A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 141 – WALL-E

WALL-E – July 19th, 2010

This is going to become a boring refrain from me, I know, but this was another overhype victim. I didn’t see it in the theater and by the time it was out on DVD I swear I’d been told I had had had had had to see this oh my fucking god I had to see it it’s the most amazing thing ever made and I would be blown away by how stupendously amazing it is! No movie should have to live up to that. Especially when I asked one of the last people to try and sell it to me “So, what’s it about?” “Oh,” they said. “I don’t want to try and describe it. I’d ruin it for you.” Yeah, thanks. That does not entice me to watch something.

I should probably get over the overhype thing, but I’m serious. No movie should have to compare to the reviews people will give it when they’re trying to sell it. Of course, this was a lovely and clever and interesting movie and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it did not make me find religion. I will say, it did a very nice job of showing how both humanity and technology have good and bad sides. You could go claiming that there’s an anti-tech message, what with the evil Auto and the Axiom residents’ thorough dependence on machinery, but then Auto and the Axiom itself were built and set up to do just what they were doing by humans. And it’s WALL-E and EVE who both have the means for the human race to return to Earth and display the will to make sure it happens. So it’s really very even-handed, with an optimistic slant on both sides.

Anyhow, the movie is a sort of post-apocalyptic redemption starring two little robots in love. WALL-E is a tiny little trash compactor living on Earth 800 years in the future and working every day to pick up the mountains of trash and… do something. It’s been building towers. You get the idea that it’s been doing this for a very long time. Apparently it was once just one of many WALL-E units, but seems now to be the only one left functioning. It makes its little blocks, builds all day, collects interesting things and goes home at night to a big garbage truck where it lives with its pet cockroach. Until EVE arrives on a probe, looking for viable plant life. Which it finds, but only after WALL-E’s totally smitten and they both end up heading back up to the ship humanity left Earth on 800 years ago, the Axiom, which was paid for and run by Buy-N-Large, which seems to have been the genesis of much of the mess on Earth. And by now all the humans on the ship are just complacent lumps, content to ride their hover chairs around the ship, playing virtual golf without moving and doing pretty much nothing all day long while the ship exists around them, fulfilling their every need. Only a viable plant sample from Earth will send the ship back home. But of course there’s a catch so we’ve got an excuse for a robot rebellion and some callbacks to 2001.

Now, at the heart of the movie is the love story between WALL-E and EVE. I can’t help but think back to some of the hype when the movie came out and how it turned from hype into a debate over the genders of WALL-E and EVE. Now, going on the fact that the voices, such as they are, were a male voice actor for WALL-E and a female voice actor for EVE, I’d say that does it for me. But then again, they’re robots. They might well have some gendered qualities, but as far as I’m concerned, I say make your own decisions. I kind of like the idea of two genderless creatures falling in love. And the movie goes to great lengths to make it quite clear that these two do indeed care very deeply about each other. They risk so much, not just to get humans back to Earth, but to stay together and stay functional. It’s a sweet story, and while there is dialogue in the movie, and both WALL-E and EVE do speak, their dialogue specifically is very limited. They say each other’s names and a select few other words, like “directive” but for the most part their relationship is demonstrated through visuals. It makes those names, and how they say them, all the more meaningful.

On the upper level of the movie there’s the story about humanity, and how it left Earth one big landfill, jetting off to the stars on an extended vacation in the hopes that robots would fix the mess in the interim. Humanity is portrayed as complacent here. Willing to consume and consume and consume while being easily led. It’s an environmental message, and a nasty one really. The garbage won’t just go away. 800 years later and it’s all still there, just in somewhat neater piles. Sort of. Some of it anyhow. The complacency is what I find really hideous. And sadly accurate. But like I said, the movie does definitely have an optimistic slant. Sure, things are bad, but there’s always hope so long as someone’s willing to break out of the pack.

One might think the two stories don’t mesh well, but really, they do. It’s nice to see a movie do something a little different. That being said, let’s face it, there’s a lot of little references. I know the robot noises were done by one of the voice actors, but there were more than a few that heavily reminded me of some of the droids in Star Wars. Not all the time, and not any one in particular more than any other, but every so often I’d hear a beep or boop and think “I’ve heard that…” There are little things that are cute references to robotics from all over. And I suspect this was accidental, but I did find myself thinking of the video game Portal several times. Specifically, I was reminded of the turret voices from the game. The feel of Earth at the beginning reminded me heavily of the game Fallout 3, with the landscape full of trash and ruins and the music in the background. This isn’t a complaint. Rather it’s high praise, as I love and adore that game and felt the atmosphere was hugely engaging. There’s just something about hearing music from a past time while seeing the ruins of the future.

I am glad I finally saw this. Like I said, it didn’t provide any epiphanies for me, and it didn’t make me cry until the credits (which were beautifully done). If I’d watched it right after all the hype I think I would have felt cheated. But it was sweet, and sad, and beautiful, and ugly, and hopeful, all at the same time. And that’s really all I want to ask of a movie like this.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

WALL-E

July 19, 2010

WALL-E

I had a frustrating day at work today an needed something simple and uplifting tonight. And although I don’t want to run through all our Pixar movies too quickly what I was most in the mood for was this great little gem of storytelling. It’s a touching, pretty and yes, relevant movie. You may recall from my review of The Navigator my fondness for serious hard sci-fi for children. This movie definitely pushes those buttons for me.

In many ways this is the bravest and most experimental movie that Pixar has made to date. Mostly because it has almost no dialog whatsoever for the first forty minutes of the film. Just a pre-recorded announcement by Buy N’ Large president Fred Willard to explain why there are no humans left on Earth. The Earth we encounter at the start of this movie is a burnt out husk. It’s all violent dust storms and mountains of rusted garbage. The only signs of any sort of life are a little lone robot and his cockroach companion. The comical little cuboid robot WALL-E (a mobile garbage compactor) has apparently been labouring for seven hundred years to clean the planet. In that time he’s picked up a few… eccentricities.

The movie follows him as he performs his daily duties – packing the garbage left behind by the human race into little cubes and stacking it endlessly into almighty towers of junk. At the same time he picks through the piles for curios that capture his fancy. A lighter. A spork. A Rubik’s cube. These he brings back to his home and sorts and treasures.

Then one day an advanced and shiny ship comes down from the sky and leaves behind a mysterious ovoid robot called EVE. The movie starts at this point to become a strange kind of romance as the lonely and isolated WALL-E woos EVE by showing her his treasures and his private little world. And just when she seems to be succumbing to his bumbling charm he shows her a plant he found one day and she explodes with excitement, grabs the plant and shuts down.

I don’t really want to occupy my entire review with a scene by scene summary of the movie. It seems silly for me to go on with explaining the plot. I would hope that anybody who hasn’t seen this movie already and trusts my sensibilities will take my word for it that this is my favorite Pixar film, and possibly among my top ten favorite films of all time, and they should really go see it for themselves. Let’s just say that from there the movie leaves Earth and takes us deep into space to find some of the Human survivors in their life away from home – which is a never ending luxury cruise. There’s action, humor and pathos – and even when we do find humans that talk English they are secondary characters and the heart of the film remains the comical, bumbling, soulful little WALL-E.

There are also a lot of subversive sci-fi themes throughout the film as well. Not just the whole “Humanity had to abandon the Earth because they had polluted it so badly.” There’s also a message about the dangers of consumerism. All the Humans in the film are sedentary portly beings who cannot move from their mobile hover chairs, waited on hand and foot by the only corporation left in the galaxy – Buy N’ Large. (A not too subtle poke at Wal-Mart.) It really appeals to me to have these serious issues addressed in a family movie like this. I love when children are encouraged to think about things.

I could probably yammer on for a while about the amazing animation in this movie too. Pixar by this point have mastered the ability to work with huge, complex and intricate sets. The garbage strewn Earth would have taken the computers of even a decade ago far too long to render to be practical. It absolutely dwarfs the already impressive scale of the door-room scene at the end of Monsters, Inc or the daunting baggage sorting climax of Toy Story 2. And that’s just in the first few opening shots. There are also some impressive crowd scenes at the end of the movie that are mighty showcases for what can now be accomplished.

But the technology doesn’t make the movie. And the clever sci-fi speculation doesn’t make the movie. What makes the movie, more than anything else, is the simply brilliant performance of WALL-E himself. The animators apparently studied the masters of silent film for hints on how to convey emotion, so there’s a little Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in WALL-E. He’s got such a pure, simple heart. The way he befriends just about every person and robot he encounters throughout the whole movie is so touching. (Maybe a little Jim Henson there too.)

Kudos as well to Ben Burtt – sound designer extraordinaire and the “voice” of WALL-E. It’s worth your time if you have the multi-disk set of this movie to check out Ben’s special feature documentaries on foley work and giving a voice to the whole world. Every beep, click and hum in the whole movie comes from Ben’s staggering library of strange noises, and every one is carefully placed to help give depth and character to the film. And somehow he managed to do sound for an entire movie without using his patented “Wilhelm.”

This movie touches me so deeply. It makes me laugh out loud. It makes me choke back silent tears. It even gives me a little hope for the future of humankind. How many movies out there deliver quite so much? Precious few.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment