening. We get glimpses of Jones?s sculpting work from the early days, on-set footage from the making of earlier Tool videos, and scenes of Grey at work on the wall-sized version of ?Collective Vision.? We also get a storyboard-to-final comparison feature, and a brief promo for Grey?s NYC gallery & metaphysical shrine CoSM (short for ?Chapel of Sacred Mirrors?) which looks like an amazing place to visit (they provide the address if you?re interested).

The packaging for the DVD itself is quite elaborate, as is often the case, and includes a built-in pair of stereoscopic lenses that you can use to view a set of image cards in 3-D (a feature also included in the 10,000 Days packaging). Pretty cool stuff, very affordable (generally sells for around $10) and a must-have for Tool completists.