Review: DreamWorks Animation's latest. Also opening: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Note: (beware of rant) this week's big release is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 3D (showtimes | IMDb), which is screening in a Czech-dubbed version in almost all Prague cinemas; you can only catch it in English (with Czech subtitles) at CineStar Anděl's Gold Class for the premium price of 319 CZK a ticket. Bontonfilm and Cinestar Anděl are notorious for premiering English-friendly content in this manner (the recent Czech-language release Občanský průkaz was released with English subtitles only in Gold Class), but it's especially silly for a family film to be released like this (a family of three or more won't be able to easily sit together in Gold Class.) If you can wait a week or two, the subtitled print of Dawn Treader should make its way to a normal cinema, but for now the non-Czech-speaking international community and faithful cinephiles (who, of course, prefer to see a film in its native language) will have to put up with the premium price.
Salt on the wound: this week (December 9 - 15) is Filmanie 2010 at Anděl and other cinemas across the Czech Republic: normal ticket prices at the chains are reduced to 50 CZK for a 2D screening and 150 CZK for 3D.
Also opening: the comedy Rodinka (showtimes; screening in Czech), the documentary Nesvatbov (showtimes | IMDb; in Czech), the Romanian drama Tuesday, After Christmas (showtimes | IMDb; in Romanian with Czech subtitles), and the French drama La Belle personne (showtimes | IMDb; in French with Czech subtitles).
And: don't miss the Audrey Hepburn Minifest at Kino Světozor, which features digital 4k projections of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Roman Holiday, and my personal Hepburn favorite, the Hitchcockian thriller Charade.
Reviewed below: DreamWorks Animation's Megamind, which premiered last week; it's dubbed in most cinemas, but an original English-language print (without subtitles) is currently screening at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům.
It´s been a banner year for animated films: Pixar´s Toy Story 3 will run away with the Best Animated Film Oscar (as it should - it will also receive some consideration for Best Picture) but there´s been unusually strong mainstream competition in the form of How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, The Legend of the Guardians and now Tom McGrath´s Megamind. It´s easily the funniest of these films and, I think, the best after Toy Story.
Megamind is a spoof of superhero films, a genre pioneered in animation by Pixar´s The Incredibles. The twist here is that we follow the supervillain instead of the superhero: the blue-skinned, giant-headed Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell), a brainy but otherwise powerless villain who battles the Superman-like Metro Man (Brad Pitt) for control of Metro City and the affections of mousy reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey).
Two especially thoughtful what if...? scenarios converge here, both cribbed from the DC Comics world of Superman. What if Superman was raised to be a villain? Megamind was not destined to become a supervillain, but became one out of circumstance; as we get to know the character, we realize things could have turned out differently. And what if Lex Luthor defeated Superman? Supervillains thrive on the conflict with superheroes, and when Megamind experiences life without it, he attempts to create a new hero from a pudgy cameraman (Jonah Hill).
Jokes fly by fast and furious, and many will go over the heads of the film´s intended audience; the obscure pop culture references are likely to over the heads of most audience members. My favorites: a Donkey Kong-inspired training sequence, Ferrell´s Marlon Brando-as-Jor-El impression, which slides right into an inappropriate Vito Corleone Godfather parody, and the design of Megamind´s minion, Minion (David Cross), which is taken straight from the 1953 Z-movie classic Robot Monster.
The voice talent here is a lot of fun. Ferrell, Fey, Hill, and Cross are animated performers with instantly recognizable voices, and they never disappear into their characters. Instead, the retro character design brings the actors to life, and we get recognizable star performances instead of just recognizable names in the credits, which has become the unfortunate norm for mainstream animation. As Metro Man, Pitt does some great work, too, but he´s the opposite of his co-stars; if you go in unknowing, you may be surprised to see his name in the end credits.
Ben Stiller seems to have had a strong hand in the production: he lends a voice cameo (his two children are also credited with providing voices) and he and Justin Theroux are credited as creative consultants. Beyond that, there are a number of similarities (particularly in the brand of humor) to previous Stiller films, and Ferrell´s over-the-top voice acting frequently recalls his memorable role of Mugatu in Zoolander.
Megamind is screening in 3D, and hey, it looks great (if a little dim). But for me, having seen about 20 films in 3D over the past 2 years in cinemas, the novelty value has worn off: 15 minutes into a movie, as long as the effect is done correctly and no gimmicks are thrown out of the screen, I´ll forget that I´m even watching a film in 3D. When the film is good enough - as it should be, and as Megamind and Toy Story and the other recent animated films have been - the story draws you in and you notice the surface look of the film less and less.
There´s Avatar, which was a huge leap forward in both technology and the mindset of what 3D can bring to cinema (that no film since has come close to matching), and there have been some horror films that have used 3D to genuinely enhance the atmosphere. Aside from that, 3D has been adequate but arbitrary, and occasionally a disaster (The Last Airbender, Clash of the Titans). Yes, Megamind looks great, and I´m sure it looks great in 2D, too. But what, really, does the extra dimension add to the film? Novelty value ain´t enough anymore.
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