Monthly Archives: April 2008

Simplicity and Clutter

Horton Hears a Who! (Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino, 2008)

We’ve entered the second decade of computer-animated movies (Toy Story having come out way back in 1995), and we are now starting to see the really interesting things that can be done visually with the medium. When I wrote about Ratatouille, I remarked upon the fantastic look it had, which seemed to me a leap ahead of other such films I’d seen; now the new film from animation studio Blue Sky, Horton Hears a Who!, pushes the medium in a different way by adapting the distinctive visual look of Dr Seuss to computer animation. They do a good job: the film has some really exciting visual moments. Yet it’s hamstrung by the accumulated bad habits of a decade of these kinds of films.

The success of the Blue Sky studios’ visual translation of Seuss’ art isn’t apparent until a little way into the film. The opening sequences, set in the jungle and featuring the Jim Carrey voiced Horton, show only a light Seuss influence in the visuals and character design. Only the distinct Seussian rhyming in the narration (and the story itself) point to the Seuss source. However, once Horton hears the Who – a tiny being on a speck of dust that floats past Horton – and we enter the world of Whoville, the visuals pick up considerably. One of the opening shots of Whoville is a giddy flying shot over the town, and its great to see the world of Dr Seuss brought to life like this, complete with its rounded architecture and elaborate stairs and ramps. It’s a really good moment, and is at least a part pay-off of the admirable ambition of Blue Sky in adapting such classic material. For all the fuss about Pixar – whose work generally remains far superior to Blue Sky’s – they haven’t attempted to take on a source so well loved, or so distinctive.

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Location, Location, Location

I still don’t see enough discussion of the importance of location in film. It’s not that it doesn’t get discussed at all; I’ve seen a fair few academic books and articles over the years that touch on it, and the recent upsurge of interest in the depiction of cities in film (which leads to books like Celluloid Skyline and Screening the City and The Cinematic City) reflects a fairly closely related interest. But I’ve felt for a long time now that location is one of the most critical elements in a film; it often seems to me that the places and locations we see in films deserve much more primacy in discussion about movies.

When I think about my favourite movies, one thing that strikes me is how many of them create a vivid sense of place; I love films that make me feel like I’ve visited somewhere. That isn’t just for obvious epic style movies in exotic locales, like a Lawrence of Arabia; I’m thinking about movies in all sorts of genres, and all sorts of types of locations. So it might be the L.A. suburbs of E.T., or the New England town of Jaws, or Woody Allen’s idealised New York in Manhattan, or the frontier backwoods of McCabe and Mrs Miller, or even the fantasy environments of the original Star Wars. One of the key things that separates these films from their less successful imitators is the sense of immersion in those places that they offer.

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Building a Better System

Planning News April 2008

Planning News April 2008

This article originally appeared under a joint by-line with Tim  Westcott and Gilda Di Vincenzo in Planning News 34, no. 3 (April 2008): 8-13. I was the lead author but incorporated some material from my co-editors.

Back in December last year, after the release of the poor results on the PIA planning report card, we noted that such a negative self-assessment was not a luxury that the planning profession could afford. We argued that in order to justify our continued existence, planners need to make sure that the planning system dramatically improves. We argued that such improvement needed to achieve two broad objectives:

  • The system has to be able to deliver better outcomes; and
  • It has to do so while imposing less burden on the community.

The following discussion outlines some of the ways that might be achieved. It is based on suggestions garnered from our calls for contributions over recent months, our own experiences, and countless informal discussions with frustrated colleagues over the years. What follows is by no means definitive: it is hoped that by collating some of these ideas (many of which are familiar old chestnuts) in one place, we can prompt both further discussion and an increased sense of purpose and urgency in the move for planning system reform.

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