Skip’s Quips: Theory of ‘Frozen’

Blog Sketch 082813I think the reason Frozen was such a hit was marketing.

Ads for the animated film were all over TV. They got people to see it.

But I’m not sure why so many people liked it. I thought the script was dreadful and the songs mediocre. Plus, it was highly, highly unfunny, especially the character of the live, talking, happy-go-lucky snowman. It’s highly possible that the execrable Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was a more humorous, better developed character.

OK, the computer animation was quite well done in Frozen; that was no surprise. Yet the film seemed artificial, manufactured, as if devised specifically for a certain audience and peppered with hip dialogue and silly situations. It didn’t have an organic quality, and the songs just made it worse.

I’m in the minority on this, I know. Frozen was a huge success. Yet that doesn’t necessarily equate quality, and in that light, the movie doesn’t make the cut for me.

Disney can do better than this, methinks.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Wizards and Balrogs and Oscars, Oh, My!

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613It’s become trendy these days to knock The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as well as draw unfavorable comparisons to its immediate predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—with the underlying suggestion that the era of taking these fantasy films seriously is over. We’ve grown out of that, right? We’d rather watch important flicks such as Lincoln from now on, no?

Perhaps some critics might. But I don’t. I thought Peter Jackson’s Hobbit was brilliantly done and see no reason to dismiss it because of its genre, length or resemblance to his cinematic adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s LOTR trilogy, which I adore as well. And I’m looking forward to the next hobbity installment, The Desolation of Smaug, which I’m sure will be much more entertaining than any prestigey part of Lincoln—and less pretentious to boot. I’ll venture to guess that any picture with a talking, fire-breathing dragon in it won’t be in the same “for your consideration” pool come Academy Awards time.

But that’s the problem. Return of the King set a precedent for CGI-filled fantasy films … and the awards folks have been reluctant to dip into that well since. Look at Guillermo del Toro’s spellbinding Pan’s Labyrinth, as great a movie as any that has appeared in the last two decades, yet it was stepped over at the Oscars some years ago for The Lives of Others. I gotta think the special effects were the deciding factor. They’re components that everyone wants to see at the movies—as long as no one thinks they can help create a work of art.

I don’t believe in that balderdash. It’s based on the idea that popular entertainment can’t be important, which has remained pervasive despite centuries of being disproven by everyone from Charles Dickens to Aaron Copland. Art isn’t restricted to any particular theme or genre; it’s restricted to quality. And I think The Hobbit makes that grade.

Do I think it’s the most fabulous film? Nope; it’s got script issues like almost every movie, and it does feel padded in parts. But by and large, it channels the stirring spirit of Jackson’s previous LOTR flicks, and that’s a worthy breed. I’d rather watch that any day of the week over Lincoln and won’t convince myself not to because it’s based on a fantasy novel.

“What does your heart tell you?” Aragorn asks Gandalf in Jackson’s Return of the King.

Not what Lincoln tells me, that’s for sure. And boy am I glad about that.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Bring Back the Blood Squibs?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I don’t know about you, but every time I see an action movie these days, I expect the gore to pepper the screen with pixels.

It’s hard to run away from computer-generated imagery. It’s all over TV–from commercials to ongoing series. And it pervades the cinema, where it has become, in some cases, the main reason to see certain pictures.

Yes, filmmakers can do things with CGI that couldn’t have been achieved 40 years ago. But is that always a positive? Are we relying too much on high rather than low technology?

I worried about this recently while watching Life of Pi, whose CGI animals—especially the growling, boat-hogging tiger—had a gloss and fluidity of movement that seemed slightly off. It was a solid technical achievement, surely, and the cinematography was often stunning. Yet the animals seemed less “real” than the fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. The tiger showed its stripes.

That doesn’t mean I think we should go back to adjusting models frame by frame and discarding all cinematic developments … though the process of creating CGI creatures may only be slightly less onerous. But I do think something’s missing from most of the computer-crafted images used today, whether it’s a tiger or a snowflake. It’s not just naturalness; it’s essence. Those battling skeletons—ludicrous as they may be—draw me in. That smooth-purring tiger doesn’t.

Somewhere Bruce the shark is rolling his dead eyes.