Sunday, June 14, 2009

Film Update

Recent film screenings:

Star Trek - I entered the cinema moderately familiar with Star Trek mythology - I've seen a few of the films (First Contact is fave) and watched a handful of episodes from at least three of the series: TOS, TNG and Voyager. Nothing revolutionary in technique or profound in its observations, but the new Star Trek film provided a very exciting two hours and allows me to offer broad comment on the relative importance of plot in narrative. There is at least one major plot hole in the new Star Trek film, and I don't care. It didn't interfere in the slightest with my enjoyment of the film, because the filmmakers were successful in making me care about the characters and their predicament, in making me think that something vital was stake, so that the significant incoherence in the plot was far from my mind. We can only become so concerned if a film provides compelling characters, which Star Trek does, particularly in Spock, played with remarkable intelligence and grace by Zachary Quinto. I have friends who disagree, and who assess the quality of a film primarily on the originality, complexity and coherence of its plot - my concerns are usually style, character and theme, elements that can revive even the simple sequences of events. This is not to say that blatant incoherence cannot ruin a film - it can, but I believe that these other elements are in fact more important.

Up: I'll take on whatever criticism comes in revealing that WALL-E disappointed me. After a bold, witty and inventive opening, the film lost all direction, mixing contrived social commentary with a dull Saturday morning cartoon chase, amounting to the worst hour Pixar had yet produced. Whether the creators of the film indulged their low opinions of audience attention-spans or simply couldn't find another way to end the story is unknown. However, there is no such artistic compromise in Up.

Like WALL-E, the film opens with an extended sequence with almost no dialogue, a prologue presented as a series of vignettes of the the lives of Carl and Ellie Frederickson, so vivid and poignant that it left many audience members in tears. This sequence represents Pixar's coming of age in animation. The studio has long struggled with animating human characters, but here achieves a perfect synthesis of cartoon exaggeration and realistic emotion, primarily through the characters' highly detailed faces. This is also the most thematically adult material Pixar has explored, with aging and death at the core of this sequence and the rest of the film.

Though the somber opening eventually gives way to cartoon antics, these are integrally tied to events discussed early in the film and genuinely humorous and exciting. The film's villain hearkens back to the first Disney films - he is a terrifying and obsessive antagonist, not quite worthy of Snow White's wicked stepmother or Pinocchio's Stromboli, but of the same kind. The film's symbolism is gentle and effective. Up is among the best Pixar films, perhaps the very best.

2001: A Space Odyssey: I fall into the masterpiece category for this film, and would have been content to watch it for hours more. Given the rush for the computer, just one observation. Throughout the film, there's a motif of a small circle slowly rising above a larger one, always indicating a moment of human triumph and expansion. The circular "eye" of the computer, HAL is always shown up close with its top and bottom truncated, suggesting that it is less than human. Brilliant.

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