Notes on a few movies we’ve watched lately:
:: The Daughter and I watched a sci-fi movie that uses huge amounts of CGI to create a stunningly alien world that is populated by peaceful beings who love to fly. A human spaceship arrives on this world to exploit it, even though its atmosphere is poisonous to humans. A union takes place, though, between one of the human soldiers and a native girl, who strive to prevent the wholesale raping of this lovely alien world.
No, it wasn’t Avatar. It was The Battle for Terra.
I saw ads for this movie during The Daughter’s Saturday morning teevee regimen a year or so ago and I thought it looked interesting; of course, I’m always a sucker for explodey spaceshippy goodness, and this looked to have some. I’ve also thought for a long time that as animation becomes more and more popular, we should see more and more SF movies that go to really alien places, since animation makes possible the depictions of alien environments that aren’t possible in any other way. The existence of The Battle for Terra was a welcome one.
Of course, the movie played in theaters in these parts for all of eight days or so, so we had to wait for the DVD. I’m glad we did. It’s a beautifully made movie, full of gorgeous visuals, and the characters are decently executed as well, even if the humans look a bit cartoonish. There’s not a whole lot of subtlety in the story, but if the idea of a less indulgent telling of the same basic story as Avatar appeals, give it a shot.
I looked up Roger Ebert’s review of the movie, and I have to agree that it would have been nice if an ending could have been made that didn’t involve yet another Big Climactic Battle As Time Runs Out, but even so, this was a good movie. I hope it paves the way for more animated SF that’s thoughtful, as opposed to, say, The Transformers.
The Battle for Terra is a good movie, but I think I like it more for the possibilities it demonstrates in animation than for its actual story.
:: Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is typical Hayao Miyazaki: fantastically wondrous, visually astonishing, interesting in its story that never goes where we think it’s going, and, just generally, a fine, fine film. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it directly. It’s a more childlike film, more on the level of My Naighbor Totoro than Princess Mononoke, but all of Miyazaki’s themes are there: nature and the folly of our trying to control it, youthful love, the bonds of friendship, and life by the sea. It’s not my favorite Miyazaki, but it’s Miyazaki.
:: We’ve finally caught up on the Harry Potter movies, with last year’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The trajectory of these movies is really pretty amazing — there’s not a bad film in the entire series, and while I wouldn’t exactly say they’re getting better and better (Prisoner of Azkaban is still the high-water mark in terms of quality), they’re hitting a very impressive level of quality each time out. With different directors, this is something amazing to me. Not even the James Bond films of the 1960s were this consistent.
Half-Blood Prince is a troublesome part of the Harry Potter story, because it is, in many ways, set-up for the final showdown in Deathly Hallows. It mainly serves to up the ante, put the pieces in the positions they need to be in, and put Harry and friends in the toughest possible spot. HBP brings us to that point in all the great stories where things are at their bleakest, and you wonder how the heroes can ever recover. And yet, for all that, the film is really very well made indeed. The three lead actors — Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint — continue to grow each time out, and the supporting players are their usual rock-solid selves. The best performance in HBP, though, probably comes from Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy with just the right blend of malevolence and pathetic helplessness.
Oh, a small spoiler point — highlight to read: When the movie came out, some people complained that it omits the funeral for Albus Dumbledore. I didn’t miss that scene at all, because I thought the film handled the emotion of Dumbledore’s demise very well, and it wisely kept the focus on our main trio of heroes. I also thought the funeral scene in the book was strangely reminiscent of the final scene of Spiderman, which had Peter Parker, at a funeral, telling Mary Jane he couldn’t be with her because it was too dangerous. In the HBP, Harry Potter, at Dumbledore’s funeral, tells Ginny Weasley he can’t be with her because it’s too dangerous.
Loved the film, and can’t wait for the finale. Even if I know what happens.
I didn't have words for it at the time, but that's how I felt about Battle for Terra, too. The story isn't complex, the characters aren't complex enough, either, but it's a beautiful little nugget that shows where things can be taken, with a little push.
It would be fun if that was a short story prequel version of an upcoming film, with a well-wrought story and world that exploited this potential even more.