Monday, March 12, 2012

3D CGI stuff: The Lorax and John Carter

Very sleepy, so I'll just point out that the difference in price between seeing these two movies would have been something like 75 cents if I hadn't used MoviePass for both (and, yes, it's about time to do a serious write-up of MoviePass). John Carter cost much more in time - I had to leave the house at 9:30 and take two subway lines and a bus to arrive at the furniture store in Reading in time for an 11:30 movie, while Fresh Pond is an easy walk from one of the stops on my route home from work - but, good lord, is the difference worth it, especially when you're not trying to cram a full day of movies in.

It's weird - I can handle 3D just about anywhere but Fresh Pond. The Lorax was not quite the disaster that Shark Night was, but there was a lot of things splitting into two for me. Mostly, it was at the top of the screen, but that might just be because the stuff there is often further in the background. Point is, it looked bad, and the folks in the auditorium paid a premium for it to look bad that way. Meanwhile, at Jordan's - whose 3D genuine IMAX screen (the pre-show snippet actually boasts about in being a 70mm film-based system!) exists to get people to walk past the bedroom sets, kitchen tables, and recliners they have for sale - was just heavenly. Six-story screen, clear projection, comfy chairs made out of Posturepedic material with individual "buttkicker" subwoofers. It's a beautiful thing, and well worth the trip.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 March 2012 in Entertainment Cinemas Fresh Pond #2 (first-run, digital 3D)

This "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" movie might have been perfectly fine if it wasn't so intent on making Dr. Seuss's The Lorax into a feature. As fine and wonderful a children's book as that is, it often just doesn't seem compatible with Illumination Entertainment's cute CGI style and is stretched at almost ninety minutes. This doesn't make The Lorax a bad movie, especially for its target audience; just one that often feels off the mark.

In the all-plastic city of Thneedtown, Ted (voice of Zac Efron) has a crush on Audrey (voice of Taylor Swift), who wants to see real trees more than anything. So, based on the stories his grandmother (voice of Betty White) tells him, Ted leaves the city walls to ask the mysterious Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms) about trees. In Thneedtown, the diminutive tyrant who controls the town by supplying bottled air is concerned by this development, while outside, the Once-ler relates how his arrival led to the disappearance of the Truffula Trees, despite the efforts of the Lorax (voice of Danny DeVito), the forest spirit who speaks for the trees.

There's a great deal to like about this movie, looked at as just any animated picture for kids. The character and "prop" designs, both Seuss-derived and original, are pretty spiffy-looking. The musical numbers are light and bouncy, filling the screen with fun motion and underlining the points the filmmakers are looking to get across. They keep the message pretty simple for their young audience without being patronizing. Director Chris Renaud and co-director Kyle Balda are good at gags; there are some very funny bits and impressively-staged thrill rides throughout.

Full review at EFC.

John Carter

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 March 2012 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, IMAX 3D)

John Carter is a grand adventure taken from a book published one hundred years ago, and age has some privileges: You can posit that Mars has a breathable atmosphere and basically-human inhabitants (among others), for instance. A pulp novel's job was to be entertaining and exciting, and an adaptation of such a book should do the same. Andrew Stanton's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars manages that in fine style.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) served for the South during the Civil War, and having lost his family, went to Arizona to seek his fortune alone. The Army tries to draft him to fight Apache, which leads to a strange cave of gold and a stranger medallion which transports him to another desert - this one on Mars (or "Barsoom", as the locals call it). There, he's captured by Tharks, ten-foot-tall warriors with four arms on their bodies and horns on their jaws, whose leader Tars Tarkas (voice of Willem Dafoe) is intrigued by the amazing leaps "Virginia" can make in Barsoom's reduced gravity. Elsewhere on Mars, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) - a brilliant scientist as well as a beautiful princess - wants no part of marrying Sab Than (Dominic West), even if it will prevent his parasite city of Zadanga from crushing her native Helium; she'd trust him even less if she knew about Than's mysterious, shape-shifting ally Matai Shang (Mark Strong).

John Carter has its issues, mostly on the ends. A bookend sequence set in 1881 that includes Daryl Sabara as Edgar Rice Burroughs (Carter's nephew and heir, apparently, though he would have been six that year) is nothing but bloat for an already long movie, an unnecessary delay in getting to the action at the start and part of what holds the audience hostage too long after the climax at the end. It's not alone there; the script also includes a symbolic-but-dumb action (though one which is at least immediately recognized as such) and a number of late exposition dumps that are as seemingly-contradictory as they are ultimately unimportant. Their main purpose seems to be setting up future installments that may never be made, and while this sort of focus on serialization and sloppiness with details may hearken back to the pulps of a century ago, they're annoying in a movie.

Full review at EFC.

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