Sunday, August 05, 2007

Blockbuster Catchup

Last weekend saw the double-whammy that was The Simpsons movie and Transformers hitting the multiplexes, and I ventured to the Limerick Omniplex, intending to catch the first, but finding it sold out and so having to make do with the second instead.

I'm too old to have got caught up with the whole Transformers cartoon series/toy mania that hit the 80s generation, but the movie magazines had given the film the thumbs up as a brain-dead popcorn blockbuster movie so I figured it was worth giving it a ago. What I hadn't realised was that the broadsheets had taken a distinctly different view, and if you want to hear a hilarous, long rant about why the film is so awful, awful, awful download Mark Kermode's Film Review podcast for Five Live from the BBC. It's even better than his long Pirates of the Caribbean rants!

So what did I think?

I think both sides have valid points. Personally I'm glad I got to see the film on the big screen. It has the most impressive visual effects I think I've ever seen in a movie, and Lord knows there are a lot of them because the film is so damned long. There's not a bad bit of CGI to be found, and the massive budget is all up there on screen.

The trouble is that director Michael Bay is not a man with any kind of subtlety. The plot is thin, the dialog truly appalling (when, that is, you can actually hear it over the loud crashing bombastic noise that permeates the entire film) and the editing style is so frenetic, with far too much hand-held blurred 'action', that most of the time it's impossible to make out what the hell's going on.

What you ultimately get is two hours 20 minutes of visual and aural assault, that leaves you exiting the cinema suffering from sensory overload. But for all that I was glad I caught the film on the big screen. It may be a big, dumb, stupid juggernaut of a movie, but it KNOWS it's a big, dumb, stupid juggernaut of a movie, and ultimately what saves it is a lot of knowing, if somewhat cheesy at times, self-deprecation and humour, and an outstanding acting performance from the young male lead Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf impressed in A Guide to Recognising Your Saints (a better movie than the critics had lead me to expect, released on DVD a few weeks ago and well worth a look if you can cope with the street language and occasional outbreaks of violence) and Disturbia, an excellent Hitchcock-inspired thriller which hits British cinema's in a few weeks time (but is already available on import on an excellent region-free HD-DVD),

Transformers hasn't converted me to being a Michael Bay fan - the man just has no class and doesn't seem to realise that films need peaks and troughs if the peaks are to truly seem like peaks. Transformers itself is pure tosh. But it's quite enjoyable tosh and well worth catching on the big screen if you think your eyes and ears can stand the visual assault and aural battering.

The Simpsons film isn't really aimed at me. Truth is I don't mind the TV cartoon show, but don't understand the global obsession with the series. If I'm bored and can catch an episode I'll watch it, but it's not the sort of TV I'd make a point of tuning into on a regular basis.

The film starts with an 'Itchy and Skratchy' cartoon which is interrupted by Homer Simpson standing up in the cinema to protest about having paid money to see something that he could get for free on TV, and unfortunately that's how I felt about the film. It's not cinematic in any way. At barely over 80 minutes it's just an extended version of a TV episode. I don't understand the point of making the film - other than to extort a lot of money out of gullible fans. It's just not a film that needed to be made.

Personally, I expect a 'comedy' movie playing to a packed audience of fans to raise more than just two or three titters, as was the case at the viewing I saw. I went with a colleague from work who's a big fan, but who had to admit he'd found it slightly disappointing. The only real laugh for me came from baby Lisa's first spoken word, which many will miss because it appears towards the end of the credits when many will have left the cinema. Marge tells Homer that Lisa has just spoken her first word and excitedly Homer asks what it was. Marge coaxes the child to repeat itself and out comes the gargled word 'Sequel'. Alas I have a horrid feeling that it will prove all too prophetic, with the profits on this extended TV episode having proved to be so vast within days of opening. This is one film that's worth a DVD rental if you're a fan, but not something you need to pay money for at the cinema.

Last night, being back in London for a weekend, I went with Miss Deadline to see the new Harry Potter film at the BFI Imax, the main reason for going being that the last 20 minutes are in 3D.

The film itself was, for me, by far the best in the franchise. I haven't liked any of the other films - far too messy with incompehensible plot points for those that haven't read the books, continuity errors galore, and too slavish a devotion to following the books instead of giving us a coherent cinematic experience. This time round I felt everything came together, and Imelda Staunton gave (another) performance of a lifetime. Even Daniel Radcliffe, who hadn't really proved to me he could act - despite the rave reviews for his stage debut in Equus all the play required him to do was shout a lot and flash his bits - gives far and away his best screen performance to date. And of course Gary Oldman is as effortlessly brilliant as ever. I thought the film was (again!) too long, but otherwise had no real complaints.

As for the 3D - well it was slightly disappointing if I'm honest. Before the film we got a set of 3D trailers that were absolutely fantastic. Potter, by way of contrast, was a bit of a smudgy mess - as if the 3D had been generated by some sort of post-processing of something shot in 2D rather than actually having been filmed with 3D cameras. To be sure there are some nice 3D moments, but too often one was adjusting one's eyes and thinking 'That's not real' or 'Why are the flesh and blood characters so flat and two-dimensional, even though they're in a 3D space'. The 3D version (sold out for several days in advance - I'd booked my tickets a few weeks ago) is certainly worth a look if you're a fan - and the IMAX screen and sound system are absolutely superb and well worth a visit anyway - but I felt that Superman Returns did a far better job with its 3D sequences when I'd seen it at the same cinema last year.

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