Bonus Content, Animation Save Disney/Pixar’s ‘Luca’

Courtesy: Disney/Pixar

Sea monsters are the stuff of Hollywood lore.  From the monster in Universal’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) to the giant, radioactive octopus in It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), to the one and only giant, radioactive lizard itself, Godzilla (1954) the giant radioactive lizard in Godzilla’s inspiration, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, they have been great fodder for Hollywood and audiences alike.  Yet for all of the success that sea monster movies have had over the course of Hollywood’s history, not every movie of that ilk succeeds or has succeeded.  The latest to come up short is Disney/Pixar’s Luca.  The 95-minute movie takes on the classic plot element to tell a story that while entertaining, falls short of expectation.  That is the case even with its welcome deeper social message.  This will be discussed shortly.  While the movie’s story is both positive and negative, its bonus content serves to make up for those problems at least to a point.  It will be discussed a little later.  The movie’s animation rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the movie’s new home presentation.  All things considered, Luca proves to be one of Disney/Pixar’s less memorable offerings.

Disney/Pixar’s Luca is not the best nor the worst of the cinematic offerings that the companies have released over their more than 25 years together.  It is neither a failure, nor is it a total success.  That is proven in part through its story.  The story centers on two young friends, Luca and Alberto, who happen to be “mer-boys”/sea monsters  The boys meet completely by chance one day while Luca is out herding (yes, herding) fish.  The boys’ chance meeting leads to an immediate friendship, when then leads to what is really the center of the story, Luca’s desire to grow up, and discover what else is out there beyond his own home.  It is a timeless story element that has been used in so many movies from Disney, Pixar, and other studios.  Finding Nemo (another Disney/Pixar movie) even uses this plot device as its basis.  Along with all of that is the deeper message (that some might call “woke”) about taking pride in who and what one is rather than hiding that reality.  Now all of this seems all good and fine on the surface (no pun intended).  The problem with it all is how the story begins and progresses.  The whole thing opens so abruptly with Alberto stealing stuff from a fisherman’s boat one night and getting partially caught in the process.  From there, the focus shifts to Luca in the real opening.  Audiences are introduced to Luca as he is herding the noted fish.  He discovers the things that Alberto had tried to steal from the fisher but lost in getting away from that secondary character.  As the boys’ friendship grows, they make their way to a nearby town that is known for its fishing and sea monster hunting. 

Over time, the boys learn that the townspeople have only hatred for sea monsters.  This is where one needs to back up a bit.  There is zero set-up in the story’s opening about this divide between humans and sea monsters.  Not even that brief nighttime preface to the story really sets it up.  Why is the hatred there?  That is never answered.  Though, ultimately at the story’s end, the humans and sea monsters do end up peacefully co-existing.  That’s not giving away too much, as no Disey/Pixar movie is going to have a sad ending.  Audiences are just expected to accept that the humans hate sea monsters.  Eventually, the story does somehow manage to right itself, even though the whole thing of the bicycle race and winning the Vespa just seems like a desperate attempt to justify the boys staying in the town.  For anyone who is confused at this point, good.  That is how the movie’s story will ultimately leave viewers feeling.  Simply put, the story overall just feels so contrived and lacking any real structure.  Add in the unbelievable aspect of Luca and Alberto’s friendship just happening so fast and audiences see even more, the problems posed by this story.  There is no denying here that Luca’s story is problematic but ultimately not a total failure.  The bonus content on the other hand proves well worth watching.

The bonus content that comes with the home release of Luca is important to discuss because of its role in understanding the movie’s final story.  Among the most important of the movie’s bonus features is its collection of deleted scenes.  It is understandable why many of the scenes featured here were cut from the final product.  That includes one of the movie’s original opening sequences.  The second opening on the other hand, is a different matter.  That opening in question really should have been examined and worked out more rather than omitted.  The sequence in question opens with Luca narrating the opening, a la Diego in Coco.  Luca’s voice is heard talking about the island as the camera closes in on an aged map showing the island’s location.  Luca talks about the island and its residents.  This is where things start to get iffy.  Rather than showing the island’s residents actually being the sea monsters, it would have made more sense if Luca had pulled a twist and said the island in question was beneath the waves.  The writers could have then had him talk about why the surface island’s residents hated sea monsters so much.  That brief setup would have done so much to make the rest of the movie so much more enjoyable.  Sadly, the movie’s writers and creative heads opted not to go that route, ultimately making the story that much less engaging and entertaining.  To the positive though, this and the other deleted scenes show in their own right, the importance of the movie’s bonus content.  They in themselves make for plenty of discussion among audiences.

Touching on another of the bonus features, the feature titled, “Our Italian Inspiration” makes for its own appeal (and to more appeal for the movie) because every local studied in this feature shows up in the movie.  Even the subtlety of the railroad tunnel going through the mountain is there, as well as the “marina” for the boats.  If there is one thing that Disney and Pixar have always done right, it is making every one of its movies as believable as possible in their look.  That has always been done by doing the fullest research into the subjects for the movies’ stories.  This story is no exception to that rule.  To that end, audiences will gain even more appreciation for the movie’s bonus content and at least a little more appreciation for the movie if only in terms of its aesthetic elements.

One more item that shows the importance of the movie’s bonus content comes in the form of “Secretly A Sea Monster.”  This roughly 30-minute feature delves into the movie’s animation and the painstaking efforts that went in to making that item believable.  Audiences, especially those with any interest and education in art, will find this discussion engaging and entertaining.  The mention of the animation styles used in Coco being carried over to this movie to a point is interesting, too.  When this feature and the others examined here are considered together, they make fully clear, the importance of the movie’s bonus content.  They work together to make the movie at least a little bit more worth watching at least once.  Keeping that in mind, the bonus content is just one more of the movie’s most notable elements.  Speaking of animation, that aspect rounds out the most important of the movie’s elements.

The animation featured in Luca because it marks a change in direction for Disney and Pixar.  It is more comparable to Aardman Animation’s movies (E.g. Shaun The Sheep, Timmy Time, Wallace & Gromit) than the more overly defined CG presents exhibited in every one of Pixar’s existing works.  The irony is that (again reaching back to that feature about the movie’s animation) where Aardman Animation’s movies are all stop motion/claymation, this movie was done fully through computers.  It shows that despite what so many studios would like to think, it is possible to give these modern animated movies some identity in this aspect.  To that end, Pixar, Dreamworks, and other studios need to take this to heart and see if they can create something more original if only in terms of its look.  It is just nice to have that change of pace from Pixar.  Keeping that in mind, this element is, next to the movie’s bonus content, Luca’s only other fully positive element.  The two elements join with the problematic but still somewhat engaging story to make Luca worth watching at least occasionally.

Disney/Pixar’s Luca is a presentation that is anything but perfect.  It is not a failure, though.  The movie’s story is problematic in terms of its general construction and its pacing.  However, the familiar plot element of the main character wanting to explore and find out more from the world is reason enough to give the movie a chance.  The welcome message about self acceptance also plays into the story’s appeal, making for at least a little more reason to watch.  For all of the problems posed through the movie’s story, its bonus content makes up for those issues at least to a point.  That is because they give more insight into the movie’s creation, including insight into what Luca could have been.  The movie’s animation style rounds out the most important of the movie’s elements.  It stands out because it shows that it is possible for studios to give their cookie cutter CG flicks actual identities separate from themselves since they refuse to use hand drawn animation, which gives even more identity to presentations.  All three noted items are important in their own way to the whole of the movie.  All things considered, they leave Luca a movie that while not a failure, is also one of the less memorable sea monster based movies that Hollywood has ever turned out.  More information on this and other movies from Pixar is available at:

Website: https://www.pixar.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pixar

Twitter: https://twitter.com/pixar

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.  

Shout! Factory TV Hosting Kaiju Monster Movie Marathon This Weekend

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory TV/Shout! Factory/Pluto TV

Courtesy: Shout! Factory TV/Shout! Factory/Pluto TV

Shout! Factory TV and Famous Monsters of Filmland have teamed up for a very special event this weekend.

This Saturday, July 18th, Shout! Factory TV and Famous Monsters of Filmland will present a twenty-four hour Kaiju movie marathon. The livestream will run from midnight to midnight (EST) July 18th – 19th online at http://www.shoutfactorytvlive.com and on Pluto TV on channel 427 as well as on various mobile platforms. It will be hosted by Kaiju expert August Ragone and will feature no fewer than nine classic Godzilla movies. It will also feature fan favorite episodes of Ultra Seven and Ultra Q. Ragone, the two-time Rondo Award-winning author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, will offer a complete, in-depth introduction to each of the marathon’s movies. Ragone has commented on Japanese film and culture on a variety of mediums and at countless live events for more than three decades.

The complete listing and schedule for this weekend’s marathon is listed below.

KAIJU CONTENT STREAMING ON SHOUT! FACTORY TV LIVE:

 

Godzilla: The Uncut Japanese Original (1954)

American nuclear weapons testing results in the creation of a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast.

 

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Godzilla battles an irradiated Ankylosaur and destroys Osaka in the process.

 

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1954)

A 400-foot dinosaur-like beast, awoken from undersea hibernation off the Japanese coast by atomic-bomb testing, attacks Tokyo.

 

Rodan (1956)

Mutant pterosaurs and prehistoric insects terrorize humanity.

 

Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964)

A greedy developer unwittingly hatches a gigantic baby moth upon Tokyo, while Godzilla strikes once again.

 

Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964)

After a meteorite unleashes a three-headed beast upon Tokyo, Mothra tries to unite with Godzilla and Rodan to battle the extraterrestrial threat.

 

Monster Zero (1965)

Aliens from Planet X request the use of Godzilla and Rodan to fight off King Ghidorah, but have a better use for the three monsters.

 

Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

A bullied schoolboy dreams of traveling to Monster Island, where he befriends Godzilla’s son, who is also having bully troubles.

                                  

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Godzilla comes to the rescue when an alien race rebuilds Mechagodzilla to destroy Earth’s cities.

 

ULTRA Q – 8 fan favorite episodes

“For the next 30 minutes, your eyes will leave your body and arrive in this strange moment in time…” In the world of Ultra Q, the very fabric of nature is warped into a state of unbalance, and all manner of strange phenomenon, and unearthly creatures, threaten the very future of mankind! On the scene are a world-renown scientist and his young friends—a girl photojournalist, an aviator, and his co-pilot—who investigate these supernatural menaces. When sheer military might is futile, the intrepid trio comes to the rescue, armed solely with their ingenuity, and scientific prowess, to quell these malevolent forces and restore the balance of nature.

The precursor to Ultraman, Ultra Q is a seminal science-fantasy television series in the monstrous mold of The Outer Limits and The X Files, which is deeply ingrained in the psyche of Japanese pop culture as The Twilight Zone is to America. Eiji Tsuburaya, the visual effects wizard behind Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, creates a spectacular cavalcade of bizarre beasts and mass mayhem in each and every episode of this wildly popular series. Never before broadcast in the North America, Ultra Q stars Kenji Sahara (Rodan), Hiroko Sakurai (Ultraman), Yasuhiko Saijo (Destroy All Monsters), and is now available on Shout! Factory TV.

 

ULTRA SEVEN– 8 fan favorite episodes

The Earth is in danger! Even now, fiendish hands are stretching out from the distant stars to seize the world…From their massive underground complex near Mt. Fuji, the Ultra Guard, an elite unit of the Terrestrial Defense Force, equipped with a squadron of Ultra Hawks, stands vigilant as our decisive first-line to combat the myriad of alien aggressors, who threaten the very existence of our planet. But, unbeknownst to his fellow teammates, Dan Moroboshi, is secretly an extraterrestrial aiding them in their fight to preserve the future of humanity — considered the “7th member” of the Ultra Guard — better known as “Ultra Seven!”

Produced by the creative team behind Ultraman, Ultra Seven is the third entry in the “Ultra Series,” and is arguably the best of the long-running franchise, with its emphasis on science fiction and themes touching on subjects ranging from the cruelty of war to social and racial injustices in the grand tradition of Star Trek and The Outer Limits. Plus, Ultra Seven features the colossal monsters and spectacular visual effects viewers expect from the men who brought Godzilla to life!

 

Schedule of Films*

12:00 a.m. – Godzilla, the Uncut Japanese Original (1954)

1:45 a.m. – Ultra Q episodes

5:15 a.m. – Ultra Seven episodes

6:30 a.m. – Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954)

8:15 a.m. – Ultra Seven episodes

9:00 a.m. – Rodan (1956)

10:30 a.m. – Ultra Seven episodes

11:15 a.m. – Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

12:45 p.m. – Ultra Seven episodes

1:30 p.m. – Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

3:15 p.m. – Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

5:00 p.m. – Monster Zero (1965)

6:45 p.m. – Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

8:15 p.m. – Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

10:00 p.m. – Godzilla, the Uncut Japanese Original (1954)

11:45 p.m. – Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

1:15 a.m. – Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

3:00 a.m. – Godzilla, the Uncut Japanese Original (1954)

*Times listed are Eastern time, approximate and subject to change.

Audiences can check out a trailer for this weekend’s marathon online now via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh5PrOaCTZw.

More information on this weekend’s marathon and all programming offered by Shout! Factory TV is available online at:

Website: http://www.shoutfactorytv.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactorytv

Twitter: http://twitter.com/ShoutFactoryTV

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philpicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

When Santa Fell To Earth Is A Holiday Tale Unlike Almost Every Other

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anchor Bay Entertainment’s new Christmas-themed movie When Santa Fell To Earth is one of the best holiday-themed movies to come along in a very long time. The movie, which is based on author Cornelia Funke’s 1994 book by the same name, is actually surprisingly entertaining. This is the even with the movie being just another adaptation of a book. The main reason for the movie’s success is that despite being adapted from a book, its story actually stands out quite a bit from all of the other cookie cutter Christmas-themed movies. It follows the formula used by so many major studios lightly at best. Another reason for the movie’s success is its minimal use of special effects. And while it was originally done in German or another European language, the work of those responsible for dubbing the film made that dubbing nearly invisible. It may seem like a minor factor. But in the grand scheme of things, dubbing foreign films whether foreign to English or vice versa is very important. Good dubbing results in a movie such as this. Bad dubbing can make a movie into a third rate product not worth even finishing let alone watching. Luckily for this movie, that poor dubbing didn’t work. The end result is a movie that along with its somewhat original script and its minimal use of special effects proves to be as enjoyable as any other holiday-themed movie released each year.

The central reason for the success of When Santa Fell To Earth is its writing. More specifically, the script is to thank for its success. Given, it is based on a two-decades old book. But that book in question is not one that most would consider well-known. What’s more, while there are some alterations in the transfer from the printed page to small screen, they aren’t nearly as much as some adaptations of other more well-known literary works. The story itself also stands out from other holiday movies out there. Most Christmas-themed movies see an average person saving Christmas by filling in for Santa or getting others to realize the “true meaning of Christmas” through a series of events. Those are the most common plot lines in most Christmas-themed movies. This movie takes a road not just less taken but a road no one else saw, period. According to this story, there are actually multiple Santas. But they’ve all been frozen by an evil figure that wants to rule Christmas and turn it into a fully corporate holiday. Enter Nikklas Julebukk (pronounced YULE-uh-buck). Nikklas is the last Santa standing between the evil Gerald Geronimus Goblynch. It’s up to Nikklas to stop Gerald and his henchman, and save Christmas. Nikklas crashes to Earth in his flight from Gerald and his henchman, leading to his meeting Ben and Charlotte, who help him to stop Gerald. There are no big red sleighs. The only reindeer in the movie is one that audiences definitely won’t recognize. Its name is Twinklestar. And instead of the North Pole, Nikklas is trying to keep the story’s villain from taking over Yuleland. Some names and places have been changed in the transition from the printed page to the small screen. But by and large, the story has been kept the same. That and the fact that this story is unlike nearly any other out there within the Christmas-themed genre is more than enough reason to see this movie at least once.

The overall originality of this movie’s script even in its transition from the printed page to the small screen is the most important factor in the movie’s success. Another reason that audiences will enjoy this movie is its minimalist use of special effects. The only special effects come courtesy of some CG work to create a pair of “Christmas elves” and a pair of tiny angels who serve as Nikklas’ companions. The elves are entirely CG. The angels (yes, they actually incorporate angels alongside Santa—a very young Santa at that) are live actors. But their wings and flying effects were obviously created via CG and green screen. Even Gerald’s evil giant nutcracker “soldiers” looked like they had been crafted by hand. Other than that, everything else within this movie looks to be live action. Again, one can’t help but make a comparison to other holiday movies out there today. Set against most American holiday movies its balance of live action elements and special effects gives it a rare feel that audiences of all ages will appreciate. It’s one more way in which When Santa Fell To Earth stands out among the already overcrowded market of Christmas-themed movies currently on the market. And together with the its largely original adaptation from its literary companion, this foreign import becomes even more enjoyable.

The balance of live action elements and CG-based special effects in When Santa Fell To Earth and the largely original story adapted from the book of the same name are both important to the overall success of this straight-to-DVD feature. Rounding out the entire presentation is the movie’s dubbing. It would seem that the movie’s original presentation was German simply by observing the movie’s credits and its setting. That would make sense considering that the author of the book on which this movie is based is herself German.   Those charged with dubbing the movie into English are to be commended for taking such painstaking efforts to present a clean product. There are movies dubbed into English that don’t exactly translate very well. The end result is something that looks like the old school kung-fu flicks and Godzilla movies imported from Japan and China. That’s not a good thing. Luckily in this case that poor translation didn’t happen. Audiences almost can’t tell that what they are hearing is in fact American voices speaking over European actors. There are points here and there where audiences will be able to catch the dubbing. But it’s nowhere near as obvious as in those noted old school Asian imports. The end result is a movie well worth watching at least once this holiday season when taken into consideration along with the movie’s story and its balance of live action and CG elements.

The story presented in When Santa Fell To Earth is one of the most original holiday stories presented to audiences in a long time. Given, it is based on a book that was originally published two decades ago. But in comparison to all of the other holiday movies out there it still stands out. And for the most part, it actually stays largely true to its literary link. Only a few minor items were changed in the story’s small screen adaptation. The minimalist use of special effects makes the story even more worth the watch. In an age when even holiday movies seem to rely increasingly on special effects and CG elements, this movie’s balance of live action to special effects makes it all the more worth the watch. Rounding out the presentation is the dubbing process. It’s assumed that the movie, in its original 2011 release, was presented in German. Those charged with dubbing the movie into English for its release this year carried out their duties expertly. The end result of these factors together is a movie that every family should see at least once this holiday season. It will be available on DVD Tuesday, October 14th. It can be ordered direct online now via Anchor Bay Entertainment’s website at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/detail.aspx?projectID=bd0b8d9a-21f7-e311-a502-d4ae527c3b65. More information on this and other titles from Anchor Bay Entertainment is available online at:

Website: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Anchor_Bay

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.