Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs movie review.

"SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" I chanted furiously at Justin Long.

Dinosaurs are fascinating creatures. Even though none of us ever saw them live and up close, what we have discovered of them have intrigued us for hundreds of years. Dinosaurs have been admirably brought to the screen numerous times, and one of the most famous instances happen to be BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs series of specials, creating a fondly remembered, spectacular and realistic documentary-esque presentation of the creatures in their own time, to which numerous imitators have recreated in the years since. When a film adaptation of the miniseries was announced, you bet I was excited. I was hoping that it would finally give the dinosaurs the treatment they deserved for the big screen, but much like previous movies such as Disney’s Dinosaur, the filmmakers made the last minute decision to add voiceover performances, wasting the potential for what this movie could have been. As a result, I’m left with the ultimate love/hate movie.


Dating all the way back to the Cretaceous period, the film follows a Pachyrhinosaurus named Patchy, the runt of his litter since he was a child, and growing up learning the ways of the circle of life. Yearly, he and his herd make an epic migration across the landscapes of Alaska, facing numerous dangers such as Gorgosaurs, frozen lakes, and forest fires over the years. As Patchy grows up, he learns how to fend for himself, falls for another Pachyrhinosaur, butts heads with his alpha brother, all while trying to survive another day, and avoid the numerous dangers of the world.

This felt completely like the type of movie that I should absolutely love, as most of the elements present in this film are, honestly, virtually flawless. Firstly, the film is unbelievably beautiful, with the animation supervised by the minds at Animal Logic (who you may remember best for movies like Happy Feet and Legend of the Guardians) looking absolutely brilliant, and practically photo-realistic. The dinosaurs all look incredible, believably beat down by the harsh conditions of the terrain, and to match that, they sound very good, too. The sound design for the dinosaurs is very, very creative, booming, and fiercely imposing. They’re also joined by great music, with Paul Leonard-Morgan supplying a beautiful, layered, and delightfully exotic score. The use of the various lyrical songs in the film is probably going to distract some viewers, but I personally didn’t mind them. Even the story is refreshingly simple. It may be the underdog story that we’ve seen a million times before, but in this film, it works. In this film, they’re really isn’t any need for that complex of a story, as the film is supposed to let the visuals do the storytelling anyway. The story is told with introduction and conclusion by live action sequences featuring Karl Urban as a paleontologist taking his nephew and niece to a digging site, and while it may not please most viewers, I personally had no problem with them. This movie honestly does so much right.


So what don’t I like about this movie. Well, it’s only one flaw, but it is just that horrendous that it brings the movie to a screeching halt. The voiceover work, no joke, is the worst, and the most inappropriate I have EVER seen in a movie. Clearly an afterthought to the proceedings, the vocal work feels badly tacked on, overly forced, completely unfunny, and will never… Never… STOP! Much of the film is narrated by a bird named Alex, voiced with failed Ricardo Montalban influence by John Leguizamo, and he is badly teamed up with the equally annoying Justin Long as Patchy. None of their banter is interesting, it has no rhyme or reason, it over stays it’s welcome, it overlaps the roars, it's confusing, and it grated on me so badly, it took everything I had not to curse and yell "shut up!" at the screen. It’s like if the team from South Park provided the voices of all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. It’s the only flaw of the film, but it’s in the WHOLE thing, so there’s no way around it. I suppose one way around it would be to simply wait until it’s on dvd, and just mute the TV when the bird starts speaking, but then you miss out on exceptional sound design and music, so even though you gain a lot, you still lose a lot.

I hate to talk about this film this harshly. This is a movie begging for a fan edit that removes all of the voices, but leaves everything else intact, because if that’s the movie this had been, I have no doubt in my mind that this would have been one of THE greatest animated movies I have EVER seen. It’s clear that this started out as such a wonderful passion project, and if the voices hadn’t intruded, this would simply be a perfect, fully realistic, and gorgeous documentary-esque movie that works as a beautiful journey that adults can be immersed in, and provides a nice history lesson for kids. Heck, if you absolutely NEEDED voiceover work, just have a bare bones essential narration. Maybe have Karl Urban provide the narration. That would have been great. Literally ANYTHING would have been better than what you did. I’d have been furious if I were one of the animators on this movie.


This really is THE most bipolar viewing experience I have ever had with a movie. I want to love this movie, but the tacky voice work just holds me back. It really does represent such a cynical commentary on the state of many movie studios. I’m not going to act like ALL of Hollywood is evil, but the fact that the executives of the studio thought we were willing to put up with this is nothing if not downright insulting to both the film’s original intentions, and to the viewer.


It’s like two different people are pitching the same movie, on two opposite ends of a meeting room, with two different audiences in mind. The more adult friendly presenter says “We want to make a dinosaur movie, and we want to take the assignment seriously. These are the greatest creatures to ever roam the earth, so we’re going to treat them respectfully, and we’re not going to insult the intelligence of you, the viewer, in the process.” On the other side of the room, the more kiddie-based presenter says “OH! LOOK AT THIS! Alvin makes poop jokes, and Sid from Ice Age makes fun of a dinosaurs tiny arms! DERPY-DERP!” That’s what this feels like. It feels like there is so much disconnect between what these two separate sides want a particular product to be, and if this movie was going to be any success, it needed them both on even ground. Clearly, this was not the case, and our search for that remarkable documentary style dinosaur movie continues.

SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHU- Oh, forget it! It’s not going to make any difference anyway.

Film grade: *****
Voiceover grade: Zero stars!

Overall grade: **1/2 / *****

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