Monday, June 30, 2008

Love And Loneliness With Robots

As a brief, blessed escape from the merciless, D.C.-worthy heat that descended on the Portland area this weekend like a hot sticky shroud, Kyle and I sat in an air-conditioned theater for a couple of hours on Saturday evening to watch Wall-E, Pixar's latest. And I would highly, highly recommend you go see this movie.

I was expecting it to be a good -- just about every review I saw was positive, not counting that one Yahoo! user on the movie-showtime page I looked up who seemed to be lamenting the film's lack of Happy Meal tie-ins. But I found it to be just a beautiful, affecting film, more so than I expected.

Part of that may be that the movie centers around a bunch of quirky, cute, almost voiceless robots (why wouldn't I guess I'd be really into robots?* Jack predicted his reaction to Cars easily enough) but my reaction was mostly shaped by the first 30 minutes or so, which for all its clever slapstick sets a measured pace as it follows the titular robot through a depopulated, sometimes threatening, still somehow lovely urban garbagescape. When the plot wheels started turning I felt like I'd rather see another fifteen to twenty minutes of establishing material.

The movie is comparatively weak whenever its cartoon people start to take up the screen (and by cartoon people I mean both the computer-animated human characters and live-action Fred Willard), as happens more frequently near the end of the movie. But even then the core (robot) relationships are built up with a minimum of dialog -- the whole movie makes for a phenomenal example of how to "show, don't tell", which largely reduces to "don't assume the people watching your film are morons", so it's an especially notable attitude in what's at least nominally a children's movie -- and most of what matters unfolds in the same graceful, lyrical way as the beginning. Ridiculously good cinematography helps in that area too, of course, as does an appropriately new-agey score by Thomas "I'm really pretty glad it isn't Randy again" Newman.

I guess I shouldn't forget to note that the movie is very funny, too, with a lot of silent-movie-type physical comedy and a sustained 2001 homage that ripens into full-blown parody at the right moment. All in all I'd say it's a very solid film that verges on transcendent if you prefer robots to people, animation to real life, and/or movies without words to movies with.

*More specifically what I've mostly always been into is what I'd call a childish idea of robots. Not an adult idea of robots; spending four-plus years at Carnegie Mellon was enough to show me that I don't give a low-enough-level shit about what robots actually do or how they work for that. It's a shame that Pixar's movie about ants was a relative clunker, since I could have gotten way into that too -- though there I may actually care too much about the bizarre real-life details of eusocial insect behavior to put up much at all with the film's solitary, inevitably male protagonist and party of quirky, non-ant companions.


Blogger Jack said...

Oh good: on the list it goes.

Thomas Newman also composed the excellent soundtrack to "Finding Nemo."

7/01/2008 7:54 AM  

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