Wednesday, July 15

"Science fiction.... Double feature...."

Doctor X... Will build a creature. Whoa oh oh oh, oh-oh-oh.

Saw two movies today for the price of one. Pixar's Up in Dolby Digital 3D, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Both were excellent and highly recommended.

In brief (and yes, I realize this should probably go on my movie-review site which seems never to get off the ground, but it will be transferred over in due time once I get my stuff together over there), here is what I thought about the movies' content (no spoilers), and technical merit.

First, Up was $10 for the friggin' matinee, which I suppose covered the charge of using the 3D glasses for a little less than two hours. Considering the matinee price for a normal movie at this theater is $6.50, that seems like a huge rip-off. Which made me all the more happy I double-dipped! However, the story was cute, clever, and well done. It was un-Disneyish/Pixarish in that it portrayed some real-life hardship without a convenient cure-for-all-ills ending where everything bad is undone. There are some sober qualities to the film, and it is the richer for it. And as you might expect, it is quite clever and elicited multiple chuckles from the audience, including me. A feel-good movie, but not a formulaic one especially. I'm not sure I'd gain anything from seeing it again, but it was definitely worth a single watch.

And that is partly due to its technical merits. Seldom has any CGI film looked this good, if ever. The 3D effect is so amazing that you get used to it right away, and far from being a gimmick, I now feel disappointed that ALL films are not shot in this kind of "natural" 3D... rather than things flying directly at you occasionally, or other traditional 3D tricks, this movie plays it straight and just has that lifelike effect that wherever the "camera" is looking, you see many layers of depth, stretching to the horizon. Plus the animation on clothing, foliage, wood, soil, fur, and other heavily texture-laden objects had never looked so natural. If it wasn't for the cartoonish main characters, the film might start to blur the line between animation and reality. It's a similar formula in that regard to Wall-E, with deliberately cartoonish characters against an almost hyper-realistic scenery backdrop. All in all I give the movie a B for story, an A+ for technical merit, and an overall score of an A-, which is quite generous for me. I may downgrade it to a B or B+ in the future when this new breed of 3D has become commonplace, but for now I was sufficiently wowed to award it the high rating.

So.... On to Harry Potter 6. Of course I've not had the proper time to reflect, but I've generally in the past come out of each Potter movie feeling disappointed, having read the books prior, and only later learning to appreciate the film on its own merits. This time, there was no such initial feeling at all. I'm confident in stating that this is the best installment so far, without question, unless you harbor a special feeling for the first one, which is really more of a children's movie (and there's no shame in that). This film on the other hand is the grimmest yet, and it strikes a good balance between rampant action and mystery and also giving the characters space and time to enjoy some lighter moments and develop their relationships more deeply. And develop they do! This movie is, like the book, a bit of a schizophrenic affair - the Voldemort/Death Eater stuff is some of the bleakest yet, and some truly frightening things happen which belong fairly firmly on the adult side of the fence, or at least the teen side. Small children need not apply. At the same time, due to the characters' coming of age, there are lots of semi-awkward, delightfully humorous moments (and yes, snog-fests) to interrupt all that seriousness in a way which is a lot of fun, and not forced. I think the chemistry of the three leads is by this point such that they must really like each other as good friends, and they can achieve that easy camaraderie and banter onscreen that was more forced in the earlier installments. Also, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) turns in his best performance of the series to date, shedding all that childish bullying and snobbery and seeming to wrestle his inner demons throughout. For once he doesn't even seem remotely interested in teasing Harry or being the childish foil to his heroics; he has his own agenda, and it both excites and terrifies him. He also looks the most physically grown-up of the main (young) actors, which helps bring some gravitas to his role. And Hermione and especially Ginny Weasley are simply stunning in this movie in a grown-up, glamorous way that we've not seen from them before. I felt the remnant of my teenage self stirred, as I'm sure I would have fallen for either of these young women in my youth. By contrast, Harry still looks like a puny kid in need of shoe lifts (which I'm quite sure he wore in many scenes), and Ron, although noticeably more muscular, still sports a baby face and the most juvenile demeanor of the three. Something to be said for girls maturing more quickly than boys! And yes, 'shippers (you know you who are), will get half of what they want in this movie, and a blatant confirmation, if not physical demonstration, of the other half. It will fall to the last saga to see their relationships fully consummated.

Technically the movie seemed very well done: tightly edited but with said breathing space now and again to allow us to catch our breath. No wasted scenes. Great and understated special effects, which blend into the story and don't show it up in any way. Gone are the dementors, in are the pensieve memories. And most importantly, for the first time ever I think, this movie contains every important scene from the book. Most are shortened somewhat to their essence, and at times known characters replace one-off characters from the book for the sake of not confusing the viewers. Likewise, a few tricky maneuvers pulled off in the book probably just wouldn't have worked well or been understood in a visual medium without resorting to some form of ponderous exposition, so some details were changed or simplified for that reason. But at first recall I don't remember a scene being entirely left out, nor a brand new one added, and the movie brought back the book almost exactly as I remembered it. The locations and scenery and even camera angles were generally what I'd envisioned while reading the book as well, which speaks either to Rowling's increasingly cinematic writing style or possibly was just good fortune on my part that the director, David Yates, imagined the text very much as I did.

The one technical item that bothered me was not the film's fault but rather the theater's: Before an absolutely sold-out zoo of moviegoers, the film was slightly out of focus, which is to me inexcusable, especially after seeing ones of the crispest images ever in the film I saw just previous to it, Up. That was a disappointment but I don't hold it against the film. I would give HP6 the movie a solid A grade with no reservations, if for no other reason than it makes me excited and optimistic for the upcoming 2-part, 4+ hour treatment (happily also by Yates) of the final book in the series, The Deathly Hallows. That could be a true epic if handled the way this one was, or even taken up a notch. We could be in LOTR-extended edition territory, minus the cliff-hanger/excessive "hero" speeches of that trilogy. Not that the story it's based on is comparable in weight to Tolkien's in any sense, but as a movie it may just be its equal or better. We'll see. The series is really growing more complex and mature with each installment.

Thanks for reading my dual movie review! Hope to have many more for you at some point.


empath said...

Yeehaw. Can't wait to see Half Blood Prince! I purposely didn't read much of what you wrote, so it will be a complete surprise. I'll wait and rent UP.

Metamatician said...

Ok, though I didn't spoil HBP, but I can still understand why you wouldn't want to read anything at this point.

About UP, unfortunately, the best thing it's got going for it is the 3D look, which you can only get in theaters. In 2D on a smaller screen it might not be all that great. Still cute, but not as impressive.

Well, good luck with whatever you do/see.

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