James and the Giant Peach is based on the children’s book of the same name by Roald Dahl. This is director Henry Selick’s first film after The Nightmare Before Christmas and already an improvement in the quality of the stop motion animation is evident. The film opens with a boy named James (Paul Terry) living happily with his parents as they picnic and plan to move to New York. Unfortunately they are killed by a rhino. This occurs off-screen, but it's also the only explanation ever given about their deaths. When James lives with his Aunts, they often use the rhino as a threat, making it more of an intangible representation of fear; not unlike the boogey man. James' Aunts, Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) are cruel and grotesque. They beat and starve James while obsessing over their own vanities. Actually, they are far more disturbing than anything that James encounters throughout the film. When a mysterious traveler (played very theatrically by Pete Postlethwaite) gives James some magic crocodile tongues, they create the giant peach and James himself ends up entering it and meeting the insects. Together, they all decide to journey to the wonderful land of New York and escape James’ Aunts.
The characters that make up the insects are terrific. There’s the tough talking Centipede (voiced by Richard Dreyfuss), the French spider (Susan Sarandon), the wise Grasshopper (Simon Callow), the negative and depressed worm (David Thewlis), the sweet old ladybug (Jane Leeves), and the half-deaf glowworm (also voiced by Miriam Margolyes).
One of the first things to notice about this film is the way it blends live action and stop motion animation in a manner that's almost completely seamless. The first part of the film, being the opening scenes and those of James and his aunts, are done entirely in live action. The environments however, are spectacularly animated and picturesque. The neighboring town and ocean seen in the distance seems so much more vivid and peaceful than the dead, lifeless hill where James’ two Aunts reside. It's only when James enters the peach that everything, including James, becomes fully animated. The animation is incredibly detailed and nuanced; the characters can display a wide variety of emotions and movements that it's even a step up from The Nightmare Before Christmas only 3 years before.
I would argue that this film is much more established as a Henry Selick film than The Nightmare Before Christmas, which obviously retained a lot of influence from Tim Burton’s designs and style (though Jack Skellington does make a cameo appearance in this film). In James and the Giant Peach, there are more bright colors and surreal images. The shark that attacks them in the sea for instance is not a typical shark, but a mechanical monstrosity that grinds up fish and shoots out their heads on plates. The best example however, is the “Family” song sequence. During this sequence, the insects sing a song for James and as the song progresses, the world around them becomes filled with moving colors and objects, floating around in the sky to the point where the very peach itself becomes part of a spinning mobile, which James then plucks from the background and takes into his hands. It's a highlight and the creativity and imagination at work here makes this entire film stand out as a great movie for children and adults to see. All the music is done by Randy Newman and with the exception of the song during the credits (the only one that he sings personally) it doesn’t sound so typical of his normal musical style. Nearly every song is both catchy and memorable and all of them feel like they belong within the story.
James and the Giant Peach is a wonderful film and one of Henry Selick’s best to date. There are some surrealistic qualities about this film but it always feels accessible and natural to the tone and visuals of the story. Even though this particular style of animation is more advanced and sophisticated now, as seen in more recent Henry Selick films like Coraline, this one still holds up very well in terms of sheer technical quality and great storytelling.
November 26, 2010
November 13, 2010
Shivers, also known as They Came From Within, is the first film written and directed by David Cronenberg and the situation of how this film came to be is interesting by itself. The film was produced by Ivan Reitman, funded in
by The National Film Board of Canada (which was tax-payer funded) and distributed by Cinépix Film Properties Inc., which prior to this film had made only pornography. During this period, many different kinds of horror films were becoming popular after the success of films like Night of the Living Dead. These films were violent, dark, and often very cynical, but more importantly, were very cheap to produce. Canada
Shivers is set entirely in an apartment complex isolated from
In many ways, this is a zombie movie, except these zombies don’t want to eat your brain, they want to have sex with you. The entire film maintains an objective distance from what happens onscreen. The main characters are not even introduced until close to fifteen minutes in, and they are not particularly interesting. Instead, the film just sort of shows the viewer what would happen if an infection spread in a highly contained environment. The viewer is simply expected to watch, as if watching ants in an ant farm.
Visually speaking, this is Cronenberg’s first film and when compared to his others it's pretty noticeable. Many editing transitions and certain scenes are less smooth and invisible, but still, even here it's evident that he was a promising filmmaker. What he's capable of doing given the budget is also very impressive. The effects are very good for their time, especially the visual of the slugs crawling beneath the skin. There's also an incredibly well staged car crash towards the end of the film that just looks real. One of the more interesting aspects of this film is what it seems to be saying about these slugs. I think there are two main ways to interpret this film. One way would be to see the slugs as a representation of AIDS or the spread of STDs. They infect each and every person through sexual means. For instance, aside from being passed through kissing, a slug enters a character named Betts (played by Barbara Steele of 8½ fame) through her vagina while she's in the bath tub. Given the time period in which this film was made, the slugs as sexually transmitted diseases would be especially frightening. This interpretation also shows a disdain for sexuality of all kinds. The people infected are monstrous and nothing more.
On the other hand, the slugs have a different effect on their surroundings. They create an environment of complete sexual liberation, in which any kind of sex, be it homosexual or pedophiliac in nature, is tolerated and even celebrated. Everything is acceptable, despite any sort of social taboos. There are two characters in this film, the physician Roger
November 6, 2010
Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jan Švankmajer’s version is a bit different. Jan Švankmajer is a Czech filmmaker who specializes in animation using his own unique and surreal version of stop motion, frequently combining it with live action. He often used stop motion to film real people in order to blend them with animated ones in a manner that's disturbing and yet seamless in its own way (despite appearing choppy). A good example of this type of animation, and of Švankmajer’s work in general, is his short film, Food.
The film opens with Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) throwing rocks into the water while sitting next to a woman with an open book on her lap. As
Alice reaches for it, her hand is slapped away and the films opening credits begin while ’s mouth introduces the story, telling the audience directly that “this is a film…made for children…perhaps”. This mouth who narrates is a recurring motif and is most used to give voice to all the characters of the film who speak. After a line of dialogue, the next shot is the mouth saying something like, “said the White Rabbit”. One the one hand, this serves as a constant reminder of the storybook nature of the film and allows a bit more acceptance of the almost completely incoherent plot, but in scenes in which there's a lot of dialogue, it gets old fast. It's much too noticeable towards the end when Alice runs into the Queen of Hearts, but for the majority of the film, there's no talking whatsoever. In fact, there's next to no music as well. Aside from the opening and ending credits, the entire film relies on its heightened sound effects to establish tone and accompany each scene. What it makes is for a very strange and unique viewing experience. Alice
The film follows many aspects of the
It’s difficult to describe Wonderland in this film. It's a collection of rooms, though a few of them seem to be outside, in which something unusual happens. In one room there's the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, who are portrayed as a puppet on strings and a wind-up doll. They constantly shift seats and drink tea or scrape butter into pocket watches. Another room may be filled with living socks, burrowing through holes in the ground like worms, and another room may be just a desk, the contents of which will drastically alter
The point being that nothing is really constant in