Friday, July 4, 2008

"WALL*E" review by Ben Kenber

You know what I’m sick of? I’m sick of parents not being able to control their damn children while they watch a movie, any movie. This problem reached a hellish peak for me when I saw “Cars” a couple of years ago at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, and there were hundreds of kids in the audience with parents who didn’t even try to shut them up. It put me off ever again going there on the opening weekend of a film. Today, I went and saw the newest Pixar film, “WALL*E” at the AMC Theater in Century City. Just my luck, this man sitting right behind me brought his two young daughters who were probably 3 or 4 years old. They kept talking, asking their dad question after question like:

“Is that WALL*E?”

“Is WALL*E okay?”

“That’s WALL*E!”

“Why don’t these adults leave us the fuck alone?!”

…Okay, I made that last sentence up. When you’re that age, you have no awareness of how annoying you can be. Kids are endlessly inquisitive, and these two had to me inquisitive right over my head. They kept walking up and down the stairs like they owned the place, and many of us had to keep shushing them throughout the first half of the movie. Now I can see why a lot of my friends who love movies have all but given up on going to the movies at all. Why put up with all the noise when you can watch the movie in the comfort of your home?

I don’t know. Maybe this is some sort of karmic revenge on me. I can’t say that I acted any differently when I was young. I remember being an annoying pain in the ass when I saw “Mary Poppins.” Then there was when I was a teenager, and I got into the habit of rolling aluminum cans down the middle of the theater during such cinematic classics like “Death Warrant” with Jean Claude Van Damme. The past always comes back to haunt you, so I guess there is no escape for me.

Anyway, regardless of that nuisance I have to put up with, it didn’t take away from the fact that “WALL*E” is another brilliant achievement from the people at Pixar. Right now, they have the most impressive track record of any movie studio. Of course, this may have to do with the fact that their focus is mainly on quality as opposed to trying to find the next franchise to spawn, or the next classic horror film to pillage in a needless remake. Other studios should be looking up to Pixar in how they make movies because this way, we would have more of a reason to go to the movies instead of avoiding them.

“WALL*E” was directed by Andrew Stanton who has previously directed one of the very best Pixar movies, “Finding Nemo.” It takes place in the very distant future when Earth is no longer inhabitable due to the uncontrollable pollution, and everyone lives in spaceships up in the sky. In the midst of all this pollution and garbage is WALL*E whose name is really an acronym which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth-Class. There are many like him, but this particular load lifter has actually developed a quirky personality. While he compacts waste into squares, he also collects things like Zippo lighters, Rubik’s Cubes, and parts from other similar models which he can use as replacement parts on his body if anything falls apart. He lives a very lonely life with no one to converse with except a cockroach who he lets wander around his home aboard a broken down construction vehicle, and he is always watching scenes from the musical “Hello Dolly.”

Then one day, he is visited by a large spaceship which a makes a very loud landing on the barren planet. Released from it is a probe named EVE, and after some dangerous close encounters, WALL*E earns her trust and her friendship. This friendship however gets tested when EVE’s mothership comes back, and WALL*E hangs on for dear life as the ship heads into space and towards a ship where many humans live. What happens when WALL*E and EVE get onboard this ship will end up changing the course of everyone’s lives and change the way they live.

Despite those endlessly annoying thumb suckers restlessly annoying everyone near to them, I was lucky enough to see this movie in digital. Just when I thought Pixar couldn’t top itself, it does yet again. The animation in this movie is predictably brilliant, but now it’s getting to where I can’t tell what’s animated and what’s real. That Rubik’s cube WALL*E and EVE play with looks ever so real. The attention to detail in these movies is so frightening in its precision, and Pixar is always improving upon itself.

But the one thing that really makes the Pixar movies so damn good is the stories they come up with, and the characters they create are ever so memorable. WALL*E’s design does remind one of Number 5 from the “Short Circuit,” and he is every bit as quirky as that character from the 80’s. Pixar also takes a lot of risks with their films, and they take a big one by making the movie devoid of dialogue for the first half hour. I imagine this would freak out other studios for no particularly good reason, but not Pixar. The fact that there is no dialogue shows how good director Andrew Stanton is in showing things without saying them.

“What are words for when no one listens anymore?”

“Do you hear me? Do you care?”

-Missing Persons

The movie is undeniably cute without having to be incredibly manipulative, and that’s quite an accomplishment considering how movies for kids can get unbearably cute and manipulative. There were a bunch of trailers for family movies before the movie started, and all of them looked incredibly annoying to me. Especially annoying was that trailer for those three flies who hitch a ride with astronauts to the moon. I don’t care if it’s in 3D, those kind of movies get on nerves in no time. But with Pixar, they are to me today what the Muppets were to me in 1980’s. They appeal to both kids and adults, and that is a truly great experience if you can ever find it.

When the movie moves to the spaceship hovering just outside of the Milky Way galaxy, the movie gets even more amazing on a visual level. The moment where WALL*E is hanging for dear life outside of the spaceship, and he is touching the rings of Saturn is a beautiful moment in a movie that is full of them. The spaceship that he and EVE end up on is called the Axiom, and all its passengers are obese people who sit and move all day long in chairs because being in space for so long has robbed them of most of their bone density. Here’s a movie that doesn’t hide from the horrors of being a coach potato.

In the end, WALL*E and EVE are machines, but you end up caring for them completely. They do make the perfect couple even if one of them is more advanced than the other. The heart of the movie is how these two come together, and of the changes they inadvertently make in everyone’s life.

WALL*E is voiced by Ben Burtt, and he is responsible for some of the most well known sounds in movie history: the lightsabers from “Star Wars” as well as the aliens and droids from those movies, and he created the sound of that rumbling gigantic boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Ben can now add this character to his great volume of work with pride. The character itself manages to convey so much through the use of sound with gestures. Whenever WALL*E tilts his mechanical eyes, he can easily go from emotion to emotion, and his voice adds to that.

EVE is the perfect match for WALL*E, an example of how the old and the more advanced can make the saying of opposites attract seem all the more valid. Beautiful in its sleekness, with two blue eyes to make her emotions all the more real, EVE is also a brilliantly thought out character (and a little too trigger happy for her own good). The moments when these two machines connect are beautiful, and gets you right in the heart in a way that is not at all manipulative (thank god for that).

When the movie goes into the spaceship, it is a wonderful jab at how we humans have allowed ourselves to let technology overwhelm us and have it do all the work. Laziness and complacency is so easy to achieve when you have someone or something else doing all the work for you. As a result, everyone on the ship is always in a chair that continually moves around. Exercise is not a priority, and in fact, you never see any exercising at all. In all fairness, being space for so long has resulted in their bones almost disappearing, and this is something NASA has to think about before they think about sending astronauts to Mars. When the people of the ship rise against the technology that is holding them back, it’s a fantastic moment in the film.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this film other than it’s another home run for the folks at Pixar. I look forward to whatever they end up doing next year and the year after that. “WALL*E” is easily one of the best movies to come out in 2008, and it is now the movie to beat this summer. I also hope to look forward to seeing a movie without two kids hovering over me and talking throughout the movie as though the theater was their own personal playground. Hey! You parents! You can’t treat your kids like the cell phones you refuse to silence and endlessly converse on at the most inconvenient of times!
Anyway, enough of that rant…

**** out of ****

No comments: