Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Movie Review: Walking With Dinosaurs (2014)

While, at first glance, it’s an easy assumption to make that the director has sole creative control over a film, there’s also the matter of the producers to consider. The producers and production companies attached to a film are the money backing it, and they get a considerable amount of sway over what ends up in the final product; they can pull funding to the film if they don’t agree with what the director wants to do with it. Sure, you will occasionally get the auteurs that partially or even entirely fund their own movies themselves, but in the Hollywood system this isn’t always the case. Not to say that this is always a bad thing, mind you; just that it occasionally leads to bad decisions. To further illustrate this, let’s get started with today’s film: This is Walking With Dinosaurs.

The plot: Patchi (played by Justin Long) is a Pachyrhinosaurus and the runt of his litter, often being bullied by his older brother Scowler (played by Skyler Stone). As Patchi grows up, he begins to learn his true place with the herd and, with the help of his friend Alex (played by John Leguizamo) and his love interest Juniper (played by Tiya Sircar), he must contest his brother as the leader of the herd.
This is a spectacular looking film with some outstanding special effects work: The attention to detail on the dinosaurs is truly a marvel to behold and shows a lot of care and effort was put into it. Not only that, the CGI is extremely well-integrated with the live-action footage they shot for it. After seeing films like The Legend Of Hercules that botched that integration up as badly as they did, this is very welcoming to see. The musical score is also excellent; while it does a couple of spots where it doesn’t quite match the action, like the music being a bit too upbeat for the relatively mellow actions of the dinosaurs on screen, it mostly does a great job at accompanying the film. Unfortunately, as good as these two are, they are severely hurt by an executive addition to the film: Voice acting.

In a move that shows not only how little faith movie studios have in the intelligence of their audiences, but also how important creative control is, 20th Century Fox made the decision to include voice acting for the main dinosaurs as a means of better connecting the audience with the characters on screen. What we end up with as a result of this some of the most annoying and child-pandering voice acting of any film this year. It’s bad enough that the voice actors themselves are bad and aren’t capable of doing this kind of work justice, but they are given some truly horrendous dialogue to spew out as well. We’re talking near-endless bodily function jokes, pointless allusions to future history that pretty much breaks any possible immersion, not to mention Leguizamo as our annoying-as-hell narrator. Leguizamo as Alex never once shuts up and keeps commenting and cracking jokes about what’s happening in-film, almost as if the studio-hired writer felt the need to mock the “boring” silent action that was there before; Skyler Stone turns Scowler into a jock stereotype, and an excessively obnoxious one at that; Justin Long in now way has the ability to convey the emotion needed just through voiceover; and Tiya Sircar is about as plain a love interest as you can find.

To make matters even worse, the four voice actors that listed in the plot synopsis? That’s it as far as the voice cast goes. They couldn’t even be bothered to fill in the cast properly, just scraping by with the bare minimum amount of effort. The voice acting doesn’t even match the animation half the time anyway; more than a few times in this movie, we have actors saying lines that aren’t timed properly with what we see, like one scene where Patchi says to run away from a Gorgosaurus that isn’t even on screen until after he says it. Pair this with a very out-of-nowhere and pointless framing device of the nephew of an paleontologist who is told the events of the film by Alex in the present, which serves to do nothing but pad out the running time, yet another bad idea since one of the few good things I can say about this movie is that it is mercifully short.

While all of this sounds bad on its own (and it is), it’s even worse when you consider what the original plan for the film was: No dialogue, no narration just the visuals and the music to tell the story. Even though I think that at least some narration would have helped with this, like something along the lines of David Attenborough to help illustrate enough of what’s on screen to maintain that feel of a nature documentary which it seems like the original film was going for, that concept sounds like it could have been at least a good film, or even something great if treated properly. Instead, what we end up getting is a studio that is too afraid to take risks and going for the easy option to (supposedly) appease younger audiences. If the last few years have taught us anything, with the successes of How To Train Your Dragon, Frozen and everything Laika has brought to cinemas thus far, it’s that audiences are more than willing to try new things and don’t need to be talked down to to enjoy themselves, even younger audiences. This is the kind of cynicism, that children are stupid and will watch anything, which is hurting the film industry as a whole.

All in all, this is a perfect example of fixing what isn’t broken: They took what was originally a great idea, with a documentary-style nature film about dinosaurs, and filled it with bad voice acting and horrible dialogue in a vain attempt to keep the interest of children who would watch it; the voice overs are seriously bad enough to negate what works about this film. This should go down in legend as a monument to bad ideas. It’s worse than I, Frankenstein as, despite having far superior special effects, the horrible production choices here far outweigh whatever good this film once had. However, it’s still not as bad as Love Is Now, which offended me on a more personal level. This isn’t even a film I can recommend for kids as a rental, where parents could leave them to be supervised by Uncle TV for an hour and a half; if a fan edit crops up that removes all of the stupid voiceover and just sticks with the original idea for the film, maybe then I could recommend checking it out. Until then, this should be avoided at all costs.

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