Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More Film Review

It seems I've been seeing a lot of movies in the past two months. If anyone recalls the previous entry wherein I discussed going to the movie theater, there was a preview for Rise of the Guardians that made me have low expectations going in. In addition, I watched BraveThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and now Rise of the Guardians. I liked Brave well enough, but that review will be a separate post, if ever. My ultimate opinion of the adaptation of William Joyce's work is that the story may have faired better as a long term serial, such as comic form, than squished into a 90 minute feature film. I can tell without having read any of the books that it suffers from most book adaptations in that it feels rushed and incomplete. I give it a 6.5 on a 10 star scale. Oh, and The Hobbit is definitely a 9, go see it if you haven't yet. There are plenty of good online reviews of it, so I'll leave the Googles to handle it. However, interested parties who want more of an answer on to how Peter Jackson is able to squish the Hobbit into three movies, can read this fine essay on textuality.

Out of the previews I hadn't seen before:

Escape from Planet Earth looks like Harold and Kumar with extraterrestrials.

Parental Guidance is a family comedy attempting to address the generation connect with millenials versus baby boomers. I couldn't stop staring at how fat Billy Crystal has gotten the whole trailer.

Cirque du Soleil is making a feature film with the help of James Cameron. I'm surprised it took this long for the company to produce one. They really couldn't have chosen a better person to help with the project as James Cameron is notorious for his special effects porn.

After Earth looks weird, and leaves me wondering how Will Smith feels about being typecast as the hero guy for post-apocalyptic stories.

Monsters University is revisiting Monsters Inc. characters in college. The trailer played out like a college attendance ad. Yay, higher education? The original movie was a 5 on a 10-star scale for me, so unlikely I will think much of this film.

Oblivion started out as a mind fog once Tom Cruise came into view. My mind woke back up when Morgan Freeman came into view.

Star Trek: Into Darkness I will be watching mostly for Benedict Cumberbatch, as I recently finished the Sherlock series to date and have a bit of a crush on him and his 1337 acting skills.

This movie isn't terrible, but I am left wanting more and questioning a lot of the decisions made in the plot. Going in, all I figured I would like is the character designs and some of the humor. It is a touching story about belief and guarding childhood innocence, but I still felt meh afterward. I am much more drawn to the concept art and extra comics on the Dreamworks tumblr and deviantART (rufftoon in particular did some great pre-movie comics of Pitch Black) than I was watching the film. I also really want to read the books, and maybe one day do a video commentary of the film. Until then, pretend this is the commentary track as you watch Rise of the Guardians.

After reading some synopses of the Guardians of Childhood series, the movie definitely would have faired better with early indications that the legendary figures who become guardians originate from somewhere.  I mean, the introduction is nice, with Jack's birth by moon magic and rising out of the water, however I am left with more questions than answers. I can only hope the disc release will have mini extras not unlike Kung fu Panda's background on the other martial artists of the Furious Five. The childish joy and innate creativity of Jack is present here with the magical ability to fly and create/mold ice, but the price being invisibility and inability to talk to people is rather steep. Plus, his questions of "why am I here" are most forward in my mind as well. Seeing as the Man in the Moon is the driving force for creating these mythological figures to watch over children, I question why he is treated as a god figure and kept out of sight of the audience. THIS BEING NEEDS TO BE SEEN AND HAVE HIS STORY TOLD. 

The introductions to the other characters reveals the innate quality of the guardians as protectors of the wonder and innocence of childhood, rather obvious given the titles of all in the series. Nicholas St. North is a great character, though, as far as Santa Claus renditions go, and not just because of his warrior skills, outlaw look, or great Russian accent. He is also shown to be a creator, in his ice molding of a working railroad and locomotive that turns into a jet. The yetis are a humorous touch, both in appearance and language, and as is later revealed, the actual workers at the North Pole. I'm uncertain what the elves are for, as they mostly seem clumsy and don't contribute much to either decorating or creation of foodstuffs.

The most evil thing the villain can do is cover everything with sparkly black sand. This phenomenon is apparently bad and not just a cheap grab for attention, sending North to sound the alarm and rally the Avengers other Guardians. The North Pole is a great base, and looks not unlike the technological powerhouses of the Batcave or the Q Branch; in this case, it relies on magic and steampunk awesomeness to monitor children's belief and send messages by northern lights.

The thing I couldn't fathom the entire time I anticipated this film was why the Tooth Fairy was part hummingbird. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. The Sandman is a great design, and has really good sand powers, much better than Gaara (sorry, Naruto fans). I mean, going from cloud dispersal unit to giant functional airplane takes some serious skill. I also admire the choice to keep Sandy nonvocal; communicating by sand emote whenever a direct answer is needed is definitely well-suited for animation, although it seems this quality is so he won't wake up anyone, which is silly when no one around him is asleep.

E. Aster Bunnymund, as he is known in the books, is a funny fellow, because of course he travels by tunnel, but I don't understand how he is so affected by the cold, seeing as he has good fur coverage. Then again, being a springtime holiday, he's probably not designed for freezing temperatures (making his anger at the blizzard of '68 a touch more understandable). He also takes his work very seriously, and must be damned talented if he can throw a hissy fit while still expertly painting an egg. I really like the choice of Hugh Jackman for the role, but wonder how much that decision influenced the Australian-warrior look and attitude of the final character, as the book seems to follow a different path. Also, I am now pondering why a symbol of a spring festival of fertility is traditionally male...

After the realization that there is indeed a threat from the Nightmare King, the guardians are tasked with inviting their newest addition, whom we cut to. After a few centuries of practice, it is obvious Jack is quite adept now at both flying and causing chaotic fun. Apparently he's buddies with the wind, but this idea isn't explored further. Also I'm confused as to where Jack's home is, as he refers to it, but never actually goes there. His direct interaction with children is clearly what the rest of the guardians are lacking, as I've yet to see any of the others actually play with the beings they are sworn to protect. There follows a cute snowball fight, the revelation that Jack's talent is Happy Snow®, and a demonstration of how physics is a bitch (but all in good fun, right Dreamworks?). It is also clear that despite multiple references in songs and stories, no one actually believes in Jack Frost, keeping him sad and lonely. However, his innate curiosity allows the plot to move forward from this moment of depression, as well as reveal the villain's plot to steal children's dreams and create nightmares to give himself more power. I am wondering if the Nightmare King's penchant toward divaness is at all the influence of Loki from the Thor movie, or if evil diva has always been a thing and I'm just now noticing.

Considering all I've seen of Jack Frost so far, I'd have to agree with the guy that welcoming him to the Guardians' fold with fanfare, synchronized dancing, and new, overly sparkly shoes is not the way to get him to take the oath. Again establishing that he is a lone wolf and doesn't work well with others, there comes a long sequence with naughty list jokes, more exploration of the workshop, all in order for Santa to have a private conversation with Jack (hey, it's the main challenge of changing from a textual medium to a visual one). North uses the analogy of stackable Russian dolls to explain how one must find the center of one's being (i.e. special talent) to embrace the nature of being a guardian or something. I get the feeling both me and Jack lost track of the conversation somewhere during this monologue. At least he isn't whiny and bitchy like Anakin Skywalker. Now that we have added to Jack's personal quest, it's time for conflict!

Tooth's palace is under attack by nightmares, so off go the guardians. The sequence with the sleigh is rather brilliant, because of course it's awesome, Bunny is afraid of heights, and Sandy gets to be silly. I also would love magic portal orbs. They would be as useful as magic portal drums. I question how Jack is a good driver despite all evidence pointing to him never having driven in his life, much less something like Santa's sleigh. The villain wanted the fairy minions and the teeth, but the why will have to wait until after he's done with his Bond villain spiel. Pitch Black the Nightmare King (Bogeyman) is an understandable villain, as all he wants is to be believed in, although the whole fear and darkness thing is rather cliche. His design reminds me of Hades from the Disney Hercules, but without the fire. I can't imagine it's easy though, having a talent no one appreciates or wants around.

Anyhow, now the audience is allowed to know (unless you read the books) that children's teeth contain their memories. Thus the next goal in Jack's quest for identity is revealed, as it is also explained that each of the guardians were human (special animal?) before “ascending.” However before that, the heroes have to race against time to continue the tooth fairy work and maintain children's belief to keep Tooth alive until they can recover the stolen fairies and teeth from Pitch. Silly montage is silly, as is the fact that Tooth has an entire diverse army all over the world tasked with collecting teeth and leaving gifts behind (mice in the European division!). Of course, the other guardians being boys, the job quickly turns into a competition, and halfway through the night realize they forgot about leaving gifts, which I think was just an excuse to have the visual joke of getting coins from a laundromat. Besides, later the competition starts up again with each guardian leaving elaborate gifts, which again, seems just an excuse for jokes such as to have North start leaving decorated Christmas trees in children's rooms.

Then comes a visit to Jamie, a child Jack had played with earlier, and the hilarious consequence of the kid waking up while the guardians bicker and squabble over his tooth. Hilarious squabbling continues as the guardians attempt to keep the kid calm while they figure out how to put the kid to sleep. Oh wait, that's Sandy's job. Jamie's pet greyhound is in the room, though, and starts a glowering contest with Bunnymund, which Jack thinks would be much more exciting as an actual fight. Apparently being seven feet tall and an accomplished fighter doesn't stop instinctual fear of one's enemies. Jack's prank backfires, and three of the guardians are put to sleep in addition to Jamie and the dog.

Of course, the villain is hardly idle, and it is apparent his next target is Sandy. Jack and Sandman chase the obvious trap of the nightmares, which in addition to showing that Sandy is a badass ninja, also reveals that dreams can play with each other. The cutaway reveals the problematic wandering of Sophie, Jamie's baby sister, who gets a hold of one of Santa's magic portal orbs and heads off to Bunny's realm which manages to wake up Santa who must have grabbed the other two sleeping guardians and ran off in search of Jack and Sandy, as they manage to make it into the next scene. Back to the battle with the nightmares, Jack shows off his power, albeit inadvertently, Sandy is devoured, and the guardians are forced to flee and recoup their losses. Easter is the next day, so the heroes must scramble to pull off the egg hunt in time to keep Bunny's powers going, despite the still very dangerous threat of Pitch.

In the warren, it is again brought to the audience's attention that the other guardians have not actually played with children in a very long time. As North says, "We are so busy creating wonders for children! We have no time for children!" Jack has to teach them basic social skills, which is beyond ironic. The following montage of preparing the eggs for Easter is both bizarre and endearing (walking eggs, wow), but I did love the rivers of sparkly paint.

Back on the surface, Jack clearly did not go to hero training, and does not realize that hearing a familiar voice after three hundred years is an obvious trap. It would be a thing for the Nightmare King to live underground, even if it wasn't established in the books. Pitch once again shows off his manipulative ass Bond villain impression, and offers Jack the thing he wants most in exchange for staying out of the fight with the guardians. I will note I was rather distracted by the frost detail on Jack's clothes during this sequence.

Upon Jack's return to the surface, it is revealed the eggs were assaulted by nightmares and destroyed before reaching the surface. With no eggs, the children stop believing in Bunny, so now he must deal with being invisible to mortal eyes. Now follows the obligatory internal party conflict and turning upon the rookie, who has developed a terribly timed stutter to prevent his explanation of Pitch's trickery. So of course Jack would run to Antarctica in an emo fit of 'woe is me.'

By now one would think that Jack learned his lesson that Pitch isn't trustworthy, but at least he ultimately rejects Pitch's offer of alliance to create fear and darkness. Pitch now performs a totally dick move and holds Baby Tooth fairy hostage for Jack's stick (which isn't the source of his power, wtf). After beating the crap out of Jack, Pitch heads off to continue his evil Bond villain deeds, or something. The rescued Baby Tooth helps to revive Jack and opens his memories for him, revealing the obligatory sad family past (and resulting death that lead to his ascension). Jack gains new confidence now that he knows his center (special talent = happy snow, remember?) which is apparently being chaotic fun in the face of danger. Jack also mysteriously gains the power to mend wood.

Cut away to North's base being attacked, and Pitch triumphantly stamping out the remaining belief on the globe model, except for one stubborn little light, which happens to be Jamie, the child from earlier. He is talking to his stuffed animal to grant him a sign he isn't crazy and the guardians are real. He obviously has serious mental issues if talking to his toys is his best support for confirming reality, but hey, children have great imaginations. Jack, being a clever lad, uses his ice molding talents to get Jamie to believe in the Easter Bunny. Now that we're done with the obligatory heart-touching moment, Santa shows up with the gang to protect the last child on earth who still believes in them. Apparently belief is the magic that powers sled driving ability and one's size, as both have severely gone down in quality since these characters were last seen. Cute little Bunny is cute, pffft. Pitch attacks with his nightmares, which now resemble a tidal wave, and the heroes must rally. After some fighting and the obligatory team effort speech, everyone realizes fun is Pitch's kryptonite.

Sledding around on some convenient large woks, the heroes gather Jamie's friends using Jack's Happy Snow ability and reawaken their belief in the legendary guardians, which prompts the obligatory heroic stand of the children. In case you've been missing it, our overarching message in this movie is that of children = future. Weather safety is obviously not on many of their minds, though, as many of the children lack proper coats and footwear. Oh well, the plan works, as Sandy returns and we have gratuitous yeti fights. Also egg tiki warrior statues and a life-size brontosaurus of sand!

With all the fun weakening Pitch's fear effect, it only takes a good hit from Sandy to put the Nightmare King to sleep and allow the guardians to finish off the rest of the nightmares. Jack is given a cute Russian doll by Santa upon the battle's end, and the snow party continues. After a few more visual and spoken jokes, Pitch revives, only to slink off into the woods. The party chases after him, back to the pond of Jack's birth. It should be noted that for a bird, Tooth has a wicked punch. Pitch still attempts to remain a returning villain with his blah blah blah fear is me blah blah, only for everyone to quickly realize that all the nightmares surrounding them is from Pitch's fear. Being dragged off to be destroyed by his own creations/allies feels a lot like the ending to We're Back: A Dinosaur Story, the Disney Hercules, the Disney Princess and the Frog, and probably many more movies.

Jack is sworn in as a guardian, commencing the cheering and celebrating of all the characters and guardian minions. As the obligatory older sibling-wisdom-bonding moment occurs, I am left wondering why the children are allowed on this twice-stated dangerous pond in the middle of winter weather, with Sandy's dream sand raining down clearly meant to put the children to sleep and left outside so the guardians can slip away. Riding out into the night, Jack's moral of this adventure is that if the moon tells you something, you should believe it. Which must be why driving on full moon nights is so dangerous, as everyone is listening to moon speak rather than paying attention to the road. Luckily the credits show the children being returned to their homes with the help of the guardian minions, along getting teeth brushed, tucked in and all. I did like the final note of the film with Phil the yeti signing Jamie's monster book on the Sasquatch page.

As I said earlier, the film is about 6.5/10. Entertaining, but felt lacking enough to not warrant a second viewing.