Archive for the ‘stop motion animation’ Category

DVD blog review: ‘Clash of the Titans’ remake is monstrous fun

July 25, 2010

The new remake of 1981’s Clash of the Titans has gotten little respect, which seems quite odd to me. The fact is, the original was one of the worst Ray Harryhausen special effects extravaganzas ever. The stop-motion master was fit to retire back in ’81, and Clash, in fact, was his last effort as creator of special visual effects. But many weren’t so special, including a juvenile mechanical owl character which was so bad it even gets a brief snide put-down in the remake.

Look, I don’t just admire what Harryhausen did. I revere it. I grew up loving Jason and the Argonauts, Mysterious Island and the Sinbad movies. But times change. CG animation now rules, and with it you can do things far beyond the painstaking limitations of stop-motion work.

Others will grouse that this fable about man defying Greek goods amid much monstrous mayhem is as short in the narrative department as are the warriors’ battle-ready skirts. Excuse me, but when did this kind of thing presume to be Shakespeare (even if Hamlet’s Sir Laurence Olivier did play Zeus in the ’81 original)? This is a popcorn movie, purely and simply. So just pop some corn, sit back, savor the spectacle and don’t expect to feed your mind as much as you’re feeding your gut with freshly poppped kernels.

I’m not saying Sam Worthington as the heroic Perseus is the essence of charismatic heroism, but neither was Harry Hamlin in the original. Again, we’re not talking Saving Private Ryan here. We’re talking giant scorpions on the loose! As soon as I saw those in the trailer, I was ready to sign up with Perseus’ band of adventurers and take the fantasy ride. (And now, via Warner Bros.’ Blu-ray release, we can see how they did it, via the elaborate Harnessing the Gods.)

So go ahead and carp if you must about plot points, acting chops and Liam Neeson making a bland Zeus (though I thought Ralph Fiennes made a haunting, almost pitiable Hades). For me the bottom line is fanciful spectacle, and this Clash provides it, big-time. Give me snake-headed Medussa, the Scorpiochs and the Kraken and I’m happy. As in the old days, monsters are what this is all about, and this Clash gets the movie monster mash job done.

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ on DVD stamped with Wes Anderson’s imprint

March 22, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn’t fantastic at the box office, amassing $20 million to partly offset its $40 million production costs. But what did we expect from a quirky Wes Anderson film? The Houston-born director, who also adapted Roald Dahl’s tale to screenplay form, still has his imprint all over this, even though it’s his first foray into animated features.

In this case, he used the quaint but lovable technique called stop motion animation, which Aardman and other production companies still employ. Models are painstakingly moved a fraction of an inch at a time, just as was done on the original King Kong more than 75 years ago. In fact, Anderson deliberately kept — if not brandished — the fur-rustling effect that Kong inadvertently displayed as a byproduct when animators’ hands touched hairy models.

On screen, Dahl’s rather straightforward fairy tale acquires new life, with much owing to Anderson’s clever sense of amusingly pointed theatricality. Scenes often are set in proscenium style, as if on a theater stage, and they include such elaborate details that they evoke the maps and drawings Anderson applied to his intrepid, boyish hero in Rushmore.

The yarn unravels as a basic “save the farm” story, in which the anthropomorphic and domesticated fox family (parents, son, dinner table) — whose dad is charmingly voiced by George Clooney — needs to eat. So Mr. Fox enlists other critter allies to invade the fortresslike farms of neighboring humans and steal their goodies. Rancor and derring-do ensue.

At the least, the film is a visual feast, but it’s also witty and wily enough to be savored by adults, perhaps even more than children. And its voice cast couldn’t be better, including Rushmore vets Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, Anderson’s brother Eric and — oh yes, Meryl Streep.

Yes, Up deserved its Oscar as best animated feature. But Fantastic Mr. Fox also richly deserved its  own Oscar nomination. And isn’t it grand to see the tyranny of CG — no less artificial than stop-motion, and far less warm — thwarted from time to time? Do yourself a favor and check this out.