Monday 30 January 2017

Wait A Minute!: The LEGO Movie

Time to shake things up a bit around here as I introduce a new segment to the blog: Wait A Minute! So, even though my penchant for listing every film I review may have provided evidence to the contrary, my opinions on films aren’t necessarily set in stone. In fact, the mental background processing that I do for every film I’ve covered here doesn’t stop once I put my thoughts in writing; sometimes, random thoughts concerning some films do crop up from time to time. With this in mind, in the cases of thoughts that are particularly interesting (to me, at least), I figure I’d make it a new feature on here where I re-discuss films I’ve already talked about once before. Only if something particularly noteworthy comes to mind though, so I don’t end up just repeating myself over and over and over again; I do that enough anyway. And so, to kick off this new segment, let’s get into something that I’m sure most of us have heard of before.

There is nary a cinematic sub-genre that has more immediate scepticism thrown at it than the video game adaptation. Between its track record with only a handful of works worthy of note, and even then most of them aren’t noteworthy for any good reasons, and the inherent difficulty in translating an interactive medium into a strictly non-interactive medium, there is also a lot of rationality behind the scepticism. But what if I told you that there does exist a legitimately good video game movie? Better yet, it’s a fairly recent effort, it was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, a large number of the average audience has seen it (including yourself, most likely) and, to make things even weirder, almost no-one recognises it as a video game movie. If you’ve read the title of this post, you’ve probably figured out what film I’m talking about, but how does it count as a video game movie? Well, before we get into the title proper, let’s get into a little bit of background history on a certain video game company: Traveller’s Tales.

Traveller’s Tales, a British company that has been kicking around since the days of 16-bit computer gaming, doesn’t have the strongest pedigree out there. Largely known for their work on Pixar movie tie-in games, as well as the absolutely wrong-headed Sonic R, they were also responsible for introducing Sony’s flagship character Crash Bandicoot to the sixth generation consoles. Considering this would lead to the Titans sub-series, easily the character’s darkest days, we can debate the worth of that effort from now till doomsday, but as it stands, they have a pretty hefty grip on certain fields of nostalgia.

Where this story becomes relevant to today’s subject comes in 2003, when publisher Giant Interactive Entertainment approached Lucasfilm with the idea for a game based around LEGO figures. Traveller’s Tales were commissioned as developers and, two years later, we were presented with the first iteration of LEGO Star Wars. This particular title, needless to say, was a massive success and would go on to spawn a whole slew of franchise LEGO games, ranging from Lord Of The Rings to Harry Potter to both Marvel and DC superheroes.

Cut to 2007, with Traveller’s Tales being brought under the umbrella of Warner Bros. (because if it isn’t owned by Disney, chances are Warner has its hands on it) and studio executive Kevin Tsujihara takes a look at the profitability of the LEGO games and sees potential for a film based on the tiny pieces of plastic that have formed a large area of many a childhood. Bringing in filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, best known at that point for Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, co-director Chris McKay who helped bring Robot Chicken to life, and Aussie animation house Animal Logic, the film saw release in 2014 to a slew of praise and the emptying of many wallets. Considering it made it onto my list of the year’s best efforts, you can see that I was a part of that crowd (gripes with the third act notwithstanding).

So, what do both of these have to do with each other? Well, they have the exact same approach to their respective subject matters. Aside from translating the buildable freedom that made LEGO the household name that they are, one of the bigger selling points with the original Star Wars game was how it treated the franchise; namely, that it frequently took the piss out of it. With a very tongue-in-cheek and silent-film style of humour, the cutscenes and gameplay paths paid just as much tribute to the saga Lucas built as it did poke fun at its eccentricities. Since it was based on the prequel trilogy, you can imagine that there was a lot of material to work from. From that foundation, the rest of the games would follow, eventually going beyond muted slapstick into voice-acted shenanigans, lovingly ribbing their source material all the while. The LEGO Movie, when taken by its barest elements, has the exact same approach only far more encompassing.

Where the games each riffed on their respective franchises, the movie made fun of not only all the different franchises involved (and thanks to Warner’s influence, there are a lot of varying characters included here) but also the very nature of the Hollywood blockbuster. Early on in the film, Wyldstyle gives a speech to Emmett that is meant to tell him how important he is… and yet it is so impressively all-encompassing that it could be applied to roughly 3/4ths of the films that get released in how easily it sums up the Hero’s Journey framework that, among many others, the original Star Wars made plentiful use of. Add to that the story tropes being played hilariously straight, through characters like Vitruvius and Lord Business, and how it ended up deconstructing the notion of there being a singular true hero in stories like this, and you have a film that ends up fitting rather nicely alongside the Traveller’s Tales ethos.

In conclusion, through a similar approach to humour and storytelling, The LEGO Movie can be considered a spiritual video game adaptation alongside everything else that it has been considered since its release. Even as someone whom has taken the defensive in terms of certain video game adaptations like the recent Assassin’s Creed film, it is honestly kind of surprising that nary a person has brought this point up before; kind of weird considering, with the sequel coming out very soon, this is still one of the most talked-about films of the last decade. So yes, Virginia, there does exist a good video game movie; maybe we can stop being so instantly judgemental and, just putting it out there, give these films a goddamn chance before we chime in with "Yeah, this film’s garbage; ALL video game films are garbage, even before I’ve seen them".

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