While American horror has its gems, today the genre is about loud music, cheap jump scares, boring/simplistic/unlikeable characters, and every-villain-needs-a-backstory syndrome. If you want creeping suspense and atmosphere, Japanese horror dominates over basic, gory slashers.
In deciding a victory in this it’s necessary to understand all the components of a horror movie. There should be a distinction between horror movies and a new genre that I refer to as “torture porn”. Movies like Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes have little in terms of plot in exchange for gore, blood and violence. Those are mainly an American development and compete among themselves for the most demented slaughter. I for the most part exclude those in my analysis and center more on classics films.
Here is a breakdown of some elements that have become a staple of the genre. Though all these elements are rarely all packed in one movie there is not one I can think of that excludes any of these:
Psychotic Killer: Viewers may not know the origin or motive of the villain but for some reason (usually fully explained by the…
Every once in a while, my boyfriend and I find ourselves together on a do-nothing day. Rain or shine, a good way to kill it is to go see a movie, and if we’re lucky, there will be a couple of films out that we are interested in. And if we are extra lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), there isn’t anything else cheaper or more interesting going on.
This time, we saw Let’s Be Cops and What If (or, if it pleases you, The F Word),totally expecting to hate the former and at the very least like the latter. After all, Daniel Radcliffe is awesome, and he’s in an indie-esque romcom. I wanted to see if I could see him as anyone besides Harry Potter (an issue which, for the record, I didn’t face with Emma Watson post Hermione).
For Let’s Be Cops, I was expecting a spiritual sister of Identity Thief, a film which I viscerally detest with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns (see my list of most loathed romcom clichés and a potential future rant).
Surprisingly, I find more to talk about in Let’s Be Cops, and I’ll explain why.
As usual, spoilers ahoy.
Let’s Be Cops is a movie about two best friends (a self-identified loser and a barely self-aware, out-of-touch-with-reality loser) who are down on their luck and unsatisfied with their lots in life.
Their solution: “Let’s be cops!”
…Okay, okay. This idea didn’t come from nowhere. Loser # 1 above (named Justin, though I forgot both characters names until the last third of the film) tries to pitch a video game idea about being a police officer to his jerky boss, who ignores him because Justin is a meek pushover and doesn’t sell the danger, realism, or fun of the game he wants to make.
His friend Ryan, or Loser #2, is an old, washed up football player who injured himself not in a game, but due to his own stupidity at a party. He is man-childish, and (in my personal opinion) an unlikeable, morally reprehensible idiot.
The two friends made a pact that if they hadn’t “made it big” by the time they hit 30, they’d leave big city LA and go back to small-town Ohio.
Somehow, Justin managed to get real police uniforms and badges for his pitch, and upon confusing a masquerade party for a goofy, Halloween costume party, the two don the uniforms, show up, are sometimes regarded as real cops or their usual washout selves (very inconsistently, I’d like to add), leave dejected, and slowly discover on the street heading home that their “costumes” give them power and attention from chicks (with much contrivance and ham-fistedness).
Thus the solution: “Let’s be cops!”
“Hilarity” ensues in very over-the-top, The Hangover-esque, “haha boobs and farts” ways, while suspension of disbelief is chucked out the window right at the get-go. Then, later, there is a jarring shift in focus to realism; what police officers actually do and face on a frequent basis, and the broken glamour for the “protagonists,” who “grow” accordingly.
If you detect massive amounts of sarcasm in the above passage, don’t adjust your screen. You are correct.
Now for What If (with considerably fewer spoilers):
Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a disenchanted med school drop out who is hung up on the abrupt and painful ending of his last relationship. He lives in the attic of his single-mom sister’s house, has a few good but oddball friends, and one night, he meets a girl named Chantry at a party he gets dragged along to by his friend Allan.
Chantry is Allan’s cousin, and works as an animator with great potential for growth. The two forge an immediate bond and become the best of friends, despite their individual hang-ups and Chantry’s already “in a relationship” status. As time goes on, Wallace feels more and more attraction to her, and suspects that she feels the same.
This really is a movie you should see to know the rest. It deals with love, friendship, unfaithfulness, and the trials of life and relationships.
Impressions, Opinions, and Conundrums
Let me start here with What If, as it is shorter and easier to pinpoint what I like and don’t like about it.
The movie is very quirky and heartfelt; human. It’s not perfect (as a romcom or general story), but the people and their reactions to situations feel real. There are the dreaded “third act misunderstandings” that occur, and yes, if the characters sat down and talked them out calmly, they probably wouldn’t have happened. But at the same time, I could understand where characters were coming from, based on their present feelings and past situations. The conflicts felt more justified, and (spoiler here) the film did a great job of not putting Wallace or Chantry unfairly or overly “in the wrong.” After all, they got where they were as friends, as well as individuals, and what a lot of movies (and people) don’t seem to get is that misunderstandings are a two-way street. Wallace and Chantry do attempt to talk things out, even if it doesn’t go as smoothly as hoped.
Even when I disagreed with one character’s response to situations, I still found them understandable, if not decently relatable. For once, I wasn’t distracted or caught up by how stupid a situation or the characters were.
My only real complaint is that the main friends of Wallace and Chantry overstep their boundaries at one point later in the film, with no real impetus to do so, and seemed to think it would go well. But they were shown to be regretful for what they had caused and, while looking more flawed than before, were still funny and relatively likable.
The characters are all flawed in various ways, but they feel like real people I would know. Weird, but nice, quirky, and dependable. Their small talk is goofy and awkward and even downright gross at times, but that never bothered me (again, I know a bunch of weird people).
The friendship and subsequent romance progressed well, torturing the characters appropriately while giving believable reasons as to why they wouldn’t just come out and shout their feelings on the rooftops. The comedy was very spot on. I also like that though the characters have opportunities to “cheat,” the writers didn’t make them just give in. Even when they came close to, say, kissing, Wallace and Chantry were clearly thinking about things and holding back.
It’s good to see passion doesn’t always make people act like they have brain-damage.
I like that the boyfriend/other man in this scenario, Ben, is not a jerk or conveniently dumpable third point of the love triangle (a la several Meg Ryan movies). Also, Daniel Radcliffe does a great job. I’m sad to say that his voice and accent made me kind of squint to see his new character at first, rather than Harry, but after a while, it felt more natural and different. And my boyfriend wasn’t distracted at all, so there’s that. I’m a weirdo, perhaps like those friends I mention 🙂
But yes, I like this movie a lot. It’s well acted, well written, and well shot. Everyone has believable chemistry. That’s about as thorough as I can get without spoiling major things. It’s not the industry-changing sort of good, but it does feel quite a bit smarter and less scripted than most romcom faire. Definitely worth a watch.
Now Let’s Be Cops, on the other hand…I’d recommend you go see it, but for a totally different reason.
Holy hell, what a train wreck.
This is a bad comedy. Not a “so bad it’s good” comedy, not black comedy, and certainly not “anti-humor” comedy. It almost makes you feel bad, because it’s clearly trying its damnedest and failing. Like a class clown that’s taken too many footballs to the head.
Precisely one joke made me laugh, and after the movie was over, I couldn’t remember for the life of me what it was. I think it was semi-subtle and had to do with tone, but that’s all. The rest of the jokes mainly fell into two categories: voluptuous women throwing themselves at men,
and dumb and abusive displays of power,
both usually for no real reason at all. Also, obligatory male nakedness.
Funny, if you’re a guy under the age of twelve, maybe.
It’s almost fascinating in how much this movie utterly fails. Fails at comedy, fails at realism, and even fails at the basics of good storytelling. I felt every agonizing minute of this damn thing; only getting invested (and cheering a bit) when the main characters were getting shot at.
If I’d had a watch, I’d have checked it. Repeatedly.
But how insulting and offensive is this thing, really?
Here’s the thing: bad people can be funny. They can also be relatable or likable, if done correctly. The keys to black comedy (or portraying morally grey characters, more specifically), for me, are: how are the characters’ personalities and actions framed, and do they receive sufficient rewards or consequences?
Those are the big issues I take with Identity Thief, which, again, I will elaborate on in the future.
You could make a story about impersonating a police officer funny; maybe even awesomely funny, if it was a short scene or well-written subplot. I’m not sure it could support a full movie in the first place, but we already have buddy cop movies for most comedic possibilities, and risks must be taken sometimes to give us stuff that’s new and interesting.
If not for the last third of the movie, I would be insulted by the over-glamourization of police life and the sheer ignorance of the struggles they face everyday trying to protect people, hyped up on display. Especially when both losers (Ryan in particular) are frequently more despicable than likable. Though Let’s Be Cops doesn’t really frame Ryan or Justin as being in the right, it does emphasize that they have fun, and don’t get caught, at the expense of others. And they clearly don’t think much about what they’re doing.
If not for the later thirds, I’d argue that Ryan, at least, has borderline psychopathy.
But then the movie goes from being stupid and padded to showing more realistic things, like a brief scene of policemen doing paperwork and more scenes of them and the losers getting shot at.
Even if the film is trying to go for some kind of message or big lesson the characters learn in the end, it’s jarring and makes no sense with how little suspension of disbelief is left intact by that point.
Let’s take account of a few things here:
Okay, so they show some cops filling out paperwork and talking about it, but when the characters check out a bunch of equipment to monitor a crime lord (which they don’t have a warrant for, so their evidence should be disregarded), how the hell did they get the numbers to clear that stuff?
That’d be a lot of forms with information they cannot possibly have or pull out of their asses, to take home that high-tech gear.
For that matter, how did they get real uniforms? How did two cops pulling guns (real or not) out at each other in a restaurant not warrant a report?
Some people did scream and duck, but afterwards just said, “Well, okay. It’s just cops business, I guess.”
How about when they told people on the sidewalk to freeze without any warrant? How were they driving around in a police car they got online with weird plates and never got noticed (except one point for contrivance alone)? How Ryan could drive on sidewalks or through a football field and never get noticed by or reported to a real officer?
The writers only did half of their damn research.
My biggest question comes halfway through the film, when Justin googles “impersonating an officer” and the subsequent punishments…
…Good on them for figuring that out, I guess, presumably weeks after they’ve been faffing about outside of work in police uniforms. But seriously, they only thought to look this up now? Justin, in particular, who is portrayed as the meek, semi-intelligent, goody-two-shoes of the two, who was apprehensive from the start, is just now looking up what he’s in for?
I don’t buy any of it! Not a single bit! And that might have been okay IF IT WAS FUNNY!
There is a “third act misunderstanding/liar revealed” in this story too (with Justin’s love interest), but it’s glossed over so quickly that I was kind of grateful.
Even after the boys end up in big trouble – get shot at, kidnapped, revealed to their new police friend as phonies, and somehow make it out alive – the movie barely treats them like they’ve learned anything at all. Sure, Ryan decides to go to the police academy and get a real, legit badge this time, but the ending scene of the movie pointlessly shows him still driving on sidewalks, abusing his power and being a jerk, all for a complete non-joke. So much for “growing up.”
To me, it looks more like he’s getting away with murder.
Justin learns to stand up for himself and be a man. He gets his game put into production and takes charge at his office. He also apologizes to his love interest, and is taken back so quickly that it made my stomach churn.
I could understand her willing to slowly forgive him and have them start over as friends, completely honestly, but no. She takes him back, both rewarding his lying ways and becoming his end of the movie prize.
And of course, neither of them go to jail. Why? Because they backed up real cop guy in the final showdown.
I’d have liked it better if after the guy told them to leave (and told them badges and uniforms are something they have to earn! Right on!), they took off their fake uniforms and backed him up anyway. A sort of civilian justice coming to help out the force. Nope! By refusing to drop their uniforms (their act, if you think of it metaphorically), even in the midst of great danger to all of these people, they dishonor the uniforms they did not earn even more.
The movie tries to make it seem like they grew and learned, but it was barely there. They sacrificed the message for bad, unfunny jokes that actually detracted from the characters. It was such colossal fail that, even though I know I’m giving this film more thought and credit than it probably deserves, I’m just continually baffled by its confused, mis-matched ambitions and the sheer effort of its laziness.
It’s not like Identity Thief, and I didn’t hate it as much as that film. I’m not quite sure how angry I should be, because I’m too busy wondering what the hell I just watched.
As I write this, Let’s Be Cops has an 18% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it has made over $30,000,000 at the box offices, easily making up for its budget of $17,000,000. What If has a 70% score and a box office of over $2,000,000 (with a budget I couldn’t find record of). To be fair, Rotten Tomatoes is not the best or even the final word on a film’s standing in the critical or general audience communities.
Let’s Be Cops is a mess, which might actually elevate it a bit above your typical “low-hanging fruit” comedy flick. It clearly had some ambitions and good intentions, but came up with a botched delivery, revealing little understanding of what it wanted to say. What If is more emotionally intelligent and complex, but with the seemingly lower ambitions of trying to tell “just another love story.” Obviously, a lot of people went to go see both movies, whether they ultimately did or didn’t like them. But Let’s Be Cops has garnered a strong response (in box office and general bile from critics).
That’s why I ponder: what does it say about our current cultural climate, that we keep getting and going to movies like this, despite overwhelmingly negative critical bashing?
My only conclusion is that The Hangover style of humor, however well it’s executed, is incredibly easy to duplicate. It’s probably not going away any time soon.
*All images to their respective owners. None of these shots or images belong to me.
Anyone who knows me would tell you that superhero films aren’t my niche. The same can be said for comics and American graphic novels reading-wise. They just don’t appeal to me, and I’m not sure I could give their avid readers a good enough reason why. I have nothing against the books, films, or the people who do enjoy them. I just have a harder time getting seriously invested.
With that said, I like Batman a lot. More than a lot. He is the only superhero I ever consistently cared about, and despite no one figuring out his identity (though it should be obvious), he felt like a hero who could really exist in some capacity. He has gadgets, money, and way too much time on his hands. I loved watching The Animated Series growing up because it was dark and edgy, but also embraced its silly, cartoony side for a lot of fun and dramatic scenarios.
And when picking movies to see with a crowd of friends, I have noticed that Marvel tends to take its comic superstars and franchises and convert them into general crowd-pleasing fare that anyone can come in and watch and not get horribly lost along the way. Whether that is bad or good is up to interpretation, but no one can deny that butts don’t fill the seats.
So while spending time at a family gathering, I was perfectly happy to go with the kids to see Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Plot (with some spoilers)
In keeping with the overall tone of the movie:
Peter Quill is a human who was born on Earth, then abducted by space pirates. He grows up to become a thief for hire, and one day he ends up stealing an orb of indeterminate power and origin (as much as I could gather) that could level entire planets, if given over to the wrong hands.
He also has a big affinity for mixed tapes (the gifts from his dearly departed mom-tivation), listening to them throughout a lot of the film.
Along the way to semi-discovering his morality and deciding what he’s going to do with the valuable and dangerous pool ball (that doesn’t remind me of the map from Treasure Planet one bit),
he meets the other “guardians.”
Gamora is the adopted daughter of a powerful supervillian named Thanos (who might also be a space god, for all I know). She was “tortured” and trained to be a powerful assassin, and then gets loaned out with her sister to Space Hitler (Ronan), to retrieve the orb and destroy a race of people he doesn’t like. She plans to betray everyone and sell the orb before she discovers its destructive power. Then she wants to put it away somewhere safe, where no one could ever get their hands on it again.
Unless they steal it, of course.
But as we all know, something stolen once can never be stolen again.
Rocket Raccoon is some kind of genetic experiment deadly teddy ewok, and he made his own minion in the form of Groot (excuse me, I Am Groot), a giant stupid tree man who follows him around and acts as his partner in crime. They initially seek out Quill (also known as “Starlord”) because stealing the orb set a hefty bounty on his head, and they want it. Rocket is probably the least morally sound member of the group, despite most characters accusing Quill of that.
Drax the Destroyer’s family was murdered by Ronan. He looks like a generic prisoner stereotype (but in Space!); big and burly, with red tattoos. His race is highly literal (note: the original definition of “literal”), and struggles to understand expressions, metaphor, and subtlety.
Only Gamora and Drax seem to have a sense of honor at first, despite one intending to betray her employers and the other being a highly dangerous space prisoner, but together, the fight to save the planet Xandar and its people from annihilation.
Also, there are some space police who do things, and there are the space pirates that do things.
If it sounds silly and simplistic the way I phrased it, it’s because it is. Whole-heartedly.
I liked it more than The Avengers, but mostly because it didn’t take itself as seriously, and even parodied a bunch of superhero and movie clichés. It focuses on what it thinks the audiences needs to know and care about most, and leaves other details to the wayside, with little nice scraps of fan service here and there, as you might expect.
But at the same time, I’m not sure it’s a movie I would go out of my way to see again. It was a fun theatre experience, and once is perfectly enough for me. And while poking fun at clichés, it makes a pretty big walking one itself.
What I Liked
The simple plot.
“Here is a thing. Everyone wants it and it can destroy the world,” made a lot more sense than the blue cube from Avengers. Still not sure what it does or how, but it didn’t feel as important to know as with the Tesseract.
“The orb is one of several, and it has world destroying force.” Okay, so it’s a futuristic space-nuke. Makes sense.
The main characters are, for the most part, very fun and enjoyable to watch, and I didn’t feel bad when they got their asses handed to them. That’s because they usually deserved it. Many of them have charisma, but also some moral ambiguity with regards to what their individual goals are and how they’ll go about accomplishing them. Weirdly enough, the mutant raccoon man seems to be the designated straight man in this story, while also being a decent comic relief. Of course, Groot is the comic relief that stole the show in my theatre.
I liked when Drax did something stupid and arrogant (I won’t spoil it), and apologized, but the rest of the gang said, “Sorry doesn’t fix it.” That’s a surprisingly mature issue that people sometimes face in real life. While we’re encouraged to make nice and forgive people who hurt us, intentionally or otherwise, apologizing doesn’t always cut it.
The music was good, but then, it’s hard to go wrong with classics. I get the feeling Quill will be especially popular with hipsters.
What I Didn’t Like
I’d argue the simple plot is a bad thing here if it was clear that the movie wanted to elevate itself on some level. But you know what is kind of lame?
The characters are too simple.
Even if this was poking fun at other movies, the people we follow still need some substance to them. Their personalities and motivations are so by the numbers that while I enjoyed watching them, I never really cared about them. I didn’t see them growing as characters or feeling like real people (who you can relate to/empathize with on multiple levels); most egregiously with Gamora. General badass with skills does not a dynamic character make, or a strong female character for that matter, and I wasn’t sure if her delivery was trying to be hardened, stoic, and a bit stilted due to her past (which would have been good to see, even if it was in flashback), or just wooden. Sometimes she was catty or bossy, but that was it for her personality. And her sister(?) Nebula is even worse.
I also didn’t care about the universe or the planet getting potentially blown up. I felt so disconnected from this world and its inhabitants that I could only really care in the most basic sort of sense. People are going to die, and that is bad.
The plot may be simple, but the overall story and the universe are vague and distant. I don’t get how this world is set up, or how it functions. At least with the Star Wars prequels, I knew who was who and which cities and planets were particularly important. Who rules this world? How are the planets governed, and is there a greater government keeping tabs on things, or just those police people who seemed to be concerned with that one planet? Why is Space Hitler upset at these people he wants to blow up? Okay, he’s part of a fanatical group, but seriously, why?
Most importantly, why should I care?
Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I don’t think these were very well explained. And movies only really work when the illusion of reality is strong (meaning this could be a real place with real people you’d meet and you get sucked into the stories and inner workings).
The opening scene was needlessly dramatic and jarring compared to the tone of the rest of the film. And Quill doesn’t talk much about his childhood before or after the incident. It would be fine (his mother’s death is a big turning point in his life, after all), but it felt manipulative. Like the film makers wanted to force a connection between the audience and Quill (or between them and his mother) only seconds after being introduced, and without even a couple words to describe character. Bullied. Smart. Hesitant. Something like that. I had to guess what kind of kid Quill was and what he was feeling by face alone, so it wasn’t the smoothest transition into the next scene’s, “Look how much he’s grown! Adult Quill! Wow, what a totally different person he is now!” feel.
I guess we can assume Quill and his mom were cool because they listen to mixed tapes, and because Quill never upgraded to a iPod. Cool and retro…and nice, I assume?
Why did I need to see every excruciating moment of her death? And I’m not even sure I understood Quill’s dilemma in that scene either.
I usually cry so easily, and likable or at least nice characters dying typically results in that effect. Ask anyone. I cried when Ash Ketchum got turned to stone in Pokemon: The First Movie. I’m a sappy, living waterfall.
I only cared about one death in this film. Make of that what you will.
The ending will give you strong “the power of love and friendship!” vibes, which may leave a weird taste in your mouth if you can to this movie for snark and funny, mindless action. Not bad, but as I’ve said, nothing different or interesting in its delivery. And Peter Quill becomes a Gary Stu in a dumb twist that had no legit setup.
And no, I will not accept the comics as an explanation. A good filmmaker should take issues and plotholes into consideration and address them. Whether or not the plot-convenience eagles had motivations to keep them from being always useful in the Lord of the Rings books is irrelevant to the movies if the movies themselves never address them. Books and movies are not interchangeable.
And when Quill learns the shocking truth about himself, it takes away from any message about the strength of the human race (or even just one person in general), which is what I gleaned from his character and his whole place in the Guadians.
But that’s just me.
All in all, this is a fun movie. Incredibly fun, but also shallow and somewhat insubstantial. It is true movie cotton candy: sweet and tasty, but not filling, nutritious, or uncommon. Go see it, enjoy it, but don’t give it as much thought as I’ve tried to. I’m not sure it deserves all that much.
*Images are not mine. They belong to Marvel/Disney
Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of my favorite childhood movies. I didn’t see My Neighbor Totoro (or indeed many of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s other works) until later in my life, so Kiki is to me what Totoro is to most other fans. The story of a young witch who leaves home to train for a year and finds her purpose in a new city is a treasured memory, and a film I like to go back to when I find myself lost or lacking inspiration. Beyond the coming of age narrative, it’s a story about not giving up when life throws difficulties at you, as it inevitably will. Things may change, but you will never truly lose that which make you special.
Recently I purchased a DVD copy of the movie, since my old VHS has long since vanished to some garage sale, Goodwill, or ignored corner of the house. I popped in the film and was quite unpleasantly surprised by what I found there. Half of the music was rearranged and redone, and scraps of dialogue and goofy ad-libbing were completely missing! ‘What the hell?’ I thought. ‘This isn’t Kiki!’
Yes, it was. I was just late to the punch.
It turns out that the new 2010 DVD had been redone to resemble the original Japanese version, which was very minimalist, especially compared to the English dub put together by Disney. For those who are new and unfamiliar with the terms, a dub refers to the voice overs in a language (usually one different from the original recording), while a sub refers to subtitles. To say that a version is “English subbed” implies that the audio is still in the original recorded language (for example, Japanese), but that English subtitles have been included. “English dubbed” implies that the film or show has undergone English localization, with English-speaking voice actors and sometimes fixed or edited music.
The original Japanese film had music and very little dialogue, especially when the characters were offscreen. I don’t know entirely if it was Miyazaki, the fans, or some portion of both who demanded this change, but I do know that it was not advertised (explained) very well, and I would not have bought this specific copy, had I known.
(note: there is another English version from Streamline Pictures, but I never saw it and it’s harder to find)
The dub/sub debate is a large one in the anime community. I discovered this first in high school, just looking at the divide in my Japanese language class. I would say that half of the students in that class were there because they watched Japanese animation (anime for short) and liked it, and the other half because they were strictly interested in Japanese language and culture. Both groups seemed to thumb their noses at the other, and I could never understand it because I was there for both reasons. I liked anime, and that inspired me to learn more about culture, history, language, etc. I found both equally interesting.
The divide was even greater for the anime fans. Some are interested in culture, history, language, etc., and some of those argue that the Japanese dub (or English sub) is the only version anyone should watch. It’s the original after all; the closest to the creator’s true intent. Bringing it to America or other places just pollutes it, taking out all the jokes and references foreigners wouldn’t get and replacing them with ones they do understand.
I understand this mindset, but at the same time I appreciate what English dubs can do. They’ve grown a lot over the years, getting better at pronunciation and keeping closer to the original material, while bringing the content to a wide audience. Anime has grown in popularity in America in the last two decades alone. Sure, older generations still blink and gap in bemusement at fast talking, choppy animated Speed Racer and the like, but we have beloved films and shows that still have large followings today, even the ones heavily edited by folks like the infamous 4Kids Entertainment.Look at 90’s darling Sailor Moon. It’s getting a revamping with Sailor Moon Crystal.
So what if some people call her Serena and the rest call her Usagi? That only matters in online forums and chatting with your Japanese friends, and I personally think it’s interesting comparing and contrasting the versions. As for which one I go with, usually it’s whichever one I like better (not necessarily which version I see first, though it is certainly that in the Kiki case). I watch Black Butler, Spirited Away, Madoka Magica, and Hetalia in Japanese, but I watch Wolf’s Rain, .hack//SIGN, Princess Mononoke, and Ouran High School Host Club in English. I can watch the other versions too, but it’s just personal preference, mostly pertaining to beloved voice actors and no other rhyme or reason.
Whatever you change, heart, effort, and charm should shine through, no matter what. Changes have to be made in adaptation.
So why am I mad about Kiki again? Mostly because of the advertising of this new feature (rather than, say, having the original Disney dub and the new 2010 Disney dub available in the same package, like a theatrical and director’s cut) and the choice of doing such a thing over a decade later, at the expense of someone’s memory.
“The 2010 DVD drops a considerable amount of character dubbing. Most affected is Jiji (Kiki’s cat), for whom (Phil Hartman) had provided a number of witty ad-libs. Here, unless a character is explicitly shown to be speaking, they’re silent. The silence goes even further in few scenes that had score apparently added for the English dub; these now appear without music. Other noticeable losses include Kiki and Jiji’s in-flight and in-rain banter (particularly the latter, upon arriving in their new town), some of Tombo’s lines, and a radio report. Furthermore, some minor changes occur in the credited titles of certain filmmakers.
Film revisionism is generally something I never like, especially when an original version is no longer offered. In this case, however, we’re not talking about an original version but a dubbing. Still, the English version is definitely untrue to Disney’s original dubbing, which has existed for 12 years. While the changes bring the English version closer to the original Japanese, which sounds fair enough, anyone wanting the original Japanese probably would have simply already chosen to watch that version. Something about removing a whole bunch of Phil Hartman’s lines from one of his final movies, a project dedicated to him, also doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure how worked up anyone will get over this surprisingly thorough re-editing. I would guess that those accustomed to the dub are more likely to mind the revisions than to appreciate them. And it seems to me that if Miyazaki had objections, he should have voiced them back in the ’90s.”
~ Luke Bonanno
The character who “suffers” the worst cuts is Jiji, whose voice actor was murdered. The original Disney dub was dedicated to him, so cutting half his dialogue, even if it was ad-libbing, after the project was released to the public for years feels like an insult to his memory.
Also, MAJOR SPOILER HERE:
Kiki seems to lose her magical ability during the second act, and regains it by the end (all but speaking with Jiji). This is the big growing up moment, as far as Miyazaki and the purist fans are concerned.
“In the original Japanese script, Kiki loses her ability to communicate with Jiji permanently, but in the American version a line is added which implies she is once again able to understand him.Miyazaki has said that Jiji is the immature side of Kiki, and this implies that Kiki, by the end of the original Japanese version, has matured beyond talking to her cat.”
~Kiki’s Wikipedia page
I can see why fans might have a beef with that line added into the ending, but I never saw the cat as Kiki’s childish side. I saw him as her companion, and her ability to speak with him as just another benefit of having magical powers. The fact that her parents don’t have any other pets, and are never shown speaking to Jiji (or any other animals) never led me to believe that they couldn’t understand him, and that only Kiki could. In fact, Kiki not being able to speak to Jiji was the first sign that she was losing her powers. Would it really make sense for her to lose one power, but not the rest?
But that could have just been poor writing/elaboration.
Maybe she should have turned from animal to human friends (as a part of growing up), but she had plenty of human friends, both before and after skipping town.
So I have never had a problem with the line revealing that Kiki can understand her cat again; I found the Japanese ending bittersweet and sad for what felt like a no real reason. Princess Mononoke”s ending was bittersweet, but it felt earned. So did the ending for Spirited Away and even Castle in the Sky a little bit. Although, Jiji is portrayed differently there, more “cautious and conscientious” than his “wise cracking” Americanized counterpart. I can accept it if people say “it’s just you.”
Some people found Phil Hartman unfitting or obnoxious as Jiji, hating his general hamminess. I did not. But while I can’t fault those people, I would have preferred (as I mentioned above) something along the lines of a theatrical/director’s cut pairing of DVDs, not just quietly and effectively replacing the old version from the general market. Miyazaki approved the changes made to his work at the time, even if he didn’t agree with them. Now he, or someone else on his team, has pulled a George Lucas.
Miyazaki, I love you man. I respect you so much. I’ve visited your museum in Mitaka
and it was magical.
But please don’t do stuff like that.
I can’t say which version is better, because all versions have their own values and merits. I just miss the ad-libbing, the mickey-mousing, the wonderfully fitting Sydney Forest songs I sang along with every time.
I’ll keep the new DVDs and the new and interesting features available on the second disc, but I’m determined to get a copy of pre-2010 Kiki. I advise all fans of the original Disney dub to be wary, lest you get the shocking, depressing surprise I got. For everyone else who may or may not care in this instance, look into the production of some of your favorite shows and movies. They take a lot of work to make the finished product, and you might learn some interesting things about what is and what could have been.
Like David Bowie could have played Elrond in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations.
And fans…go there ^. Or here:
As usual, pics and other media don’t belong to me (although I personally took the photos of the Studio Ghibli Museum and the shopfront. They belong to Studio Ghbili, Hayao Miyazaki, and Disney, etc.
Don’t get me wrong; I love romantic comedy as much as the next girl. It’s like entering a sugary alternate reality where hot movie stars try to be clumsy, cute, and relatable human beings; even a “loser” can get the girl/guy; the bad guy gets his comeuppance, or at least spends the rest of his life miserable and alone; and happily ever after always wraps up nicely for two souls who were bound to be together.
It’s an alternate reality where everything is how it should be.
Romcoms are a fantasy. Not the type that invokes images of grand adventure, dragons, and wizards, but in its own right, it involves just as much suspension of disbelief. It’s a type that deals with idealism and simplicity. It’s definitely got a charm to it, but sometimes people take issue, whether it’s because it’s not a fantasy they personally subscribe to, or because all fantasies give unrealistic expectations for the complicated world we actually live in.
Sometimes we need a break from the unshakeable truth: “Life isn’t fair.”
So while I’d be a snob and a hypocrite to act like I’m above all the cotton-candy clouds and sparkly fairy dust, I maintain that romcoms are, consistently, the least challenging, most pandering genre, next to robot/monster beat-em-ups. It is emotional “porn” for women (though some men enjoy it as well), and there are a couple of common tropes and trends constantly being used and abused that I take particular umbrage with.
1# Lack of Humility/Subtlety in the Writing
A lot of films (besides just romcoms) have a tendency of “breaking the fourth wall.” For those of you who have never heard this expression before, look at your T.V. or computer and image the show you are watching exists in its own separate reality, not connected to yours.“Breaking the fourth wall” is, in essence, transcending beyond the screen, the wall that separates you from them. It’s when the characters implicitly or explicitly refer to the audience. One common example is talking or “winking” to them.
If you still don’t quite get what I mean, think of the side glances into the camera you see on Looney Tunes, or comments like “gruesome, isn’t it?”. Look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where the titular character isn’t narrating so much as thinking out loud in the moment, all the while smiling and looking right at you, like he knows you’re there. Games do it too. Without spoiling too much, the cult classic Conker’s Bad FurDay‘s ending pretty much obliterates any semblance of fourth wall left standing at that point.
This is often, if not almost exclusively used for comedy.
Sometimes, writers use a subset of this to poke fun at themselves via the trope Who Would Want To Watch Us? Other times, they like to verge on fourth wall breaking with something called Lampshade Hanging, or “spotlighting.” That is when you take a problem or an unbelievable element within your own work and drag it into the spotlight within said work, so that everyone can see it. It can’t be ignored because the creator is addressing it. They knew it was there, even before you did.
Some writers do it because they think it’s really funny, or self-mocking. Others treat it like critic repellent.
I don’t mind Lampshade Hanging here and there. I love self-referential and self-debasing humor. But it irritates me when films sneer down their nose at common cliches and tropes, only to then use them later down the line in the same work. As if somehow that makes the overdone original again. I find it pretentious, cheap, and lazy.
Here is one example:
In the movie Pitch Perfect, Jesse, the love interest, (who is downright adorkable, by the way) tries to get Beca, the snarky sound-mixer protagonist, interested in movies. She totally gets the appeal of music, but movies just bore her. Jesse insists that the endings are the best part, but Beca gives a little speech about how they are so formulaic and predictable. Why would you want to watch something when you know how it will end?
Guess what happens:
Jesse and Beca hook up in the end. The guy gets the girl. That is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning. But wasn’t that snarky little speech just so enriching and innovative?
“Pointing out your problems does not make them go away.”
This can also work out badly in the inverse. If the writers are actually doing something unique or interesting, but feel the need to bash us over the head with it as much as possible. That’s obnoxious too.
For that example, look at Disney’s self parody, Enchanted. It turns out Princess Giselle has to save her damsel-in-distress boyfriend from a giant dragon. Instead of just letting the scene play out on its own, the evil queen/dragon has to make dry remarks every few minutes about how interesting and flipped the situation is.
I THINK WE GET IT.
As with many things in life, balance is key. Also, don’t pee on your audience and tell them it’s raining.
2# I Hate You, I Love You
Chicks love seeing relationships where there are none. Whether characters are just friends, bitter rivals, or hated enemies, odds are that you will find a fandom for every possible couple. I think romcom writers recognize this, because they seem to get a lot of mileage the “will-they-or-won’t-they” trope, particularly when it involves open hostility.
The Ugly Truth. The Proposal. Leap Year. And those are just some of the more recent ones, to name a few. The couple starts out with one or both parties hating the other, only to find out in the end that – surprise! – they actually love each other.
In some cases, the parties may even go back and forth.
I’m aware that there is a thin line between love and hate, and both require a level of passion and devotion, but used as often as it is, this trend quickly becomes annoying. Either put a new spin on it, or let it sleep for a while.
Also, can we do something about the awkward love triangle? You know, where the woman has a hot nice guy and a rude, obnoxious but also hot other guy, and she never fails to go for the jerk? Blah blah blah bad boys are cute. Blah blah blah nice guys finish last. How do we know life isn’t mimicking “art,” and not the other way around?
3# Obligatory Third-Act Misunderstanding
This is an epidemic. Not just in romcoms, but in movies as a whole. It needs to be destroyed, preferably with fire and salt.
Some stupid, contrived thing must break up the characters, all because the writers can’t figure out how to write a full story without cramming one in for pointless drama. It seriously just drags out the inevitable for another 20 or so minutes.
Yes, people can be dishonest and keep secrets. Yes, sometimes there is a liar, and he/she gets the mask pulled off at the wrong time. Stuff like this can happen in real life. But often this trope is, as I’ve mentioned, stupid and contrived.
Maybe the guy waffles around, debating when is the best time to tell his girlfriend that he was dating her only because of a bet. Or maybe he vehemently denies his growing feelings, only to have her accidentally overhear.
Or maybe he just can’t admit his feelings to her face because he’s stubborn (a man, basically) or awkward, and she’s had enough waiting.
Maybe Hugh Grant is Hugh Grant-ing it up, and the woman identifies him as an a-hole.
Take your pick, or fill in more blanks with your personal favorites. You know what I’m talking about.
And this isn’t just about nitpicking, or not acknowledging that sometimes avoidable, asinine things can happen in real life. Because they do. This is wondering why no one ever calls the police or arms themselves in a horror movie. This is wondering why they always run upstairs when a maniac is chasing them. The reasons for this trope are soidiotic; things that could easily be solved by something in the real world that we call “open communication.” Or having two working brain cells to rub together.
But then again, an open, healthy relationship is boring. And normal.
How about we put these misunderstandings in the first act and then get past them? How about that? That isn’t too overdone…yet…
4# The Woman is Always Right
Most romcoms, usually as a result of the totally necessary use of #3 above, end with someone (most often the woman) storming off. It is almost always up to the man to figure out what went wrong and fix it.
Okay, I’m a woman. I get other women. We’re emotional beings that don’t always recognize logic. I admit this. But we’re not stupid and crazy and hormonal all the time.
Half the time when I see this contrived bs, I am yelling at the woman to use her Cosmo-clouded brain.
“Confront the man, and I don’t mean like a closed-off idiot!” “Be honest and tell him what in holy hell is bothering you!” “THINK!”
Sure, the men do stupid things too. They can make mistakes and not recognize them. But romcoms like to make this a big thing that happens all the time. No one likes being wrong, and certainly not the women inserting themselves in the protagonist’s place.
This is not a romcom so much as a family comedy, but look at the Lindsay Lohan movie Parent Trap. Elizabeth (the mother) up and left Nick (the father), effectively splitting up their twins for life and content to never inform them of each other’s existence, and then she got upset that he didn’t come after her. He, on the other hand, figured that was what she wanted.
(note: I loved that movie as a kid, but I find the parents stupid, impossible to relate to, and damn near despicable)
As another example, look at Bride Wars. Emma’s boyfriend Fletcher calls her out for being crazy and catty (and stupid), and Emma and the movie frame him as the a-hole who just doesn’t understand. Sure, he isn’t gentle with his words, but he told her what none of her other girlfriends would, and he had every right to question why the woman he was marrying seemingly changed overnight into a childish, vindictive, passive-aggressive jerk. In the end, the two girls (Emma and Liv) who fought stupidly the whole movie over the “ideal wedding” become bestest friends again like nothing ever happened, and Fletcher is told off and leaves the movie entirely. Even though he was technically right, he’s wrong.
Women win, even when the conclusion makes no sense or is terribly skewed. As much as I dislike Leap Year, at least the confusion is on Anna, and she goes after Declan and proposes to him. Even Pitch Perfect tried it, with Beca driving Jesse away, only to win him back.
Contrivance and cliché can have some flavor with a little mixing up every now and then.
5# Woman as Lonely Cat Lady/Loser.
She’s insecure. Don’t know what fer. She turnin heads when she fix herself up mo-o-ore.
…Sorry. Just thought I could sum this one up while simultaneously mocking One Direction.
The woman in the movie is supposed to be you. Yes, you, lonely girls and aging women. She’s just like you, but hotter. She just doesn’t know it/own it yet. Again, they can insert themselves into the place of the lead woman and get a sense of catharsis from it.
Maybe she’s clumsy and awkward. Maybe she doesn’t know how to pick clothes or styles that flatter her, and just stumbles around in a baggy t-shirt and loose jeans. Maybe she has – gasp! – glasses!
Regardless of how it happened, it must be fixed. Usually with the introduction of a love interest. I guess that when I get right down to it, that’s the gist of what bothers me.
It is at its most egregious state in The Ugly Truth. But I can’t even talk about it, because it is seriously one of my most hated movies ever. Right up there with Identity Thief. That disgusting piece of trash thoroughly insults both genders, and the pig-headed man is always portrayed as being “in the right.”
My favorite romcom of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is also guilty of this one, but I don’t mind it so much there. I thought it was used effectively. Sure, Toula sees a man and feels bad about herself, but I don’t think that is really the impetus for her fixing herself up and going to college. She didn’t need a man so much as a fulfilling purpose in life, and the backbone to put her foot down sometimes with her wacky family. The man came later, when she was much happier and more confident with herself.
The problem with mirroring real life so closely is that, at times, it tends to highlight our grievances with the real world, rather than let us temporarily forget them. Why aren’t all men dashing princes, ready to sweep you away to their castles astride gallant white stallions? Why don’t nice women with wonderful personalities and quirks always find Mr. Right at the opportune time, or sometimes ever? (ask the same question for the fellas)
I wouldn’t mind a little less simplicity, a little more variety, or at least changing things up more often. The world is complex, full of plenty of unique, possible scenarios, but here the writers are, sticking to what is familiar. Comfortable. Routine.
And so are we.
Even fantasies have become standard and predictable, when they were meant to excite and stir the imagination. So what does that tell us?
Disclaimer: Photos and gifs belong to their various owners, not me. Keep in mind that this is my list, and I’m not insulting you if you like any of the movies/things I referred to negatively. I’m also not saying that said films don’t have an original bone in their body.
Sorry everybody, I’ve been a way for quite some time. I had a couple of difficult things come up in my life that I needed to handle, but I am back to have my take on the Zelda E3 trailer.
In one of my posts, I briefly mentioned the new Zelda Wii U trailer that premiered at this years E3 Convention and of course, since it’s Zelda, new content sparks a lot of speculation. But before we delve too deeply in thoughts, theories, and the trailer itself, let me examine the information given by Eiji Aonuma in the very beginning of the trailer, and further more, establish what we can surely expect from the new Zelda title.
1. Exploration and Puzzle Solving
“As far as what you can do with such a vast field to explore…as soon as those boundaries are removed. It means you can enter any area from any direction.”
From this inference, we can safely assume that exploration is going to be a premium focus on Zelda Wii U. Aonuma has said that the inspiration of this new game has come from both Wind Waker and the first Legend of Zelda, where the player had the freedom to explore new areas in the world. You can also infer that it will be a non-linear story structure, giving more flexibility to the player when finding dungeons or exploring the vast over world. Part of the puzzle will be how to get around to certain places on the map.
2. Environment and Enemies
“Enemies appearing in such a peaceful world is one of the defining features of the Zelda series. That is one convention we can keep, right?”
From this quote, we can make a valid guess that the world be colorful, beautiful, and serene despite large enemy engagements as demonstrated by the beautiful presentation in the E3 2014 trailer. You can even see the finer details of the shadows changing as the clouds pass the sun if you look at the grass.
3. Character Presentation and Progression
This is a quote that backs this up this idea is from an interview back in late 2013.
“Something that is ‘traditional’ is in a sense often something that copies previous works, so if you continue doing that, it gradually takes away from its uniqueness. So we’re currently working on making those parts more and more unique. So, by no means, am I tired of it. Rather, the more we change it, the more I get fired up. Having someone think ‘Huh? Is this Zelda?!’ at first, then ‘Oh, it is Zelda,’ is what we’re going for. Something that wouldn’t make it matter whether Link or Princess Zelda appear in it or not. Something where it wouldn’t even matter if Zelda is actually a princess, or not.”
Note this interview will not mean that Link or Zelda will not appear. Rather, it’s saying that this title will present a new and unique game experience by changing some of the conventions that we have known throughout the series. In other words, we can expect an unorthodox storyline and character arcs for the next Zelda title, something that no other Zelda title has explored.
1. It has been noted that the play can explore anywhere at any time. In the trailer, looking at the opening scene alone, there’s a lot of stuff that can easily be missed at first glance.
It’s easy to be caught up in by the shear render-distance of it all alone. But when not staring in awe and wonder at the vast expanse of terrain, one can see that Link and his trusty stead are actually standing in a village of some sorts. Not only are there homesteads with long, steap, and triangular roofs, but there are some additional structures further back, including a well, stone pillars, and some elaborate outposts.
In addition, varies villagers or farmers and goats that can be seen in the background. You may also notice what appears to be Death Mountain and possibly Zora’s Waterfall off in the distance. It is also possible that Zora’s Waterfall is some new area since Zora’s Domain is generally in the west, while Gerudo Desert is in the east. Furthermore, there’s a large town in the back and , based on its apparent position on the map, this has me believing it to be Hyrule Castle.
But based of of the surrounding environment in this trailer, we have our first identifiers in aiding and supporting an open world environment and a non-linear story. Look at any sandbox and non-linear environments and it fits the bill perfectly.
But just because the game is non-linear it doesn’t mean that the game is non-directional. There will have to be a quest system in place for the player to interact with the environments and explore dungeons. From this, we can assume that the villager can be quest givers.
Even if you look even further back you can notice some type of town or outpost, which can serve as the main hub for requesting and accepting quests. We can assume that the inhabitance of this world have interactions with Link in some way. Furthermore, A Link Between Worlds did this in a similar way regarding the order in which you could visit dungeons.
2. It is hard to tell whether or not the horse Link is riding is Epona or not, due to lacking evidence. But the horse from the trailer seems to be a change in the structure of the body and has a darker coat than Epona in previous titles.
In addition, the function of the horse seems to have made a change as well. We can see what appears to be a shield, which resembles the round shield in Skyward Sword, and the bow and arrow off to one side of the horse. We can also see to the other side of the horse what appears to be a satchel, the machanized arrow, and possibly a sheath of a sword. By having the horse wear a satchel and a backpack, this could suggest that the horse could manage and store your quest items as you travel throughout the land, kind of like the banking system used in Skyward Sword.
It is also suggested that the horse can be used to execute certain attacks on large enemies as seen when the horse give Link a boost to launch an arrow at the enemies’ eye.
3. Aonuma did say that he wanted to keep the convention of battling tough enemies in peaceful environments. However this doesn’t mean it will stay a peaceful enivironment through the course of the game. Possible evidence for this speculation comes from this quote made after the E3 2014 announcement.
“Many people from the media kept asking me if the footage from the new Zelda game for Wii U is just a promotional movie, but that really is actual gameplay on Wii U.”
It is my personal speculation that this quote and from the looks of the trailer, that the game may feature some sort of destructive environment. This is indicated by the destruction of the bridge and one of the large Mayan-looking rock structures in the background as the monster smashes into it. This is also seen in the first reveal of the monster with the destruction of the grass surrounding, in what I can assume to be Hyrule field.
However, Aonuma made no indication if the entire Zelda Wii U trailer was actually gameplay or if only a part of it was, so it is still to early to tell if this is a valid expectation.
4. Link appears to be wearing a unique wardrobe. All of it borrowing from different cultures within the Zelda universe.
He is wearing a blue tunic, similar to his pajamas in Wind Waker, at first glance. But besides the color scheme and the possibility of it being a starter costume, it bears no further similarities. The pattern around the collar is most similar to the waves the patterns on Groose’s pants in Skyward Sword. But overall, the pattern is too common to other swirly designs to really narrow down.
He also appears to be wearing Gerudo styled gauntlets, in particular it resembles Ganondorf’s. Link is missing the blue squares in exchange for a blue-green line, but this may be just to distinguish him from Ganon.
He also is wearing a mysterious looking dark cloak that has a crest that may indicated where Link is from. The color scheme and style of the cloak is very reminiscent of some of the clothing that we’ve seen both Sheikah and Ganondorf wear. However, the iconography on the back of Link’s cloak in the trailer does not match up with any of the designs on cloaks we’ve seen in the past.
Link also appears to be a dominate archer. Though there is a small sheath that is visible right side of the horse near his backpack, we have no further information of his sword skills and may be a lesser game mechanic than in previous Zelda games. But it does beg the question, could he be some kind of hunter or charter? It would make sense considering his eclectic attire, but it is still too early in the development to tell or confirm.
But since we are on the topic of Link’s bow, it just looks like the Hero’s Bow from the last few console iterations, with the same bird-beak shapes around the grip. Where things get interesting are the arrows. One thing that is very interesting is that this attachment looks like it was tied on to the arrow and not the arrow itself, suggesting Link may be able to craft new and interesting arrow types.
Link’s arrows also appear to be highly advanced and mechanized and using some type of magic or electricity, much like the robots in Lanayru Skywards Sword. Like the mechanized creature he is fighting, they also resemble connected circle motif that we’ve seen from steampunk type characters and artifacts from areas in Lanayru in Skyward Sword.
In addition, Link’s quiver, has a red ‘U’ shape, which we’ve seen before in the Lanayru Province in Skyward Sword, which coincidentally is where the Gerudos eventually set up shop by Ocarina of Time. With all these potential links to Lanayru and Gerudos, do you think that is where Link originates from in this title?
It is also to be noted that, Link appears to be a teenager in this incarnation. However we can not confirm what this all means in regards to timeline or storyline.
5. We can also assume that the map and HUD’s will appear on the gamepad. This speculation is supported by the cinematic and beautiful gameplay in the E3 trailer, notice that there are no visible HUDs or maps on screen. Also, Aonuma was very fond of this feature and had implemented it within the Zelda Wind Waker HD remake, so it would make sense that they had their development team dedicate that much time for that feature. Again, it is still to be reveal what the use of the gamepad will be.
Based on the information we have gathered it is sure to be a well crafted game and I am so hyped for this game to come out. Nintendo has announced that they will be attending gamescom, which I highly suspect that we will have more information or trailer of the new Zelda title in August. So only time will tell what we can expect further from this new Zelda title. I will hopefully be covering this in a timely fashion when more information is released. And as always stay thirsty my bros.
Written By: Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell (“How to Train Your Dragon” book series)
Music Composed By: John Powell
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington
Marge and I just got back from seeing How to Train Your Dragon 2 and this movie wowed us. So, even though I have some E3 stuff to catch up on (o.O), both Marge and I will be co-writing our Honest Review of How to Train Your Dragon 2. Let’s dig in shall we!
Now, for those who aren’t familiar with the first movie…why are you reading? It’s a sequel! Get out of here!
The How to Train Your Dragon franchise is based on a series of (currently) 12 children’s books, the first in the series falling under the exact same name. The first book has quite a few differences from the first film (which you can see by following the link above), but the books’ author Cressida Cowell has said that she likes the films, and understands that changes must be made in adaptation.
The first movie’s plot (spoilers, by the way) is centered on dragon prejudice, as the creatures repeatedly terrorized Berk, the home of the Viking characters. All of the humans have gross or unpleasant names to make them tough, we think, and they only kept dragons to train their young to fight them. They catalogued information about them in a book as well, noting that dragons breeds and abilities are about as varied as pokemon.
Hiccup, who is the son of the chief but weaker, skinnier, and more tender-hearted compared to other kids, struggles to fight the dragons like everyone else.
Not because he really wants to, but because he wants to please his village and his father. He finds the latter particularly difficult, because his father regards him as kind of an embarrassment, and doesn’t listen to him much. Figuratively and literally, Hiccup has some big shoes to fill.
Trying to kill a dragon his own way (that being the brain over brawn, inventive way), he manages to wound a particularly elusive terror called the Night Fury, which no one has ever really seen. But instead of killing the thing, he befriends and learns from it, even inventing a way that it can fly again, with him in the saddle.
Together, he and his new buddy, Toothless, work to bridge the gap between humans and dragons, culminating in a grand misunderstanding with the village and his dad, and, eventually, a climactic fight with a large “queen” dragon that has been intimidating the other, smaller dragons and demanding food sacrifices. The Vikings realize they were wrong, and they wrangle and ride the dragons to victory.
Hiccup nearly loses his life in the battle, but he makes it out with a brief fakeout moment (as you do with movies aimed at kids), and the loss of one leg.
Quite a bold move for a family movie, too. But he and his blacksmith friend put together a neat, tricked-out peg leg for him, and he is back in the saddle in no time flat, finally accepted by his father and the rest of the village.
That, we believe, is Dreamwork‘s niche. They seem to love making stories about underdogs, as well as genre homages that end up becoming franchises of their own.
Another cool thing about this movie is that the loss of an important limb, for both Hiccup and Toothless, doesn’t ostracize or weaken them in any way from either dragons or the rest of Berk. The two primarily depend on each other, and become the strongest dragon/rider combo of the whole bunch.
But yeah. Happily ever afters all around! Everything is better than before!
…Or is it?
This article contains not just some spoilers, but all the spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to see it for yourself, stop reading here!
Five years from the first film, the teens are now all young adults. The Vikings have reformed and the dragons are now fully integrated, contributing members of society. The other kids in the last movie, who initially thought Hiccup had some awesome dragon taming/slaying ability and only gradually figured out that he was befriending them in secret, have now become skilled dragon riders and racers.
Hiccup is being set up to be the next village chief, a responsibility he does not want. Though he, with his trusty pet dragon Toothless, has discovered many unexplored lands and territories, he has not discovered what he truly wants because he has not fully discovered himself.
While investigating a wildfire, Hiccup and Astrid discover the remains of a fort encased in a massive ice formation. They encounter a young dragon trapper named Eret, who blames them for the destruction of his fort.
Plus, Hiccup has a f***ing lightsaber!
….Okay so it’s not a lightsaber. It’s called a Dragon’s Blade, nicknamed Inferno. But still, it’s freaking awesome and badass.
Eret then attempts to capture Hiccup and Astrid’s dragons for a conqueror called Drago Bludvist, from whom Eret has received a scar for failing to capture enough dragons.
Hiccup and Astrid are able to escape this encounter and return to Berk to warn Stoick about the dragon army that Drago is amassing. Stoick, who has decided to “protect his own”, orders the villagers to fortify the entire island and prepare for battle instead of attempting to reason with Drago, as Hiccup suggested. Hiccup then flies off with Astrid as they are closing the gates and they heroically…surrender themselves and their dragons to Eret, so as to be taken to Drago.
However, Stoick, Gobber and Berk’s other dragon riders pursue and find them before Eret takes him to Drago. Stoick explains to Hiccup that he once met Drago before. Drago wanted to convince the whole Viking console that he knew how to kill all the dragons and all they had to do for that would be to bow down to him. They laughed it off, as did most of the group listening to this story, but when Drago stormed out, an armored dragon crashed through the roof and burned the place. Only Stocik escaped with his life, and the event has clearly shaken him to this day.
Hiccup refuses to believe that war is inevitable and again, flies off with Toothless. They are captured by a dragon rider named Valka. Inferno can be used not only for the use of combat, but also to allow him to bond with wild dragons and show them that he is “one of their own.”
Valka is revealed to be Hiccup’s long lost mother. She explains that she spent twenty years rescuing dragons from Drago’s traps and bringing them to an island haven created out of ice by a colossal Alpha dragon called a Bewilderbeast, to whom all dragons answer. The two of them then make up for lost time, bonding as mother and son over their mutual love of dragons.
As it turns out, Valka was once like Hiccup. She believed that dragons were good, and tried to persuade others to no avail. She realized she was right when, during one “dragon attack,” one of the creatures snuck into Hiccup’s room. Instead of hurting or eating him, it played with him, but Stoick muscled his way onto the scene and, mistaking the situation, engaged the dragon in combat. It burned the room and fled, taking Valka with it.
This explains most of Stoick’s dislike and distrust of dragons in the previous film, fixed only when he sees Toothless loyally defend and fight with his son, against all odds.
Stoick and Gobber track Hiccup to the island, where he discovers that his wife is still alive. Simultaneously, Astrid and the other riders kidnap Eret, thinking Hiccup has gone after Drago, but they are also captured and Drago learns of Berk’s dragons and the nest with the alpha, leading him to drop everything and hightail-it there.
His army lays siege to Valka’s sanctuary, where he reveals that he has his own Bewilderbeast to challenge the Alpha. A titanic battle erupts between the two Bewilderbeasts in a fight for control over all of the dragons. Drago’s Bewilderbeast emerges victorious (by killing the other one, albeit bloodlessly) and seizes control of all the dragons.
Hiccup tries to persuade Drago to end the violence, but Drago has a vendetta against dragons, and has grown increasingly unreasonable and power-hungry. With control of the new alpha, and by extension, the dragon army, he can wipe out dragons with other dragons, and subjugate the humans who come to him for protection.
He can’t see the potential to befriend the dragons and gain their respect.
Toothless, under the influence of the new Alpha (which Drago directly and verbally commands), approaches Hiccup and fires a plasma blast at him. At the last instant, Stoick pushes Hiccup out of the way, and is hit instead, killing him instantly. When Toothless regains his senses, a heart-broken and angry Hiccup drives him off. Drago leaves Hiccup and the others, riding the re-bewitched Toothless, and leads his now larger army to destroy/enslave Berk.
Stoick is given a neat “Epcot Viking funeral”; a cool image, complete with a ship set ablaze by flaming arrows. Hiccup, filled with regret at the loss of his father, but also new determination, decides that he will fly back to Berk to “protect his own,” as both Stoick and Valka advised him previously.
The dragon riders ride baby dragons, which are immune to the Bewilderbeast’s control (as they don’t listen to anyone. Haha, sure the parents got a good snort out of that one), and arrive at Berk after the Alpha has already attacked on the village and taken control of the dragons there. Drago destroys things and generally terrifies the village.
Hiccup confronts Drago and a brainwashed Toothless in the air, while the other riders work to distract the Bewilderbeast by catapulting sheep, among other things. Drago again orders Toothless to kill Hiccup, but Hiccup succeeds in disenchanting Toothless. He knew his friend never meant to hurt him, or his father, and his courage and unyielding trust in the dragon break through to him, and he fights the alpha’s control from there on out.
Drago then orders the Alpha to shoot the pair, and the Bewilderbeast successfully encases them in a large blast of ice, seemingly killing them. His victory is short-lived however, as Toothless, now glowing with plasma, blasts away the ice, revealing that both he and Hiccup are unharmed. Toothless challenges the alpha, repeatedly fires plasma blasts at it. At this, the other dragons are freed from the Bewilderbeast’s control and all fire at it, severely injuring the colossal dragon until Toothless fires a final massive blast, breaking its left tusk.
Defeated, Drago and his Bewilderbeast retreat into the ocean as the villagers celebrate their victory. All the dragons acknowledge Toothless as the new alpha dragon, and Hiccup is made chief of Berk by the village elder. The film ends with Berk being rebuilt with a statue erected in Stoick’s likeness, and Hiccup living up to his duties as chief.
In the last film, the dialogue from the beginning is turned on its head in the end. Now, it reaffirms the convictions of the beginning, that dragons are their friends and worthy of their respect, with an extra quip that playfully warns away anyone who would rise against them. Hiccup proudly declares that while others may have armies and armadas, Berk has dragons. So good luck with that.
Hiccup is the main human character. He is a bit scrawny and wimpy, although now a bit less so, but makes up for it with his resourcefulness, intelligence, and his desire to keep the peace and negotiate. He hesitates a bit, unsure of himself and uncomfortable living in his father’s shadow, but both this and the previous film do a great job showing him coming into his own, finding his own strength as the next leader of his village. He can build traps, equipment for dragons and riders, and a glider that allows him to fly alongside Toothless, at times. He spends a lot of time exploring the land around Berk, naming and mapping it.
Toothless is Hiccup’s dragon companion. While he is silent (aside from gurgles and various sound effects), his face and body are very fluid and expressive, giving him almost as much personality as Hiccup. He is covered in black scales, has black and yellow eyes and a large mouth. The left side of his tail fin is missing, replaced by an artificial one that Hiccup put in place. He is a fast and agile flier, and rumored to be the last of his kind, the Night Fury, which is known as one of the most, if not the most, intelligent breed of dragons.
Stoick is the head of Berk, father of Hiccup, and best friend to Gobber, the blacksmith. While he is accepting of dragons now, he can still be stubborn and not listen to Hiccup, who frequently mumbles and beats around the bush anyway. He is large, strong, and extremely loyal, to the point that he does not appear at all angry with his wife, even though she essentially hid from him for 20 years.
Drago Bludvist is a new character, and the resident “bad guy.” His unnamed village was attacked when he was a kid, and his arm was either chewed or blasted off. His only real character trait is ruthlessness. He shows no mercy to dragons, or people, if they cross him.
He could have been more interesting, given more motivation, personality, or even less vagueness in his backstory. He isn’t forgettable, necessarily, but he comes across as very standard. By the books baddie.
Valka is a new character, wife of Stoick and mother of Hiccup. She has essentially gone Tarzan, living in harmony with the dragons and learning all of their secrets. She did not go back to Stoick and Hiccup (even after she learned to ride dragons) because she was convinced that nothing in Berk would ever change, and she couldn’t compromise what she felt was the right thing. As with Drago, it might have been interesting to learn more about her, but que sera sera…
Astrid is (now officially) Hiccup’s fiancé. In the last film, she was stubborn, proud, and violent, but now she is a bit more reserved emotionally. She still has her fun, snarky, ass-kicking moments, and moments where she mouths off at the bad guys, too. She is the best fighter of the group, and has become almost as good a dragon rider as Hiccup, despite getting pushed to the background frequently.
The rest of the group are Fishlegs, the large, clumsy, nerdy one; Snoutlout, the bro-y guy who thinks he’s cooler than he is; and Ruffnut and Tuffnut, fraternal twins that like to prank, bicker, and generally be vulgar with themselves and others. Ruffnut, the girl twin, crushes on Eret after she meets him, constantly flirting and making creepy faces.
<Marge note: 50% of the time, she is funny, and the other 50% is “Do. Not. Want!”>
For a while, she also has Fishlegs and Snoutlout at her beck and call. I guess that is because she is the only single girl left in the group, but she uses them, then acts disgusted and annoyed by them, repeatedly.
These characters (other than Astrid) mostly make up different flavors of comic relief, usually relating to slapstick and clumsiness. Gobber is the dry-wit comic relief. He, Astrid, and Hiccup get most of the one-liners.
Eret is a new character, a dragon trapper that works for Drago. He seems cocky, only interested in money and saving his own skin, but he turns around when Astrid’s dragon saves him from being murdered by Drago.
Since music is my speciality, this part is strictly from me.
John Powell returned from the first movie, which he won his first Academy Award from, to score the sequel. Powell recorded his music in London with a 120 piece orchestra and a 100-voice choir. The music was conducted by the composer’s usual collaborator, Gavin Greenaway. Powell called the project “a maturation story”, stating that he also hoped to achieve maturation in the structure of his music, by further developing and pushing every aspect of his compositions from the original film. Even with such a good foundation, it can be a challenge building off of the old and making outstanding new.
<Marge note: At times in the score, I could swear I heard notes and chords from “Noble Maiden Fair (A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal),” from Disney/Pixar’s Brave. Just a few, and I couldn’t be totally sure, but still. But I like that song, so no issue there 🙂 Also, all of the adults have Scottish accents (despite the kids sounding distinctly American) anyway.>
Also on the project were pipers from the Scottish group, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers (not to be confused with the “Peppers”), and Sigur Rós lead vocalist, Jónsi, who wrote the songs in collaboration with the composer.
A soundtrack album for the film will be released on June 17, 2014 by Relativity Music Group. The album will feature over an hour of score by Powell, along with two original songs by Jónsi. Powell is expected to come back for the next film as well, which is currently planned for sometime in 2016. Interestingly enough, Norwegian artist Alexander Rybak, who provides the Norwegian voice for Hiccup, also provides the song, “Into a Fantasy” in the European version of the film.
The songs and score combine some of the traditional and modern, which works nicely and fits the more modern characters dwelling in an old world” theme. “Where No One Goes” takes one of the main musical themes from the last movie, and adds lyrics and different instrumentation to it. This song is both of our favorites of the whole soundtrack.
Comedy/Drama/Things Parents Might Want to Know
We’ve already sort of brought up the comedy in the character section. It’s funny, if a little overdone sometimes (particularly Ruffnut). So let’s move on to the drama, shall we?
Oh, the drama. Be warned, for once you reach the second half of the film, the feels get pretty intense. There are aerial battles (of course), but also…
Hiccup’s dad dies instantly, seemingly painlessly, leaving no room for spluttering breaths or a death speech. Hiccup momentarily lashes out at Toothless for killing him (albeit unintentionally), but while Hiccup realizes it too late, as you would expect, it’s pretty quick by the standards of movie run time. Some emotions are short, but well played, making good use of what time they are allowed.
The original alpha dragon dies, but as we’ve mentioned, it’s bloodless and very quick. Marge almost didn’t realize it at first, so it might fly over plenty of people’s heads. At least at first.
We give Dreamworks credit: they certainly don’t pull punches. Maybe everything turns out alright in a Disney movie (except for the parents, because screw having parents!), but Dreamworks seems to like to mess with the typical idea of a “happy ending.” Just like they really like making the main characters of their movies losers, outcasts, or grotesque in some way (probably in an effort to make them more realistic, or at least relatable).
A happy ending in the last movie meant dealing with the loss of Hiccup’s leg. This movie’s happy ending is moving on from the loss of his father and becoming head of the village. Sometimes, the happiest ending of all is just making it through the day. That can be a worthwhile lesson, even if it isn’t the cheeriest.
To quote the mighty, all-knowing, and infallible Wikipedia:
“How to Train Your Dragon 2 was the first DreamWorks Animation film that used ‘scalable multi-core processing’, developed together with Hewlett-Packard. Called by Katzenberg as ‘the next revolution in filmmaking,’ it enabled artists for the first time to work on rich complex images in real time, instead of waiting eight hours to see the results next day. The film was also the studio’s first film to use its new animation and lighting software through the entire production. Programs, named Premo and Torch, allowed much more subtlety, improving facial animation and enabling ‘the sense of fat, jiggle, loose skin, the sensation of skin moving over muscle instead of masses moving together.‘”
Just as with How to Train Your Dragon, the highlights of the film are any given flying seen. Whether just flying to fly, or flying into battle, the characters and their dragons practically leap off of the screen.
If visuals alone could carry a film, this would definitely qualify as a good, strong one. Thankfully, it also has engaging characters and story.
But animation and graphics are crucial, for without them, we would not be able to buy the illusion, no matter how good the story was. That is the simultaneous goal and challenge of film as a medium, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 laughs at such a challenge, daring the audience not to be enthralled and enraptured by the world it has created. Look at the gif above again, and just stare in awe at the detail put into every wave on that CG sea.
Overall (and from both of us)
9 out of 10. Definitely a must see for kids of all ages, especially those at heart.