Saturday, July 16, 2005

Tantor's Movie Review

I went to see War of the Worlds last night and boy was it good. It's a Great American Tradition to have a Big Summer Monster Movie with creature or creatures rampaging across the planet. This was the best monster movie in some years. When those Martian tripods start trashing towns and vaporizing people, IT WAS SCARY! Thank goodness, once again, Earth won in the end.

It followed the same general plot as the excellent 1953 version that is required viewing for every little kid, but with some some new, and gruesome, twists. The Martian tripods in the new version were far more sinister than the old manta ray spaceships of the 1953 Martian invasion. They had a retro look like we expected the future to look like twenty years ago.

Steven Spielberg took care not to repeat the cliches of the old monster movies, like famous landmarks being blown up and heroines tripping while being chased by the monster. However, I miss the old cliche where, as the military assembles to attack the alien invaders, the pacifists bravely go out to try to talk peace and love with them, to try and understand their concerns and deal fairly with them, to have a Kumbaya moment with them. The aliens eyeball them incredulously for a moment, then blast them to bits. I always laugh my ass off when I see that.

The funniest part of the movie comes when the protagonists family is trying to comprehend what the tripods are. Terrorists? No, worse than terrorists. Where are they from? Not from here. Are they from Europe?

War of the Worlds gets a Four on Tantor's Five Point Movie Rating System (TFPMRS). A very good popcorn muncher. Go see it.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was a bore. In traditional Star Wars style, the movie was begun by words scrolling off into a background of stars. By the time it got to the third paragraph, I was lost and I never caught up. Who exactly are the Sith and why are they bad? I still can't tell you what exactly happenned in this movie except that everyone was pulling out their light sabres every third scene and going at it. A good chunk of the movie was spent tying up the plot threads from the original movie which, theoretically, comes after this one.

The special effects were spectacular, of course. They are the biggest draw for this flick. But the plot, the plot, the plot has been lost in all the special effects. I think George Lucas dreamed up a handful of big setpiece scenes that would dazzle the eyes and then backed in a plot that would tie them together.

I remember seeing the first "Star Wars" back in college with my high school buddies. It was only playing in one theater on the other side of town. We loved it. We went back to see it a couple more times. We thought we had stumbled onto some little known flick. We started calling each other Yoda and Darth and Luke, thinking nobody would know what we were talking about. Little did we know.

That original movie had good, well-drawn, distinct characters, unlike the latest effort. There was a clear plot: Destroy the Death Star! This latest Star Wars plot was muddled. It's as if all the original joy has been squeezed out of this franchise, but not its momentum.

I give Star Wars Episode IIIa 3 out of 5 on the TFPMRS. It's watchable. The special effects are better seen on the big screen than waiting to rent the DVD later to see it on TV.

I liked Batman Begins with the star, Christian Bale, doing a good job depicting the screwed up Bruce Wayne. The movie does a good job of illustrating Wayne's character transformation and how he got all those marvelous toys. It's also unusual in its postive portrayal of his capitalist parents as generous benefactors of the dark and downtrodden Gotham City. Hollywood usually demands that its capitalists be evil. Even more shocking, one of the villains is a psychiatrist. If this trend continues, we may see TV anchors or newspaper publishers as villians some day.

Batman Begins gets a 4 out of 5. Well worth seeing.

The best movie of the year so far is Crash, an oddly structured film that follows in desultory fashion the lives of half a dozen groups of characters in Los Angeles as their lives crash into each other like bumper cars. A thread of racism is woven into all the interlocking stories but I'm hard put to tell you what the main point was of all the stories put together. Yet you can not take your eyes off the screen. This film is all about plot.

Crash gets a strong 4 out of 5. Go. See. It.

I'm inclined to believe that the vast improvement in special effects has led to worse movies in general because of the decline of story. Movies have too much spectacle, too little plot. It just may be that the movies were better back in the Hollywood of the 1930s when they were made on a shoestring and manufactured like sausages. All they had was story.

I went to a software conference a year ago that featured as a speaker Scott Ross from Digital Domain, a company in Hollywood that made special effects for the movies "Titanic", "X-Men", and "The Day After Tomorrow." Digital Domain did those sweeping shots of the Titanic at sea. They also did the shots of tornadoes tearing up LA and the tidal wave swamping New York City in "The Day After Tomorrow." He showed how they built the scenes up, layer by layer, starting with ordinary film or stills and adding the effects, one at a time. It was fascinating.

Ross lamented the decline of story in Hollywood in favor of special effects, oddly enough. He said that plot and story-telling have declined because even after all this time, nobody really knows how to make a good movie. Ross went to visit Howard Koch, a famous screenwriter, who wrote "Sergeant York" and "Casablanca." Ross asked Koch how he did it, how he wrote those classics, what was the secret? The Old Man said, "Kid, I threw a lot of shit at the wall. Some of it stuck."


Anonymous Your Cuz Mark said...

Hey! Good movie reviews. I didn't enjoy WOTW as much as you, but definately had a good time. Don't bother to see Charlie and the Chocolate's like watching Michael Jackson in his Neverland Ranch - kinda disturbing.

Wow, you liked Crash? Ugh, I couldn't stand the way it seemed that Hollywood was trying to preach to us about bigamy and prejudice. I didn't like it, but if you did, that's gotta go with what works for ya!

In general, I think you are correct about movies relying too heavily on special effects these days. No plot or decent story line, but lots of explosions and super-stunts! This can't last forever though, as the general public will tire (if they haven't already) of these content-lacking movies.

Mon Jul 18, 09:24:00 AM 2005  

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