Tag Archives: CGI

Movie Review: Flushed Away

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Roddy’s troubles are about to begin. Copyright Aardman & Dreamworks (on all images here)

I already mentioned I’ve been on an animation binge lately, as well as a movie binge in general (there’s a reason for this to be blogged about later) and another animation I recently watched was the 2006 British Flushed Away. If you’ve ever seen or are a fan of the Wallace and Gromit films then you’ll probably like this. Wallace and Gromit started as a short animation made with stop-motion plasticine or claymation figures. Wallace is an inventor of the kookiest kind whose kept on track by his faithful dog Gromit. Gromit has the wisdom that Wallace lacks with his genius. Created by Aardman Animations The Wrong Trousers where Wallace ends up in some crazed mechanized pants, won an Academy Award in 1993.

Aardman did several other award winners or nominees and their first full-length animation was Chicken Run in partnership with Dreamworks. Before this they did numerous shorts and TV series in Britain. Flushed Away, while exhibiting the same characteristics of stop-motion, was the first Aardman film done completely by CGI. The ability to rend water properly required this switch. Wiki reports that he production was so arduous and became so expensive that Aardman and Dreamworks split after its production.

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Roddy & Rita are chased by The Toad’s henchmen.

 

The movie is about Roddy, a pampered pet mouse, who lives a life of leisure in an upper crust mansion. When the family goes out he scampers out of his gilded cage to party. But it’s a lonely life for a solitary mouse who’s invaded by Sid, a fat, slovenly, punked up street mouse. Things go awry and Sid flushes Roddy down the toilet where he emerges into the great underworld of mouse lives in the sewers. Roddy’s terrified and just wants to get home to his cushy life.

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Rita to the rescue. The innovative world of the mice makes this a visual delight.

He’s reluctantly rescued by Rita on her tug the Jammy Dodger. It seems that a jammie dodger is a biscuit with jam in it, and it’s a typical aspect of Aardman humor. Rita’s being chased by The Toad  and his henchrats because she’s stolen a jewel. Roddy points out that its fake and earns Rita’s wrath when he destroys it. The adventure ensues with The Toad’s evil plans to destroy the mouse world, his cousin Le Frog helping capture Rita, Rita and Roddy rescuing each other and a lot of shenanigans.

The characters have the classic Aardman features of a wide mouth full of teeth, big ears and round bulgy eyes. The humor is evident both in the dialogue and plot and in the settings and actions as well. This world is so rich with detail that it’s worth seeing a second time just to stare at all the brilliant images. Being a tiny world on a mouse-sized scale, the rodents have created their habitats out of bits and pieces of human discards; pins, bottle caps, broken pottery, toys, lost buttons, etc.  Roddy begins to prove his worth and his intelligence and eventually makes it back to his aristocratic mouse cage…

The cast of characters include Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno and Bill Nighy. While these arefamous names to me it makes not one iota of difference. When I watch animations, I really don’t care if it’s a big star or not. Half the time I can’t even tell who is playing what part. Obviously the studios believe it will sell the movies but I really wonder how many people care.

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The models for the singing slugs. They add the icing on the comedic cake.

One last thing to mention about Flushed Away. Part of the background characters are slugs that float on lily pads or on other items in the sewers. They have two bulgy eyes on eyestalks, lips and teeth (of course). They shriek at opportune moments but also seem to float by and sink a sappy song at the right or wrong moments. I love the slugs and they’re great filler for comedic moments. I always love the Wallace & Gromit movies though some aren’t as funny as others. Flushed Away was a lot of fun and a pretty good plot,  without Roddy or Rita being the singular hero but a team that worked well together.  I would give this 8 jammie dodgers out of 10.

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Movie Review: Avatar and a Comparison I

Well, I’m late out of the gate in seeing Avatar but I’m going to review it anyway. Some of this will have already been said and some not yet. I’ll look at elements of plot and Avatar sadly lacks originality there, and I’ll compare it to some stories and novels, specifically David Moles’ “Finisterra.” And yes there will be spoilers in this review.

First, what worked. It’s been a while since Final Fantasy came out and comparing these two movies is like comparing a hand beater to electric beaters. Where Final Fantasy’s textures and characters were definitely still on the animated cartoon side, Avatar has gone leaps and bounds, combining human actor shots with those of the Na’vi, and the completely CGI world. Textures such as skin and hair are realistic and seamless. Although hugely expensive, this paves the way for any story to be told. Where Lord of the Rings took us with made up but real sets, Avatar expands upon, and there is not tale, no matter how fantastical, that now cannot be told.

The world of Pandora, the human name for it, is on a large scale. Trees are of insurmountable heights. Phosphorescence gives the forest a natural night time luminescence. Creatures are sleek and deadly or light and airy. The flora is beautiful and ethereal and the Na’vi live within it and are part of it. They connect and feel their world in a very real way for they have within their hair fibril strands that can connect to, in a physical way, a few other species and the mother tree/goddess itself. There are mountains that float; that physical anomaly with gravity isn’t explained but I”m willing to let it pass. After all, the Na’vi are very tall, which could be the result of a lower gravity planet, but if that’s the case the humans on the ground should be bounding along like they’re on the moon. Hmmm.

But worldbuilding is extremely difficult. One must create everything from geography and atmosphere, to flora, fauna and cultures. It’s a lot of work, even for a god.

The animals are, well, they’re kinda Earth derivative. When the Na’vi riders appear on animals they are very horselike, down to stylized crests or manes. Why these beasts couldn’t be hippolike or serpentine or some sort of other looking beast, I’m not sure. And then there are the wolflike creatures that attack in the night, because wolves are part of the wanderer in the woods psyche; and the rhino hammerheads, all just a little bit too like Earth animals. But there are the toruk and banshees that the Na’vi tame and ride. These are like dragons and pterodactyls mixed together.

The horse creatures and the banshees can be telepathically controlled by the fibrils in the Na’vi’s hair and in long antenna/hornlike extensions on these animals. Why the Na’vi’s fibrils aren’t in their tails (which seem somewhat prehensile though they never use them this way) is weird and though I suppose these fibrils are closer to the neural network of the brain by being in the hair, it seems an unlikely spot. Even a navel seems more likely. This telepathic bonding (which one person in my writers group has likened more to psychological rape) is very similar to Anne McCaffery’s dragonriders of Pern, a SF series where  riders telepathically bond for life with a dragon. However, this is not an equal bonding but more like breaking in a horse, because when they bond with the banshees, these creatures seem to lose all ability to fly naturally without being directed by the Na’vi. Where’s the sense in taking away a creature’s natural instincts? It’s now like driving a car.

There are a few incongruous physiological aspects to some of the animals of Pandora, which seem to be mostly to make them look different but without thought being given as to why they would have this physiological difference.  The large animals seem to be six legged and yet the Na’vi only have four limbs, as do the monkey creatures. All larger species and mammals on Earth have four limbs (even whales with the tail being vestigial feet) and it seems evolutionarily sound that if the Na’vi developed with four limbs that the animals would too. I can’t quite see the benefit of an extra set of limbs for these creatures. As well, they are so powerful, the rhino hammerheads and the panther beasts, that they can tear apart or smash through giant trees in pursuit of their quarry. If this was the case the forest would look much more like a war zone than it does.

The toruk has four eyes, a smaller set behind the first two. What is the purpose of a second set of eyes set in almost the same place? They don’t see differently, or on a different spectrum and I can’t see why evolution would burden them with this extra set. No wonder they’re so cranky. The banshees and the horse creatures also have blowholes in their chests as opposed to nostrils on their heads. Why? What purpose would this serve? Fish have gills but they’re still near the head. Whales have blowholes on the top of their heads because they submerge themselves, and hippos have giant, high placed nostrils for the same reason. But blowholes in your chest when you’re a land animal? Nah. Weirdness for weirdness sake. Cameron was probably quite busy designing this but more thought could have gone into the evolutionary detail of this planet without just making it look odd to us.

So, onto the Na’vi. They are beautiful, long-limbed, probably about 9 feet tall and in touch with the world around them. They live in an idyllic culture, at one with themselves and their land. Too idyllic. The only threat are the outsiders and no society is ever that perfect. They are the quintessential noble savage, a trope often overused in stories. A blend of North American Indians and African tribal peoples, they even dress and hunt the same way. And even though they are blue with light black striping, they certainly resemble plains Indians. But they have mobile ears and tails, as well as large eyes and a catlike (tiger maybe) grace. So yes, they also resemble Tolkien’s elves of Lothlorien. Elves in space. They have a spiritual tree that holds Eywa, their goddess. This is similar to the Yggdrasil or the World Tree of Norse myth. World trees are common in many stories and are a natural extension of seeing the Earth as alive and aware on some level.

Continued tomorrow.

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