On watching movies

I’ve seen a bunch of movies in the last week or so, and thought I’d blog about the experience. These aren’t reviews as such: a couple of the movies have been out for a very long time. These are just reflections on a medium of storytelling that I feel has incredible potential rarely realised.

The first was the CGI Beowulf (dir. Robert Zemeckis), which I have resisted watching until now. Why resist? Well, the poem has a really special place in my heart and I don’t want to see it sullied. Also, about the time Zemeckis’s version came out, I watched on DVD the little-known Icelandic version Beowulf and Grendel (dir. Sturla Gunnarson) with Gerard Butler as Beowulf and it was really good: sure they dicked with the plot, but it looked stunning. But I slowly came round to the idea of Zemeckis’s adaptation. Neil Gaiman was involved in the screenplay. Anthony Hopkins and a few other good actors were in it. Surely it couldn’t be that bad.

Well, I guess I’ll never know precisely how bad or good it is because I couldn’t watch it for more than 10 minutes. It is officially the movie I have given up on quickest in my life. The CGI was awful, just awful. It looked like a cut scene from a PC game. I will never know if Neil Gaiman’s quirky brilliance saved it, or if Anthony Hopkins made a wonderful Hrothgar because I couldn’t look at it. FFS, if I’d wanted to watch Polar Express I would have rented it.

My second adventure was District 9, which a lot of my friends and family said was Teh Awesome. I’d really been looking forward to this one, but perhaps my head wasn’t in the right place to enjoy it more than “meh”. For one thing, I couldn’t stomach the violence but that says more about me than it says about the movie. I don’t actually mind violence. I like it in books, I love it in computer games. But for some reason movie violence irritates me. I always feel as though I’m being manipulated; it always seems a film-maker’s shortcut to a visceral reaction. Or something. I really don’t know. In any case, I recognise that this movie was a wonderfully original concept, and the aliens looked superb, and the sight of that big ship just sitting up there above Johannesburg was brilliant. But what killed it for me was the lack of a likable character in the first hour. I hated the protagonist (and I’ve forgotten his name, which says something). I didn’t care if he died. I certainly didn’t care if his adequately pretty wife was sad (she looked like she had an illustrious career ahead of her modelling knitware in Kmart catalogues) (seriously, just give the nerdy-looking man a nerdy-looking wife). I got more interested in the alien with the little son and genuinely cared about them, but it was a long time coming. And by then, my disbelief had returned from suspension and I saw ALL the plot holes. And they were huuuuuuuuuuuge. Fatal, even. So my verdict is: great concept, uneven execution.

And then, almost by accident, I watched Ponyo (dir. Hayao Miyazaki). A friend had loaned me a bagful of Miyazaki films to show my kids, and I thought my little girl might be taken by the cute, chubby-faced fish. I expected to do housework while she watched, but from the opening frames I was utterly captivated. So I sat on the couch and watched it all, breathless. It is a work of art. Utterly sublime. Some of the scenes will stay with me forever, especially those that captured to perfection the might and beauty and mystery of the sea.

My final adventure was in an actual movie theatre (gasp!) with 3D glasses on my nose and a squirming three-year-old in and out of my lap. We took the kids to see How to Train your Dragon. I have an interest in medievalism, and particularly in Vikings in popular imagination so I was really looking forward to this one (even though it’s Dreamworks who usually suck and not Pixar who usually rock). Oh my God. It was so amazing. It was beyond brilliant. The story was tight, tight, tight. The characterisation was superb. The CGI was flawless. The settings were incredible. The flying scenes in 3D made the pit of my stomach drop. And the big final scene had me in actual tears (but, okay, I cry easily). A perfect blend of controlled storytelling and real emotional depth. This is the stuff that I always want to see at the movies. Big story, big heart, beautiful to watch. I’d give this one 11 out of 10, and it’s going on the list of my Favourite Movies Evah.

Well, that’s it. Now I’ll go back to watching podcasts of Good Game and re-runs of Friends, and hanging out for The Hobbit. Meanwhile, check out my cat Onyxia: doesn’t she look a lot like Toothless?

I won't bite...

... honest!

8 responses to “On watching movies

  1. I can’t get over that they look like salamanders, newts, and axlotls. They’re too cute to be dragons. I’m glad that you think that it’s good. I’ll give it a go.

    I’d like to see more violence in chick flicks.

  2. Onyxia is astonishingly similar to my cat (although my cat has some serious fangs). If only cats were better travelers.

  3. I skimmed over the post to see the names of the movies first and totally guessed which ones you’d like and dislike! Haven’t seen Ponyo yet, but I know it’s brilliant. And as for How to Train Your Dragon…so utterly fantastic! (Also, it makes me happy that my favorite author likes my favorite comedian’s movie.)

    Glad to know you got to unwind with some quality entertainment…mostly.

  4. Hey Kim. Totally agree about “How to Train Your Dragon”. My family loved it too. Days later, my six year old daughter is still pretending to be toothless.

    Cheers, Nathan.

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