By Adam Donato
Disney took its first step into the computer-generated world of animation with its first blockbuster of the 21st century: Dinosaur. This movie was almost directed by the man who made Robocop, Paul Verhoeven, and was supposed to have a much darker tone with practical effects. Dinosaur was thrown off course due to the successes of other dinosaur movies — The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park. What audiences received is exactly the kind of dinosaur movie that would be expected from Disney. Is that such a bad thing?
Dinosaur is undeservingly forgotten in Disney’s animated film history. The special effects are beautiful, especially for its time. The landscapes are live-action as they were taken straight from gorgeous countries like Venezuela. With the dinosaurs being animated in such a lifelike fashion, they feel like they belong in the world they inhabit. Seeing how these larger than life creatures move around is worth the cost of watching alone. Due to the limitation of non-animated backgrounds, the shots do get repetitive. Take a drink every time a dinosaur runs at the camera or shoves its head into the foreground of a shot. It’s easy to nitpick two decades later, but this was a technical achievement at the time. Almost makes you happy they didn’t use practical effects for the dinosaurs. Funny how Disney was inspired to go fully animated after seeing how well it worked in Jurassic Park. The best looking parts of that movie aren’t computer-generated. Still, very impressive for what it is.
The big knock on Dinosaur is said to be the story. This must be a result of the “Disney-fication” of the movie. It’s said that the original concept for the movie was to be much darker and end with a battle between the humble iguanodon and the ferocious tyrannosaurus rex. The outcome did not matter due to a meteor wiping out all life besides the lemur who was to evolve into mankind. There was also a great deal of religious metaphors with Aladar initially being named Noah, the bad iguanodon named Cain, and the lemur sidekick being named Adam. It’s hard to defend the studio for playing it safe with what is now the ending of the movie. Even the television sitcom Dinosaurs had the guts to have a realistic ending. It’s safe to assume that children know the dinosaurs went extinct. Ignoring what the story could’ve been, what was actually adapted is an uninspired and generic tale. It’s entirely functional as a movie, but pales in comparison to even other Disney animated fare.
When it comes to a Disney movie, it really does come down to the supporting cast to give the movie its personality. The Lion King is iconic in part because of characters like Timon and Pumba. Even if one had just walked out of seeing Dinosaur, it would be impressive if they could remember Eema and Baylene. Aladar is virtuous and unchanging as a protagonist, which would be okay if the impact he had on the supporting characters was more impactful. The characters who opposed Aladar died regardless of whether they changed and the characters being given hope by Aladar continued to embrace said positivity. Kron, the antagonist, is mean and continues to be a jerk up until he is unceremoniously killed by the carnotaurus. Speaking of the carnotaurus, what a terrifying monster. Literally just a t-rex, but red and with devil horns. That’s nightmare fuel, kids. It’s also weird how some dinosaurs just don’t speak, like the carnotaurus. It would’ve probably been weirder if the carnotaurus did start talking at the end, which apparently almost happened. Aladar has a love interest in Neera, but their relationship feels rushed, much like everything in this movie. Also, Zini is supposed to be the comic relief. The keyword in that sentence is supposed.
All these complaints about the story and characters are half-hearted. If this was a Dreamworks movie, it would be in their top five, easily. It just sucks that this is Disney’s entry in the dinosaur genre, but even Pixar had trouble. The journey to the nesting grounds is very rewarding. After trekking through the desert for the majority of this movie, it feels nice when you’re finally reimmersed in the lush beauty of the nesting grounds at the end. The themes about sticking together and finding a new family in people that are different than you is nice. When the herd confronts the carnotaurus together, it’s a nice payoff following the cruel “only the strong will survive” attitude the herd had prior.
The best part of the movie is hands down the opening sequence labeled by the soundtrack as “The Egg Travels”. It perfectly encapsulates the tone that the original concept was going for. Holding onto the darkness originally intended with the terrifying carnotaurus stomping on the poor mother iguanodon’s eggs. The scene follows the only surviving egg as it is passed from dino to dino, allowing the audience to experience the beautiful landscapes that they call home. None of the dinosaurs speak in this sequence as all we hear is when they roar and the music. The score for this scene, and the rest of the movie, is phenomenal. James Newton Howard is a pro and really brought it to this project. This scene really sets the stage for the rest of the movie and presents how grand these creatures really are. The trailer was comprised mostly of this sequence, which maybe gave audiences higher expectations for this movie. This could’ve led to disappointment, for nothing in this movie quite compares to this sequence.
Maybe if another studio would have made Dinosaur, it would have retained the dark tone and lack of dialogue that the feature was intended to be. Then again, what we got wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Disney delivered what was their darkest movie to date, if you go by death toll. Still, the movie is breathtaking with its score and special effects. There’s also a badass ride at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom that’s definitely worth checking out. It goes without saying that it’s in the top ten dinosaur movies of all time. If you’re wondering if there are more than ten dinosaur movies, The Land Before Time franchise has 14 installments that went straight to DVD. Dinosaur is a mature children’s flick that’s sure to stand the test of time. Just like dinosaurs themselves, this movie should not be forgotten.
By Sean Boelman
Culminating with the release of Lynn Chen’s directorial debut I Will Make You Mine, the Surrogate Valentine trilogy stands out as one of the highlights of the indie film scene of the past decade. Each movie having its own merits, these three short but sweet dramas are definitely worth checking out.
The films really ride on the charisma of its star Goh Nakamura. In all three of the movies, Nakamura plays a fictionalized version of himself, serving as the protagonist in Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings and a supporting character in I Will Make You Mine. Yet even though his role in the newest film is smaller, his arc is still very compelling.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the first two movies and I Will Make You Mine is that the latter is directed by Chen, who previously played Nakamura’s love interest in the other two films, and her voice is tremendously interesting. By switching the perspective from Nakamura’s to that of the women in his life, Chen has made the story feel more modern and relevant.
The first two movies center around Nakamura’s struggles as a musician, first in trying to get into the industry and then in trying to maintain his success. While this does carry over a bit into I Will Make You Mine, there’s a lot more on Chen’s mind in that film. At times, this makes it feel a bit overstuffed, but it’s also more thought-provoking.
That said, what stands out most about this series is its authenticity. Even though Daylight Savings does lean a bit into convention at times, each of the movies is rooted in very real emotion. The dialogue is often very poignant, especially in Surrogate Valentine and I Will Make You Mine, which are very thoughtful.
Of course, Nakamura’s intensely personal brand of indie music plays a large role in the film. The middle entry, Daylight Savings, is perhaps the most musically-oriented of the three, but his songs provide an excellent undertone for the entirety of the trilogy. It’s hard not to feel moved by some of the beautiful lyrics Nakamura has written.
The series is also identifiable for its very distinctive look. Presented black-and-white, these movies have an undeniably indie feel about them that is absolutely gorgeous. Simplicity and emotion are the name of the game here, and directors Dave Boyle (Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings) and Lynn Chen (I Will Make You Mine) emphasize these elements.
The Surrogate Valentine trilogy will undoubtedly join the ranks of indies with a dedicated following. At under an hour and twenty minutes long each, fans of music will certainly want to sit back and enjoy the journey of this fictionalized version of Goh Nakamura.
I Will Make You Mine is now available on VOD.
By Adam Donato
Video game movies are infamously bad, and Disney is no exception (Wreck-it Ralph doesn’t count). Prince of Persia is a very notable video game franchise about, to put it simply, a Prince going on adventures in Persia. The series of games has a long history with a supposedly large fanbase. Disney sought to replicate the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Jerry Bruckheimer producing the film. Indie darling Jake Gyllenhaal stars with Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Doctor Octopus himself, Alfred Molina. The film was given a budget of $200 million, not including marketing, and didn’t make its money back. Is this another good movie going criminally unseen or did it follow the trend of video game movie that would be better if you had a controller in your hand?
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is fine. It’s a big, dumb blockbuster wannabe that is perfectly digestible. There’s a lot of reasons to root for this movie to be a success, while also having so much going against it. That’s usually the recipe for a controversial movie that everyone is sure to have an opinion on, but nobody saw it. Even if one did see Prince of Persia, it’s so unspectacular that it’s hard to have an opinion on it in general.
On one hand, It’s a video game movie in the best way. People who played the game have noted how a lot of the action is very reminiscent of the source material. Speaking of action, this movie is full of it. If you like parkour, then this is the Casino Royale of video game movies. The budget is very high so of course the action is quite the spectacle. While it may look too animated at times, it gets away with it thanks to its video game roots. The cast is full of talented actors. Gyllenhaal headlines the cast and they couldn’t have picked a more likable leading man. He makes Dastan, this one-dimensional hero, into a somewhat interesting protagonist. Needless to say, you’re rooting for him. Arterton, also starring in the Clash of the Titans movie in the same year, was very hot at the time (pun intended). Kingsley is always a pro. Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, and Richard Coyle all do well in the movie, but none of them steal the show quite like Molina. Sheik Amar is the most memorable character in Prince of Persia and it’s not even close. He would’ve been the Jack Sparrow of the movie, but his character was not given nearly enough screen time. It’s a very light movie that’s fun for the family and is graciously just under two hours.
Literally everything else is not good. The cast, while great, does not fit the movie whatsoever. This is Ghost in the Shell level white-washing and it’s just sad. Indy Mogul questioned why the movie didn’t go full Bollywood and it’s not a bad idea. Gyllenhaal wasn’t even a bankable star at the time and honestly still isn’t. The main gripe that people have about the movie is the script. It’s not terrible, but it is very standard. At least it has themes, despite how shoved down your throat they are. We get it, the movie is about destiny and brotherhood, but the movie still puts “destiny” on the screen at the beginning and end so that you get the message. It’s one of those scripts where if you ask any questions about the internal logic of the story, it falls apart. The romance is whatever. It’s hilarious watching the main couple kiss while the world is crumbling behind them. The villain is fine. Have you seen literally any other movie ever? Then you’ve seen this movie.
Prince of Persia did have the disadvantage of being put through development hell through the 2000s. It had to maneuver through the Writers Guild of America strike and the Screen Actors Guild strike. It’s also fair to say that Bruckheimer has a fifty percent success rate and his Disney family films are more often than not bad. During an interview for Spider-Man: Far From Home, Gyllenhaal jokes about how Dastan may not have been the best role for him to take on. It honestly might be for the best as Gyllenhaal has one of the best track records during the 2010s. It’s not hard to see how Disney would think Prince of Persia would be a big success with its recognizable franchise, notable talent involved, and $200 million budget. The poor movie was up against Sex and the City 2 and Shrek Forever After. It never stood a chance. Maybe if it had better word of mouth.
It’s sad to say, but chalk this box office bomb up as yet another video game movie that just didn’t translate to the big screen. The 2010s had a small string of video game movies that seem to be trending the genre upward, but only ever so slightly. One could make a solid argument for Prince of Persia as the best video game movie. Alas, it feels like a cross between the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the worst Mummy movie. Look at the bright side, if it was a success, then Gyllenhaal would’ve been too busy doing tired sequels instead of starring in critical successes like Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and (maybe the best of them all) Nightcrawler. Don’t watch Prince of Persia, but if you do, maybe you won’t hate it. It’s definitely a movie.
By Dan Skip Allen
Mel Gibson made his name in the 1980s with mainstream hits like the Lethal Weapon franchise and the Mad Max films. In the 1990s, he made the greatest film of his career when he chose to direct and star in Braveheart. Braveheart came out in 1995 and won Gibson his first and second Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director respectively. He would never reach such heights as a filmmaker or actor ever again. He would be ostracized from Hollywood after a drunken tirade, but would later be accepted again when he directed the WWII epic Hacksaw Ridge, albeit not to the same level.
William Wallace (Mel Gibson) sees that his father and brother have died when they don't come home from war with England. After their funeral, his uncle Argyle Wallace (Brian Cox) comes to take him away from his home in the Scottish hills. Later he comes back home to be a farmer and ends up rekindling a friendship he had when he was a kid with a beautiful young woman, Murron (Catherine McCormack). This ends up getting him into a scuffle with English soldiers, which starts off a new war with England and King Edward I. William Wallace would end up becoming the leader of a Scottish revolution on the English rulers. This war would be a bloody violent war, and Gibson didn't hold back on the blood and gore in this epic.
Historical movies can be sentimental, but inspiring. They usually have some good performances such as Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, and Ben Kingsley in Gandhi. Rarely do you see a director/actor combination such as Braveheart. Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven come to mind as two of the only other exceptions. Both won Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood the Academy Awards for their respective films. What elevates Braveheart to a different level is that it has a great performance from Mel Gibson that is arguably one of the greatest of all time. Famous quotes like "Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our lives, but they'll never take our freedom," are truly iconic.
Along with the great performance from Mel Gibson, many other performances help rank this film among the greatest of all time. Sophie Marceau, Angus Macfadyen, Patrick McGoohan, James Cosmo, and Brendan Gleeson are all great. The epic battle scenes also make Braveheart one of the greatest war films as well as period piece films. There is not much CGI in Braveheart, but the beautiful hills of Scotland lend themselves to some breathtaking cinematography from Jon Toll.
As far as epics go, Braveheart is in the conversation as one of the greatest of all time. Spartacus, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and Gladiator are the ones I think of when great epics are brought up in conversation. Epics are like bigger than life films. Braveheart is the biggest of the big. It has a level that dwarfs almost every other film. Add in the great performance from Gibson and you have one for the ages. Remembering this film twenty-five years later brings back nostalgia on why it's such a great film. It stands the test of time. Even fifty or a hundred years from now, Braveheart will stand up as one of the greatest of all time.
By Dan Skip Allen
Coming off of Star Wars, George Lucas, had to do something out of this world with the sequel. He did that and more, introducing some new and interesting characters such as Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, and Yoda helped make it very different. New music from John Williams proved he was one of the greats already. The huge twist at the end makes it one of the all-time great films. Forty years seems just like yesterday to me. Where has the time gone?
Star Wars was a passion for me as a kid and The Empire Strikes Back hit me as not many films have before or since. I owed all the toys at one point when I was very young. The thing is I never saw Star Wars in the theater. I saw it on HBO when I was 6 — the same age I saw The Empire Strikes Back in a theater. So this sequel had that much more relevance to me. It hit home for me much more that way. Seeing that twist for the first time was like getting a punch to the gut. I have had my share of issues with my father of the years. That moment was just unbelievable to me. How could the evilest guy in the galaxy be the hero's father? No way could happen, but it did.
One among many things I love about Star Wars is the seedy side of a galaxy far far away. And the Mos Eisley Cantina. It was like eye candy to me because of all the strange and exotic characters. I would later learn about these aliens from reading books about them. When those four crazy bounty hunters showed up in Empire, I felt the need to know more about them as well. Of course Boba Fett rose to be one of my favorite characters in the whole franchise. He had so much mystery about him back then. His story has since been expanded upon in years later.
Yoda was a very different character for me because he was this little green guy in a swamp. I was a huge fan of his early on, but as years have gone by I have had more respect for those training scenes. "Do or do not", and "That is why you fail" are some great quotes that I remember. He grew on me. Coaches and mentors don't always have to be your friend to prepare you for what you need to do in your life. They do need your respect in the end.
John Williams has been my favorite conductor ever since I was a little kid. I grew up watching him conduct the Boston Pops for many years. He created music for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course Star Wars. He had to do something great for Empire to live up to those other three films. He did just that with "Imperial March". I knew something bad was about to happen when that music came up. Usually escorting Dark Vader on screen. It was such menacing music. I can't recall any movie villain having such great music to accompany them on screen.
In a film with so much darkness there is a glimmer of hope and happiness. Even though it happens on the ice planet of both. Han and Leia have a love-hate relationship when he's not being called a "scruffy-looking nerf herder" by her that is. The scene where she finally professes her love to him is one of the greatest scenes in movie history. "I love You, I know" is such a powerful moment in the film because Han is about to go into carbonite freezing. She doesn't know if he'll survive, or not. It was so emotional for me as a six-year-old watching it for the first time. I am still affected by it to this day.
Nothing affected me like that twist where Darth Vader says that he's Luke's father though. Me having such issues with my father made it very difficult for me to watch. I didn't want that for Luke and I don't think anyone watching did. It just says even bad guys can have children and have family issues just like me or anyone else for that matter. Luke just wasn't ready for that encounter yet. He paid the ultimate price when he lost his hand. That moment almost caused him to go to the dark side. As we've seen in future movies he did not.
The Empire Strikes Back touches on so many great topics. Love, hate, betrayal, and innocence lost are just a few of them. Everything about this film ups the game from its predecessor. That is almost inconceivable to me. Star Wars was so great but The Empire Strikes Back stands the test of time. Forty years later it holds up like no other film. The music and special effects are all first-rate as well. There are rarely any films that have the impact that this one does on society. Even though it's a sequel, it stands on its own as an achievement in filmmaking. I can't say enough how much this film means to me. Even forty years after I saw it for the first time.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.