Explosion Porn

Posted: April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Battleship * 1/2

Battleship always sounded like a silly idea. It’s perhaps the most basic of board games, relying more on luck than skill, and it doesn’t have characters, like CLUEDO or even MONOPOLY. I’m a huge board game nut – always have been – and I never liked it. Even Backgammon seemed to require more strategy and tactics. So it seemed like pretty slim source material. Then came the posters and trailer, which revealed that the big twist would be that the film wouldn’t concern battleships fighting each other, but battleships fighting battleship-like aliens. This wasn’t in the board game but was obviously borne out of some marketing genius at Universal, who saw the billions of dollars being generated by Paramount’s Transformers franchise and thought, let’s do that: let’s make our own Transformers. So they called up Hasbro, the toy company that makes the Transformers toys, and said, “What else you got?” Answer: “Well, we’ve got that old hoary game Battleship…” Which has led to the stupidest poster tag-line in history: “From Hasbro, the Company That Brought You TRANSFORMERS”.

So all signs were grim, and all signs have been borne out. Besides being a blatantly obvious Transformers rip-off, Battleship is essentially explosion porn – a practically endless litany of stuff being blown up, with the destruction of Hong Kong thrown in for good measure. The dialogue is beyond bad. Taylor Kitsch, the bland new Hollywood-anointed blockbuster king, following in the footsteps of Shia LaBeouf and Sam Worthington, and who has the unfortunate distinction of having been John Carter, plays a hot-headed, off-the-rails young dude who finds himself by joining the navy, entering into some war games off Hawaii, and defending the world against sea-navigating, metallic aliens. Liam Neeson wanders around the bridge of another ship, muttering to himself and occasionally barking out nautical terms. He seriously looks like he just showed up one day, hurled a lot of sailor talk around, and banked his check. To call his performance acting would be like calling this movie art. It is so cynically manufactured – such a blatant attempt to suck money out of the Transformers audience – that it’s a little insulting.

The aliens essentially resemble the robots of Transformers and the film relies on a similar soundtrack of cranking gears, huge engine noises – and, of course, endless explosions. All this might be a little forgivable if the effects were really cool – but they’re not. They just look like effects. For a film that depends on the brilliance of its special effects, it’s a shame it only has (for this age) mediocre special effects.


On the up side, the pop star Rihanna is in it, as, of course, a stunning young naval officer, and she’s competent, and looks good in uniform, and the film definitely has a sleek, appealing look – the battleships are extremely well shot, and it’s nice to see big-scale action like this played out on clear blue water under sunny skies. But pretty faces and pictures only go so far. This is a very dumb, loud, blatant rip-off of a movie, and it’s tough to sit through. That Universal spent two hundred million dollars on it just beggars belief.

 

The Pirates: Band of Misfits ** 1/2

Aardman Animations have a deserved reputation for excellence. Pretty much everyone in the world loves the Wallace and Grommit  short films; a lot of people loved the Wallace and Grommit feature, Curse of the WereRabbit, and here’s plenty of fans of Chicken Run. Their two features using CGI rather than stop-motion, Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas, are less successful. They’ve returned to stop motion with the big, splashy The Pirates: Band of Misfits, but, in a real disappointment, this is the first time I’ve gone to an Aardman film and left feeling that there wasn’t anything in it for me.

I have no idea who Nick Park and his brethren thought the audience was for Wallace and Grommit, a fusty, tea-swilling English inventor and his deviously clever pooch, but the appeal proved to be universal. The short film The Wrong Trousers, which won the Oscar in that category, could be enjoyed by all ages; indeed, if anything, it felt like the writing was designed to be enjoyed by adults, but kids could, essentially, go along for the ride. Where we got a subversive glance at a very particular style of English life, kids got a lot of colourt and movement and a fantastic dog.

The Pirates: Band of Misfits goes in the other direction. It’s all about the kiddies. Yes, there are plenty of visual jokes going on – a signature of the Aardman style – and it’s fun to spot them – they’re jammed into the frame. But the script simply isn’t funny. I saw it in a packed cinema – and packed with kids – and yet there was barely a laugh the whole film. The jokes  sure weren’t working for me, but they weren’t working for the target audience either.

It’s a great shame, because there is so much work involved in this film. It supposedly took five years to make, involving 320 people including 33 animators working across 41 different shooting units. The design of the characters, sets and props are up to the Aardman standard – which is to say, phenomenal. Needless to say, the animation is absolute top-shelf. The voicework – by Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Selma Hayek and Jeremy Piven, among many others – is fine. But the script… it’s depressing. You really wish that they had taken the time to make the script as fabulous as the animation. I suppose, with the kind of time-consuming, laborious type of filmmaking that is stop-motion, it’s extremely difficult to change script things along the way. I’d suggest a bit more time in script development before they start building all the sets and puppets is key.

Afterwards, I asked a bunch of kids who had seen it what they thought. They all claimed to like it. I asked them if they thought it was funny. They all claimed they did. Which was strange, as these same kids were the kids in my audience, and they weren’t laughing.

Maybe kids don’t laugh out loud anymore. Maybe they just thought they liked it, or were claiming that it was funny because they saw a lot of colour and movement – or because the ads and posters had told them it was funny. One thing’s for certain: I’m not the intended audience for this one – by a mile – and it showed. So I have to wait… for another Wallace and Grommit movie. Those two know how to make me laugh, out loud.

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