Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 1) – Return to Mewni/Moon the Undaunted
Wow…has it really been almost 5 months already!?
When last we left our inter-dimensional cohorts in Star vs the Forces of Evil, Toffee had officially returned, and was in possession of Ludo’s body. The Magic High Commission of Mewni had been taken out, and Queen Moon found herself facing off against one of the most powerful foes she had ever encountered!
Things were also in a precarious place for her daughter, Star Butterfly, who was forced to leave Earth, but not before confessing to her friend Marco Diaz, that she had a crush on him.
There was so much left open (even some threads from the first season!), that we pondered just what the world of the show would look like, when it returned to us. However, I don’t think any of us could have fathomed the Battle for Mewni event that was announced on the DisneyXD channel.
This event combined the first four episodes of the season into a ‘movie,’ that was released on July 15th, 2017. While I originally considered reviewing the episodes as if they were a movie, I felt it best to focus on each of them by episode, just as I’ve done with in previous reviews.
And so, let’s see what the first episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s third season, had to offer.
After the events at the end of last season, Queen Moon is faced with several daunting tasks. These include reviving several members of the Magic High Commission and keeping her daughter Star safe. However, Star feels that they need to confront Toffee, and feels that her Mother is purposefully avoiding her duties.
Ever since seeing Star have some personal moments with her Mom in the Season 2 segment Game of Flags, I had been hoping for some more mother/daughter interaction, and that’s what we get here.
We see a bit of a personality clash between the two, notably in how Moon is struggling to do (what she thinks is) the right thing, and Star not quite seeming to fathom how dangerous things have become (possible shades of her Father).
There’s also a small scene with Marco and his parents, showing how they’re handling Star’s absence on Earth. It’s a nice little moment, before we are fully plunged into the more serious (and dangerous) world of Mewni.
While the story is integral to the Battle for Mewni storyline taking place, it felt a bit uneven, as we see Mother and Daughter struggle with their different viewpoints. We see Star falling back on wanting to use her wand multiple times, even though her Mom cautions her that the magic coursing through it is ‘tainted.’
A saving grace of the segment, comes near the end, when Moon begins to give more information regarding her past, causing Star to take pause. We’ve seen that some times she can respect her Mom, and there comes a rather touching moment between the two, as Star soon realizes some shocking information regarding her Mother, and Grandmother.
The segment is a nice lead-in to the following one, in that much like in her past, Moon is struggling with how to do the right thing…which I think almost any adult with a child can attest to.
Final Grade: B
“I did a lot of things you won’t be doing” – Moon Butterfly (Season 2, Episode 8)
This line always stuck out in my mind when I heard Moon say it, and it almost feels like it foreshadows this story, which is what (I assume) Moon tells Star, continuing the storyline from the previous segment.
After her mother is killed by a rogue monster general known as “The Lizard,” Princess Moon is thrust into the role of Mewni’s new Queen. However, as she grapples with the responsibilities and having to make grown-up decisions, she decides to try and seek help from an unlikely source: former Mewnian Queen, Eclipsa.
Like many, I’ve been somewhat fascinated by the unknown backstory regarding Star’s parents. A young River Johansen (aka Star’s future Dad) also figures into the story here, but in a very minimal fashion. However, it shows that even at this young of an age, it may have been a friendship between River and Moon, that led to their eventual marriage. We even get to see young River verbally showing support for Moon, as many of the ‘adults’ around them, doubt her competence.
What is also notable, is that part of the story’s plot actually answers a question I had, regarding issue 2 of the Deep Trouble comic series based around the series’ characters. However, given what is transpiring within this story, it’s safe to assume that comic issue’s story, takes place after the events we see here.
There are a number of other familiar faces that show up in this segment as well. I was very surprised to see Mina Loveberry in the story, though not as off-her-rocker as she was in the segment Starstruck last season. There’s also a new relation introduced named Count Mildrew, who seems to be rather ‘dramatic’ about certain things. We haven’t seen him depicted in the series yet, and one wonders if he may resurface further in the season.
Of course, one of the more exciting moments, comes when we finally get some time with Queen Eclipsa (voiced by Esme Bianco). Her appearance here feels like a subtle hint of things to come in this season. Eclipsa comes off as being a bit off-kilter, but somewhat serious. However, I can’t help but feel she is hiding something sinister (her cheekmarks are spades after all…which represent ‘death’ in fortune-telling).
With the story being an intriguing character study of a preteen Moon Butterfly, I will say the moments with her dealing with the monsters, feels like the weaker part of the story. Some may note that it doesn’t quite go the way we saw in the Grandma Room tapestry from the Into the Wand segment, but I feel this is the writers saying how history, often isn’t like how it is depicted by artists, after-the-fact.
It is also notable, seeing a number of little character moments the animators give young Moon. Notable is her curling up into a ball, or gripping the long strands of her hair in a nervous fashion, similar to some things that we’ve seen Star do on occasion when she is frustrated, or fearful.
By the end of the story, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling sorry for Moon. She had to grow up before she was ready, and assume an air of nobility and seriousness, that she seems to wear at times almost like a mask. It is also clear she may have made some mistakes during the events we see, leading to some scars that have affected her, well into her adult life.
Episodes that give us introspection into characters usually press my buttons, and this one is definitely one I intend to keep coming back to.
Final Grade: A-
With the first episode of Star’s third season, we have a pretty good two-segment lineup.
Return to Mewni helps show a comparison/contrast between Star and her mother, Moon. Mewni has become a much more dangerous place, as we see Moon struggling to make Star realize that magic may not be able to save them. That struggle is integral to the storytelling, but at times, it feels like it doesn’t flow as smoothly as it should.
Moon the Undaunted finally gives us a look into Moon’s past, one that is informative, yet sad. We see how Moon as a pre-teen, is thrust into a world of responsibility she’s not yet ready for, and makes some mistakes along the way. I hope this opens up the possibility of more backstory for Moon and her husband River, telling about their lives before Star was born.
With 4 episode released at once, the episode reviews are going to be flying by over the next week or two. In the second episode, we’ll catch up with Ludo, following the events of the end of Season 2, in the story segment, Book Be Gone. Then, we’ll check in with Marco, as he journeys to Mewni, and encounters King Butterfly, in Marco and the King. See you back here soon, to discuss the next episode!
Wow. Who would have thought that almost 2 years ago, I’d find myself actively watching a cartoon from the DisneyXD cable channel…and I don’t even have cable!?
Daron Nefcy’s series Star vs the Forces of Evil, managed to push my buttons, given it’s weird humor, as well as it’s own take on ‘magical girl anime.’ Because of it’s unconventional storytelling (being written by myriad storyboard artists and writers), the show is often fascinating, in seeing where it’s episodes will lead.
Over the last few years, I’ve heard of Daron and a number of the show’s staff appearing at numerous events, but was never able to be near any of them. This year, there was word that she would be attending the bi-yearly D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. The Expo is a celebration of all things from The Walt Disney Company, and seeing several items related to Star on the show’s itinerary, I decided to check them out!
With the impending release of the 1-hour Battle for Mewni Season 3 special that weekend (actually, the first 4 episodes of Season 3), I expected a few extra events revolving around the series, but everything related to Star, I found to only be happening on the first day of the Expo.
One thing that bugged me about some fan-related events in the past, is that noone was able to record or chronicle most of what had taken place in them (such as the last few panels out of San Diego Comic-Con!). With that in mind, I decided to focus on chronicling what I experienced during this year’s expo.
And so, on Friday, July 14th, 2017, I found myself in an enormous line, snaking around the outside of the Anaheim Convention Center, mere steps from the Disneyland Resort. Some in the line, had been there since the night before, attempting to get into some of the bigger panels throughout the day.
Once I had made my way through the masses of humanity and onto the convention floor, I immediately headed to the D23 Expo Arena, for their first panel of the day: From Screen to Page: “Gravity Falls” and “Star vs the Forces of Evil.” The panel would cover the process of creating books for both of the series.
(Note: while there was discussion about Gravity Falls at the panel, I’m only going to be focusing on the information regarding Star vs the Forces of Evil).
Before I could even sit down, I was already smiling, seeing a number of cosplayers who came dressed up as characters from the show. However, there were no obscure characters I could see, but plenty of Star Butterfly’s and Marco Diaz’s. The majority of Star’s were dressed in her ‘ghost squid’ dress, though one was dressed in Star’s royal Mewnian dress, and one had her green dress from Season 2.
Our panel’s moderator claimed he was a big fan of both series, and first brought out series creator Daron Nefcy, and Dominic Bisignano. While many of us know Daron as the creator of the series, many might not be as familiar with Dominic, but he’s been a part of the series since the beginning!
Along with working on the book Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension, Dominic has worn many hats on the show, working as a storyboard artist, writer, director, and voice-actor (he voiced the minotaur woman in the Quest Buy segment from Season 1, as seen on the left).
We also heard from several people from Disney Books, who worked on the guide as well. What was great to hear, was that the people from Disney Books, are also fans of these series , and oftentimes, want to put out a great fan-pleasing product!
Also during the panel, Daron and Dominic managed to spill some secrets in regards to some of the show’s episodes:
- The segment in Season 2 titled Ludo in the Wild, was originally going to be completely silent, with the little bird-creature never saying a word. However, voice-actor Alan Tudyk watched the piece, and improvised all the dialogue and sounds Ludo makes during the sequence, and it was soon edited to incorporate his ad-libbing.
- When it came to the Bounce Lounge’s music from the Season 1 segment Party with a Pony, Dominic said he told composer Brian H Kim, to make it sound like “bad German techno music.” (Personally, I rather liked what Kim came up with).
- Upon viewing a layout of Star’s 3-story bedroom that she magicked at the Diaz’s house, Daron and Dominic explained how they didn’t have a fully-realized floor plan, and could often play around with what was on the upper floors.
There were also questions that were asked, that had been submitted via Twitter. Of course, the moderator saved the biggie for last, about making the fanshipping mania known as “Starco,” canon.
Both Daron and Dominic weren’t saying yes or no to that one, but did say that they didn’t believe in ‘forcing’ characters into relationships, reminding me of a line Marco said to Tom in Mr Candle Cares (“You can’t make Star be your girlfriend, unless she wants to”).
When the moderator asked a question about what Daron thinks about the fandom, she made mention of how she was somewhat intrigued by people on Twitter, who created accounts based around the show’s characters. One she made special mention of, was supposed to represent Marco’s parents (Raphael and Angie Diaz). A call was put out into the audience to see if the account’s creator was with us, but there was no response.
We were also treated to two Star-related surprises at the panel.
The first was a short clip from the Battle for Mewni Season 3 premiere, where a younger Moon Butterfly, goes to meet with a monster general, some called “the lizard”…but whom most of us know, as Toffee!
The second surprise, was the announcement that another book related to the show would be coming out at a later time: Star’s Magic Instruction Book!
It looks to follow the same route as the creation of the Gravity Falls Journal 3 book, taking a fictional tome, and filling it out with more material. My one hope is we’ll finally be able to decipher the Mewnian language (something I’ve been trying to do since Season 1!).
When she had come onstage, Daron was carrying something that looked like a copy of Journal 3, but was in actuality, what I assumed to be a physical mock-up of the instruction book! Holding it aloft, it is about the same size as Journal 3, and not the 4-foot tome that almost broke Marco Diaz’s back. Of course, one wonders if there may be a limited edition, with the kind of care and detail afforded to the limited edition release of Journal 3.
In discussing the book and what was inside it, Dominic made note that he felt that when it came to reading books, Star was a ‘skimmer.’ This meant that she would skim a page for some words, but not read through everything. Apparently, there was more to the spell that gave Marco his monster arm in the Season 1 episode of the same name (though I guess we’ll need to wait to find out what more there was, besides “Releasio Demonius Infestica”).
After the panel, I headed off to the autograph signing for Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension.
Rules for the event were that no outside material could be brought into the signing area, and that anything signed, had to be purchased from the Expo. What was most bizarre about this rule, was that for a book signing (of which I’ve attended quite a few!), there was noone at the signing area, with books to purchase!
If you wanted the book, you had to walk a ways over to the Disney Consumer Products booth, and purchase it there.
When I got to the Products booth, there were signs near the books saying “get this autographed,” but the message seemed vague. It didn’t explain who would be doing the signing, or more importantly, when and where it was happening! I could imagine someone buying the book, and then finding out they had missed the event.
When I returned to the signing area (see picture on left), I was surprised to find that the line for Daron and Dominic held only a few dozen people, while for the Gravity Falls creators, their queue had been closed off, as I gazed upon several hundred people on the other side of the signing area! Needless to say, I wasn’t going to be getting a copy of Journal 3 signed that day.
While waiting in line, there was still plenty to see and do, given that many of us who were there, were fans of the series. It was exciting to discuss episodes and scenes with some people that were just as crazy about things as I was! One girl was eagerly quoting lines from the film (oftentimes not caring that her voice was escalating in volume, as she excitedly quoted a number of familiar scenes!).
Speaking of crazy, my vote so far for best Star/Marco cosplay at the expo, goes to this couple (right), who dressed up as Princess Star Butterfly, and Princess Marco Diaz, from the St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses episode! The fact that they went all-out to do these obscure costumes definitely shows they’re pretty big fans. Plus, the woman had custom-made her own Flying Princess Ponyhead!
When it was my turn to finally meet Daron and Dominic, I was pretty excited, and explained how even though I was outside the show’s target demographic, the storytelling kept me intrigued, let alone how Star was the first series that had made me put down money for season passes on iTunes!
While I had their ears, I also decide to lay down a few fan theories I had.
One of them was based on Glossaryck of Term’s rather laissez-faire attitude in recent episodes, which I attributed to him being able to see from the beginning to the end of time. I didn’t get a yes/no answer, but Dominic said I was “on the right track.” Plus, as a bonus, he drew a little image of Glossaryck above his signature when he signed my book (left).
Another theory that I posited to Daron, was regarding Star’s wardrobe, which is decidedly retro when compared to what the other kids in Echo Creek are wearing.
I felt that when the Royal Family -arrived on Earth in the first episode, the King and Queen saw what people in the Earth dimension were wearing, and decided Star needed proper attire to fit in. I imagined that they had stopped at the first clothing store they came to…which happened to be a thrift store, and Star had stocked up on retro dresses from 30-60 years ago.
Daron said she thought it was an interesting theory, though in early ideas regarding the series, she said she felt that Star would have gotten some of her outfits and accessories from a Halloween store. This would have led to Star even using a pumpkin-shaped trick-or-treat basket, as a purse!
Along with her added information about the series, Daron graciously signed my book, AND, drew a little sketch of Star (right)!
I also had to ask Daron, if we were ever going to see the end of the Deep Trouble, 8-issue comic series (that had stopped running shortly after issue #4 was released in January). Sadly, Daron said she didn’t know if we’d get the next 4 issues, with the possibility that low sales and limited availability, might have contributed to Joe Books stopping it’s publication of the title. I did hint to Daron, that I hoped maybe one day, the final 4 issues could be collected in some type of trade paperback (which has currently been done for the first 4 issues).
As I exited the signing area and was putting my book away, I suddenly saw a guy in an aquamarine shirt attempt to enter through the exit.
“Sir, you can’t go in there,” said the security guy nearby.
“No it’s okay, I work on the show,” he replied.
As I looked at the guy’s face, I suddenly realized, I was standing in the presence of Adam McArthur (aka the voice of Marco Ubaldo Diaz)!
I quickly voiced that Adam was correct, and a few seconds later, the guard let him enter the signing area. As he did, I struggled to try and get out my book and a pen, but by then, Adam had sidled up to Dominic and Daron, and become a part of the signing for the rest of those in line.
I was still hoping to get the chance to catch Adam when he left, so I went for a short walk, hoping to be back in time for the signing to end. However, I returned to find the area empty.
After that, my attempts to see the Expo’s big feature animation panel involving Disney Feature Animation and Pixar Animation Studios, were met with bitter failure, as I and many others were shut out due to the huge crowds (many of whom had lined up since the day before to get into that panel!). With nothing else big to wait for, I puttered around, eventually heading outside the front of the convention center, taking a gander at the numerous cosplayers milling about.
As I headed back towards the convention center’s front doors, I suddenly heard someone calling out to me. I turned to my right, and to my surprise, there sat Adam, with a friend of his!
He claimed he had only meant to pop in and say ‘hi’ to his coworker/cohorts, but did say he was willing to spend a little time to talk with me, if I wanted to. I have to say, getting some time to talk face-to-face with Mr McArthur, made the loss of not getting into the animation panel melt away in seconds!
As I sat down eagerly, I first had to thank Adam for giving me a shout-out on my Birthday earlier this year. For those wondering, when the ‘Star-bomb’ of Season 2 episodes hit, Adam did a live Marco Diaz stream, where you could tweet him questions to try and answer. This took place the same day as my Birthday, and I had a huge smile hearing him say my Twitter handle (and even getting my last-name right!).
We talked a bit about those Marco chat sessions, leading me to ask about a hunch I had.
During the chat, someone had asked for the recipe to “Marco’s Super-Awesome Nachos,” and Adam had read off a list of ingredients and directions. When I picked up Star and Marco’s Guide a few weeks later, I noted the recipe seemed the same, and Adam confirmed that he had been reading off an early copy of the book he had on hand during the Q&A event!
It was right after this, that I decided to see if Adam would sign my copy of the guidebook. He gave his signature a little message as well (see left), and I will say, I did eat some nachos the next day at a nearby Rubio’s (any chance to have their super-awesome fish tacos!).
I was also curious, given how Marco can scream and yell a lot, if Adam ever lost his voice after any sessions. I was assured that that hadn’t happened, though when it came to some video game vocal roles, Adam said he had to push himself a bit harder.
My inquiry about his voice, had come about thinking of him screaming in the episode Monster Arm, which I claimed was my favorite episode.
Upon hearing this, Adam related a fun little story. Apparently, when he sometimes encounters voice-actress Grey DeLisle (who voices Jackie Lynn Thomas on the show), she playfully greets Adam with one of her lines from the episode (what that line is, I’ll leave for you to figure out).
I was also curious, if there were any episodes Adam worked on, where he really had a hard time keeping a secret. That turned out to be the case with Running with Scissors, where he was really excited about playing an older version of Marco. We even had a little discussion regarding the mind-bending nature of that segment’s ending.
Eventually, Adam was drawn away by some other people he and his friend were meeting. He apologized for cutting the conversation short, but I was fine with it. He had given me some of his time, and personally (especially at conventions with this many people), I never want to be ‘that fan’ of a series, who monopolizes the time that others can partake in.
By the way, In case you’re wondering, I did not ask Adam about ships or anything top secret (I don’t want him to lose his job, and there’s plenty of other fans who can ask that stuff, and get vague yes-or-no answers). My goal is to usually inquire about some things that I can get answers to.
So that was my crazy “Star Day,” which went pretty well, considering the helter-skelter insanity of the first expo day.
Both Daron and Dominic were great to talk to (though I probably could have asked more in-depth questions of them for hour!). Originally, Adam wasn’t scheduled to show up, but his appearance was quite a surprise. I and many fans have thrilled to him giving little shout-outs and appearances on social media, and it was nice to see he was just as personable in person! I will admit, much like how Star got distracted by ‘certain things’ in Running with Scissors, I found my brain going on auto-pilot a few times as Adam talked, because his voice just seemed to drift into Marco’s so effortlessly, that I began to imagine it was Marco talking to me at times.
While all of my Star-stuff happened on that Friday, I managed to carry over some of that fandom to the next day, when I and a person at the Airbnb we were staying at, decided to line up 5 hours before the Saturday live-action film panel. Having over 5 hours of time to kill, we began looking for ways to keep ourselves pre-occupied.
Along with discussing pros and cons regarding animated and live-action Disney films, I had mentioned my liking the Star series, and had downloaded some epsisodes onto my iPad for viewing, which we proceeded to watch over 3 hours of (one that seemed most appropriate to our line-waiting, was the Goblin Dogs episode!).
To my surprise, my companion was enjoying them and cracking up, as well as asking some questions about the show.
Later on when we met up for dinner, she said she had gone back to the Airbnb, and looking for stuff on Hulu, saw that the show’s two seasons were available. However, due to the sketchy wifi at the place, she was unable to watch any episodes, but claimed she planned to watch more at a later date!
So yes, we may have another person joining he fandom! She also got a kick out of Princess Smooshy’s “Cameraphone” line in the Sleep Spells episode, and in a Facebook post, included that in a hashtag, giving me a laugh!
Sadly, I had no way to watch The Battle for Mewni that day, but given the Star-related hijinks that I had been a party to those 2 days, I was feeling pretty happy. Though for some of you wondering what I thought of the first 4 episodes of Season 3, my review of them will be coming over the course of the next 2 weeks.
In my Animated Dissection columns, I often strive to remember or make note of several films, that I often feel are worth discussing. Some can be well-known films, and some are those that have fallen by the wayside in favor of more popular pieces of work. There will also be some animated films that I just can’t stand…but fortunately, this one isn’t one of them!
Director Hayao Miyazaki may be known for some of his more popular films like My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke, but I have found that one of his more ‘subdued’ films, is one I have often found myself thinking about on several occasions.
In the years following World War I, pilot Marco Pagot shied away from humanity, and became an anthropomorphic pig, assuming the moniker of Porco Rosso (aka “The Crimson Pig”).
Since then, he has used his piloting skills to become a freelance bounty hunter, flying across the Adriatic Sea, often encountering a number of colorful air pirates.
When not bounty hunting, Porco usually heads off to partake in fine wine and good women. Sometimes, he can also be found at the Hotel Adriano, owned by his childhood friend Gina, one of the last connections he has to ‘the old days.’
Things change for Porco, when his plane is badly shot-up by an American pilot named Donald Curtis. With the last of his funds, Porco heads to Milan, and makes contact with a mechanic he knows named Piccolo. For rebuilding the plane, Piccolo assigns his granddaughter Fio to the duties.
Porco is at first against this, but with all the men Piccolo employs away, he is out of options. Porco gives in, with the hopes that the young girl’s work can help him best Curtis, when they meet again.
Hayao Adapts Himself
Sometimes, some of Studio Ghibli’s films directed by Miyazaki, tend to be ‘happy accidents.’ That was the case with Porco.
Originally meant to be a 45-minute feature that would run on Japanese Airlines flights, it was to be an adaptation of Miyazaki’s 15-page watercolor manga, titled The Age of the Flying Boat.
The story is pretty simple, and one can see why it’s 3-part structure, may have been considered an easy piece to become a short feature for an in-flight movie.
Flying Boat serves as the underlying skeleton of the film, though one can definitely see differences in the pieces.
Notable is in the opening fight Porco has against some air pirates. In the manga, they kidnap a young woman, whereas in the film, the pirates kidnap a group of young schoolgirls, leading to a crazy romp as the pirates try to battle Porco in the air, and keep the rambunctious toddlers under control.
There also is the absence of Porco having a storied past, and Donald Curtis is known as Donald Chuck.
The end dogfight between Porco and Donald, also had to adhere to the limits of the printed page. Regarding the big battle, Miyazaki wrote: “If this were animation, I might be able to convey the grandeur of this life-or-death battle. But this is a comic. I have no choice but to rely on the imagination of you, good readers.”
It is notable that when pitching the film to the airlines, they were worried the aerial dogfights might get their proposal denied, but were surprised when the company said had no problems saying ‘yes’ to the material!
As production carried on, the animation and costs proved to be a bit more cumbersome than originally thought. That was when producer Toshio Suzuki, felt they should actually turn Porco into a theatrically released film.
Even though the deal for the film had been changed from it’s original intent, the airline still would be named as an investor in the film, and would still get to run Porco on their flights. Word is, the deal is the reason for the film’s unusual opening, where a number of little green pig-creatures (a design created by Hayao himself!), ‘type’ out a summary of the film, in several different languages.
One could also assume that Miyazaki made up Porco’s human identity, but the name Marco Pagot is actually an homage to a real person Hayao knows (see picture on right)!
The two crossed paths when working on the anime series, Sherlock Hound, of which Pagot (an Italian animator) wrote a number of the episode’s scripts, and Miyazaki directed several of the episodes. Word is that Marco’s wife Gi, may have also inspired the naming of Porco’s friend, Gina.
A Different Kind of Anime
Compared to the other films Miyazaki has directed, Porco is the only film of his where it’s lead is not a young individual. Instead, Porco is a person who was once an optimist, until war and the world disillusioned him, turning him into the ‘creature’ we see.
Some could almost see the film as being in the same vein as Herge’s Tintin comics, or even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark, in how it intermingles action, drama, and at times, comedy.
Porco at times, sounds a bit like how George Lucas originally envisioned Indiana Jones, where the professor of archaeology would be a dashing playboy when he wasn’t off searching for lost relics. Though much like how we saw Indy portrayed in his series of films, we are never privy to Porco’s ‘flings,’ and simply follow him through his sea-based adventures.
Though Porco makes an okay living, it should be noted that a number of air pirates we see, are just as hard-up for funds as he is. When the Mamma Aiuto gang loses the tail on their plane due to a dogfight with Porco, their finances are only able to get them a replacement tail (see picture on right), but not enough money to even paint it, making it’s silvery form stick out like a sore thumb.
Porco himself is also one of the quieter leads that Miyazaki had written up to that point. Often observant and contemplative, he probably speaks the least of all the main characters the director has had. However, it is rather interesting to see how much expression Miyazaki’s animators get out of the minimal movements he has. Plus, for the majority of the film, his eyes are hidden behind the dark shades of his glasses.
Much like how real-world events shaped the work being done on Howl’s Moving Castle’ almost a decade later, events in the area during the 90’s, where the film was taking place, influenced it’s storyline.
When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 90’s, this added an extra tinge of ‘reality’ to the film. Whereas the rise of fascism across the Adriatic in Flying Boat was only hinted at in the adapted manga, we get a small taste of what’s going on in the film, when Porco comes ashore to Dubrovnik.
Paying off the loan on his plane, the bank employee tries to get him to purchase war bonds, but he simply responds that that is something the “humans” can do.
After this, he visits a small shop to pick up some more weaponry and ammunition. Word of a governmental change is on the mouths of several of the shop’s workers, but Porco claims he has no intention to fight in another war.
Also of great interest, is the ‘curse’ surrounding his transformation into a pig-headed man. After all these years, Miyazaki has never given an explanation for the ‘curse,’ often leaving the mystery to the audience, to unravel in their own minds.
Even the face of Porco with his dark glasses, is an image that Miyazaki likes to ‘doodle,’ just as much as his imagery of Totoro. Porco even shows up at the Ghibli Museum’s cafe in Mitaka, Japan. Known as the Straw Hat Cafe, Porco’s head appears over the cafe’s chalkboard menu, but instead of his aviation goggles, he wears a straw hat.
Women in Control
With his previous features, Miyazaki largely focused on female leads. From Nausicaa to Kiki, his girls and women often found their optimism tested in the face of adversity, or events that were oftentimes foreign to them.
Though Porco is our lead for this film, Miyazaki makes sure that the girls and women that we see around him, are often some of the more level-headed characters.
Of those we see, the characters of Gina and Fio act as a sort of yin-yang
Gina was a former childhood friend of Porco’s, and was married to one of their friends. However, when we see Gina, she is a widow, entertaining and running her hotel in the Adriatic Sea. She is self-sufficient, and though it seems she may pine for Porco at times, she is not one to just run off with any man.
This is notable when Donald Curtis finds her in her garden, and in a rather extravagant, “American” way, proposes to her…which leads to Gina laughing heartily, as she hears him claim that he intends to become President one day!
While Gina is the older woman who has lived life and matured, Fio is the young girl, the optimist with unending energy, that often overpowers some of Porco’s own misgivings.
Notable is when Piccolo declares that she will be doing the new design work on Porco’s plane. Porco is at first against this, but she manages to convince him with her enthusiasm, as well as her ‘plussing’ Porco’s plane. Much like the disconnect between some generations, Porco doesn’t wholly understand a lot of what Fio is doing to his plane, but he trusts her enough to figure that the alterations she pushes him to approve, are going to help him out in the long run.
Another notable scene comes later on, when Fio and Porco encounter the air pirates, who first intend to destroy Porco’s rebuilt plane, until Fio reminds them of the honor of being ‘flying boat pilots.’
Women also become the only workforce available to Porco and Piccolo, as a number of men have left Milan because of the Great Depression, leaving Piccolo’s relations to carry on the rebuilding effort.
Several of Miyazaki’s works reference Europe, and the locales of this film, play out in such a way, that a few of it’s panoramic landscapes may get stuck in your head.
Most notable to me, is one where Porco decides to head off to Milan. as a Mandolin strums a melody, we see the red plane, but far away, as an enormous mass of clouds seems to dwarf it!
The film at times seems to act as an eye-opening travelogue to the Adriatic, given all the scenery we visit. Even Porco’s island hideaway looks like the perfect place to get some peace and quiet.
One of the film’s more ethereal moments, comes when Porco tells of a near-death experience he had, near the end of the first World War.
Seeing a streak of white high in the air, it soon turned out that it was a ‘stream’ of planes, (thousands of them!), and of which Porco soon saw his comrades who had perished in a recent aerial battle, rise to become a part of!
The scene is one of those that seems to ‘haunt’ my memories. It is a vision I have never seen committed to film before: the sight of numerous vintage aircraft, flying in a neverending stream. Are they going somewhere? Are they cursed to forever circle above us, never to be seen? We’ll never know.
An Ode to older animation
While the Ghibli style is present in this film. it should be noted that it seems the animation stylings of the time, can be glimpsed in a few places.
Most noticeable is in a black-and-white cartoon Porco sees, under cover of talking with a former Italian Air Force comrade.
The short seems to combine a number of different animation stylings, with it’s characters first seen flying in planes, which may be a reference to the first Mickey Mouse short, Plane Crazy. It’s lead characters seem to be a sort of loose-limbed rabbit character, and a large pig who attempts to abduct the heroine. This could also be some form of homage to Mickey Mouse, and his first nemesis, Peg-Leg Pete.
The heroine of the short, appears to be an amalgamation of Fleischer Studios’ depictions of Olive Oyl from their Popeye shorts, as well as with her ‘glamorous’ facial features, a mix of Betty Boop.
The leader of the Mamma Aiuto gang also may be influenced by Popeye, with his buff physique and spiky beard, he bears a passing resemblance to Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto.
It could also be said that the final fight between Curtis and Porco, may also be a small homage to the rock-em/sock-em fights that took place between Popeye and Bluto.
Music of a Bygone Era
When it comes to music, Jo Hisaishi’s score for Porco, is one of the more journey-filled pieces he’s done for his friend’s films.
For the Mamma Aiuto gang and some of the other air pirates, Hisaishi breaks out the brass instruments, making it sound like most of what they are doing, is little more than an ‘aerial circus.’
When the action ramps up, so do the strings, and even at times, the woodwinds. A notable piece is when Porco and Fio escape Milan, as the Italian authorities attempt to apprehend him. It’s a tense scene of escaping through the city’s waterways, with a Shostakovich-like piano melody that plays over the scene.
Throughout the film, a mixture of piano and strings often punctuates Porco’s quieter moments, a trace of wistful melancholy flowing through some scenes. A piece dealing with Porco and Gina sharing time at her hotel, also has the faintest hints of the song “As Time Goes By” to it, as if the composer tried to throw in a little homage to Casablanca.
Fio also gets a theme, with woodwinds being the major motif. Her piece is a bit more ‘playful,’ and often enhances a number of scenes where the focus shifts to her.
Notable to me, is the closing song for the film, titled Once in Awhile, Talk of the Old Days. The track has a wistful melody, starting and ending with piano, before eventually building to a plateau with a number of strings, sounding like wind skimming across the mists of time.
I recall going back to my hometown in Iowa 9 years ago for my high school reunion, and the song seemed to sum up my feelings, seeing people I last remembered as teenagers, back when the world seemed more optimistic. The track played in my ears, as the bus took me out of a place I could recall more wistfully from youth, but had changed over time.
That seems to largely be the theme of Hisaishi’s overall score: music that feels like you’re looking back on a time and place. The memories are there, but it’s all a bit hazy from the decades that have passed.
When one compares Porco Rosso to some of Miyazaki’s more ‘popular’ works, it often seems to easily get lost in the shuffle. Personally, I often feel that I and a select few people, are the only ones who have some love for the film.
One of the things that is most notable, is that it is one of Miyazaki’s shortest films, but the pacing of the film is so good, that it often feels like it is over too soon! I can’t recall ever being bored once during the entire film.
In researching this blog post, I was looking for further information in regards to Miyazaki’s remembrances, or comments following the release of the film.
Unlike some directors who seem to have fond memories of previous films, Miyazaki rarely seems to gush or hold any of his past works in high praise. This is notable in watching the documentary, In the Kingdoms of Dreams and Madness. One of the women in the documentary makes references to Kiki’s Delivery Service, as well as Porco Rosso. Porco is brought up, given that the film that was being worked on at the time (titled, The Wind Rises), also deals with flying machines.
However, when he remembers his older work, Miyazaki merely calls it “a foolish film.”
An interview for Animerica Magazine in 1993, also had him feeling that the film flew in the face of his feelings, that (in his own words), “animation is for children.”
It should be noted that a few years ago, rumor surfaced of a possible sequel to the film. Studio Ghibli is not a studio known for sequelizing, so this news was met with some caution.
A rumored title was Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie, and would have featured Porco taking to the air once again, this time as an aged pilot, during the Spanish Civil War.
No concept art or anything more was ever shown of this, and with the current status of Studio Ghibli seemingly closed off from doing anything other than an upcoming film project with Miyazaki, it is possible that The Last Sortie may join the ranks of many other projects the famed animation director considered, but never worked on.
Personally, I found the end of Porco Rosso had a decent closure to it’s story. Some loose ends were tied up, but other mysteries remained, for one of Hayao Miyazaki’s pieces, that feels like a good memory, I often enjoy coming back to.
Pretty good work for a film that was originally meant to play to weary businessmen.
“Porco Rosso is a product of the early ’90s, of my world views being challenged by real-world events. It’s also the product of my resolve to overcome the challenge and build a stronger way of life, a stronger way of looking at things.” – Hayao Miyazaki, from an interview conducted by Takashi Oshiguchi in 1993, for Animerica Magazine)
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
Much like the song by the group Third Eye Blind, Writer/Producer/Director Roland Emmerich, seems to live a “semi-charmed life,” with much of it happening during the 1990’s.
There was mild interest and praise when it came to his and partner Dean Devlin’s 1994 film Stargate, but 2 years later, the two would rule the worldwide box-office.
Enticing people with trailer imagery of aliens destroying The White House (which also elicited cheering from some audiences!), their summer release Independence Day, became one of their biggest success stories…and one that they failed to repeat over the years.
While many of us seemed to think the film was over-and-done-with, there were some die-hard fans who felt that there was more to the story. Some imagined that we had just seen the first wave of an invasion force, and hoped for more.
And so, 20 years later they got more…but it wasn’t quite the ‘more’ they hoped for, turning many a fan’s wishful dream, into a retreaded nightmare.
*Warning: this post will journey into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want to have anything about the film ruined, turn back…but who am I kidding? You didn’t see it, and want to know why to avoid this thing like an alien plague, right?*
Every director has a crutch they usually end up falling back on. For Roland Emmerich, it is that cruel mistress, known as ‘coincidence.’
While coincidence didn’t totally overwhelm ID4, going onward, I came to see it more and more in his films (from a taxi cab constantly avoiding his Godzilla, to John Cusack maneuvering a limo through a crumbling Los Angeles, and more!). One would hope Roland would have learned his lesson by now, but just like how Michael Bay seems to keep assuming that snarky jerks are the everyman of today’s films, Roland can’t escape ‘coincidence.’
Plus, by the looks of one scene, they finished building our moon base’s laser-cannon just in the nick of time, as the aliens seem to come upon us within mere hours of it’s being fully-operational (and which they quickly succeed in destroying).
Oh, and remember how President Whitmore mentioned in the first film, that ‘maybe it’s fate, that today is the Fourth of July?’ Well, would you believe the next wave of aliens decided to launch their attack 20 years to the day we fought back? Yep, that happens here!
Of course, one of the biggest moments where you might cry ‘enough,’ comes at the end, when the massive Queen Alien, stalks after a school bus, while also firing on it with her own personal laser-gun (yeah, her ‘subjects’ made her her own BFG!). But, just like such close-calls in Godzilla (1998) and 2012, this huge creature can’t seem to take down this tiny little school bus!
There’s plenty more ridiculousness to be had in the end as well, but I’ll stop, lest I drone on for another thousand words.
When it comes to sequels, it’s a given that most people want to see those characters they remembered from the last film. In the case of this film, it’s almost like going to a Hollywood Autograph Show, to see who needs some extra cash.
The biggest news was Will Smith turning down reprising his character (Captain Steven Hiller) in the sequel, but names such as Bill Pullman (as President Charles Whitmore), Jeff Goldblum (as David Levinson), and Vivica A Fox (as Steve’s widow, Jasmine) came back. However, they are largely relegated to supporting players, with Goldblum’s David being the only one who gets a ‘meatier’ role.
Fox’s character could almost have been written out entirely, as she seems to garner less than 5 minutes of screentime. Most likely, this was the writer’s ham-handed attempt to give us an emotional moment for her son Dylan to have (a moment that fails to deliver when the time comes).
One of the few moments where I was somewhat taken aback by a character’s appearance, was in the brief acknowledgement of General Grey (played by the late Robert Loggia). Grey was the gruff General by Whitmore’s side in the first film, and here, he is given a small cameo, along with a very quick eye-to-eye with Whitmore.
With the former film’s main cast now a bunch of ‘old fogies,’ Emmerich’s attempt to keep the series alive, falls on ‘a new generation’ of kids, who grew up in the wake of the 1996 attack. However, by the end of the film, I couldn’t even tell you what any of their names were!
Emmerich seems to be trying to pull a Top Gun vibe here with his pilot characters. They include Dylan Hiller (Steve Hiller’s stepson, played here by Jessie Usher), Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Charlie Miller (Travis Tope).
Plus, would you believe that former President Whitmore’s daughter (played this time by Maika Monroe) also is a former fighter pilot, along with being Jake’s fiance?
Of course, one of the biggest re-jiggerings of a character after they are presumed dead, comes in regards to Dr Brakish Oaken (played by Brent Spiner). It turns out that being an alien conduit in the first film didn’t kill Oaken, but just sent him into a coma for 20 years…one that he conveniently wakes from just as the aliens show up this time, and with no muscle atrophy, simply starts walking around and acting just as obsessed with aliens as he did 2 decades ago!
The film also does away with some characters, as if they never existed.
A prime example, is Constance Spano (played by Margaret Colin) from the first film. Having divorced from David a few years prior to the first film, the events of the first film made it seem that the two would reconcile.
Surprisingly, she is never mentioned once in Resurgence! Instead, we get a new love interest, in the form of Catherine Marceaux (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). However, she is little more than a talking head whom the film intends to make us believe, has “chemistry” with Goldblum’s David.
Also in regards to David, is the return of his father, Julius. In one scene, Roland could have given us the perfect opportunity to kill off Julius and make us actually give a damn…but instead, the elder Levinson becomes an adoptive father-figure to some displaced kids, and ends up taking the wheel of a school bus (I wish I was joking, but I’m not)!
Speaking of orphaned kids, we have ANOTHER group of characters missing-in-action: the children of Russell Casse (played by Randy Quaid).
The last time we saw these three, was at Area 51 in the first film, with Casse’s eldest son Miguel (James Duval) witness to his Dad’s sacrifice.
However, in this film, there’s no mention of what became of Russell’s kids. Plus, we get the subtlest of references to Mr Casse, when we are shown a brief glimpse, of a rebuilt Washington Monument. His name is carved into the structure, but it’s one name out of hundreds that passes by as we see a flying vehicle catch our attention (and, it’s several hundred feet in the air where even the most casual tourist can’t even read it!).
Of course, what happens in this film is nothing new, as Emmerich seems to fancy himself as some master of ensemble casting in numerous films. However, it seems rather odd that when it comes to a group of young persons who grew up orphaned in the wake of the last attack, a few of Casse’s kids wanting to join up wasn’t considered!
If you saw Back to the Future as a kid like I did, I assume you were just as surprised as I was, when the DeLorean Time Machine, folded in it’s wheels, and flew off into the sky!
With the kind of hover-technology and weaponry the aliens carried in the first film, one would assume we’d have had some big advancements 20 years in the future, right?
Well…only if you are the government, or the Military.
The alien technology seems to make flight and maneuverability so much easier (it’s no problem to just take off from Earth and fly to the Moon in a matter of minutes for those in the Armed Forces!)…so why do civilians still rely on fossil fuel-based vehicles (see right)? Or for that matter, still use helicopters with rotors? Heck, this world still uses massive seafaring cargo ships that seem to take a lot of time to cross oceans!
Apparently, the only other use this anti-gravity technology has been used for…is to create giant jumbo-tron flat-screens for events like this one in D.C.
To me, this could mean one of two things:
- Despite nations of the world working together, Big Oil survived the 1996 attack, and is still affecting fuel consumption around the world.
- The filmmakers had to make budget cuts, and severely limited how many flying vehicles they could have people using on-screen.
Anyone remember the film 300? That film seemed to live-and-die based on imagery of Gerard Butler yelling into the camera…but as to the rest of the film, most don’t recall much beyond Butler yelling, “SPAR-TAHNS!!”
The first Independence Day was rife with all sorts of one-liners that stuck in people’s heads (most of them recited by Will Smith). However, the one bit that almost everyone recalls, is President Whitmore’s big speech before everyone goes into the final battle.
For some reason, the aliens heard this speech (and somehow have visuals of it!?), and even the current President (played by Sela Ward), invokes part of it during the 20th anniversary celebration of the event.
We even get a rather mean tease, as it feels like Whitmore is going to give us this film’s ‘big speech,’ but instead…it just turns into a semi-boisterous declaration that fizzles out!
There’s also a small, eye-rolling cameo, as we see Will Smith: in a painting, as his son goes to meet Whitmore’s daughter in the White House.
Of course, one of the biggest throwaway lines comes when the current President (played by Sela Ward) is confronted by aliens at the secret bunker she’s been taken to.
“There will be no peace,” she says, in one of the strangest line references to the first film…a line that only the most die-hard of fans will get (or those of us who’ve seen the film a few dozen times).
in case you’re wondering, this line refers to a scene where Dr Oaken is being used as a vocal conduit by one alien, and Whitmore asks if ‘there can be a peace.’
“Peace…no peace,” the alien says through Oaken.
Over the years, I’ve seen this happen in a number of ‘second’ films. There becomes this uncontrollable desire by the filmmakers, that they need to make everything bigger and better than the first film (and a main reason why I started this sub-category).
That is definitely the case here, when the aliens attack. The first film had ships with a 15-mile radius descending on numerous cities. Here, we get one massive ship, over 3,000 miles wide, and threatening to break the planet’s crust (though it does land, we never get any follow-up regarding that crust-breaking claim!). It also comes with a detachable ‘Harvester Queen’s Lair,’ so her ship can approach Area 51, just like that one ship in the first film.
There also is an amped-up storypoint, regarding the harvesting of our planetary resources. The first film covered the aliens’ invasion with a quick explanation by President Whitmore. In this film, the keywords to their attack this time, are ‘our molten core.’ There is a hokey explanation at the beginning of the film (apparently, one of the first film’s ships landed and attempted to drill), and then plenty of science mumbo-jumbo happens, as it seems noone can calculate just how long it takes the aliens to drill to the center of the Earth.
It’s never explained just why or how they use this material to make their weapons and technology, but the film’s attempts to make this one of several ‘ticking clocks’ in the final third of the film, quickly gets rather humorous. One could almost make a drinking game for every time some actor tries to make the phrase ‘our molten core,’ sound serious.
The same kind of overkill, appears to also be prevalent in the film’s special effects-heavy scenes.
Much like how George Lucas seemed to peg an all-CG world as the next evolutionary step in his ‘universe,’ so too has Emmerich. The intricate models and miniature effects are gone, replaced with extensively-built CG environments.
This is largely on display as the Mother Ship’s own gravity, sucks up all sorts of things (including buildings) from China and the Middle East, and many miles away, deposits them onto London.
We’re meant to be in awe of what we are seeing, but it just struck me as rather ‘meh.’ Sure, we see the Burj Khalifa tower impacting the ground, disintegrating in a flurry of debris and glass shards, and London’s Tower Bridge being destroyed (again?), but it all seems so…impersonal (doesn’t help that our ‘heroes’ flying through the debris, seem rather detached from the fact that they are surrounded by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people!).
Strangely enough, I felt a bit more reality was given in the Chicago invasion scene in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The reason? We actually got to see people affected by the destruction…let alone people being obliterated by the enemy!
It could be that also like what Lucas did with his Star Wars prequels, Emmerich has also become detached from ‘humanity,’ and would rather try and distract us with what awesome CG effects he has at his disposal.
We even get the filmmakers trying to make a ‘small’ joke, as one of the massive landing legs on the ship, just seems to ‘nudge’ the rebuilt White House, before a piece of debris knocks it’s American Flag and pole, slightly askew.
Probably not since Transformers: Age of Extinction, have I seen a film try to pander so much to the Chinese marketplace.
We get everything from a voice telling of a Moon Milk drink, to the President’s daughter using the program QQ to chat with her fiance. I have used QQ in the past, but it’s largely a messenger program, related to the Chinese marketplace.
Plus, the film has no problem just making the Asian masses on-screen, be the human cannon-fodder this time as the aliens invade. We see the all-Chinese crew on the moonbase’s defense system obliterated, let alone see hundreds running for their lives and sucked up in one scene.
Plus, the defense system on the moon is considered to be part of a ‘United Global Defense Unit,’ but for being ‘united,’ it is heavily-controlled by the Chinese. So, what happened? Did the UGDU need emergency funding, and the Chinese were eager to buy them out?
When it comes to big-names from China, the film casts model-turned-actress, Angelababy (aka Yang Ying), as China’s representative pilot. However, she serves as little more than eye-candy, and relationship fodder for one of the American pilots, played by Travis Tope (who gives one of the worst pick-up line deliveries I’ve heard in awhile!).
If Emmerich had at least given Angelababy some decent character development, I probably wouldn’t be so unforgiving, but she serves about as much purpose here, as most women do in a Michael Bay film.
Some people I talked to online before the film’s release, had ‘starry-eyes,’ imagining that this sequel would shed more light on the exo-suited alien race from the first film.
As I expected, we got very little extra knowledge, except that these aliens just love sucking up planetary resources.
It’s also never fully-explained why the massive ship chose to come to our planet. It is commanded by a Harvester Queen, which there seem to be an abundance of in this species. There is a strange subtext that she seems to be zeroing in on Pullman’s character for revenge, but these creatures also seem to be intended to be devoid of emotions.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the Alien Queen from attempting to destroy a puny schoolbus or Whitmore’s daughter, rather than try and carry out her ‘master plan.’
In Resurgence, we also get the introduction of a new alien species: one that ported itself from biological, to digital many years prior, after an attack by the aliens on it’s homeworld. The alien appears in the form of a white sphere, that then holo-projects things to the humans. Though strange enough, the humans turn it on and off by touch, like a computer (then again, it looks like some futuristic Apple product!).
This is Emmerich’s attempt to try and make his Universe even bigger, but his concept here just becomes flimsier, the more information we find out regarding this new lifeform.
It doesn’t help that the alien came ‘to evacuate as many humans as possible,’ but didn’t make us aware of it’s intentions, and was attacked by the ESD’s moonbase cannon.
Plus, this entity is supposedly the leader of a hidden world that teaches other alien species to build weapons to counter the evil aliens…yet, was not smart enough to not send itself!? One would assume they would send out some sort of ambassador or ‘scouting party,’ on the off-chance a hostile entity would try to do them in.
Instead, the alien just goes, “My radioactive signature will be detected by the Queen, therefore, you must destroy me before she gets ahold of me.”
For an alien species that has gone digital, this one isn’t too bright. Plus, at the end, the rather coincidental way that the humans win the fight (like the first film, it all relies on sheer dumb luck!), is enough for the sphere to want the humans to come to it’s homeworld, and lead it’s planned resistance.
Of course, given how well this film went over, I seriously doubt intergalactic space-travel and that huge war across the stars, is ever going to occur. At the very least, we’ll hopefully be spared another stupidly coincidental way in which more of the evil aliens are destroyed.
While there were numerous tie-ins and much publicity, some sensed all was not well, when Twentieth-Century Fox claimed they would not hold early press screenings for the film. To many, this was a sign that something was amiss…and when the film was finally released, those feelings were allayed, big-time.
Personally, while many gnashed and complained about the 2016 Ghostbusters film being a ‘crime against humanity,’ I felt that Resurgence better fit the bill (hey, at least Ghostbusters had it’s own ‘Will Smith,’ in the form of Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann character!).
A lot of films related to 10-30 year old properties these days, seem to fall back on that unfortunate tact, of simply ‘recycling,’ and ‘punching-up’ the older story, and that’s what we have here.
Emmerich and Devlin caught lightning in a bottle in the Summer of 1996, and when trying to do the same thing 2 decades later, it just looks pathetic.
To me, Independence Day was a product of it’s time A film made when corporations were taking over Hollywood, actors were demanding $20 million+ paydays, and film and advertising budgets were also ballooning out-of-control.
At this point, it feels very unlikely that Fox will pony up more dough for Emmerich to make another feature film related to Independence Day…though maybe like how Stargate spun off into it’s SG-1 and Atlantis counterparts, a TV series might be the only way for Roland to continue his own intergalactic space opera.
Oh, and one more thing Roland…DID WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER ‘DOG IN DANGER’ MOMENT!? THIS ISN’T 1996!!!
Rated R for violence and language throughout
While I grew up loving and watching films made by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, I was always on the lookout for new directors to add to that must-see list, who would engage my senses with their unique vision. In the late 2000’s, the name Edgar Wright quickly made the leap onto that list.
Wright’s films had a nostalgic taste of pop-culture, while often engaging in stories where their somewhat childish protagonists, would need to take charge of their lives, and grow up (often through rather bizarre circumstances!).
After he was let go from the Marvel Studios production of Ant-Man, many wondered just where Wright’s creativity would go afterwards. I will admit, when the title of his next writer/director project came up, my first thought was a mental flash to the poster for the family comedy, Baby’s Day Out.
However, once the first trailers hit for his new film, that image was thrown aside, as I soon felt I had found my must-see film for the Summer of 2017.
In Atlanta, Georgia, a young man known only as Baby (Ansel Elgort), serves as the getaway driver for a number of heists, engineered by a man known as Doc (Kevin Spacey).
Unlike a typical getaway driver, Baby is usually plugged into one of his many iPods (the music helps cancel out the ringing of tinnitus in his ears), which serve as a soundtrack to the numerous jobs he pulls.
One day, Baby chances upon a waitress named Debora (Lily James). Her love of music and engaging Baby in conversation, may be just what he’s looking for. But, in order to have a chance with her, Baby has to get out of his ‘job’…which may not be as easy as he thinks.
While Wright’s Shaun of the Dead focused on 30-somethings, and Scott Pilgrim vs the World focused on teenagers, Baby Driver is his first film to focus on 20-somethings. It definitely helps in a story that deals with a young man named Baby, who is at a crossroads in his life, with a few options…many of which are not the sanest of choices.
Ansel Elgort plays Baby as a quiet-yet-observant young man, who speaks only when spoken to, or when he feels he has something to say. Also of note is the pop-cultural flair that his wardrobe displays, with the white-and-back shirt/vest, looking like it came from Han Solo’s closet. In a sense, Baby is like an earthbound Han: using his driving skills to make money, but not really wanting to get involved in other’s affairs (and like Solo, Baby has a debt or two to pay off!). There is also a sense of dignity to what Baby does, in that while he is helping others commit crimes, he does not want to hurt the innocent.
To Baby, the music on his iPod‘s are a soundtrack to the world he lives in, and to him, the world has to sync up to them in order for him to function (I got a big kick out of him telling some of his cohorts to wait to pull off their job, until he reset a song!).
Along with filmmakers Cameron Crowe and James Gunn, Wright is one of the film filmmakers who really knows how to put together a decent playlist. Every film he’s made has usually featured a catchy lineup, but Driver is the first film he’s done, where it’s playlist is actually hardwired into the film itself!
It’s not just enough that Baby has to be listening to a particular track, but the film’s edits, the firing of guns, and much more, largely keep time to the music being played. Wright even has some fun with this during a coffee-run Baby performs, with a single-take camera move that has some excellent blink-and-you’ll-miss-them-the-first-time song lyrics, graffiti’d onto some surrounding buildings and telephone poles.
The music is often a key to the various car chases and heists that Baby pulls with a slew of other characters. Each one has their own specific eccentricities, with the most violent being Jamie Foxx’s Bats. He’s the guy with a hair-trigger, and his ‘off-the-cuff attitude,’ makes him a character you quickly grow to dread, when the camera lingers on him.
Of the other cohorts Baby works with, two of interest are Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzales). Buddy is quick to catch our attention, seeing as he’s the only crew member who seems willing to engage with Baby on a musical level (they soon start comparing playlists at one point!). However, his and Darling’s relationship, almost serves as a cautionary tale of ‘love-on-the-run,’ much like Bonnie and Clyde.
Like Darling is to Buddy, a young waitress named Deborah begins to become a part of Baby’s life. Lily James plays her character as the yang to Baby’s yin. She doesn’t have a big role in the film, but James’ waitress is just as integral to Baby making a change to his life, as Scott Pilgrim was upon seeing Ramona Flowers (however, Deborah doesn’t turn into a battle-warrior like Ramona does). James’ role is brief, but enjoyable.
Reuniting with cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Scott Pilgrim vs The World), Wright shows that his crew has an eye for capturing and editing action coherently (in a world where quick edits ala Paul Greengrass and Michael Bay are the norm). There’s method to the madness in many an action scene, and the best part is, we are never at a loss regarding where to focus our attention.
While the concept and story are a new and original journey for Wright, the underlying theme of growing up that has permeated through his other films can soon be recognized by ‘veteran viewers.’ However, the twists and turns that are thrown along the film’s path, keep it from ever getting boring. Plus, while there are a few humorous moments, Driver may be one of the more serious films that the director has ever done. There are some points where Wright just had me on edge regarding what would happen to Baby, or Debora.
Wright’s films have not been the easiest for most American theatergoers to zero in on. Even 13 years after Shaun of the Dead, he has yet to have a film that has gone mainstream beyond the small amassings of cult followers to his work.
While Hot Fuzz was his way of paying tribute to his love of action films, Baby Driver appears to be his ode to chase and heist films, notably the ones in which the main character, struggles with keeping their moral compass from cracking.
Final Grade: A- (Final Thoughts: “Baby Driver” is that rare, ‘original’ film buried within a summer of blockbuster sequels, that just delivers as a smart-yet-fast action ride. It is definitely one of Edgar Wright’s less-humorous stories, but it’s musical journey following Baby on his road to self-discovery, is one that is both fast, smart, and an emotional rollercoaster ride.)
Rated Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, I was in the throes of doing something that I had sworn never to do again: I was anticipating the release of a Michael Bay film.
Ever since I played with Transformers toys as a kid, I like many, dreamed of seeing those crudely-animated cartoons become real-life ‘robots in disguise,’ and so too did Steven Spielberg. It was Steven who wanted Bay to direct his Dreamworks-produced Transformers film, and upon seeing Steven’s name as executive producer (and Industrial Light & Magic bringing these characters to life), I ended my ‘no Bay’ rule (temporarily). Since then, his Transformers films have been the only Bay-directed films I’ve see in theaters.
The 2007 film became the one film that I was willing to give Michael props on. However, in the 10 years since that film, the live-action series has ‘transformed’ into one built on foreign box-office, and Bay’s frat-boy hubris. And now, the fifth installment in the series has been unleashed on the world, with many wanting to know, if The Last Knight can redeem the series from the critical drubbing it took with 2014’s Age of Extinction.
Several years have passed since the events of the last film. In that time, the Autobots are still ‘illegal aliens,’ and Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has gone into hiding with them. More Transformers have also been coming to Earth recently, with many in the United States being captured and detained by the human-led, Transformers Reaction Force (aka the TRF).
As Cade attempts to help a number of Autobots on the run from the TRF, he soon finds himself rescuing a young orphan named Izabella (Isabela Moner), and encountering a human-sized automaton named Cogman (Jim Carter). Cogman soon leads Cade to England, where along with an Oxford professor named Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), is introduced to Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins).
Burton has concluded, that something big is happening on Earth involving the Transformers, and that Cade and Vivian, are to play an integral part in these events.
With Age of Extinction, the live-action franchise was diverted in a whole new direction. The world of the Transformers began to open up a bit beyond just the scope of our planet, as we were given hints about the Autobot’s creators, as well as a legendary group of knights, that Optimus recruited to help in the film’s final battle.
With three writers (led by Akiva Goldsman) at the helm this time, The Last Knight faces a new foe, one that has recently caused great anguish for many a film fan in other series: world-building. Apparently, numerous humans have kept hidden their association with giant mechanical robots for centuries. They were there helping King Arthur, they were there to help bring down Hitler, and given shots of numerous famous persons in Sir Edmund Burton’s study, it’s assumed they helped out many, many more humans.
Much of this information is delivered through flashback, but also in a long, drawn-out exposition by Hopkin’s character. He’s basically our ‘Morpheus’ of the piece, telling our heroes what they need to know…but not too much, err we risk not being surprised when we find some things out.
Character-wise, there aren’t a whole lot to really root for. Almost everyone has an attitude, tries to ‘talk tough,’ and usually try to one-up the other. Probably the most level-headed character is the returning Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), who has become a reluctant member of the TRF, and seems to be the main guy leading a number of soldiers into action.
Cade and Lennox have had experience with Transformers, but every one of these films needs a human newcomer to their world, and that is Vivian Wembley, whose family history secretly connects her to our story. While being a piece to the film’s overall puzzle, she is sadly forced to banter back-and-forth with Cade, in a typical ‘animosity-equals-attraction’ storytelling form, that doesn’t seem uncommon for a Bay film.
Also adding some ‘girl-power’ to the film, is Isabela Moner, one of the most touted new members of the film’s human cast, who plays an orphaned girl in Chicago, who befriends and fixes outcast Autobots (though this skill is largely left up to our imagination, as the most we have is her spouting technical jargon). Much of the time however, her character’s personality feels like a cross between Scrappy-Doo (seriously, she tries to talk tough to Megatron!), and Ian Malcolm’s daughter Kelly from The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Of all the characters we’re introduced to, it feels like she could be excised out of the film entirely.
We also get a hefty number of Transformers this time around, but most of the time they feel like walk-on ‘set dressing,’ delivering some smart-@$$ lines, and then disappearing from a scene. The most time we get with them is mostly comprised of scenes with Bumblebee, and Burton’s assistant, Cogman. As for Optimus, he’s in the film, but it feels like he only gets about 10 minutes of screen-time.
Along with the task of ‘world-building,’ the bigger problem with Knight, is that even though it is one of the shorter Transformers films (coming in at around 2 1/2 hours!), it feels like it just drags on too long. In a strange way, from it’s first scenes, it feels like it is in a race to juggle it’s myriad subplots, AND hit it’s designated run-time, but it just ends up throwing too much at us, too fast. By the end, I was feeling as fatigued as when I came out of 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen. In fact, the film’s pacing and storytelling even feels like a distant cousin to that film (notable in the neverending battle/ticking-clock ending!).
Like the previous films, it tries to make us feel that the human story is the one we are really interested in, but many of us are just here for the Transformers. Industrial Light & Magic continues upping their game here, from in-camera transformations, to some massive set-pieces, that would have been impossible to animate and render a decade ago.
The film also attempts to stitch together all five films, notably in how we get a number of references (and ‘easter eggs’) to previous ones (and some of the different animated series based on the characters). However, there are still questions that they never give us the answers to (like how/when did Galvatron from the last film, become Megatron again?).
For those wanting to see some familiar faces, cool transformations, and speeding vehicles, you’ll get that here…but, you might find yourself having to impatiently sit through a lot of exposition that may surely go over the heads of the more casual filmgoer, as Paramount Pictures and Hasbro seem intent to think you’ll be eager to get sucked into a world that wishes to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Final Grade: C- (Final Thoughts: “Transformers – The Last Knight,” comes off as Michael Bay’s send-off to a world he helped create 10 years ago. While we get plenty of Transformers action and some huge set-pieces, the film sadly gets bogged down by it’s own hubris. The film ends up walking a rather precarious tight-rope, trying to appease seasoned viewers, while acting as a first-step for newcomers into a larger world that will be expanded upon in future installments.)