Friday, January 28, 2011

Disney’s The Black Cauldron (Movie Review)

P.S. Is that an awesome poster or what, it just gives the movie an epic overtone, while still showing how dark and twisted the film is. 

     Disney, it’s a name kids know all too well. We all grew up with those terrific movies at a young age and every Disney film seems to be labeled a classic. Well, some are remembered more than other’s and through the 70’s and 80’s we were given a lot of Disney movies that are more and more forgotten. The one Disney movie that gets snubbed more than any other animated classic is the 1985 motion picture Disney's “The Black Cauldron”. Never heard of it, well then it’s time to give it mention. "The Black Cauldron" is loosely based on the dark series of books called "The Chronicles of Prydain" by “Lloyd Alexander”. There are six Chronicles that began in 1964, I haven’t read them but they must have been interesting enough for Disney studios to make a movie based off the series. This is Disney’s 25th theatrical animated feature film and one that I find to be rather underrated. While it’s never been labeled a classic, it has become a cult favorite, so it has its fans out there. 
      The plot is very similar to “Lord of the Rings”, it’s all about a young boy who’s burdened with a mission to destroy a weapon of terrible power, in the case of this film, the black Caldron. This weapon was forged in darkness and a dark lord wants to gain this Caldron to use it in a plot to dominate the kingdom. The main character is a young boy named Taren, an assistant pig keeper, who dreams of becoming something important, like a great warrior. Typical lead character, I know, and my feelings towed him are very mixed. On the one hand, I like how he’s not a perfect “good” character, in fact he’s selfish and a little arrogant, then he goes on a learning journey and becomes a better person in the end. I especially love how no one really teaches him anything, he makes the change all on his own, that is an awesome concept that's pulled off very well. However, his boasting about being a great hero can get really annoying at times, especially in the first half of the movie because he just never shuts up. Despite being annoying at times, I do think it’s necessary for his character development, by viewing him as a selfish jerk in the beginning, it makes his self realization at the end all the more powerful.    
        Like any classic fantasy adventure, Taren makes some good friends along the journey, and they all become allies in his quest to destroy the Cauldron. Again, it’s nothing new but there’s something about this particular group that I really like, mainly because there the complete opposite of other groups like “The Fellowship of the ring”, from “Lord of the Rings”. That group was specifically sent to destroy the ring and was more fit to do so, that team had a wizard, cook, guide, and 4 experienced warriors. This is a team of 4 strangers who have no experience of going on a journey like this, are extremely vulnerable, and probably shouldn't be doing anything like this. However, their growing situation is constantly forcing them to be the ones to carry out this mission and I absolutely love that premise. The characters themselves are fairly decent, certainly not some of the best supporting characters in Disney's line up, but there still likable, and they definitely have their own charms. The comedic relief of the film is a fun loving creature named Gurgi, I’m not sure what he is but he looks like an albino Ewok or something from a “Star Wars” cartoon. While he can be a little annoying, he isn't as stupid as some of the other comedic reliefs I've seen. The one saving grace about Gurgi is that he'll do something at the end of the film that is surprisingly touching and one of the big highlights of the movie. There’s also a cute little side character named Henwen, who's a pig with a special power to create visions. The animation on these vision scenes are really impressive. Then there’s an old man named Fflewddur (good luck pronouncing that name) who is a broken down minstrel. Usually I hate when old people go on adventures, they just seem to get in the way, but this was a character that could hold his own and was actually fun to have on screen. He’s voiced by the late Nigel Hawthorne, who would latter provide the voice for “Professor Porter” from Disney's 1999 animated classic “Tarzan”. 

      At last, we have our Disney Princess named Eilonwy, not a very popular Disney Princess but much like the movie, I find her to be rather special in her own small way. Personally, I think she has the cutest voice of any animated Disney Princes and she has a nice personality to boot. She's sweet, polite, but can also stand up for herself in a heated argument. Her design is also very simple, she doesn't dress like a princess, at least, not as elegant as any of the classic Disney Princesses, which is slightly refreshing. Eilonwy's also followed around by a glowing yellow bubble that looks like it belongs in a Legend of Zelda video game. Now I have to admit, there's really no point to have this character in the film at all because she contributes very little to the overall plot and is only slightly active. Then again, it’s just more fun to have a sweet girl character come along for an adventure like this. There's a little relation between her and Taren that's nothing special but their social interactions are simple and genuinely sweet.  

     The villain in this film is one of the Darkest that have ever come from Disney and personally one of my favorites. He has no real name but he’s always addressed as The Horned King. I don’t think there’s ever been a Disney villain this frightening, this evil or this dark, and it makes him kind of cool in his own right. Sure, there have been sinister Disney villains ranging from Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty to Jafar from Disney's Aladdin, but they always had a humorous, more kid friendly persona. The Horned King is different, there's nothing light or simplistic to balance out is sinister presence, he's just evil right to the core and the stuff of nightmares for children. He isn’t loud, he doesn’t emote, he doesn’t have a fun sense of hummer, instead he’s calm, quiet and kept in mystery. We’re never given an explanation as to why he’s a living corps with no soul but that’s what makes him so interesting. The more mystery there is to the villain, the more sinister they seem. He may not be flat out terrifying for all viewers but there is something genuinely cryptic about his overall appearance. After all, this is a film with knights and such, so you would expect the Horned King to be some large warrior or wizard with human features. It was quite a shock when he appeared to be some sort of zombie sorcerer and for the record, he makes one of the coolest first appearance any villain has ever made in a film. The Horned King is voiced by the always fantastic John Hurt who brings the character to life with menace and a very sinister voice. 
    Unfortunately, like most Disney villains he has an annoying little henchman called “The Creeper”. To his credit, he’s not as annoying as some of the other evil Disney henchmen, Creeper was only mildly annoying and he doesn’t even come close to ruining the exciting presence of The Horned King. Now what's really annoying in this film is a group of witches that use dark magic to turn people into frogs. While there an important contribution to the plot, the're still extremely annoying and arguably the weakest part of the film.  

     For it's dark overtones and especially scary villain, the movie was a big bomb at the box office. I can understand why, in fact, this was the only Disney film that my parents restricted me from watching as a child. Upon visiting Disney world in Florida, I couldn’t find a single reference or item related to "The Black Cauldron" anywhere, not even a clip in the show “Fantasmic”. Heck, I own Disney Trivia and Charades, and neither of these games have a reference to this movie, but every other Disney film is there. Well, the film nearly shut the Disney studio down for good and the company has never been that fond of it. Personally, I don't think this movie is shunned or ignored for being a bad movie, the problem is that it’s far darker and more sinister than any other Disney film. Of cores the demonic looking villain scared kids but there’s more of a wicked feeling that falls in the films premise. Right from the opening, we learn the origin of the cauldron, how it holds the soul of the most evil ruler who ever existed, anyone who obtains it will be able to harness its evil and awaken vast armies of dead worriers, pretty extreme. There's especially harsh moments when characters get beaten, bruised and even bleed. Most Disney movies submerse us in really magical and colorful worlds, but throughout this whole movie, we get images of corpses, skulls and all kinds of dark detailed images. The scene that sums up how dark this film is in a nut shell is at the end when the Cauldrons power is unleashed and we see the army of dead solders come to life, it’s awesome.  Perhaps it’s best not to compare this to the other Disney movies, because it’s nothing like them. It doesn’t have that same magical charm of something like “Beauty in the Beast” or “Sleeping Beauty”. Even the settings aren’t that pleasant, most of it takes place in swamps, darkly lit forests and very dirty interiors of an old castle. This isn’t a complaint by any means, I’m the kind of guy who actually enjoys dark animated medieval films. It’s just best to go into this movie with the mind set you’d have before watching something like Ralph Bakshi’s animated “Lord of the Rings” movie or Martin Rosen’s “Watership Down”.            
      This was also the very first Disney movie to feature zero songs, the only other animated Disney classic to have no songs is the 1990 Disney film “The Rescuers Down Under”. Admittedly, as much as I love Disney songs, I can’t imagine any of these characters singing. But the musical score composed by the great Elmer Bernstein is fantastic, sounding grand and dark at times, while in other scenes it's subjecting you to that magical, medieval environment. Bernstein just came off the success of his Oscar-nominated score for the 1983 film "Trading Places" as well as his terrific score for the 1984 film "Ghostbusters", which has similar instrumentation. The Climax is also something of a mixed bag, on the one hand we have a surprisingly touching scene involving one of our hero's making a noble sacrifice, however, I feel like the conflicts in this finally get resolved a little to quickly. Or let me put it this way, the movie really builds up the resurrection of this army of dead soldiers, and it's awesome when they come to life, but they get defeated so quickly that you just wish there was a little more payoff, or maybe even a cool battle scene. However, this finally still has some strong highlights, and we do get an exciting sequence of our hero's destroying the Cauldron and escaping a crumbling castle.

     For all the negative in this film, there is still more than enough good in it to balance out all the darkness. There's some great morals on sacrifice, and how giving up your life or dreams for greater good is the most heroic act you could ever make. The animation and visuals are amazing spectacles to look at. Ranging from bright and colorful to dark and abstract. The backgrounds are richly textured and detailed, you can really lose yourself in all these illustrations. It also has a rich fairy tale atmosphere, with all kinds of magical characters, like a society of sprits that live under a lake, there's also Dragons, witches and all kinds of great fantasy elements. I especially love the end credits, with all these detailed illustrations and pictures in the background, which allow you to reflect on the adventure you experienced with the characters, more movies need credits like this.         

    Overall, this film is a fun, dark ride that’s ambitious, has decent morals, likable characters and is technically brilliant. It certainly isn't one of the absolute best to come from the studio, nor is it a classic like “Cinderella” and even “The Lion king” but I still like it a lot, just for different reasons. I'll admit, the film has some announces and it certainly isn't something that will win a huge crowd of fans but still, "The Black Cauldron" is an underrated gem that deserves more attention then what it has gotten, because I think it's a good entry in the Disney collection. 

                                             I give “The Black Cauldron” 3½ stars out of 5.

                                                                           The End


Sunday, January 23, 2011

A look at the Bat-mobile and its different appearances on the big screen.

Christopher Nolan has just revealed the title, casting and villains of the upcoming Batman movie, this has gotten fan’s excited and I’ll admit I’m pretty hipped myself, so I thought it would be fun to post something Batman related. A lot of fan’s have been interested to know who the new villains are or if Robin will be in this film, and while all that is interesting, I’m more excited about what the new Bat-Mobile will look like. In my opinion it’s the coolest vehicle in cinema. Why, can’t say, maybe because it’s the most famous superhero vehicle, maybe for its many different appearances on screen, well, it’s just awesome so I thought it would be fun to look at the different versions from all 8 of the theatrical Batman movies.      
Bat-Mobile shown in the 1966 film “Batman The Movie”.

This was the first portrayal of the Bat-mobile on the big screen and yes, it looks like a toy car that wheeled its way out of “Chucky Cheese” but for the time it was really impressive. There’s a bonus feature on the DVD called “The Batmobile Revealed” hosted by the vehicles creator George Barris. It’s pretty cool how he talks about how he came up with the design of the car and how he points out little details in the vehicle that are hard to notice during the film. This batmobile is nostalgic for its time but it’s not as cool as most of the more modern bat-mobiles.   
Bat-Mobile shown in the 1989 movie “Batman” and the 1992 movie “Batman Returns”.  

This is my favorite version by far and it’s the first one that comes to mind when I think Bat-mobile. It had such a slick and dangerous look, almost like a missile on wheels. Also, it’s not to over the top with bat wings or bat features, it’s just right. I’m not shore why it needs that big circle-fan in the middle but other than that, this bat-mobile will always stand as the classic Batman vehicle.  
Bat-mobile shown in the 1993 movie “Batman Mask of the Phantasm”.      

I probably shouldn’t even count this one because it’s an animated car and it was shown for a full 3 seconds in the film. Never the less, I found it necessary because it’s my second favorite design of the Batmobile. This one’s smooth and slick, it doesn’t have a big circle in front and it bears a resemblance to the original when it had its shields up. Unfortunately, it has less of a bat feature but that doesn’t ruin what is otherwise an awesome looking vehicle. There’s also one note worthy moment when Bruce Wayne goes to a place that’s a carnival /blue print to what a future Gotham City will look like. One of the future cars on display gets his attention and it has the same design of the Bat mobile. It’s always fun to see where the Bat-mobile originated from, a concept that will be built on in another batman movie that will be mentioned latter. 
Bat-mobile shown in the 1995 movie “Batman Forever”

In comparison to the last two batmoblies, this one looks a little silly but to be honest it still feels like a classic bat-vehicle. I had a toy version of this car, this version has also been on display at theme parks and it’s the version shown in comedies like “Lonnie Tunes Back in Action” and the resent "Arthur" remake. This one’s smaller, has more of a bat design and has a little more screen time than most of the bat vehicles. It doesn’t have the same subtle feel of the animated one or the cool, dangerous feel of the Tim Burton one but it’s still a good vehicle all the same.  
Bat-mobile shown in the 1997 movie “Batman and Robin”.     

What can be said about this one, well, it’s definitely one of the weakest of the bat-vehicles and it looks like one of those toy cars that break apart and then are reassembled into robot fighters. To be honest, I think it has too much unnecessary stuff built on it, I mean, come on, dose the bat mobile need that much useless stuff covering it. Well it may not be that great but at least I can call it a batmobile, unlike the next one.   
Bat-mobile (Tumbler) shown in the 2005 movie “Batman Begins” and the 2008 movie “The Dark Knight”.  

At last we get to the newest (and worst) Bat-mobile, well, bat-tank or bat-war van are more appropriate titles. I’ve had my up’s and downs with all the previous cars but the one thing that can be said for all of them is that they are all bat-mobiles. This thing is so over done and so distant from the rest that it’s stupid to label it as a bat-mobile. To be fare, I liked how Bruce Wayne actually bought this car from someone else and just painted it black, as opposed to creating something so technically advanced on his own. Having said that, I don’t think batman needs something this big, loud and destructive. If you hadn’t seen either of these movies (“Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight”)   and just saw a picture of this vehicle, you probably wouldn’t connect it to Batman at all, you’d just think it’s a battle van. Fortunately, the Tumbler was destroyed in the last film and that’s what leads me to the main reason of this post, what’s the new Bat-mobile going to be like in the next film. Well, here’s what I think, in the first season of the 2004 TV show “The Batman”, he had a bat mobile that was also very big, just with a tint of blue. But in season 3 that vehicle was destroyed and replaced with one that looked more like the classic animated one and that’s what I hope they do in the next film, give us a Bat-mobile that’s slick, subtle and can be labeled as a Bat-mobile. 
                                                                       THE END      

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Tribute to Jerry Gold Smith

     Music! In my opinion it’s one of the most important things you can have in a movie. Musical scores can be entertaining, soothing, hypnotizing and entrancing. Throughout the history of cinema there have been some amazing composers like John Williams and Danny Elfman. But for me, the greatest composer for film, hands down is Jerry Goldsmith. His music always puts me in a spellbinding mood, it can be emotional, frightening or exhilarating. Most of my all time favorite movies have music from Jerry Goldsmith. He began writing scores in the 1950’s. The first, memorable score of his was for the TV show “The Twilight Zone”, he would later do the score for "The Twilight Zone Movie”.

     Over the years he’s won several Emmie awards and academy awards, including best score for “The Omen”. He doesn’t stick to one genera of film. He did a lot of western scores for a lot of John Wayne’s movies like “Stagecoach” and “Rio Lobo”. He did music for war movies like “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and “The Wind and the Lion”, he did compose a score for “Gladiator” but unfortunately it was turned down and replaced by someone else’s score. He’s also done music for classic Sci-Fi’s like “Alien” and “Planet of the Apes”. He did music for classic action and crime movies like the “Rambo” movies and “Basic Instinct”. Goldsmith has even don music for kid’s movies like Disney’s “Mulan” and “Looney Tunes Back in action” (This was his very last score). Finally, he’s gotten a lot of success with the music he’s done for horror movies like “Poltergeist” and “The Ghost and the Darkness”.

       The music Goldsmith composes fits with his films so well that it’s impossible to think of these films without first thinking of his music. Now it wouldn’t surprise me if someone would prefer John Williams because he has done so many more of the classic movie score’s like the music for Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and of cores Star Wars. Don’t get me wrong, I love his music too but his scores doen’t touch me the way Goldsmiths music dose. When I close my eyes and listen to his music, I feel transported to a place of joy or the settings of his films. Take for example, his score from “Patton”, it’s such a simple melody but it fits the film so well and without even seeing the movie it makes you think of the Marines. As far as kids movies go, one of the all time best is his score from the movie “The Secret of N.I.M.H.”. Whenever I hear this score I’m transported back to a time that was wonderful and care free. It sends chills down my spine every time I hear it and it fills me up with all kinds of strong emotions. That’s a strength that applies to a lot of his music.

       But emotional and soothing aren’t the only strengths of his music. His scores for action movies get me really hipped up and excited. The perfect example is the score he composed for “Total Recall”, how could you not get excited after hearing that score. Another great example is the score he composed for “Small Soldiers”, now that was an awesome score to get me excited at a young age. I think the catchiest of his scores was the one he composed for the “Gremlins” movies. That score had a fun techno beat and was the easiest of his scores to hum. The movie that really introduced me to Jerry Gold Smith was “The Mummy”. In my opinion, its one of the all time greatest collections of instrumental music, it has every great form of music that he’s talented with composing. It has his exciting and exhilarating music from his action movies, his dark and foreboding music from his horror movies and his strong, soothing and emotional music that puts me in such a relaxed state of joy.

     Now, at last we come to the highlight of Jerry Goldsmiths Career and the big reason I’m a fan of his work. I absolutely love all the music he’s done for “Star Trek”. The score for the TV show “Star Trek The Next Generation” is without a doubt my favorite score I’ve ever heard for a TV show and I feel it deserves to be alongside John Williams score for Star Wars as one of the most memorable scores to fit with a series. He composed this score and other music to some of the Star Trek movies like “Star Trek The Motion Picture” and “Star Trek 5 The Final Frontier”, he also composed the score for the show “Star Trek Voyager”. But the three big ones I want to talk about are his scores for the movies “Star Trek First Contact”, “Star Trek Insurrection”, and “Star Trek Nemesis”. The theme of “Star Trek Insurrection” was about youth and feeling young again and his score reflects that theme perfectly. It’s so soothing almost like a lullaby a mother would play for her child. The music he composed for “Star Trek Nemesis” is hands down the last great score he ever composed before his unfortunate death. Again like “The Mummy”, this film contains every one of his great forms of music. The exciting, soothing and atmospheric music are all present and do a terrific job enhancing the mood of each scene. A perfect example is the diner scene between Picard and Shinzon. This scene features strong performances and terrific character structure that is emotional on its own but listen to how the music just enhances that emotion. My favorite score for any movie in the history of cinema is the one he composed for “Star Trek First Contact”. This is where my love for his music was set in stone. This movie features the classic score from the TV show and a new score that is absolutely amazing. Everything soothing, emotional or relaxing from his music is incorporated in this score and it’s absolutely beautiful, check it out.

     This concludes my tribute to Jerry Goldsmith but there are several of his scores that I didn’t even mention, I barely scratched the surface, let’s not forget he’s been composing music science the 1950’s. On July 21 2004, (after battling cancer for years), he quietly passed away in his sleep. He may be gone but I’ll always remember his work and maybe his music will be an inspiration to people wanting to compose music. If you never heard of him, I hope this got your interest. May he rest in peace, be remembered and may his music continue to entertain and inspire people who love music as much as I do.  

                                                          Jerry Gold Smith (February 10, 1929 – July 21, 2004)