Thursday, 12 April 2012

Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists [FILM REVIEW]

Avast ye mateys! 
Pirates ahoy! 

Admittedly slightly camp plasticine pirates - one of whom I'm sure is cross-dressing - but these are still some of the funniest and most daring swashbucklers in the cinematic seas.

This dashing scallywag, with his luxuriant beard,
is the Pirate Captain (played by Hugh Grant) 
What's It All About Then?
This is the most recent film release by Aardman Studios, the guys who brought us the Wallace and Gromit adventures. The film is based on a children's book by Gideon Defoe, who has a whole bunch of other Pirates! adventures written and these could well be turned into feature films in the future too. This film deals with the Pirate Captain hoping to win the prestigious "Pirate of the Year" award, which has eluded him for over 20 years. The Pirate Captain thinks he's got the secret to winning sorted though - he's enlisted the help of Charles Darwin!

The film is created using clay models and stop-motion animation (so that for each frame the clay models are moved into position and then a shot is taken). The technique has been ditched by most studios in favour of computer-generated graphics, which are often cheaper to create.

The film has an "all-star" cast, with Hugh Grant playing the Pirate Captain (a role he fits perfectly) and David Tenant playing the part of Charles Darwin. There is Martin Freeman, Russell Tovey and Brendan Gleeson playing the parts of some of the Captain's pirate crew. Throughout the film, the gang have to compete for the approval of other famous pirates such as Salma Hayek, Lenny Henry and Brian Blessed (yes, Brian Blessed!).

So Is It Any Good?
+++ Laugh-a-Minute +++
There are jokes a-plenty here - the film is absolutely chock-full of them. Most of the humour is crude, childish and ridiculous..... but sadly that's right up my street! A good example of this is when the Pirate Captain is addressing his crew - "Some of you are ugly, some are you are more chair than human.... and some of you are just fish that I've put a hat on". With the jokes coming thick and fast, it's easy to miss a lot of the humour - so I'd say a second viewing on DVD so that you can pause and rewind to some of the best bits may be needed. 

The jokes are aimed at all levels of viewer too - aside from the really childish stuff there's plenty of bits thrown in for more grown up film-goers as well. Most of the sections involving Darwin have some sort of subtle "evolutionary" joke thrown in, which will go right over the heads of younger viewers but had me chuckling away (slightly ashamed).

In one slightly downbeat section of the film, the creators chose to use the Flight of the Concords I'm Not Crying worked well and got a few extra laughs from the grown-ups in the crowd. I think that's what made the film for me - that even during the slower sections there was some humour dropped in.

+++ Well Detailed +++
As mentioned above, there is humour in EVERY part of this film - possibly only achievable because of the animation technique used. I really liked the fact that you could tell just how much effort was put into each frame of animation, and hats off to the creators for such an incredible piece of work.

I would say that the majority of the adult humour is actually in the written signs in the background of most scenes - you have to read pretty fast to appreciate some of them but if you spot them (and you're anything like me) you'll be giggling in your seat. Some notable examples:

  • While pulling in the the main port in the film - Blood Island - there is a little sign which says "Carribean In Bloom Winners 1785".
  • One of the shops in the port is called - and no word of a lie - "R. Spanker's Mast Raisers".
  • When the Pirate Captain and Darwin go the the Royal Society in England, the stone etching above the door says - "Royal Society - Playing God Since 1650".
  • Brendan Gleeson's pirate has a very pirate-y badge on his hat ..... a Blue Peter badge!

The model for the ship used in the film is huge - and quite a technical achievement!
--- Mass Market Unappeal? ---
One of the biggest drawbacks for me was the multitude of scenes which were clearly "3D orientated", that is "made to look spectacular with 3D on but looking a bit weird in 2D". There were around 3 big scenes where this was used and had the camera constantly aimed at an angle such that the action came directly towards you. Now I'm sure this looks fine in 3D (it wouldn't for me because 3D normally gives me a headache) but in 2D it just looked out of place. 

In Wallace and Gromit films, the action was just as intense and was remarkably clever - and needed no 3D tricks to achieve that. The scene where they are on a model train track and Gromit is laying the path ahead of them as they race around the house is awesome. In Pirates!, the most similar scene was that of a bathtub coming down the stairs - and the camera moved to the bottom of each flight ready for a dramatic 3D moment as the tub plummeted.

It was clear that younger members of the audience didn't enjoy some of these scenes too - there were a lot of children sitting near me who were genuinely upset by the loud noises and weird camera angles that were employed (and as they are the target audience then it doesn't bode too well!).

--- Blinded By The Stars ---
Another fault in the film is that they relied too heavily on their "all-star" cast - I felt that a few of the characters were pretty thin and lifeless - and these were generally the characters played by famous voice actors. The makers of the film should have realised that you can't appeal to everyone... so the film should have just stayed quaint and quirky. 

Big budget 3D scenes with Salma Hayek (thrown in there just for the sake of it) can't really match up to the natural British humour seen in early Wallace & Gromit films. I'm pretty sure Hayek doesn't exactly appreciate being wheeled on to provide some Latina booty too - and that is all her character gave. Sticking with the charming, eccentric and low-key humour that Aardman studios have shown they can pull off so well.

This is Salma Hayek's character - and this is as dazzling as her scenes get.

Pirates! is a great film - for the most part it's incredibly well-made and thoughtfully put together.

The animation style is gorgeous and allows for some very subtle background humour that you don't often get in films nowadays.

If you have kids - or if you're a big kid yourself - this film is pretty much guaranteed to please.
 The only way it would have been better is if they stuck to 2D and were working with a smaller casting budget.

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