Sunday, May 25, 2014


I'd figured on seeing this Monday, but I missed my bus to Maine Saturday morning - it was roughly 70% my fault, 30% crap luck - so I figured I might as well catch it that afternoon at matinee pricing. Apparently, though, there is no matinee pricing for Indian movies at Regal Fenway, something I had apparently failed to notice because I had been able to use MoviePass for 2D evening shows. In fact, the pricing on this was just ridiculous - $19.00 for something that was in 3D but not on the premium screen. For reference, I would pay $16.50 to see X-Men at Boston Common (generally a few bits more expensive than Fenway) at evening pricing, and that was easily a better movie.

Fortunately, I'm willing to pay a few bucks for a movie experience that I haven't had before, and a performance-captured musical action/adventure from India certainly qualifies in that regard. I may have thought differently if I had seen any visuals from the film beforehand, because as I write in the review, it really looked shockingly bad, worth breaking out the overused "looks like a video game cut scene" line, maybe even going to machinima. I grant that an Indian movie, even with its biggest star and good prospects for traveling, is just not going to have the budget that one of Robert Zemeckis's outings had, but I had still looked at all the Indian divisions of special effects houses credited in many Western movies and expected a bit more.

Still, there's no denying that this was a big deal. Rather than trailers, there was a sort of hype reel before the movie, although it was unsubtitled and presumably in Tamil, meaning I could only catch certain words like "3D", "motion capture", and the like. It was framed as partially a look back at a hundred years of Indian cinema, which has me very curious what Indian silents were like, given that the current version is so heavily music-oriented, although the emphasis on dance, motion, and visuals might have made for great silents. The parts which focused on Kochadaiiyaan specifically were still kind of interesting just to watch from a filmmaking standpoint - the London facility where they did the performance capture was very much bare concrete, not a sleek and high-tech room at all, made all the weirder by the tiny cameras with little lights positioned eight inches in front of the faces of actors, making those faces shine a bit compared to the darkened room. The mocap suits didn't seem to have quite so many "dots" as the ones I've seen in the making-of featurettes for Amerian productions, and I wonder if that made things look stiffer or more unnatural, especially during dance scenes. Considering that this is a new way of making movies, though, I have to admit that it's not entirely hyperbole when one of the producers said, in English, that the history of Indian cinema would likely be divided into "before Kochadaiiyaan and after Kochadaiiyaan".

One of the other English words that came through during this featurette was "superstar", likely referring to Rajnikanth in most cases. When I saw Endhiran, I noted that the audience seemed to go absolutely bonkers for him - there were moments of applause that made me wonder if there was some sort of drinking game going on that westerners in the audience were just not in on - and I was kind of at a loss about it, only to have it pointed out that this guy is incredibly popular and well-loved off the screen, to the point where he could go into politics if he wanted to, because he had the very highest character. Humility was occasionally mentioned, which just doesn't square with the ostentatious "SuperStar Rajni" logo at the beginning of his movies that upstages those of the studio and production company (even more so in 3D!). There's actually a weird reflection of that in the film, as both his characters Rana and Kochadaiiyaan are praised as leaders but with the point made perhaps a little too forcefully that they don't do this for their own glory. There's nothing wrong with talented people having an ego to them - in some ways, it's probably a necessity to be successful in a very competitive industry - but denying that ego seems unseemly.

Maybe there's a subtlety to this that I'm missing - there almost certainly is, as I'd never seen Rajnikanth in a film before Endhiran, haven't gone through his back catalog, and don't much keep up on American celebrity news, let alone Indian. I'm sure that American celebrity culture looks even stranger and more hypocritical from the outside. That's universal. Folks do still seem to love Rajini, though - he got applause as he appeared on screen, and with the first finger-point. The crowd wasn't nearly as big for this as it was for Endhiran - maybe a dozen people as opposed to a packed house - but there's no denying that they were into it.

One final note about the movie itself; though it has apparently been dubbed into many languages, the original Tamil version with English subtitles is the one screening at Fenway. I've got no idea how seeing it in an English dub or any other language would affect the experience, although lip-sync issues are certainly not what it needs.


* * (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2014 in Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, 4K RealD)

Aside from a cameo in the next year's Ra.One, Rajnikanth's last film was 2010's bonkers but memorable Endhiran, and it appears that the delay in his next starring role can be attributed to both health and script problems. Those factors also affected the form Kochadaiiyaan: The Legend wound up taking, a motion-captured animated film that certainly has the scale of an epic but which can't succeed with only a digital approximation of Rajni's star power.

He plays Rana, who since being found adrift on a river as a boy has steadily risen up through the ranks in the army of Kalingpuri. When promoted to commander in chief, he suggests to crown prince Veera Mahendra (Aadhi) that they impress the slaves mining gold under the palace into the army, a move which helps them conquer many territories and has Rana setting his sights on the other mighty kingdom in the southern part of India, Kottaipatinam. To oppose him, King Rishikodagan (Nasser) sends his son, crown prince Sengodagan (Sarath Kumar), to meet Rana on the field of battle - although it would be understandable if Rana would much rather deal with princess Vadhana (Deepika Padukone).

Before looking at anything else about the film, it must be said: The animation quality is far below the standard an American audience would be used to. It's not so much the dead-eye problems that have often plagued motion-captured pictures - the animators actually do a fairly good job replicating the cast's facial expressions - but there's often a shocking awkwardness to the movement and mismatches between characters and the background: Climbing scenes where characters seem to get footholds in midair and plenty of moments when characters' feet don't quite seem to be on the ground. Some of this may have to do with the post-conversion to 3D, but not the way that the character animation is probably weaker than it was in The Polar Express ten years ago and not the way that proportions and the way space is filmed often seems off. It's distracting, perhaps fatally so for some viewers. Paying a premium price for it was certainly a kick in the teeth.

Full review at EFC

No comments: