Thursday, January 14, 2010

3 in 2

Three movies in two days. Okay, one of them was on video, but…
Firstly, caught up with Hitchcock’s Lifeboat again after about forty years, on Tuesday night. It remains a great ensemble piece, with a very good cast (only John Hodiak seems a bit of a weak link) of both American and English actors, and one Austrian – Walter Slezak, who had fled his home country as a result of Hitler’s invasions, and here, ironically, plays the conniving German. Of course, while it’s more ‘talky’ than a modern film would be, which particularly gives Tallulah Bankhead plenty of wonderful lines, there’s still plenty of tension, and some great scenes.
Secondly I went to Fantastic Mr Fox yesterday afternoon with my daughter and grandson, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s geared towards adults far more than kids, with its snappy and subtle dialogue, and overall inventiveness, but my grandson still seemed to enjoy it – at least until he accidentally pulled the top of a fingernail off on his trousers (don’t ask me!). The voices in this film are top notch; I particularly enjoyed Michael Gambon as Franklin Bean, the main baddie, who comes up with all the ideas for getting rid of Mr Fox (most of them involving wholesale destruction). The extension of the rather short book into a feature-length film has been interestingly done, though it might offend purists. I’d like to see it again to catch up with all the detail, in which there’s often easily missed humour.
And then, last night, there was Avatar, with more wholesale destruction. The storyline is the weakest element of this movie (I think it was in Titanic too, personally) with its patent baddies and heroic goodies, its indigenous people being attacked by a superior power (read the Yanks in practically any country they’ve had a go at), and the sense of oneness with nature.
But the storyline is survivable when you take the rest of the movie into account. Because we don’t have the 3D version available here we saw it in ordinary 2D, if ‘ordinary’ is the proper word. The visual element of Avatar is so stunning, so beautiful and so imaginative that it almost wouldn’t matter what story was going along with it. You watch in awe as characters ten feet tall interact with humans, as ferocious beasts out of someone’s nightmare chase and attempt to eat the hero alive, as enormous birds fly at terrific speed with people on their backs, as mountains float in mid-air – and people climb them (thousands of feet up in the sky) – as horse-like creatures are ridden (and then you realise they seem to have more than the usual number of legs), as jellyfish-like creatures float in the air and land in a sparkling array on the hero, as the night-time landscape lights up as people walk in it, and so on and so on. There are birds everywhere, endless varieties of fauna that bear similarities to those of Earth but aren’t quite the same, insects flying or crawling (and again they are close to what we know, but never quite) and much more.
And that’s only the ‘natural’ world; the military world is full of machines and robots and futuristic helicopters and planes all designed to within an inch of their being. All the time you’re asking: how did they do this? Everything is an achievement – nothing looks like CGI, even though much of it must be; nothing looks like ‘models,’ although it’s a sure thing with Weta Workshops involved that there must be models everywhere.
The actors are good overall, considering that the script doesn’t develop any of their characters in any way that’s at all unexpected. There’s no subtlety about the baddies – they’re bad from their first scene – and the goodies are all typical of basic future world comics (which the movie kept reminding me of: those near-naked heroes and heroines managing to cope with all sorts of situations in the flimsiest of costumes). Sigourney Weaver makes her role interesting by chain-smoking (more so when she’s the scientist than when she’s her avatar) and Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana are fine in the leads, considering that they’re always going to do what we expect them to do (boy meets girl, boy loses girl etc). None of the other characters have any depth, and basically are pawns of the plot. But the characters are pretty much second level, as they were in Titanic – it’s the effects that are important. And taken on that level, Cameron succeeds in every measure.
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