Posts Tagged ‘ geekery ’

Sci-Fi Connoisseur: Wall-E

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A day after watching Christopher Nolan’s somewhat uneven and imperfectly paced Interstellar, my kids had a sudden and inexplicable hankering to watch a Pixar movie. This is odd because while there was a time when I was subjected to constant repetition of animated kids’ movies, I’d thought that time was long past. We usually sit around and give bad horror movies the MST3K treatment these days, but for some reason, last night we sat down to rewatch Wall-E.

It didn’t occur to me for a minute that this film has almost the same set up as Nolan’s Interstellar (except, ironically, the grown up movie refuses to take responsibility for ruining the Earth, while the kids’ fare makes it clear we’re to blame–and that we have to take responsibility).

The comparison, though, really makes Interstellar look like a bigger failure. Wall-E may not grapple with the complex working of relativistic space flight, but it’s every bit as visually stunning with its sumptuous animation, from the ruined Earth, through the wonders of space, even inside the massive spaceship. Where Wall-E surpasses Interstellar is, ironically, its heart.

The nonhuman characters in Wall-E elicit more empathy than any of the typically fine performers in Nolan’s space epic. It’s been a few years since we’ve watched this movie, but its charms have not faded one iota. I’m comfortable labeling it the best of the Pixar movies, with its careful–and nearly dialogue-free–development of its robotic characters to its brilliant orchestration of the human captain’s revelation of the value of living over surviving amidst a backdrop of robots dancing in space.

We oo’ed and ah’ed at all the cute robot lovey-dovey moments, yes, but more than that even, I was impressed with how this little cartoon had more to say about humanity’s future than the weekend’s big sci-fi blockbuster.

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Cowardly Art

Still reflecting on 2012, I caught an article on CNN declaring last year the “Year of Meh.”  The gist of Todd Leopold’s argument being that there was very little that was genuinely exciting in entertainment in 2012.

As a through-and-through movie geek, I paid most attention to his points about Hollywood.  In 2012, I had been looking forward to three giant geek-fest movies this year:  Avengers, Prometheus, and Dark Knight Rises.

The latter two are now notorious disappointments.  Prometheus is especially tragic since even though it was a clunk, awkward mess of a movie with some overwrought characters and some inexplicable ones, the deleted and alternate scenes (yes, I still watched the bonus material for a movie I didn’t like) prove that Ridley Scott had a decent movie on his hands, but he left it on the cutting room floor.

That would’ve been “decent,” but still nothing compared with his original sci-fi classics like Alien or Blade Runner.

The Dark Knight Rises was entertaining while soaking it up in the theater, but a little reflection opens up some gaping holes in the narrative.  More than anything, though it all had the feel of the last, sensational Batman movie, but lacking the bold presence of Heath Ledger’s Joker.  That feeling is getting all too familiar in Hollywood lately.

In the logic of Hollywood-think, “darker” is the new gravy train.  In the wake of the success of 2008’s The Dark Knight, the franchise factory has had its dials spun in one direction.  Sam Mendes, director of this year’s Bond movie Skyfall gives Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight direct credit as an inspiration.  That’s putting it mildly; the film actually turns out to be a kind of remake, with a villain constantly outmaneuvering the hero right up to the end, where the good guys still pretty much loses.  It even includes a scene with the baddie in a Hannibal Lecterish cell after allowing himself to be captured as “part of the plan.”  The need to recast all our pop culture heroes as dark or gritty continues in 2013 with a Nolan-produced Superman film Man of Steel and a new Star Trek sequel so eager to bask in the Nolan effect it’s actually going to be subtitled “into darkness.”

Next, prepare yourselves for the Avengers effect.  After Joss Whedon brought his distinctive voice to the Marvel comics superhero mash-up (which is still another dang comic book movie), Warner Brothers immediately rekindled plans to create their own super-hero all-stars flick, The Justice League.

It’s all so reductive.  And of course, this lack of originality stretches beyond just the action-adventure fare.  Romantic comedies are so formulaic, if you’ve seen the trailer then you’ve seen the whole story.  Hollywood is trapped by the three-act structure churned out by the bucketload.

It’s a shame.  Around the world, there is nothing more iconically American than our film exports.  Hollywood is the driving thrust of our cultural currency, our most potent ambassador.  It’s dearth of originality is a harbinger, a warning to dig deeper into ourselves and find more than an endless repetition of commoditized archetypes.

Yet even in this stew of “meh,” there are glimmers of genius, moments that speak to something deeper in us.  Mathew Shapiro stitches scenes from various films from the year together in his Cinescape series.  His 2012 entry is a tribute to the power of film.  It makes all these movies–slick successes and dreadful duds alike–look like intricate parts of a larger whole.  And that whole is our shifting cultural consciousness, prismed through the twenty-four frames of Hollywood’s often formulaic, sometimes moving story telling.