13/01/10

Kids. Gadzooks. What’s the point of kids? They’re essentially idiots and they have no money. Why do we pander to them? The only reason for tolerating children at all as far as I can see is that I am eventually going to need someone to spoon watery gruel into my mouth when I am a leaky old wreck in a home somewhere.

Children’s entertainment has crossed over into the adult world to an extent bordering on ubiquity since the Harry Potter books were published. They spawned the idea of the “kidult”, an adult who publicly derives entertainment from kids’ stuff and then goes to extraordinary lengths to justify it. This is not, I would suggest, a cause for universal jubilation.

I read all of the Harry Potter books when I was a bookseller, partly because it felt like a professional responsibility, but mostly because they were very enjoyable. J. K. Rowling is a good plotter and a better writer. There is a lovely lucid, ludic quality evident in her use of words. Ditto Phillip Pullman and David Almond, but other than that, in my experience, kids’ books are kids’ books and I’m a grown-up with more grown-up entertainment available to me than I will ever be able to get through in my lifetime, what with all the gruel-eating I’ve apparently got lined up for myself and everything.

There’s a phalanx of friends in my life who assure me that I would enjoy Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books and the movies based on them but I’m never going to find out. Not while there are Thomas Mann books I haven’t read and Andrei Tarkovsky films I haven’t seen.

It’s more difficult for me with films than with books to decide which of the ones aimed at children are going to be worth my time. I read with a sense of unpleasant astonishment last year, when Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel was released, that the original Alvin and the Chipmunks movie was the 150th most successful film of all time (by which I assume they mean all time up to that point, not all future time as well). Really? 150th. That high? Is it an important film? Should I have seen it?

I haven’t as it turns out seen either of the Alvin epics, but I did last year see Frozen River, Sin Nombre, sleep furiously and dozens of other wonderful films which aren’t placed in the top 150. Happy with my choices generally.

I saw the first Harry Potter movie when it came out and failed to enjoy it. I saw about half an hour of the second one, calculated how long the rest of the franchise was going to take me to watch and abandoned the wretched exercise there and then.

I make a regular exception for the Pixar movies which do tend to be fantastic, but the DreamWorks studio computer-animated movies are much more of a filmic Russian roulette. The first two Shreks are good, but how do we feel about Shark Tale, Over the Hedge, Bee Movie and Kung Fu Panda? I’m not a fan. The adult nudge-nudge wink-wink moments feel out of place to me – a cynical sop to the cash-dispensing parents who’ve been inveigled into the whole glum affair. DreamWorks Animation: “We’re not Pixar, but we can see them from here.”

Monsters vs. Aliens is a good one though.

Two things to say about it. Firstly that middle word in the title, is that right? I was always under the impression that it was Versus (the full word) or V (as the abbreviation). When I see Vs. it sets off the same little tinny bell in my head that goes off when people say “one pence” instead of “one penny”. It turns out I’m wrong though. All of my dictionaries give Vs. as an acceptable short form. Live and learn.

Secondly I don’t think this is a children’s movie at all. My DVD came in a bright orange box and there’s a free sheet of stickers (stickers! – you don’t get that with Krzysztof Kieslowski films) so all the superficial indications are there that this is for children, but that’s not what you get when you actually watch the film.

There are no children in the movie; indeed the central character is a tragic adult heroine fighting her way back to her betrothed, and the jokey references done as asides are to things which lengthily pre-date any kid who might be watching. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, Beverly Hills Cop. All seventies and eighties reference points. It’s nice to check off the peripheral bits of the film which are aimed at parents, but when the main plot of the film is also aimed at parents you’ve got to wonder what’s in it for kids at all. Some funny looking monsters, that’s it.

If Monsters vs. Aliens is being Venn diagrammed then it’s going in the little oval which also contains Mars Attacks!, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Mystery Men and The Return of Captain Invincible. And that’s a good oval to be in, but there aren’t any kids’ movies in it.

So it’s great, adroitly animated and very, very funny. Watching it was a wholly benign experience and the day I watch it again will be a happy one. There are loving allusions to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Fly, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Blob, Invasion of the Saucer Men and many more movies of ill-repute. It’s a fine thing.

 The Incredibles is better though.

***

 

Work. Emails. Tax stuff. An exciting parcel from Amazon (which I will have to leave til tomorrow). And then out to Vue (where I was served promptly and courteously with a large cappuccino) to see…

JAMES CAMERON’S BRIGHT BLUE CAVALCADE OF CRAP!

Avatar, why is this getting such an easy ride? It’s dire.

Maybe I never gave it a chance. As I drove out I could sense that my heart was full of hatred and my head was full of dyspepsia (wrong place, I know), but my expectations were in my boots and that’s usually a good sign. I went to see Titanic back in 1997 with a sneer on my face, but I was won over. Not by the Riverdance bits and all the kissing and cuddling perhaps, but the mechanical bits of the ship finally sinking had an undeniable grandeur.

Not the case with Avatar sadly. I came out of that this evening feeling like I’d been ravished by a woolly mammoth.

Has everybody been watching the same film I saw? There was a lot of computer processing power up on the screen but it didn’t look remotely realistic to me. It’s just special effects fighting other special effects. And as for James Cameron having a brilliant story that had to wait eleven years for the effects to be achievable, is that really the case? What I saw was what you’d get if you took the worst bits of The Emerald Forest and combined them with the worst bits of The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, then dubbed it into Klingon, ruthlessly purged it of any remaining vestige of humour and slowed it right down so it lasts a hundred hours.

There’s no imagination here. Exotic fauna? Imagining a horse, but blue and with six legs is not the work of a genius level fantasist. It’s the work of an idiot who wants to see a blue horse pull its own spine apart the second it starts moving. Never seen anything like it? Again I beg to differ. It’s like sitting for two hours and forty minutes watching a twelve year old hepped up on Red Bull and Haribo Star Mix playing a computer game based entirely on the Yes album covers of the 1970s.

I was entranced by the 3D process for about fifteen minutes. It was my first time around for the RealD circular polarisation system and I was well-impressed to start with. Then I started noticing funny depth of field effects and an odd insubstantiality to stuff in the foreground. Then it all seemed a bit jumbled whenever there was a lot of action going on. Then I got an annoying headache and realised that it doesn’t matter how good your 3D effects are if your film is less interesting than the dial on my watch, which was sadly quickly the case here. In fact there is some important scientific evidence I have just made up which shows that this 3D system can make your corpus callosum “pop” causing the two hemispheres of your brain to separate permanently and start slapping against each other in your skull like a pair of Sasquatch testicles.

Careful now.

A gimmick is a gimmick. A boring film is a boring film. And nobody likes to sit in a vast dark room looking like Buddy Holly and feeling wistful whilst the world’s most egotistical, self-willed baboon’s arse of a man laughs at them through the medium of film, surely.

Good points: Sigourney Weaver is a goddess of a woman, and it turns out that I will pay money to watch Michelle Rodriguez run round in a vest.

5 comments on “13/01/10

  1. John, I was 50/50 and on the verge of seeing this film and then I heard a dire Leona Lewis track on my in-store radio which was followed up by a comment about it being on the Avatar soundtrack. Last nail in the coffin. I am thinking about carrying a loaded pistol to use on those who recommend it to me.

  2. Screw it, still going to go and see it. 1) I think I’m probably easier to impress and 2) I treat the Oscars like the movie Superbowl and want to check out all the players first. Which hurts sometimes as there’s the odd bit of drek, but does mean I watch a bunch of movies I wouldn’t probably get to. Like Frozen River. Though I could have lived my life without seeing that tbh.

    I can heartily recommend Chicken Little though. Might have the same kind of vibe as Monsters vs Aliens for ya. I thought it would suck going in and was pleasantly surprised.

  3. I like that when you looked up ‘vs’ you weren’t satisfied with just one dictionary saying it’s ok, but proceeded to look it up in all of your dictionaries. That’s devotion to pedantry right there 🙂

    I’m with you on the Pixar/Dreamworks situation, however I recently found myself honking with laughter at Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, which is neither Pixar nor Dreamworks. I’ve managed to avoid Twlight thought, which I’m quite pleased about.

  4. OK, finally I post.

    I have been reading for a while and wanted to respond, but I was waiting until I could think of a cool nickname. Obviously, I gave up waiting.

    In my day you didn’t learn to use a computer to be sociable – quite the reverse. I’m not very clear about the netiquette of all this Tweetface business so, like Chandler, I’ll just go on until someone stops me.

    Thanks for your use of words which would never occur to me.
    I like “cleave” because it has two opposite meanings – join and separate,
    and “quite” can mean “completely” (see above) or “partially”, as in
    “I quite liked Avatar”.

    I am stuck on my own in Crawley for the weekend on business,
    so I finally got a chance to see it last night.

    I had to demonstrate to your god-daughter weeks ago that the Sigourney Weaver, grunts and guns, drop ships, and load-lifter elements were actually from 1986, not 2154. “Let’s lock and load, ladies!”

    It was technically accomplished. Performances were indeed captured,
    although I believe a skilled animator and a vocal talent can create (a) character just as well – Lion King, The Incredibles, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wallace and Gromit.

    The best film of all time would have to
    have better hardware (Aliens, Star Trek 2009) and
    have giddier running and jumping through jungle canopies (Tarzan 1999)
    make me laugh more (Star Trek again) and
    scare me more (Aliens again) and
    make me cry more (The Lion King).
    Character and plot would be more interesting too (all of the above).

    Blockbuster-wise, Zoe Saldana was doing well sailing aboard the Enterprise and The Black Pearl. Joining the good ship Pandora seems excessively lucky, or gifted. Didn’t Aliens feature a heroic latina marine and a lady drop-ship pilot?

    3-D didn’t immerse me in Toy Story, perhaps because I know it so well,
    or it was not made to be that way, but it didn’t involve me in Avatar either – wrong kind of eyes?

    Keep blogging, John.
    All the best, ACI

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