King Kong at Hoyts, Broadway

Bit of a catch-up happening here, as I’ve seen four films in the past week, and have only just finished writing up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Just Like Heaven and Good Night, and Good Luck.

I’ve never been particularly interested in the earlier versions of King Kong, since it sounded like a film showing people being horrible to an animal, which didn’t really appeal to me. But Peter Jackson has built up a lot of credit, and on a really hot day, three-plus hours in an air-conditioned cinema didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

I enjoyed the first hour of so of King Kong much more than I expected. It was basically a character piece, and while none of the characters were particularly complex or original, they were all interesting and well performed. I also loved some of the visuals in the early scenes, which seemed to really capture a sense of what it might have been like for people living then. So by the time they got to the island, I was fully settled in, enjoying the characters, and interested and involved in the plot development.

But for me, the film went downhill in a big way from this point. There was just too much happening. Each of the action scenes was good in itself, and such dialogue and character development as there was equalled the material in the first section of the film – I particularly liked the bit where Bruce Baxter walks casually away from the dinosaurs, until he is past the camera, at which point he starts sprinting for his life. But it just went on and on and on and on. Peter Jackson seemed to be needlessly self-indulgent in allowing himself to include every single action sequence he could think up, rather than just picking and choosing the best ones. So by the end, no matter how good the sequences were, I was bored and just wanted the film to pick up and get on with it.

And for some reason, the final section of the film simply didn’t work for me. Maybe it was because I had been so fed up by the section on the island (and annoyed by the fact that the film never showed how they actually got Kong back to New York – there was no way he could have fit on the boat, but you obviously weren’t supposed to think about that). Or maybe it was because I had difficulty figuring out Ann Darrow’s motivation – she obviously was meant to feel more for Kong than just compassion and gratitude that he had saved her life, but it wasn’t clear just how strong the emotional bond was, or how it meshed in with her feelings for Jack Driscoll. It was a line of thought I wasn’t particularly comfortable with anyway, and this was compounded by the fact that many of her actions didn’t really seem designed to achieve anything productive.

But whatever the reason, I was completely unmoved by the end. I genuinely didn’t feel anything when Kong died – even though I had expected to find it very sad. But the film had so completely lost my by that point, that I simply couldn’t engage with it any more.

Good Night, and Good Luck at Hoyts, Broadway

I probably should have enjoyed Good Night, and Good Luck more than I did. The performances were great and it was an interesting story dealing one of those important periods in history that I don’t know much about.

But although I thought the black and white filming was very effective, at times I found the cinematography a bit offputting (I really didn’t like the the way the tops of people’s heads were often cut off). Also, sometimes there were two conversations running at once, which made it rather hard work to follow. I guess this was done to add to the naturalism of it, which it did; but for me, it added an extra bit of cognitive load that I didn’t need, when I was already having to concentrate hard to get a handle on the context and the plot. Maybe if I’d known a but more about the history it wouldn’t have been such a problem, since some things would have been more obvious to start with.

But none of this means that I regret seeing it.

Just Like Heaven at Hoyts, Broadway

Just Like Heaven was quite a nice romantic comedy – not as romantic as Green Card or as clever as When Harry Met Sally or as funny as French Kiss, but I enjoyed it much more than, say, Sleepless in Seattle.

Reese Witherspoon makes a very engaging female lead – in a completely different style from Meg Ryan, but just as enjoyable to watch – and Mark Ruffalo was pleasant enough. The plot was relatively predictable, but I don’t find that a major problem: romantic comedies are more about spending a couple of hours with people you like, who you want to see get together at the end, than they are about surprising plot twists.

Spoilers follow: Having said this, though, I was really hoping that she wouldn’t be brought to consciousness in the end by a kiss. Inevitably, this hope wasn’t realised – but I did quite like the fact that when she came to, she didn’t remember anything. Though even then, it was pretty obvious how it was going to be resolved – but it was nice to see it happening.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Cremorne Orpheum

I’m told I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at age six: apparently it was my first Big Reading Achievement. As an unsophisticated reader, I guess I was exactly the right demographic for it; and it would have been my very first exposure to the idea of a complete fantasy world, different from our own. I read and re-read it (and the rest of the series) throughout my childhood, and although it’s not a book I have tended to go back to as an adult (unlike, for example, the works of Alan Garner) it will always be special to me.

It would be futile to try and deny the connections between the film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy: without the enormous box office success of this, plus the technical expertise developed in New Zealand, Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would never have been made – or, even if it had, would have had a much lower budget, and a very different “look” to it.

However, I think it does C.S. Lewis’s book – and thus, the recent film – a grave disservice to compare it directly to Tokein, and find it wanting. I’m not actually a fan of Tolken’s writing style, but even I have to acknowledge that Middle Earth is a much richer and more complex world than Narnia. Although they both created fantasy worlds, the two authors were writing with very different intentions, and with very different audiences in mind. C.S. Lewis was writing not just for children, but for unsophisticated children – I think, for example, that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would be accessible to a younger child than The Hobbit. The random mix of mythologies can be magical and exciting in its newness (though I think even as a six year old, I found the Father Christmas scene a bit jarring), and the Christian allegory is less heavy handed than in The Magician’s Nephew or The Last Battle. And while the growing sophistication of the child reader – plus the rather dated nature of some of Lewis’s prose – means that the age range of the “unsophisticated reader” may well have shrunk since his day, I think he still has a place as an important writer of fantasy for children. After all, it would be pretty rough if children were to be blocked off from the idea of fantasy worlds until they were old enough to read The Lord of the Rings – or even the Earthsea books, or Elidor, or Howl’s Moving Castle, or The Chronicles of Prydain – all of which, I think, are a little (or a lot) more challenging than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

OK, rant over. On to the film.

I really enjoyed it. I thought the children who played Lucy and Edmund were excellent, and Peter and Susan were also fine, although they had a lot less to work with. Mr Tumnus was good, and the White Witch was brilliant. I found the death of Aslan scene quite moving. I was quite happy with the extra scenes they added (although the fox was probably the least successful of the CGI creatures) and overall I thought they really captured the spirit of the book well.

A lot of people have complained about the quality of the CGI, but to be honest, except for the fox, I never found it intrusive. Maybe I’ll start to see flaws on a second or third watching (I find I’m much more aware of them on repeat viewings of Lord of the Rings than I was the first time through).

It can’t be denied that the battle scenes were Lord of the Rings-lite. This was pretty inevitable. The could hardly leave them out in the way Lewis did; and given that it was a battle with mythological creatures, they really didn’t have any option but to ride on Peter Jackson’s coat-tails – though I don’t think they managed to stand on his shoulders and raise it another notch. I was pleased to see that – for once! – it was the good guys who had an air force, although both Michael and Mark complained about the complete lack of tactics shown by both sides: they felt that there should be more than just charging at each other (I thought the plan to draw the White Witch’s people into the gully and then shoot at them from above was a tactic, but obviously I’m mistaken!) It was a little disappointing that the one genuine tactic described in the book – that when Edmund attacks the White Witch he “had the sense to bring his sword smashing down on her wand instead of trying to go for her directly and simply getting made a statue himself for his pains” – wasn’t made explicit in the film. Yes, you saw Emund smashing the wand, but it was less clear that this was a deliberate plan, and specifically different to the approach the others were taking.

So, was the film as rich and complex as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films? No, of course not. And does that matter? Well, I don’t think so. Despite the superficial similarities, it was coming from completely different source material, with a completely different audience in mind, and thus presenting some very different challenges to the filmmaker. And I thought Adamson and his cast and crew generally met those challenges very well.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Hoyts Broadway

It’s over a week since I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I really haven’t felt inspired to write anything about it.

Yes, I enjoyed it. No, I won’t be buying the DVD, or even bothering to see it a second time. Yes, I thought it was better than the first two, and probably about on par with the third. I thought they did a great job of trimming the excess material from the plot, and the casting was good. But like all the other Harry Potter films (and the more recent books) it didn’t really have the kind of magic that makes me want to go back to it again and again.

I think the Asking the Wrong Questions blog makes an excellent point when it says “These films haven’t been made because a director or a screenwriter was burning to bring a beloved world to the screen. They were made because this is what Hollywood does with successful books, and it shows in the final product.”

All four films have been eminently competent works of cinema, and it’s been not uninteresting to see how different directors, working with the same source material and the same screenplay writer, have produced such different films. But one of the reasons I like seeing films made from books is that it gives me an insight into how other people see the book – sometimes this makes me adjust my own opinions, more often it doesn’t, but it’s usually interesting. But even the first three Harry Potter films (i.e. the ones from books I really like in the series) haven’t given me different perspectives, or made me question my own assumptions, or even inspired me to re-read them immediately. Of course, it’s arguable that this is because the source material doesn’t stand up to this type of scrutiny, but I don’t think that’s really the problem. I think it’s that, although the films are well crafted, they are basically a bit uninspired, and therefore uninspiring.

The Brothers Grimm at Hoyts Broadway

Terry Gilliam has an incredible visual imagination. When this is allied to a strong script with interesting characters, he’s produced some amazing films – e.g. Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. But with a weak script and boring characters, the result feels very unbalanced. And because I’m not really a visual person I find this type of film very unrewarding – visuals on their own aren’t enough to make a film worthwhile to me.

The Brothers Grimm definitely falls into the latter category. I found the plot dull and the characters pretty bland. So all this time and effort had been put into the “look” of the film, but there was nothing to make me actually care about what happened in it.

The other thing that annoyed me rather was the fairy tale references. The film was full of them, but they didn’t mean anything. It was like they were just there so the audience could say “oh, I recognise that – how cute”. While that was okay in, for example, Shrek, I would have hoped for something a bit more sophisticated in this film. In fact, Shrek did occasionally play with and subvert the fairy tales, whereas Brothers Grim mostly just put them up on screen and then took them away without doing anything interesting with them.