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I don’t know if a critic can be said to be trolling if he’s published by a major newspaper, but Jim Schembri is surely coming close with this piece on why Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is a better piece of animation than Tintin.
My problem is not with the central thesis. I love championing of so-called “low” movies, and I love it when critics find things in a movie they think others have overlooked. I haven’t subjected myself to Alvin 3, and am not about to simply to see if Schembri is right. But just taking the Tintin side of the equation here, the article is full of comments that don’t add up.
The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
I don’t need to re-cap the level of anticipation to which I ascended in the lead-up to Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Hergé’s classic comic strip series The Adventures of Tintin; my salivating is all preserved on-line. Getting worked up ahead of the fact is part of the fun with modern blockbusters, but it means that actually seeing the film can often be a let-down. Amongst the recent mega-franchises we probably have to go back to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to find one that truly lived up the hype; at the other end of the spectrum, and far more common of late, are wretched let downs like Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Tintin arrives heralded to the screen by both Jackson (as producer) and Spielberg (as director), so the form line for this was mixed. The good news is that their adaptation does justice to the source material and lives up to the expectations. I loved The Adventures of Tintin.
One of the key things that fuelled expectations was the talented triumvirate of geek favourites that Spielberg and Jackson had snared for screenwriting duties: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. The trio have done well in forging a largely seamless hybrid of Hergé’s The Crab with the Golden Claws and The Secret of the Unicorn, with a few small details from other books thrown in for good measure. The start of the film recalls the tone of Hergé’s earlier Tintin stories, with Tintin entering into an adventure accompanied only by his brave and faithful dog Snowy; in the latter portions, Tintin meets and then teams up with the irascible drunkard Captain Haddock. Their quest is to locate a series of parchments which, together, will provide a clue to the location of a hidden treasure; racing them to the target is the murderous Sakharine. The adventure takes Tintin from Europe to north Africa and back again.
And now, further to my post earlier today, here’s the Tintin teaser trailer, giving us (a little) more sense of what the animation will look like. There are some nice shots here, but it’s still hard to tell. The overall look is beautiful from what we can see, but they’re holding back on character animation, which will be the big test.
I’ve written about my misgivings about a CG Tintin before, but my fandom keeps overtaking my rational reservations. The thought of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson collaborating on this material, working from a script by Steven Moffat (writer of some seriously good TV) and Edgar Wright, is pretty exciting. And now we have this pair of handsome posters. If only the last movie that had me this excited at poster stage wasn’t Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Dreams Come True (ACMI, 18 November 2010 - Tuesday 26 April 2011)
When putting together a museum exhibition I guess one of the key questions is: “who is the audience here?” When reviewing an exhibition, that question might even be more critical.
I have written a previous grumpy review of an exhibition at ACMI (about their Setting the Scene exhibition) and at the time raised the issue that maybe part of the problem was that I wasn’t the intended audience. In that case, I was actually too interested in the subject matter: if an exhibition is pitched at a general audience, someone very caught up in the subject is perhaps inevitably going to judge the material harshly. ACMI’s latest, the Dreams Come True exhibition of fairy-tale themed Disney material, also covers material I’m particularly interested in. So, once again, I have to flag that perhaps I’m a little too close to this to give the exhibition a completely fair go.
The short answer is “no, that’s silly.” Even the author of the original article talks about it mainly in terms of volume of good films. It’s true, the animation industry is humming along, and we can give bonus points for the return of hand-drawn theatrical animation in the US with The Princess and the Frog, but looking at it by volume just changes the rules so much the notion of a “best year ever” becomes meaningless.
To justify such a claim you surely should be able to point to some really landmark works, or at least a field of such enduring excellence it makes the year special, in much the same way 1939 is often talked about in the live action context. I can’t see anything of that quality about, despite all the good releases this year.
It’s nice to see Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are getting some love (see here) and opening well (see here). I posted the trailer for the film back in May and remain feverish in my anticipation. (It opens in Australia at the start of December). It’s not just that I admire both the book, and Spike Jonze, it’s also that the trailer gave the distinct impression – now also being supported by some of the reviews – that Sendak has approached this not so much as a kids film but as an all-ages film that is about about childhood. That’s a really interesting and rewarding avenue that isn’t explored often enough, presumably because studio bosses think it is likely to confuse people about whether the film is for kids or adults. (Never mind that one of the most commercially successful films ever made is exactly such a film). The reviews (even some of the less positive ones) give me increased hope that it was timidity, not real problems with the material, that caused the studio to delay the release of the film for so long.
I won’t post the link to the wonderful second trailer, since that’s in all the Australian cinemas right now. Instead, here’s some test footage of an aborted Disney adaptation directed back in 1983 by none other than future Pixar supremo John Lasseter. The footage itself is nothing special – a kind of show-offy exploration of how computers would allow animation to more freely play with depth – but it’s an interesting glimpse at an intriguing mix of artistic sensibilities. I have a lot of regard for Lasseter, and for good Disney, but you have to wonder whether the studio was in any creative state to deal with a masterpiece like Sendak’s book in 1983.
I haven’t been covering MIFF in quite my usual still-not-very-comprehensive-at-all fashion this year. I am of course tempted to blame a Chinese denial of service attack, but this has actually been due to a deadline on my thesis, with my next chapter due, well, now. I had thought it would be out of the way before MIFF, but no, I’m still plugging away.
My planned schedule has been whittled back to the must-sees: so far that has consisted of Duncan Jones’ Moon and the revival of Richard Lowenstein’s cult classic Dogs in Space, which I saw tonight. I will write up both on here, but as the second sessions for both are sold out I haven’t felt massive urgency. Suffice to say Moon is exceptionally good, and Dogs in Space deserves its reputation, even if it’s hard to make any grand claim for its artistic merit.
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)
We might divide artistic achievements into two categories. There are those works in which an artist creates a work that is perfectly tuned to their sensibility and their strengths; and there are those that see an artist break down the barriers to move beyond what we know they are capable of. We should be grateful both types exist. It is the latter kind that surprises us, and that most often push the boundaries of artistic expression. But we need the former kind too. It is films where an artist’s material and approach meld into a perfect union that we tend to see the most perfectly judged works. The animated feature Mary and Max is one of those films: director /screenwriter and designer Adam Elliot knows what his strengths are, and this self-awareness has delivered a pitch-perfect blend of melancholy and humour.
I saw Bolt the other day. I won’t get a chance to review it properly, but I will note for the record that it’s enjoyable without being especially memorable. It’s a testament to the professionalism of the creative people at Pixar / Disney: having torn the film down and rebuilt it halfway through production, they still made it slick and fun and involving. Nevertheless, there’s an unmistakable by-the-numbers feel about it: there’s not much sense that anyone had any real passion for this story. Toy Story, you sensed, reflected real interests of John Lasseter; The Incredibles unmistakably meant something to Brad Bird; and Finding Nemo‘s story doubtless had personal meaning to Andrew Stanton. But with Bolt the original director was gone, and it really feels like they only made the film because they didn’t want to write off all the story development. So it’s fun, but passionless.
The most interesting thing about it is actually the 3-D. I have seen a few reviews, like Jim Schembri’s and Stuart Wilson’s, really complement the process. I’m afraid, however, that I don’t buy it. It’s true that it’s way better than old 1950s red-blue 3-D, but that’s faint praise. Beyond the novelty value, does it actually improve the movie experience?