Friday, November 19, 2004

Movie roundup

Shark Tale (Bracknell UCI, UK)

A soulless Nemo-wannabe. Computer animation's finally got old enough that it's just another tool: it's not enough of a draw on its own any more to make a movie unique, except for the geeks who go to check out the latest water or hair effects.

And this is a good example: it's a poor movie which just happens to be rendered by computer. It feels over-calculated and written by committee; every joke carefully analyzed and choreographed. Ultimately, it's a machine for extracting movie-goers money; it has no heart.

The animation is lazy. Finding Nemo never let you forget that it was set underwater, it was obvious in the way the characters moved, the lighting, the sheer texture of the water. Here the water may as well be air; an effect not helped by the cityscape set designs. And it's too vivid: the colours are garish and the lighting harsh. The characters are too three-dimensional; the highlights to bright, the shadows too deep; it's tiring to watch. (Shark Tale isn't alone in this over-compensation; Disney's latest straight-to-DVD offering, heavily plugged on TV at the moment, has the same feel. It was revolutionary in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, where it really worked in placing 2D cartoon characters into the real 3D world; but it's old and tired now and its no substitute for decent, traditional animation skills.)

And I am tired of cartoon characters which are caricatures of their voice actors. Again, it used to be funny; now it's just lazy. Why bother inventing new characters when you can simply riff on the actors' appearances and back-catalogues? It's unoriginal and it leaves me feeling short-changed. (And it's notable that Pixar's films, with which this Dreamworks offering competes, do work hard to create original characters.)

2 out of 5; don't bother.

The Incredibles (Walnut Creek Century, USA)

Pixar stumbles a little here: this is a good movie, but not as strong as their tremendous run of previous successes.

As usual, it has their magic touch: you forget within minutes that you're watching a computer-animated film, or even an animated film; the story is the thing. And they have, finally, worked out how to animate humans successfully: the trick is to keep the look cartoonish, rather than to attempt photo-realism. The characters here are expressive and engaging.

But it's a darker film than previous offerings; it's moved up a rating, and it shows. It's violent; and people die, albeit only villainous henchmen in bloodless Bond-style deaths. Previous Pixar movies were unashamedly kids' movies, with in-jokes for the adults; this one seems more unsure of its audience. And it's also unsure of what targets its hitting; is it a superhero movie? A Bond spoof? A folksy family movie?

The set-pieces are spectacular: Mr. Incredible battling a giant robot, Dash outrunning mechanised pursuers in a chase reminiscent of, but much faster than, the speeder chase in Return of the Jedi.

Somehow, though, it doesn't gel quite as much as Pixar's other films; Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. left me wanting to see them again. This doesn't; it was entertaining, but forgettable.

And finally, Samuel L. Jackson's Frozone character comes across as an afterthought; he's incidental at best. Did the filmmakers not believe that the Incredibles were strong enough characters to carry it alone? Or did they simply need a big name to add marketing weight?

3 out of 5; OK, but not great.

Nice theater, though: stadium seating, good picture, great sound. Shame about the snorer at the back. And — and this gobsmacked me — they don't accept credit cards at the box office. WTF?

And the Star Wars ep 3 trailer looks fantastic. Lucas can't direct movies for toffee — for example, the nail-bitingly painful Hayden Christensen / Natalie Portman scenes in ep 2 — but he does make killer trailers.