Cinematic Catch Up

Posted Sunday, January 10, 2010, 7:11 PM

I have not had a lot of money to spend on frivolities lately, so have not splurged on DVDs on days of release for a long time, instead waiting for them to halve their prices later in the year. But last week, I decided I wanted to finally catch up on movies I had missed, movies that had been praised at their cinema release, so I bought three movies to watch: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, G.I.Joe, and District 9.

Goodness me, what an entertaining week I've had watching them.

G.I Joe was first. I missed out on most of the toys that were turned into cartoons, during the 80s. Partly because I was just a little too old for the toys themselves, and partly because the cartoons were such poorly animated, badly acted, horrendously written dreck, I just stayed away for my own sanity's sake.

G.I. Joe is a very old toy franchise, however, and inspired the UK equivalent of Action Man, which was more popular when I was a kid, even though none of my friends or I had an Action Man toy either. But I was aware of the storyline, generally, that was used as the basis for the TV series. It amounts to nothing much more than good guy US military vs bad guy Foreign military, with fancy weapons and vehicles that did lots of flashy foldy shooty stuff. Basically, standard violence-based boy's toys.

Movies based on toys and games and video games are, as a rule, awful. The main problem seems to be the interactive and single-player nature of a game is impossible to translate into a story that really encapsulates the experience each person has with it. It's hard enough to adapt a book and fulfil the imagination of the author, let alone the imagery concocted by the reader, but to re-create the individual experience of a kid who plays with his toys in a particular way peculiar to their own approach, is not universal enough to work properly. Couple that with the inherent ridiculous and fantastical nature of something like G.I. Joe, and any attempt to take it seriously is a waste of everyone's time.

So how do you deal with those issues and still make an entertaining and successful movie?

Imagine you're an eight year old boy, and you have four or five of the G.I. Joe (and the enemy C.O.B.R.A's) action figures and vehicles. How do you play with them? Do you slowly drive the car along, and watch as you characters exit the vehicle and wander along to a house where they sit on the couch and watch TV? Do they have tea parties with your sister's teddy and dolls? Do they sit on a shelf gathering dust as a potential collector's item?

No, they do not.

"And then Joe runs to the helicopter, and they fly over a cliff and go RRRRRRRGGGGHHHH, and then the tank comes up over the dunes and it goes BBBKKKKHHH POW POW POW AKAKAKAKAKAK!!! And then the helicopter goes WEEEEEEEEEE BAAAABOOOOMMMM!!! And then COBRA arrive in their submarine, and attack all the divers in the boat POW SPLASH! CRASH! AAAAAARRRGGHH You got me, Commander!!! AAAARRRKKKKHHH. But they don't know that Joe's got an army of jet fighters, WWWHHHOOOOOOSSSSSHHHH!!!!! POW!!! BAAABOOOOMMMM!!!!"

And that, in a nutshell, is how they made the G.I. Joe movie.

And because it re-created the way kids played with the toys in precisely the right way, the movie works. Against all odds, and despite its absurdities throughout, it knew what it was, what it was trying to be, and it achieved success. If you want to see a completely over the top mind blowing blast of a movie, G.I. Joe is worth a look.

The next movie I saw was District 9.

I had seen the trailer, and when I had ever seen the reviews the implication was always "Don't read this review, because what you think the movie is about, it's so much more, and not at all what you are expecting." So I kept away from as much promotion for it as possible, until now when I finally saw it on DVD.

Also, I love visual effects, and the things I had seen for District 9, the casual approach, where whole sequences had a dismissive feeling of the effects being not "special" at all, just accepted as real, it so intrigued and impressed me I was completely drawn to it, even if the movie turned out to be bad.

Luckily the consensus has been that it's a wonderful film, of great impact and handled with astonishing, seemingly effortless, dexterity.

And I agree.

It starts out as a documentary, following a dorky Government official in South Africa, where Aliens had arrived in their spaceship, twenty years earlier, and now he has to convince them to relocate to a new location outside of the city. Cleaner, but smaller, but more importantly...

Click for spoilers

...far away from a buried spacecraft, which only needs fuel to allow the Aliens the opportunity to go back to the Mother Ship and head home again.

But when the Official accidentally sprays himself with the fuel so carefully collected and distilled, he begins to go through a metamorphosis that completely turns the story around into something new. And not even that is what you might expect.

It truly is an amazing film, and may even be up for an Academy Award, if reviews are anything to go by. I urge anyone who hasn't seen it to not read my spoilers, and just go and get the DVD and watch it as soon as you can, because you will be at turns revolted, amazed, thrilled, energised, and inspired, by what unfolds.

And the visual effects are really cool, too.

The last one I watched this week was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I started reading the Harry Potter books way back before they were a phenomenon. Well, maybe right on the cusp of its beginning. And though I've never felt they were great literature, or particularly worthy of the praise and crazed mania that they ended up in amongst, they are nevertheless entertaining reads, with a great grasp of character, and with very well woven plot threads that leads to an ending that fits all that had come before.

Half-Blood Prince, as a book, comes at a difficult point in the over arcing plot. The main characters are fleshed out, the main plot threads are in play, and the end game is yet to begin. But the main bad guy and his motivations are left as something of a mystery up to this point, and so Jo Rowling set aside this book to finally tell Voldemort's tale, and provide the final clues to his reign, his return, and his motivations to kill Harry.

But there has to be more to the story than that, and both Rowling, and director David Yates, managed to find a good backbone to carry the characters along. Yates has exploited it in a better way for the film than was portrayed in the book, even though all the beats matched. As he was the director for the previous film, he had set up a few threads that carried through, and that continuity, coupled with the unexpectedly subtle performances, brought it a sincerity that resonated throughout the length of the film.

Basically the kids have grown up. They're teenagers with raging hormones, and are making stupid decisions based on instincts obscured by unimportant things they think are crucial.

The actors have likewise grown up, their acting has improved in every way, but they still have an amateur performance element, which sort of gets on my nerves. But that's being picky, because it's drowned out by spectacle, wonderful relationship moments, and a stylish flourish that bodes well for the next movie.

Which, incidentally, covers one book, but will be split into two films, because it's so long and can't be easily trimmed back.

So I definitely recommend all three of these films for a great evening's entertainment. They are fun, provocative, and spectacular. What more can you hope for?

1 Reasoned Responses:

Dags said...

I heard that Batman and Robin in the mid 90s was made the same way as GI Joe - in that they looked at how kids played with the toys and just emulated that on film ... except it didn't work.

Maybe they just gave the kids better toys this time around LOL

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