Friday, May 9, 2008

Wrong about Beowulf, Wrong about Speed Racer...

I can't remember a time that I so enjoyed a movie that the majority of the critics so loathed. Yet on the morning of its release, Speed Racer is tracking at 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yesterday evening, David Poland hit it on the head with one reason so many critics are trashing this absolutely delightful adventure picture, but I have another theory of my own.

Back in November, many critics who gave mixed to negative reviews to Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf seemed overwhelmed by the visuals to the extent that they couldn't or wouldn't acknowledge that there was actually a story and characters involved in the animated carnage. Even many of the positive reviews seemed to concentrate only on the spectacle. Whether it made critics feel cool to feign moral superiority to shout to the heavens that this film was all style and no substance, or they just didn't have the ability to multi-task, they seemed to ignore the very movie they were sent to review.

They didn't notice a relatively compelling and emotionally potent story, which used the original epic poem as a blueprint for a sober, meditative story about the myth of heroism (granted, the story eventually came to resemble the King Arthur legend more than the original bare-bones poem). They didn't notice that the film was not non-stop action, but rather had a handful of action set-pieces that were supported by real actors doing real acting (John Malkovich and Anthony Hopkins gave their best performances in years). In essence, it was a real movie of real quality that happened to be delivered in a visually groundbreaking way.

We now have the same pattern in the negative Speed Racer reviews (as well as some of the positive ones). "There's no story!" "The characters are non-existent!" "It's non-stop racing!" Yes, the movie is a visual marvel and it's easy to just drink in the picture show. But the visuals only work because of a strong story and sympathetic characters that surround them.In many ways, and I'm not the first to say this, the film feels like a decent Pixar effort. Incredible visuals grounded in actual storytelling that puts emotional attachment as a priority. Again and again, critics carp that too many blockbusters are all about the CGI or the action set-pieces. Yet, twice now, we've have visually groundbreaking adventure films that actually have the gall to be good movies, and the critics at large seem determined to ignore everything but the very flash and dazzle that they then decry.

Ironically, when Beowulf came out on DVD, many critics seemed to react in shock at discovering the very things that they ignored or missed in the theatrical experience. "Oh wow, on this second viewing, I noticed the story and the characters!" But being overwhelmed by the theatrical experience, be it in regular theaters or IMAX, is no excuse. Critics are supposed to be able to see the forest for the trees. It's one thing to not like the characters or not care for the story, it is another thing to ignore them and then criticize their absence. If they can't even be bothered to pay attention to the elements of the movie that they are reviewing, then they have no business being critics.

Scott Mendelson

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails