Book Review: Back to the Future – The Ultimate Visual History (by Michael Klastorin, with Randal Atamaniuk)
Throughout the years, my fascination with the making of films and animation, has led me to seek out some large and thorough tomes.
In the summer of 1995, one making-of book that I never knew existed, caught my eye when my family visited Universal Studios Hollywood.
This was the first time we’d been back since Universal had opened Back to the Future: The Ride. Our family rode it 3 times over the course of the trip, I geeked out over the Time Machine displayed next to the ride, and of course, we made a stop at The Time Traveler’s Depot, a short walk away.
I recall products from a miniature diecast toy of the Time Machine, to notebooks with the Gray’s Sports Almanac cover on them…but there was one item that made me take notice.
It was a book, titled Back to the Future: The Official Book of the Complete Movie Trilogy. Though only 80 pages, the book instantly caught my interest, with the myriad behind-the-scenes pictures inside. Once I started reading it, it also provided commentary, and revealed to me information on how the film series got started.
Over the years, larger and more thorough making-of books would catch my eye. They included J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars, as well as The Complete Making of Indiana Jones (also by Rinzler).
But I and many fans of Back to the Future wondered, if such a 100+ page book could ever be in our future. Many of us had seen and heard numerous making-of materials on DVD, and seen countless interviews in various media, and knew this information could fill more than just the 80 pages of the official book. It also turns out, someone who worked on the trilogy, thought the same.
That person was Michael Klastorin. Not only was he a unit publicist on Back to the Future Parts II & III, but he had also wrote the included information for the Official Book I had picked up at Universal, in 1995.
Michael’s attempts to have a thorough making-of book didn’t catch much attention when he pitched it around the time of the first film’s 25th anniversary, but as the 30th anniversary approached, the publishing house was intrigued, and told him to go for it!
With help from Randal Atamaniak, and the blessing of the series’ co-creator/co-writer Bob Gale, Michael combed through his collection of information, scoured the Universal archives, and conducted new interviews with many of the cast and crew.
The result, is the 224-page Ultimate Visual History…and it is one of those books that will provide you with Back to the Future trilogy information, the likes of which you never dreamed of!
The shooting schedule for the films? It’s laid out for us to know what went on, and when. Abandoned concept art? We get plenty of that. Summaries of the early drafts of the screenplays? It’s there for you to see how the stories evolved!…and, a whole lot more!
Over the years, one bit of lore regarding the first film, has fascinated many fans: the original casting of Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly, when Michael J Fox was unavailable. Imagery of Stoltz has often been hard to come by, but here, Klastorin provides plenty of pictures, not to mention information on the first 6 weeks of shooting with Eric on the set.
One of the fun things I like about the book, has been seeing some art and information, that I’ve come to wonder about as the years have gone by.
In one interview on the Blu-Ray release 5 years ago, concept designer Michael Scheffe made mention that he was tasked with coming up with a futuristic, amphibious flying vehicle for Doc Brown in the year 2015. Those words intrigued me, and in Klastorin’s book, Scheffe’s concept (as well as many more for the trilogy), are on display for all to see!
Of course, Michael also goes a little into the future, beyond the three films. The final pages tell about the development of Back to the Future: The Ride, and the Saturday Morning Cartoon, Back to the Future: The Animated Series.
You’ll learn more about what the first iteration of the ride was to be, as well as some strange changes some at CBS wanted to include in the animated series’ second season (fortunately, Bob Gale didn’t take their advice).
But, that’s not all!
Much like hardcover books in recent years that have included goodies and reproductions of props or related material, The Ultimate Visual History provides Back to the Future fans with quite a few items!
A few of these items, include Doc’s drawing of the Flux Capacitor, a lenticular picture that shows Marty and his siblings disappearing (similar to the effect in the first film), and even a fold-out poster for Jaws 19 (pulled from the same art that was used on the posters outside the Holomax theater in Hill Valley, in 2015).
If there’s a downside to the book, it’s that some of these items are glued onto some pages, and may require some extra care to remove. Personally, I think it would have been more interesting to include them in a large envelope at the back (maybe with a note from Doc Brown telling how these valuable items could disrupt the space-time continuum, if they fall into the wrong hands!).
Despite being a popular film, Back to the Future has not garnered as huge a fanbase as the likes of Star Wars or Marvel’s films have. In the 25 years since the trilogy was released, we saw the animated series only last two seasons, and the iconic rides at the Universal theme parks be replaced by other rides (the last one still functioning is in Universal Studios Japan, and word right now, is that it will have its final ride in February of 2016).
Even so, Back to the Future still has a pretty dedicated fanbase, and oftentimes, when something big is coming down the pike, it is usually at the behest of co-writer Bob Gale, to ensure that what is being done, isn’t going to turn the dedicated fanbase upside-down.
In a Q&A at the We’re Going Back fan event during the second-to-last week in October of 2015, Michael Klastorin mentioned how when the Official Book came out almost 25 years ago, he was stuck with a locked-in page count and imagery, and was just allowed to put words to the pictures. With his latest work, Michael gets to create a through line through the timeline of the trilogy, along with a small bit of information about the Ride and Animated Series.
As much as I’d love a book twice as thick as what we have here, Michael Klastorin has fulfilled my wish and that of many other fans of the trilogy, by giving us an educational history lesson, in the evolution of a film that noone in Hollywood wanted to make (other than Steven Spielberg), into a series that is still finding fans almost 30 years later!
As mentioned above, Mchael Klastorin attended the We’re Going Back fan event in October of 2015. This event celebrated 30 years of the film trilogy, as well as brought many fans (including myself) out from all around the world. We got to walk on Courthouse Square at Universal, visit actual locations from the films, and even get the chance to meet various people who had worked on the trilogy.
Michael was in attendance with his latest book release, and I knew for sure I’d be going home with a copy of The Ultimate Visual History, to read on the plane home.
When I got the chance to speak to Michael, he thanked me for my kind words regarding the Official Companion book that had intrigued me as a 15-year-old from Iowa.
He did get a chuckle when he found out what my name was (seriously, there seem to be a lot of Michael’s connected around the film Back to the Future, as well as the 1980’s time period!), and added a little note to me in the front of the copy that I purchased from him.
After all is said and done, I can’t help but wonder what-if…what if in 1995, my 15-year-old self had come across the Ultimate Visual History?…if only I had a time machine…
By the time you are reading this, I’ll have been in Los Angeles, CA, for several days.
I’m here in The Golden State partaking in one of the biggest events of my life: We’re Going Back – The 30th Anniversary Fan Celebration of Back to the Future.
I almost decided to do the Fan Celebration event 5 years ago in 2010, but as many of us weirdos know, 2015 is a really notable year for the film’s fans.
In fact, the year 2015 has a significance across all 3 of the Back to the Future Trilogy of films:
- It’s 30 years since the release of the first Back to the Future film
- It’s the year that Marty, Doc, and Jennifer travel to in Part II
- it’s the 25th anniversary year for Part III
With this collusion of the trilogy’s events swirling around this time and date, I felt it’d be a great time to release my Top 10 list, regarding why I believe the Back to the Future Trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies of all time.
Back to the Future’s films, notably the first one, have been quite clever in setting up story points in the beginning, that you then don’t quite see coming down the line. This makes the audience actually sit up and take note. That story Lorraine was telling about how her father hit George with the car? The flier lady telling the history of Hill Valley’s Clocktower? Doc’s explaining about how he came up with the idea for the Flux Capacitor?…they all end up becoming story points later on!
In commentary during Back to the Future, co-creator/co-writer Bob Gale claimed that he and Robert Zemeckis are big believers in this formula, and you can also see it in their other works…though here, it really feels like they put it to good use!
Though this was originally going to be about Industrial Light & Magic, I widened the scope, to also include the physical effects, notably those overseen by Kevin Pike, and Michael Lantieri.
The trilogy takes advantage of animation, optical effects, miniatures, wire work, and much more, with no computer finessing at all!
Much like films such as Terminator 2, many effects are accomplished by multiple means, oftentimes making us wonder just how they achieved certain scenes.
A perfect example is the hoverboard effects, which were accomplished with wire rigs, actual skateboards, optical effects, and more. All these different techniques combined to make those of us believe that Robert Zemeckis and his crew had gotten ahold of the ultimate Christmas gift.
In a commentary at The University of Southern California, Zemeckis mentioned how oftentimes, audiences want to experience the same stuff in a sequel, as they experienced in the first film.
With the plot of Back to the Future Part II, Zemeckis realized the film afforded them the chance to do something that no other film could: go back into your first film, and see it from a different point-of-view.
The plot to get the Sports Almanac from Biff in the past, soon had Marty and Doc tip-toeing around Hill Valley, 1955, trying to avoid their ‘other-selves.’ This led to some intriguing camerawork, and played up the concept of what could possibly happen if you interfered with your past self…creating a paradox!
When it comes to most trilogies, the third film is often the most derided. While many consider The Godfather to be a trilogy, so many then mumble that they watch or even enjoy Part III of that series.
Though not as aloof in time as Part II, Part III does bring back the idea of a major time-revelation, placing Marty and Doc in a specific time-and-place for the majority of the running time, and leaving them with the problem of getting Back to the Future.
Part III also ends up flipping Marty and Doc’s roles, with Marty taking the more serious tact as Doc loses himself in a romance with Clara Clayton…something that Doc’s scientific knowledge never counted on.
It’s not very often that a certain place can become as iconic over the course of a film series. When deciding how to stage Hill Valley’s downtown area over the course of several timelines, the decision was made to utilize a location on Universal Studios’ backlot. The creative freedom could afford the crew to change out a lot of things without interfering with real-life businesses, which would have happened if they filmed on a real city square.
The set would also be transformed in Part II to a future vision of what the square would look like, along with a portion meant to represent an alternate 1985, in which Biff Tannen has altered the timeline. Much of that set was shrouded in darkness, with plenty of un-PC buildings and services.
For 1885, the production moved up to gold country in Sonora, in order to showcase a town that sprang up along the railroads, which would have been impossible to make convincing on the Universal backlot.
Much like John Williams became a household name with his scores, I think the name Alan Silvestri would not have been as popular, if he had not done the score to the Trilogy, let alone the first film.
Silvestri manages to hit the sweet-spot, of giving us a low-key, emotional score, but ready to burst forth from that, is a bombastically fun and energetic theme. The theme has been one of my favorites ever since I first heard it at the age of 6, and ranks up there with the themes to Star Wars, and Indiana Jones (in my mind, at least).
Silvestri’s score for Part II explores some darker and more bombastic themes, while Part III’s score mixes between ‘westernizing’ the film’s themes, and actually delving into some softer tones for Doc and Clara’s romance.
What’s also notable, is that unlike some other themes that get recycled into other movie commercials or promotions for other properties, the Back to the Future theme has remained exclusive to its series.
By now, Marty’s breathless question about his friend making “a time machine out of a DeLorean,” has probably become one of the Top 5 lines from the film series.
I had never seen a DeLorean at the time I saw the first film, but after I did, suddenly it was another vehicle to add to my mental database regarding cool-looking cars…though for me, it was the added accoutrements that Kevin Pike and his guys added to it, that made it impressive.
Past interviews have said that the design was meant to evoke the work of someone who had put the machine together in their garage, and I think that’s why it looks so cool. It’s got that ‘used-universe’ feel like I had seen on the ships in Star Wars, and maybe that’s part of the appeal, as well as the fact that the cooling vents on the back seem to almost turn the vehicle’s shape into an arrow, looking like it’s ready to pierce the Space-Time Continuum.
As well, even its various transformations across the trilogy have all seemed memorable…even its tragic demise into a pile of scrap.
I have to this day, not been able to think of another series/trilogy, where its movies lined up in a straight line. Whereas most sequels take place months or years after the previous ones, the Back to the Future Trilogy can amazingly be lined up, as the sequels start mere minutes/hours after each other.
This also makes Back to the Future one of the first trilogies that could be cut together in a seamless way…though I still haven’t found the uninterrupted “Fan-edit” online, I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.
These days in most films, there’s usually a few characters in each one that just get so annoying, but even with the likes of Biff Tannen in the trilogy, almost all the characters are enjoyable, even the background ones. Though of course, Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd have excellent chemistry as Marty McFly and Doc Brown, making their friendship so believable in just a little amount of time.
Growing up, Marty McFly was one of the coolest teenagers I ever saw on screen, yet in truth, his character is not super-cool, but even so, he is relatable in being an average kid who wants to dream big, but also has some character flaws to deal with.
Even Crispin Glover for being rather strange in his mannerisms, brings an interesting chemistry to his character, where you can see him as a 50’s dweeb, but you also can relate to him in some ways.
Of course, actors like Thomas F Wilson, and Lea Thompson, got the chance to really stretch their acting chops, playing different versions of certain characters, as well as past and future relations of those characters.
I could easily go on-and-on, but I think it shows how much the cast of the film works for the series.
Yep, just think about that for a moment: there’s no film prequels, or 4th films…the Trilogy is just that…A TRILOGY!! You can deny all you want, but The Phantom Menace, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Hobbit Trilogy exist.
In the more than 30 years since we saw The End in Back to the Future Part III, many have pleaded and begged Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale for another story. Given their contracts, both Zemeckis and Gale would need to give approval for any continued adventures, and so far, neither is willing to budge, even with 80’s films like Ghostbusters, and The Goonies getting a second lease on life almost 3 decades later.
I know some will say that Back to the Future did live on in things such as Universal Studios’ Back to the Future: The Ride, the Back to the Future: Animated Series, and the Telltale Games‘ release of Back to the Future: The Game (which could almost function as a Part 4). However, my main area is in regards to films. Anything outside of the films I consider Expanded Universe, or Fanfiction.
Okay, I know I didn’t expound a whole lot, but those are my Top 10 reasons in a nutshell. I largely stand by my number one choice, and it’s been fun to hear Zemeckis say that he feels that three is the perfect number for the films to end on.
As well, he and the other actors and crew members have moved on. It was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment, but the biggest issue is that the adventures wouldn’t work with new characters. I likened the whole thing to being like most Amblin Entertainment films like E.T. or even The Goonies: it was a major experience in your life that you can’t relive, and trust me…you never forget your first time.
Well, that’s all for this little movie musing. Because plenty of places chose to just drop their stockpile of Back to the Future merchandise on me and many fans this week, November is going to be wall-to-wall reviews, as we dig into the Visual Dictionary, take a look at some Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment vehicles…and see how perfect, Pepsi Perfect really is!
Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 5, Episode 19) – The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows
Well, this was another big surprise, like last week’s episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. That episode made me throw aside my intended weekly review for an 11th hour review of that game-changing episode.
This week’s episode wasn’t as big of a deal, but like Crusaders of the Lost Mark, it’s been playing over-and-over, and is still providing me with some laughs. Ergo, I felt I should expound a bit on the latest episode: The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows.
While working at Sugarcube Corner, Mrs Cake lets Pinkie Pie see an upcoming order, in relation to an impending visit from Shining Armor, and Princess Cadance (Twilight Sparkle’s Brother, and her Sister-in-law). The order reveals something super-secret, that Mrs Cake swears Pinkie to secrecy on.
Can the excitable pink pony keep this secret from her friends and all of Ponyville…and keep her sanity?
From past experience, Pinkie Pie has often been the odd-pony-out of the show’s “Mane 6” cast. Though she can be a little over-excited at times, she often means well, and tries her best to be friends with everybody.
She has had some episodes in the past that I still like to watch (such as Season 1’s episode Party of One, and Season 4’s episode Pinkie Pride), but sometimes, her characterization can make-or-break an ensemble episode.
Gillian M Berrow (aka G.M. Berrow) has been associated with the series for awhile now, but only in regards to several of the series’ chapter-books, and Equestria Girls book adaptations. Pinkie Knows is her first official writing for the series, and it serves as an interesting episode to dissect.
This episode has a strange “habit,” of punctuating certain scenes with minor flashbacks, which if we see some further episodes written by Berrow, may be something to watch for, to see if this might be one of her recurring writing “trademarks.” The flashbacks didn’t really detract from the story, but they did strike me as having a “oh yeah, now that you mention it” feel to them.
The story also plays around a bit with pushing some of the characters and scenarios, something that writer Dave Polsky does quite a bit with his episodes. However, unlike some of his episodes that seem to have a few-too-many jokes or scenarios that fall flat, so much of what Berrow does here, actually works well, largely thanks to the situations, and what the animators at DHX do with Pinkie Pie.
It feels like Andrea Libman really got the chance to do a little more with Pinkie’s voice in this episode. Libman’s voice seems to squash-and-stretch with Pinkie’s ever-changing attitudes and scenarios, running the gamut of happy, sad, annoyed, nervous, hyper, and many more. Even Pinkie’s little moments of small-talk with herself are entertaining, with a few lines that really made me laugh out loud.
An added bonus to the episode, is the visitation of Shining Armor and Cadance. Though their time is relegated to a very small amount, it was nice to see them in a situation where they were not under duress like almost all their previous appearances (seriously, I was beginning to worry for Cadance after her last few outings!). Plus, we get one of the best brother/sister moments between Twilight and Shining, since the first episode of A Canterlot Wedding.
Where the episode may fall short in the eyes of many, is that it does get a little ‘long in the tooth’ with every-other-pony referencing something that in some way relates to the secret Pinkie is trying to keep. A ‘secret-keeping’ episode I feel could maybe work in a smaller-dosed, 7-11 minute segment/episode (or comic book storyline).
When something like Pinkie Knows is stretched out over 22 minutes, it becomes a bit of a chore to keep the bits interesting. Berrow I will say, does do a decent job on the episode, but it feels like it all goes on a little too long.
The other ‘Mane 6’ characters that are not Pinkie or Twilight, have been largely relegated to the cheerleading box for this episode, giving a few lines here-and-there, depending on the situation. As well, the townsponies almost feel like the old-school background ponies that come forward to support the story, depending on what ‘mood’ the episode needs them to be.
In that way, The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows is an episode that almost feels like it could fit right into the first 2 seasons. It does remind me a bit of episodes like The Ticket Master, Green Isn’t Your Color, or even A Bird in The Hoof.
Final Episode Grade: B
(Final Episode Thoughts: G.M. Berrow helms her first television episode of My Little Pony, and delivers a fun story, that almost feels like a lost episode from the first few seasons. Though it does get a little flimsy with the way it keeps taunting Pinkie Pie to spill her secret, the episode never grows boring, thanks in part to Andrea Libman’s vocals, and the way the show’s animators keep doing so much with Pinkie’s animation. As well, the additional interaction between Twilight Sparkle, Shining Armor, and Princess Cadance, proved to work a bit better than their last few meetings)
Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 5, Episode 18) – Crusaders of the Lost Mark
(Warning: This Review contains Spoilers)
So far, Season 5 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, has been a mixed bag. The introduction of the Rainbow Power component for the Mane 6, let alone Twilight Sparkle’s new castle and “Cutie Map” on the outskirts of Ponyville, have left many fans still struggling to come to grips with the world changing around them.
Even the episodes have been a mixed grab-bag that have only seemed to bring forth a few strong episodes, and one that acted as a “Thank You” card to the fandom.
Of course, buried in the mix for this season, have been the three little fillies, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders have definitely evolved over the seasons. Originally seeming like a trouble-making trio akin to Huey, Dewey, and Louie, some key episodes helped develop them into their own characters, and helped capture more fans to their quest to earn their Cutie Marks (aka the symbol on a pony’s flank that tells what their “unique talent” is).
I will admit their last appearance in the episode Appleloosa’s Most Wanted, didn’t do much for me. An episode that played a little too fast-and-loose with its story and comedy antics, I did wonder if we’d have something with the girls that would stand out for this season….and then, Crusaders of the Lost Mark happened.
While trying to come up with a new way to earn their cutie marks, the Crusaders are requested by their classmate Pip(squeak), to help him with their school’s election for Class President.
Their support helps them topple Diamond Tiara’s me-centric reign, but in the moments following her defeat, the Crusaders see Diamond Tiara’s ‘perfect little world’ fall into areas that seem almost impossible to comprehend..leading the three to consider something that seemed impossible to think of as well: helping out Diamond Tiara!
When it comes to Entertainment, every single thing I watch, I secretly ask of it to hit me emotionally. So far, I will say that Crusaders is probably the first episode this season since Amending Fences, that has had me going back to watch it, over and over again.
Crusaders is definitely going to be one of those episodes that will be talked of for some time, and I’m already hearing a lot of people calling it “The Best Episode,” either of Season 5, or “ever.” However, I think some are just on the euphoric high from seeing so many of their wishes granted in the episode.
I can’t help but feel that the episode was the equivalent of Oprah Winfrey walking up to a group of fans and saiying: “I know what you’re all wanting. You want Diamond Tiara to have character development. You want Silver Spoon to stand up for herself. You want the Crusaders to get their Cutie Marks…well, we’re giving it all to you: TODAY!!!”
This episode was written by Amy Keating Rogers, one of the show’s writers, that is probably at the top of most viewer’s lists with quite a few of her episodes. She did write my favorite Season 4 episode (Pinkie Pride), and in a sense, Crusaders feels very much like that episode’s structure, with the musical push of Season 3’s finale, Magical Mystery Cure.
One of the biggest issues I have with the episode, is that it almost struggles to keep too many balls in the air, juggling a storyline that maybe would have worked better over 2-3 episodes. Then again, there is something to be said about structuring the episode into a musical, which was probably the only way to pull it all off in the limited amount of time. Musicals can often get out a lot of information and scenery change, in the span of a few minutes, as we’ve seen from previous, music-centric episodes.
I feel that given all the build-up around the CMC for this episode, that some may plow under what the episode does regarding the character of Diamond Tiara…and the episode does quite a bit with her!
Chantal Strand (DT’s voice-actress) gets a very vocal role here, even showing us she can carry a tune beyond the few bits she sang in Pinkie Pride (she even gets a contemplative bridge scene like Pinkie had too)!
Though she could just be considered a typical mean kid, it was nice to see Rogers delve into reasons why Diamond is who we’ve seen her be. It is intriguing, because many hoped that there could be some form of salvation for Diamond’s “best friend” Silver Spoon…but probably never thought that Diamond Tiara herself could be saved.
Most figured that since Diamond’s father Filthy Rich was a business-pony with a good-natured attitude, her mother probably had some influence on her, and Mrs Spoiled Rich definitely fits that bill.
Spoiled Rich only has two scenes, but she seems the equivalent of a snooty socialite stuck in Ponyville, feeling she is better than everyone else (even vocally doing so in front of Ms Cheerilee, and a number of the kids at school!). Personally, I felt this kind of “mother/smother” storyline, could have explained Sunset Shimmer’s holier-than-thou attitude at the start of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, if we ever explored her character’s backstory.
Probably one of the minor fan-victories in the episode, involved Silver Spoon. After being shouted down and pretty much treated as inferior during Diamond’s election campaign, Silver finally committed the ultimate backstab, by not voting for her “friend”…along with giving DT a few choice words.
But don’t let that distract from the fact that we got some more development of the Crusaders themselves! The episode definitely helps show that they have no qualms about helping out anyone, no matter who they are, or what they look like. Plus, their ability to attempt to help Diamond Tiara, after she’s done nothing but put them down for so long, shows how mature they are.
One strange feeling I got watching the episode, was thinking how it reminded me of a Powerpuff Girls episode. Rogers did write for that series as well…but then again, my feelings may have just been tied to the image of the three girls trying to “save the day,” let alone Diamond reminding me of the spoiled brat character named Princess Morbucks in PPG.
Once again, composer/songwriter Daniel Ingram shows why he is still one of the most exciting components of the series, and Rogers works with him to write lyrics to the 6 songs in the episode. The songs bounce around the realm of showtunes, with many that will probably get stuck in your head quick enough, and leave many online to wonder which is the best (I’m gravitating towards Diamond Tiara’s first big solo piece!).
In the end, Crusaders of the Lost Mark is definitely one of the 5th season’s highlights, even with its faults. I like to think that many who have watched the show during its 5-year run, and who have been keeping close tabs on the girls’ development, could definitely relate to Big Mac’s face in the following scene near the end:
Final Episode Grade: B+
(Final Episode Thoughts: Amy Keating Rogers’ second-to-last written episode for “Friendship is Magic,” gives many fans so much of what they wanted, in “Crusaders of the Lost Mark.” Not only do the fans finally get character development for Diamond Tiara, and a little for Silver Spoon, but the episode also succeeds in finally getting the Cutie Mark Crusaders to where many fans have wanted to see them, for a very long time! Even with so many revelations, and the episode being a game-changing mark in the series for several characters, it does feel like it’s crammed a little too full of information, to be a full “A-game” episode, and could have been more satisfying if the development was stretched out over a few episodes)
(*End of Spoilers*)
(Rated PG for thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking)
For the last 30 years, director Robert Zemeckis has been one of the less-talked-of filmmakers who has helped push the boundaries of visual effects in film.
Michael J Fox had dinner with himself several times in the Back to the Future films, the film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact moved its camera into places and realms many could only imagine, and even motion-capture’s progress owes some gratitude to the three mo-cap productions Zemeckis directed (The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol).
Following his return to live-action filmmaking with 2012’s film Flight, some wondered just where the director would go…and like some of his film’s subjects, he’s chosen to dash back to the past…and to a rather astounding feat of daring.
After the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in 2001, many often thought back on the times when they dominated the skyline at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. However, months before they were completed in 1974, a foreigner had his eye on them, as they were going up…his name, was Philippe Petit.
A street performer and high-wire walker from France, Philippe had gained notoriety for performing non-sanctioned tight-rope walks above Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but his dream was to perform the same feat, between the Twin Towers in New York.
One theme of Zemeckis’ works that has often matched up with those of his friend and mentor, Steven Spielberg, is that many of their films are grounded in the stories of ordinary people, thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The Walk seems to fit the bill, also becoming the first adaptation of real-life events the director has put to film. Even in the naming convention, his lead character is rather interesting. Much like the strangely-prophetic last names of the characters Ellie Arroway and Chuck Noland, Philippe Petit’s name almost seems to foretell of his scale amidst this enormous undertaking.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Philippe, who serves double-duty, by also being a narrator for the film. Throughout the piece, we see Philippe narrating from atop the Statue of Liberty’s torch, with the New York City skyline in the background, reflecting different moods as he tells his story.
Along for “The Coup,” are Philippe’s friends Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), Jean-Francois (Cesar Domboy), and Americans J.P. (James Badge-Dale), Albert, (Ben Schwartz), David (Benedict Samuel), and inside-man, Barry Greenwood (Steve Valentine).
With a line-up like this, The Walk could definitely be considered a heist film (and there are certain tense moments where it feels like one), but there’s no malicious intent or blackmail to be found: just a crazy Frenchman with an even crazier dream.
Most of the cast is largely given a task (or personality trait), and sticks to it. Though much like her real-life counterpart, Le Bon’s Annie is a bit of an enigma. Even in the Man on Wire documentary that told of the event, she just seems to be a presence that comes and goes into Petit’s life. Whether she had romantic feelings or felt something more for him, is largely left up to our own speculation.
Gordon-Levitt’s role as Petit can be a little trying, as he often seems to only answer to himself, and expects others around him to respect him, let alone listen and agree with what he says. I feel the audience may find themselves walking a tightrope as well regarding this character. Though the filmmakers strive to find some humor in his madness, it rarely felt that one could ever feel fully comfortable with his mindset a lot of times.
The film also attempts to ‘ground’ Philippe a bit, by creating the fictional character of Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), a Czech circus performer who allows him to learn some of his secrets. Though Petit in some interviews claimed he self-taught himself wire-walking, Papa Rudy feels moreso like a character to make the rather brash young man seem humbled, as well as walk the audience through some of the intricacies of wire-walking.
Of course, what will mostly be talked about afterwards, will probably be the towers themselves. Much like how James Cameron resurrected the Titanic, Zemeckis has made the structures live and breathe once again. People come through its revolving doors, head up into its structure via wood-paneled elevator cars, drive delivery vans into its sub-basements, and much more. Though unlike the Titanic, the film doesn’t take us all over the structure, but just where we need to tell the story.
Though footage was shot of Philippe from both of the towers, and from the ground, there was nothing Petit shot himself, perched 1,350 ft above the ground (GoPro cameras were not an option in 1974).
In this way, The Walk seems to base its existence on what visual effects could bring to Philippe’s stunt: what if the camera could be out there with him, peering down over the wire, experiencing what he did, during his 8 walks across the span?
This is the area where the film really shines. We get the visuals of clouds slightly obscuring Philippe’s view, the sunrise bathing the city in an orange glow, and much more that could only be experienced by few so early in those mornings, so high up.
The film also takes advantage of the “in-your-face” technique of 3-D a few times as well, though I think it works decently here, as I and several around me reacted to the mood the filmmakers were trying to convey.
Only a handful of films formatted into IMAX 3D have made me want to put down money for the experience, and The Walk was one of them. Though sadly, my hope for total immersion on the IMAX screen, did not come to pass with the film’s formatting, which only filled 2/3 of of its square-ish shape.
Even at 2 hours and 3 minutes, it feels like there’s about 15 minutes of scenes that could have been excised, mostly some with some rather saccharine lines of dialogue (notably in the aftermath of the walk). As well, the characters often tell the others to ‘speak in English,’ saying the purpose is to get accustomed to speaking properly when they get to America, but I feel moreso for the slower members of the audience to not have to deal with reading subtitles too often.
Make no mistake: The Walk is a film that was meant to be seen on a large-screen, just like films such as Titanic, Interstellar, and many others. However, its overall story may feel like a slog, to get to the money-shots that its publicity materials drew you in with.
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: Robert Zemeckis shows us that his talents to recreate the past and delve into the visual effects toolbox are still alive and well with “The Walk.” Its story about a man who ‘dared to dream’ is definitely a spectacle once the the film gets to its third act, though the audience may grow weary on the pacing of Philippe Petit’s story, as it seems the talkative narrator wants to be sure he doesn’t leave out any little detail in the tale of his daring “coup.”)