Friday, 26 December 2008

Too much garbage in your face? There's plenty of space out in space! BnL StarLiners leaving each day. We'll clean up the mess while you're away.

No 373 - Wall:E
Director - Andrew Stanton

Merry Christmas Peoples! So, little sis got this for Christmas yesterday and we watched it in the morning... however I spent most of the day feeling fat and full... watching Dr Who, Wallace and Gromit and thrashing my family at Buzz. I hope you therefore understand why I have taken a day to get round to blogging.

The big thing about Wall:E (I can't make the big dot appear so I'm going for colons) is that it really is a difficult film for Pixar. The ambition behind it is huge, epic and very very brave... and it is not something that Pixar have taken lightly. This was one of the first ideas they ever had (along with Toy Story and A Bug's Life), however it took years to happen as they didn't believe they had the technical ability to deliver such a daunting challenge.
But why... why do I keep saying that this film would be a hard sell? Let us examine the facts and discuss them individually, there are 2 facts - one is relatively minor but the other is HUGE and should be discussed in a huge manner....

1) The film seems to try hard to create imagery which will alienate the target audience.

This is a Disney Pixar cartoon, and whilst I do very much enjoy the work of Pixar, I - a film savvy bearded 23 year old - am not the film's target audience. This is a 'Family Film' which translates itself roughly as a film for kids. Yet this is a film that loves the obsolete and the old fashioned. Wall:E watches Hello Dolly, a musical from 1969 and I think it is fair to say that most children are not hugely educated on either the golden age of Musical cinema (the 50s and 60s) nor the back catalogue of Barbara Streisand. So for most children, the songs and the Hello Dolly footage which is played throughout the film will be new and won't have the amusing nostalgic familiarity that I get from it.

However, it is not just the film itself which casts unfamiliarity - as Wall:E watches it on a VHS (recorded off the Telly it seems) - it is a world which runs the risk of being completely alien to the modern child, raised in the DVD generation.

Finally.... Pong! There is a scene where Wall:E is trying to entertain the dormant Eve and does so by playing Pong with her. That is not going to be a familiar image to the vast majority of youth watching the film. Hell, I'm not sure if it'd be a familiar image to me if it wasn't for the fact that I was such a geek.

All these unfamiliar elements are all minor in comparison with the huge alienating factor I wish to discuss...

2) The first half of the film is essentially a silent movie.

Wall:E is a solitary figure, who only has one companion - a cockroach. As the cockroach can't speak, Wall:E doesn't speak so the first part of the film is a series of robotic noises (made by Ben Burtt who also design the noises of R2-D2 fact fans) and a solitary figure who just trundles through his messy litter strewn world. Even when a second protagonist and 'love interest' arrives the communication and dialogue is stunted at best. Eve (a sleek curvy iPod of a robot which can swoosh and fly through the world) can say about 3 or 4 words (Eve, Wall:E, Directive and Plant are the only 4 that come to mind) and Wall:E can just about say the first 3 of those 4 words. However, Pixar can pull it off. Animation is a tough medium to show subtle facial changes and glimmers of emotion, which is why animation is usually a rather wordy affair. However Pixar manages to make their characters subtly nuanced and beautiful emotive. This is even more of a feat when you consider one of the characters is a highly polished floating egg and the other is a rusting clunking hulk which looks like Johnny 5's stunted little brother. Neither character has a mouth, neither character has eyebrows.... it is almost as if Pixar deliberately removed anything which might make showing emotion an easy task in order to make the toughest challenge ever. Luckily, they're geniuses. Pixar's genius makes this one of their boldest films and certainly makes Wall:E they're most adorable character.

After all those challenges, they have also made their bleakest ever film. Set in a world which has been ruined by rubbish and consumerism, our hero trundles through a completely ruined empty planet surrounded by the run down corpses of other Wall:E models the introduction shows a truly horrible future for our planet and shows us to be mindless consumerist whores who let our surroundings to fall to waste before moving on and leaving it deserted. I believe that Agent Smith once had something to say about it in the Matrix:

I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.

So... that is my run down of the first half of this film, a silent film in a bleak grey surroundings dealing with loneliness. Hardly standard Disney fare... but also (in my opinion) one of Pixar's greatest triumphs. Let us move on to part deux....

EVE and WALL:E end up in space on a ship called the Axiom (I won't tell you the reasons behind it as I don't want to be Captain Spoiler) - the last bastion for the humans who have evacuated Earth. It is here that we meet the human race - who have spent 700 years in space being waited on hand and food by an enormous robot servant army. They have subsequently become huge blubbery blobs with very weak bones and who spend all their time sat on gliding chairs so they don't have to worry with walking. The 'evolution' (if that is what it is) of man is shown through another very brave move by Pixar. This is the inclusion of actual real life people within the film. Most of these are merely in Buy N Large's promotional material, but there is a proper role played by an actual human. This is the superb Fred Willard playing the CEO of Buy N Large, My Selby Forthright. His company has become so all encompassing that it is implied he is now the president and that the White House has become the BnL HQ. The progression from 'true human' to 'CGI' is best seen in the captain's quarters where you can see the original Axiom (a normal sized 'real person') all the way through to the modern fat lazy naive captain.

The introduction of the humans also brings us the excellent John Ratzenberger in his now obligatory Pixar role. I won't tell you anything else about it, for SPOILER reasons, but he is there.

In fact, the second half of the film is where most of the plot is and is back in Pixar's comfort zone. Although it is still marvellous, it is not quite as brave and astounding as the first half and I suppose suffers for that. I certainly have far less to say on this bit of the film compared to the first bit... apart from my one qualm with the film:

Why do all the robots have personalities? I mean I understand Wall:E... he is a mistake and has been left on his own for 700 years where he has developed curiosity and human traits. Likewise I understand the collection of defective robots... It can be explained that they have developed their personalities as part of them being broken. But what about EVE? What about Mo? Why do these correctly functioning robots have human personalities?
I suppose the reason this question comes to light is because this is Pixar's first film without direct anthropomorphism, so when it starts to creep into the film it is somewhat confusing.

However that is a really minor concern in a truly excellent film. Pixar continue to excite and amaze me with their brilliant output.

1 comment:

PhilH said...

On personalities, I'd suggest that the entire ship is and always has been run by the robots. The humans go on existing, but it's the robots who are running the show.

Therefore, like Wall-E, they haven't been interfered with and fixed by humans. Other robots have done that.

All of the robots have enough artificial intelligence to keep everything going, and they each have a specific role that they are supposed to play. They rely on each of the other robots to also play *their* parts.

If the AI is advanced enough, then I'd suggest that any eccentricity or negligible malfunction in one robot will have a knock-on effect on (and even annoy) other robots who rely on it, which will in turn have a knock-on effect on the robots that rely on those ones.

Or at least I imagine that's how Pixar intended.