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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

BTL Reviews

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Narnia exists in the misty haze of memory that’s evocatively captured in stark images by veteran cinematographer Donald McAlpine, ASC. He conveys coldness of the soul rather than a literally frigid environment, to chilling effect. [Narnia] is Arthurian in nature, [which is] reflected via Isis Mussenden’s costumes, culled from 1950s courtly movie intrigues. The film harks back to the era when Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion techniques enlivened Sinbad and his ilk. The army of effects specialists led by Dean Wright wisely steers clear of verisimilitude in favor of something unreal that requires one to extend one’s mental grasp.The ominous qualities in the latest Potter film feel more intense and realistic [than in earlier ones], and large credit for this is due production designer Stuart Craig. Director Mike Newell and producer David Heyman make several other shrewd decisions, including hiring composer Patrick Doyle, whose penchant for subliminal musical messages is in sharp contrast to earlier work by John Williams. Editor Mick Audsley—long associated with the films of Stephen Frears—is ideally suited to the insistent and erratic rhythms demanded in the current installment. John Mitchell’s effects team have developed a more organic, less sensational approach to their wizardry chores.In the most superficial fashion, children’s films have evolved (The Wizard of Oz notwithstanding) from quaint, modestly produced tales into epic productions employing all the bells and whistles of contemporary filmmaking. However, at their core they remain moral tales with uplifting messages for the young and old in the audience. The most universal and appealing eschew obvious sentimentality and employ youthful protagonists wise beyond their chronological years. It’s the latter element that transcends to adults and allows them to embrace the innocence and wonder that’s largely been erased over time.The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire reach for the gold ring in this arena and largely achieve their lofty pursuits. In these jaded times it’s hard to imagine any film altering our nature for more than a moment and each, at least, takes us from the humdrum and into the fantastic for several hours.Published in 1950, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first of seven books by CS Lewis about the Pevensie children and the secret world of Narnia they discover inside a clothing wardrobe. It is foremost a parable about the Second World War and the four youngsters are London evacuees sent to Northern England away from the peril of the Luftwaffe bombings. While physically removed from the war, its psychological presence cannot be denied.The children are, of course, too young to enlist like their father or volunteer on the home front. However, in the imaginary world of Narnia their derring-do surmounts mortal bounds. It is a wonderland in spite of the fact that it is under the rule of a tyrannical witch, and the pristine landscape has been frozen in winter for 100 years. It exists in the misty haze of memory that’s evocatively captured in stark images by veteran cinematographer Donald McAlpine, ASC. He conveys a coldness of the soul rather than a literally frigid environment, to chilling effect.The film retains a not unpleasant bygone creakiness. There is a prophecy in this land of talking animals and hybrid fauns and centaurs of four humans arriving to vanquish the witch and bring spring to Narnia. It’s Arthurian in nature and inspiration, with dollops of Henry V to rally the troops, and is reflected via Isis Mussenden’s costumes, culled from 1950s courtly movie intrigues.And as with that Shakespearian touchstone that was made by Lawrence Olivier as a propaganda film in 1944, the themes of human frailty and personal sacrifice loom large on the landscape. Even before the ultimate confrontation between good and evil, hope has emerged to melt the frozen rivers and coax buds to sprout from trees and bushes. The actual battle is a fitting pastiche of massive gladiatorial conflagrations and battlefield carnage that crosses centuries with a slight wink as condors become bomber pilots and horse and rider become one in the cavalry unit.While unquestionably more fluid in its evocation of mythic creatures, the film nonetheless harks back to the era when Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion techniques enlivened Sinbad and his ilk. The army of effects specialists led by Dean Wright wisely steers clear of verisimilitude in favor of something unreal that requires one to extend one’s mental grasp. It is finally the movie’s ability to engage the audience to be part of the youthful protagonists guile and ardor that sets it apart and above the fray.Harry Potter’s movie world is less overtly beholden to Harryhausen and Merian C Cooper than that of Spielberg, Lucas and others that transformed past worlds of wonder with an assist from emerging technologies. The fourth installment, The Goblet of Fire, takes the trio of young sorcerers into their teen years, and without betraying its antecedents manages to bring fresh eyes to the saga.The spine of the latest semester at Hogwarts Academy is the Triwizard Tournament, in which a representative of the school and two young visitors from foreign establishments compete in games of skill, cunning and danger. But in some strange twist of mystical fate, Harry is selected to be a fourth competitor. The situation neither pleases his instructors nor classmates but it has been decreed in the traditional otherworldly fashion of selection.The screen adaptations of JK Rowling’s books have—apparently at the author’s insistence and through contractual requirements—strived to cram as much of the page as possible onto the silver screen. And while the translations have had more assets than faults, their literal bias has often resulted in patches of narrative sluggishness and secondary stories and characters that also slow the momentum. There was a degree of familiarity about the structure—a school term framed with a brief glimpse of home life—that was developing into a tired formula.The Goblet of Fire jettisons or mutates most of these past conventions to great effect. The bookends have been dropped and the film begins with a set piece at the World Cup of Quidditch that foreshadows the venomous reach of Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters. It’s the sort of teaser one associates with the Bond films, though in this instance there’s a dramatic payoff beyond the visceral excitement. The film also boosts the kind of flamboyant villains and allies that are a staple of the spy series.The Potter books, like some latter-day Grimm yarn, are rife with mortal danger and all the films have listed toward darkness and shadow. Yet the ominous qualities in the latest edition feel more intense and realistic, and large credit for this is due production designer Stuart Craig. Director Mike Newell and producer David Heyman make several other shrewd decisions, including hiring composer Patrick Doyle, whose penchant for subliminal musical messages is in sharp contrast to earlier work by John Williams. It gives the material fresh ears and a brooding quality attune to the characters’ new status as young adults.Appropriately the renewed vitality comes largely from streamlining the story to essentials and maintaining a vigorous pace that refuses to dwell strenuously on its idiosyncratic logic. It is about spinning a good tale, and whereas the previous films have felt compelled to explain matters in the tiniest of detail, The Goblet of Fire understands that a good mystery must employ obfuscation and sleight-of-hand. Editor Mick Audsley—long associated with the films of Stephen Frears—is ideally suited to the insistent and erratic rhythms demanded in the current installment.John Mitchell’s effects team have developed a more organic, less sensational approach to their wizardry chores. Nonetheless the three challenges faced by the Triw
izard competitors are a visual and technical delight. There’s poetry to the aerial ballet between Harry and a dragon and the animation of malevolent vines in a verdant maze has a disturbing psychological component that’s sure to leave scars on the psyche of young children. However, the ultimate terror of the piece occurs when the hero must confront asking a girl on a date for Hogwart’s equivalent of a prom. The series is evolving in unexpected and fascinating ways.

Written by Len Klady

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