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Some of these spots played during the NBA playoffs of 2008. Just from them, I knew I had to see the movie.
So I was there the Sunday evening of opening weekend. And then again the next night. And then again a month later. Because I had to.
From the opening moments, this film sparked an emotional reaction in me. I can’t explain it, but that first half hour is perfection to me. I’ve never laughed that hard before at something that’s basically an anthropomorphic Roomba. And terrible show tunes from Hello Dolly (which I still haven’t seen by itself, though it may make an interesting double feature one day), which turns out to be the last movie on earth. Thank God we work so hard to make perfection, right?
Once the movie goes into outer space and onto the Axiom, it experiences a From Dusk til Dawn-like transition. From sci-fi slapstick comedy to sci-fi action comedy. While two of the three words are the same, the change is nonetheless jarring as the quietude of Earth erupts into the cacophany of Thomas Newman’s weird-ass score and inane chatter of the whales. This makes the movie feel slightly uneven as the back half of it so completely different from the first half.
Both are necessary to this story. As awkward a transition as it may be, the first half hour is simply the first act. Had it stayed there for 90 minutes, it would’ve been a completely different film–like a short film dragged beyond its limits (if you’ve ever seen the movie Aaltra, it’d be like that).
Without that last hour of the film, on the Axiom, we also wouldn’t have had as many angry people. Wall-E is cute when he’s roaming the lonesome, trashed, Earth, wooing Eve, but the sociopolitical commentary doesn’t kick into high gear until Wall-E reaches the humans .
Turns out, after seven hundred years in space, people become Orca whales, stuck in their computer screens and completely unaware of the world beyond it. When the computer says “Blue is the new Red,” everyone’s suit changes color. When the computer switches from afternoon to morning, people accept it and restart their day as if it never happened. Everything they eat is liquid. It’s kind of awesome because it’s our current plugged-in culture taken to its logical extreme. We’ll all get fat and sedated. We won’t even know there’s a pool onboard. Or how to swim. Or how to function.
In my original review, I talked a lot about the cinematography–and this is something that still holds up for me. This is some of the best animation in the sense photographic realism. Roger Deakins does some amazing work in live action films, and his consultation on this film is no different to the work he’d previously done. Except that blocking was done with animators and computers versus people and masking tape.
There’s one major thing I’ve uncovered that has heightened my enjoyment of this movie. In a lot of the commercials they use the theme song from the movie “Brazil,” which, sure, yea, was written in 1939 but it’s also something the filmmakers were most likely aware of.
This gives the ads a different context, as well as the movie itself. They’ve basically given homage to what seems to be one of their major influences. The ineptitude of the captain, and the takeover of the government by a corporation basically mirrors all the red-tape clusterfuckery of Brazil.
And I like that they were aiming for the Axiom essentially being the fallout of a totalitarian/corporate regime 700 years into the future that also happens to be shaped like Africa.
This film is about as leftist as Avatar, and just as overt. Turn off the screens, and get in touch with the Earth.
But the funniest thing is that one of my professors at Humboldt State took her four year old daughter to see the movie. When they got home, her daughter immediately began putting on all her clothes because she wanted to look like one of the people on the Axiom.
She didn’t want to plant a tree or recycle, she wanted to look like a whale with thumbs.
I thought that was interesting because people think this movie teaches these kids all these terrible things, but I sincerely doubt any of it. When I was a kid, I never noticed half the jokes let alone the thematic subtext.
The fact that this movie even has a thematic subtext says something about this film. Pixar is willing to make films for all ages, that just happen to ostensibly be kids movies. When I realized this, I decided to go back and watch the rest of their films to see if any of them were political.
Monsters, Inc. is just as political. It’s an indictment of the electrical industry and how fear mongering isn’t as powerful as making someone laugh.
Cars is about the loss of road culture and the destruction of towns.
Those seem to be the only other two that had politics intertwined with their story. Most of them are about coming of age and finding out who you truly
are–either as a toy or a fish or a rat or a half-Japanese Wilderness Explorer.
But this movie. This one remains their crowning achievement. Not to mention the preceding short film, Presto. One of their best ever. I absolutely love that this is a tradition that Pixar is upholding.
Sam Lowry doesn’t have a problem until she shows up.
And that’s usually what happens.
See, this girl has showed up in his dreams where he’s a winged Ziggy Stardust attempting to save her from cages in the sky.
Trust me, it makes sense.
In real life, however, he’s stuck in a society of bureaucracy that is stuck in a war on terror–which, as it turns out, became more apropos twenty years later.
He works for the Ministry of Records, a small-time part of the entire operation that just takes care of people’s information.
But then things go south once he finds out that the woman in his dreams is real. And part of a current clusterfuck he’s fighting through.
There’s a lot more–like Robert De Niro as a rogue HVAC mechanic–but part of the fun is discovering all the little intricacies of the story.
This is a film that stands up against all the other medias that warn of dystopias–1984, Brave New World, Children of Men, Infinite Jest, Fahrenheit 451, the Fountainhead (if you’re batshit)–because it builds a world from the ground up.
And the world is built around fear bred from the government that may or may not be causing all the terrorism that allows them to clamp their hand down against any sort of social freedom.
This is the government that leads Sam Lowry into his dreams which make up some of the more interesting scenes of the film: obelisks arising from pastoral hills, nymphs in cages, and a giant fucking samurai to name a few. The most interesting thing, watching this film 25 years later, is how interesting the physical effects (as well as clunkier-in-a-good-way) are in the way that the lighting is completely different from that of CGI.
There was this interesting Pixar feature on the Finding Nemo DVD where they talk about how they could make something so realistic, but there’s this weird parabola to interest and connection with viewers. If something enters complete realism, like, say any of the MoCap films Robert Zemeckis has done, there becomes a sort of emotional detachment because it looks too real. So Pixar pulls back and allows everything to look a little goofy.
With physical effects, since they’re not animated, you don’t have to worry about this as much because you aren’t creating things out of bits of data, but bits of clay.
It’s kind of the same with digital vs. analog projection. Analog projection is light illuminating an image, thereby feeling easier to the eyes. Digital is trillions of bits of information composed of squares onto the screen to create the illusion of a picture.
Anyway. I’m digressing. The effects in this movie are really kickass. From the random explosions to everything done in the dream sequences. And I like that this was done before visual effects because Gilliam seems to be still wrapping his head around CGI (see: Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Though that may’ve just been because of budget).
This is an affecting film that spirals out of control and gets ever more weird as the universe expands.
And then there’s the ending…
[Get the Criterion 3-disc ultimate fucking edition. The film is complete, the special features are awesome, and the third disc is devoted to a 90-minute version of the film that puts in all the cuts that Universal wanted to make. It’s worth how ever much you find it for (I found it for $30 on ebay as opposed to $65 at Borders. Never buy DVDs at Borders. They rip you the fuck off)]
I first saw this film the Sunday of its opening weekend. There was something “full shine and full of sparkle” that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The next night, I saw it again. My head was filled and crammed with bits and notes of words that I was going to write down.
But, still, after seeing it twice, I didn’t feel like I had the correct perception about the film–that what I felt about it was succinct.
I finally saw it a third time this afternoon and I think I’ve figured out why I love this film geared towards children about an easily synergized robot.
It’s not the silent humor that takes over the first half of the film, even though it’s spot-on hilarious.
It’s not this song that starts the film and is a piece of music that is used as a motif along with another song from Hello Dolly. It’s not the fact that this song, and the portion used, is one that I find absolutely hilarious.
It’s the work that Roger Deakins did when he came in as a cinematographic consultant. See, unlike most CGI animated films, the guys at Pixar brought in the Director of Photography for most Coen Bros. films post-Sonnenfeld (Barton Fink, The Man who Wasn’t There and No Country for Old Men to name a couple) as well as the beautiful Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford that came out last year.
I’m about to wax technical, so you can skip this part if you want. What his work does is give the movie a sense of photo-realism. When you pay close attention to the depth of field and the focus on certain shots compared to similar shots in, say, the torturous trailer for Bolt that seems to play before every goddam movie I see, you see that every shot is meticulous angled and setup to look as if a camera filmed it and not someone at a computer playing with numbers and pictures and wireframes.
A prime example of the beauty brought to this film is a scene that was in the final trailer where Wall-E is getting chased by a bunch of carts in a broken down Buy N Large store. And I want you to observe a little quirk about this scene that I found absolutely wonderful: at one point during the shot, the camera falls out of focus as it tries to zoom and correct itself within the shot.
Now, you could say, “Why the hell would they want to fuck up a shot by blurring a portion of it?” Well, I have the answer: See, when you’re doing a tracking shot, especially one from such a distance, you’re going to have to refocus as the object leaves the field of focus. And you just might fuck it up. We’ve seen this in countless live-action films.
And it’s a little piece of extra effort put into this film that I found absolutely fantastic. Shit, this whole movie is fantastic. I was laughing the whole way through, I was in awe of the visions that they were putting on celluloid.
But it was my dad who made the most succinct comment. That is that the movie is about computers taking over for what humans do (Leon Trout from Galapagos would blame our stupid big brains for such a thing) and yet it’s a film done on computers showing how far they’ve come in such a field as animation. Obviously, this is something that Pixar has acknowledged and is probably the reason why they’re dipping into the live-action well of films in the future.
This film, unlike the Dark Knight, I can safely say that you should see. If you haven’t, drop everything and go to the cinema. Right fucking now. Cut work early, gather up your spawn, and take them to see this jawdropping and hilarious film.