Monday, December 30, 2013

Forewarned is forearmed


Image courtesy of SimplyWallpaper.net

I was with Marc on that solemn journey to the 'Shiny Multiplex Enormodome' to see the Walking with Dinosaurs film. There is very little that I can add to his review, given that we are pretty much in exact agreement and Marc has already mentioned all the points he and I discussed in the post-movie debriefing. Nor do our opinions differ greatly from the near-universal verdict that it is, in effect, a stunning visual treat marred by inane dialogue.

Having gone to it with this already in mind, however, I didn't find that dialogue quite as intolerable as I had anticipated (though, make no mistake, I would have longed for its absence to begin with), a view shared by some reports, including those of Darren Naish and Gareth Monger. The latter found it easy enough to mentally 'switch off'. Like Marc, I even found Alex's narration surprisingly palatable in some parts, and perhaps that should have been the extent of the script, if it was felt necessary at all. The whole was fairly endurable enough until the fight between Patchi and his brother, Scowler, during which the exchange took an evisceratingly embarrassing turn in resembling a scene from a dreadful high school drama. The sequence, much like so many others, would have been entirely spared this indignity had it been speech-free. Even the arguably sillier visual jokes and slapstick would have worked organically and induced fewer groans if the silent storytelling had been left untouched. The soundtrack complaint extends to a degree to the music. My genuine enjoyment of the orchestral score was abruptly bridled by the sudden introduction of Barry White when Patchi first encounters Juniper amid a cloud of butterflies, for example. Incidentally, later in this sequence -- and quite after the Barry White had been dispensed with -- I was amused to recall David's mention of Cyrano de Bergerac as the pudgy young Patchi trotted back day after day to the waterfall in hopes of meeting the rosy Juniper again, but I digress...

 It might be superfluous of me to say more with regard to the beauty of the animals and the animation, but it is worth emphasizing once more. I refer you once again to Marc's description in lieu of my gushing further on the rendering of skin, scales, and feathers, or the palpably alive movement of flesh and muscle.

If the bathos between the sublime visuals and the ridiculous soundtrack is galling for dino-geeks, then, how much more so is it for the artists behind the creation? If it is true that the executive Pooh-Bahs bowed to the opinion of test screen audiences in the retroactive introduction of the script, then my heart is doubly heavy. My frustrations with the greater public's penchant for turning tea into soda are too great to mention and certainly too close to home in my own profession. Nobody can be at a loss to follow so simple a story, or to identify -- and identify with -- the characters, so well conceived and delineated in their designs. I wonder, were folks always so dense when they watched the numerous dialogue-free Pixar shorts? And what of Wall-E? Or what of Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed? The list goes on.

I conclude by reiterating Marc that 'the artistic and scientific talent behind this film do deserve our support'. The plain fact of the matter is that the hope of more such films being made in future does rest upon sales, and perhaps we may hope, however feebly, that the collective intelligent response to this film may bend a few ears of the powers-that-be. Thus forewarned, go and see this film, and hold fast to its merits.

4 comments:


  1. Was it me, or is it that the dinosaur movie genre as a whole has taken a complete downturn following the release of Jurassic Park in 1993?

    And if so, how would the dinosaur movie genre ever be revived properly?

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    1. Well, from my point of view, the answer of the second question is "no". We have a proof in the "all new monsters" Peter Jakson's King Kong.

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    2. I think the old problem continues in that dinosaurs still invariably fall into either movie monster or juvenilia territory in the public imagination.

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  2. I recently saw the movie with a palaeontologist friend of mine. We were both astounded at the biomechanical accuracy of the reconstructions, and truly enjoyed the visual spectacles. But... not to reiterate what's already been said, but I do believe there was scarcely 8 seconds of silence/music WITHOUT chattering in the entire movie.

    I don't think it's even a matter of the movie being aimed at children. There are plenty of children's movies that make good use of dramatic pauses, music and silence - it's just part of using the media. To my mind, it was just poorly directed/scripted. The audience never got to appreciate the visual spectacle, or poignant moments without being interrupted by incessant blathering. I'm personally not a fan of rampant anthropomorphism, but it's fine in movies aimed at children, and to get those less scientifically predisposed to connect with the narrative. Stupid, glib dialogue is also fine in the context (and sometimes entertaining, if not amusing). Incessant glib dialogue is not.

    I also wasn't a fan of the species profiles they interrupted the movie with... A couple of times they weren't even accurate i.e. Ankylosaur vs. Edmontonia (Though I guess they could argue that Edmontonia is a member of the group...), and Troodon being apparently, omnivorous. From a business perspective, I felt they actually might have cut themselves out of a merchandising opportunity with that one. I remember when Jurassic Park first came out, a lot of kids (including myself) were clamouring for more information. We bought toys of our favourite species, collected the dinosaur cards with species profiles, borrowed books, did internet searches etc. We were MORE curious because we weren't immediately handed the information on the screen.

    Anyway, like people have said already, it had great potential, and the visual work was excellent. Just a shame about the scripting, directing and editing, really...

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