Posts Tagged ‘Peter Lord’

One thing about going to see an animated film during the school holidays: in a rare display of restraint the forces of the market refrain from putting the usual parade of dreary old commercials on before the movie, allowing one to get stuck straight into the trailers (often one of the best parts of the movie-going experience, especially if it’s a Paul W.S. Anderson film). The downside to this is, of course, that it’s generally just trailers for other movies aimed at kids that you get to see, most of which I would rather be dipped in fondue than go to watch.

You know what I mean: slick CGI stuff that seems best described as ‘product’ than anything else, focus-grouped and target-audienced to within an inch of what passes for its life, with the ratio of jokes-for-kids to jokes-for-parents determined through some abstruse hyphenate algebra. That, and I should probably mention the trailer for the first of this year’s cracks at a live-action version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The other one seems to be trying to be Lord of the Rings, but the first one out of the blocks appears to be so heavy in broad-brush whimsy that one wonders why they bothered doing it in live-action at all. You know what they say: don’t bother to see one, don’t bother to see ‘em all.

Most of these films are in 3D, anyway – it seems like the kid’s market, along with summer blockbusters and classic re-releases, has been tasked with trying to prop up the whole stereoscopic edifice in the face of increasing public indifference to its dubious charms. I was mildly appalled but not especially surprised to learn that plans are afoot to bring down the price of 3D tickets (which studio suits believe may be putting punters off), with the extra costs being met by (yes, you’ve guessed it) bumping up the price of 2D tickets.  Both formats will cost the same – presumably, at least until 3D has killed off proper films, at which point the price will rocket up again. Is it just me who thinks there is something suspiciously protectionist about studio bosses doing their best to preserve such a potentially lucrative enterprise in the face of growing public indifference?

Sorry, I’m just in a bit of a sour mood today, for reasons I don’t propose to trouble you with. (Although a strange close encounter in Oxford city centre – full details of which hopefully to follow over the weekend – may have something to do with it.) At least I was able to enjoy Peter Lord’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! in 2D (make the most of it while you can, guys). I suppose you could argue that this is exactly the sort of mass-produced big studio fodder I was railing so ineffectually about just a few paragraphs ago, but this has enough quirky British stuff going on to redeem it.

Anyway. Based on the books by Gideon Defoe, this is the soaringly improbable story of the Pirate Captain (a bold move into acting for the political activist and media spokesperson Hugh Grant), who is not so much a briny marauder as an affably feckless halfwit. Nevertheless, he and his crew of freaks and weirdoes are determined to (finally) win the much-coveted ‘Pirate of the Year’ award. Their initial attempts to get their hands on some booty (steady now) are not very successful, but this changes when they encounter the Beagle and its most celebrated passenger, Charles Darwin (David Tennant).  Darwin has had no luck in the booty department either, but he does know where there’s a prize for ‘Scientific Discovery of the Year’ about to be awarded – and a startling revelation regarding the Pirate Captain’s beloved pet Polly gives everybody hope that their luck is about to change…

Well, it’s a bit difficult to know what to say about Pirates! The first thing is probably that the fact this film has been made at all is somewhat noteworthy, given that up until less than ten years ago making a big movie about pirates was considered as good an investment as putting all your money in a box and throwing it off a cliff. Yes, this movie is clearly following in the wake of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, with many of the jokes having exactly the same off-beat flavour – except perhaps even moreso, given the latitude available to the makers of an animation.

As animations go, this is a stunningly beautiful one, with virtually every shot being lovingly composed and photographed, every background packed with tiny details. Aardman have possibly surpassed themselves in their attention to detail with this film, because the look of it is almost literally breathtaking. Everyone is saying the same thing, which is that this is a film you’ll have to watch on DVD with a finger on the pause button to fully appreciate, there are so many sight gags and throwaway jokes packed into the backgrounds of shots.

The film is stuffed with good jokes of this kind from the opening seconds until deep into the closing titles and this is possibly just as well as – while often very funny indeed – the main plot and the gags in the dialogue are not as consistently funny as they could be. The general beats and reversals of said plot are, in fact, almost entirely predictable.

This is a bit of a shame as many of the details of the plot have a pleasingly baroque insanity about them – I might almost suggest that this film sort of resembles Captain Pugwash, but as written by Michael Moorcock. In fact, there are some signs here of a much darker and more grotesque film buried under all the family-friendly plasticine – there was a bit of a fuss earlier this year when some lepers complained that one scene shown in the trailer was in poor taste. This scene has since been rewritten, but there are still flashes of really strange black humour now and then. I have to say that a version of Pirates! which followed this path a bit further and wasn’t quite so fixated on hitting familiar character-development beats looks like it would have been considerably more interesting.

Nevertheless, consummate craft and attention to detail have gone into this film, and it has attracted a correspondingly top-notch voice cast – as well as Grant and Tennant, there are appearances by Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek, Russell Tovey, Lassie laureate Brendan Gleeson, and Lenny Henry (to name but a few), and a characteristically ear-splitting turn from Brian Blessed (who also gets name-checked in one of the on-screen gags, pleasingly enough). There is plenty here for all ages to enjoy; I laughed a lot and was captivated by the look of the thing, even if the incidental details sometimes seemed to be slightly more interesting and entertaining than the actual meat of the story. Still, fun.

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