Skip to main content

When did video games become so violent and scary?


Wreck-It-Ralph
(2012)

Is there any way to tell the difference between a Disney brand movie and a Pixar one these days? Both are adorned with John Lasseter’s name and, when one releases shameless cash-ins such as Cars 2 while the other comes up with a high concept riff on ‘80s computer games, the lines are blurred further.

That said, Brave was a welcome return to original storytelling for Pixar. And, inspired as its premise is, Ralph quickly succumbs to tried-and-tested characterisation and plotting. Rich Moore makes his movie debut (he also gets a story credit, one of seven contributors), but he’s a veteran director of TV fare such as of The Simpsons and Futurama. He brings a suitably irreverent, offbeat sensibility to the material. Although he succumbs to traditional Disney/Pixar sentimentality in the final reel, there’s always the feeling that Ralph might shoot off in an unexpected direction at any given moment.

Ralph is the villain of an 8-Bit 1980s arcade game, Fix-It-Felix, Jr (not a million miles from Donkey Kong, with Ralph as Kong); he’s tired of being the bad guy, and seeing the luxurious conditions his fellow characters bask in while he’s consigned to spend the night on a pile of bricks. So he sets out to become a hero, seizing a medal from a first-person-shooter (Hero’s Duty) before arriving in the Super Mario Kart-esque Sugar Rush. There, he meets a computer glitch, Vanellope, who has dreams of racing. Unfortunately, Ralph has brought along a Cy-Bug from Hero’s Duty, which could spell doom for Sugar Rush.

Moore crams the film with references to past gaming characters, from Pacman to Sonic the Hedgehog. Q*Bert is easily the most indulged of these, and the most likeable. To be honest, I’ve never been a great gamer so many of the characters passed me by without recognition. They’re just the icing on the cake, however; as it should be.

The movie’s set up is superior to its pay-off, such is usually the case where curmudgeonly or miserable characters find redemption; the ending takes the edge off and all you are left with is, well something akin to Sugar Rush. So Ralph (an impeccably cast John C. Reilly) visiting a villain’s support group, incurring the wrath of his fellow characters at a 30th anniversary bash for Fix-It-Felix, Jr, and causing enormous disruption in Hero’s Duty, is carried off with a degree of anarchic aplomb. The sketching out of the gaming micro-universe has the same kind of diligence that was brought to bear on Toy Story, with clear rules for what happens when humans are no longer playing (as such, characters acting up and causing games to malfunction makes for an amusing and instantly recognisable reference point).

Once Ralph meets the (as he puts it) annoying brat Vanellope, the story settles on a much more predictable path. I’d hoped there would be a wider variety of game settings for Ralph to traverse (something akin to Looney Tunes – Back in Action’s Louvre sequence), but Moore opts to play it safe. Vanellope echoes the cutesy kid in Monsters, Inc. but with added Sarah Silverman smart-mouthiness. Clearly, we’re supposed to find her adorable but she quickly becomes a strain on my nerves. It’s the point in the film where the lessons that need to be learned come into focus, and Ralph slowly starts to lose his edge. In parallel, Felix (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, who is perhaps a little too recognisable; at times I felt I was listening to Kenneth) and sexy Hero’s Duty chick Tamora (Jane Lynch, also instantly identifiable) are on a romantic course as they attempt to track down Ralph and the Cy-Bug. There’s even a villainous reveal that I wasn’t expecting (as in, it didn’t make a huge amount of difference and so leaves one suspecting it was the result of one story conference too many) but comes from the Pixar’s The Incredibles.

But this is still one for Disney to be proud of, if only because it diverges from the safe territory of restaged fairy tales (don’t worry, they’ve another of those coming up). The gags are sometimes a bit on the crude side (you can tell Silverman’s involved when there’s an extended poo-themed discourse), but more often quite inspired (“You hit a guy, with glasses” is especially witty). 2012 gave offered a string of good-but-not-quite-great animated features, and Ralph can be added to that pile.

***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

What I have tried to show you is the inevitability of history. What must be, must be.

The Avengers 2.24: A Sense of History
Another gem, A Sense of History features one of the series’ very best villains in Patrick Mower’s belligerent, sneering student Duboys. Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at St Bode’s College investigating murder most cloistered, and the author of a politically sensitive theoretical document, in Martin Woodhouse’s final, and best, teleplay for the show (other notables include Mr. Teddy Bear and The Wringer).

Are you drinking the water?

A Cure for Wellness (2016)
(SPOILERS) Well, this is far more suited to Dane DeHaan’s slightly suspect shiftiness than ludicrously attempting to turn him into an outright action hero (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets). It’s not, though, equal to director Gore Verbinski’s abilities. One of Hollywood’s great visualists but seemingly languishing without a clear path since he was cast adrift from collaborating with Johnny Depp, unfortunately, he must cop most of the blame for A Cure for Wellness, since it was his idea.

There’s a whiff of Shutter Island’s pulp psychodrama tonally, as DeHaan’s unscrupulous finance company executive Lockhart is sent to a Swiss health spa to fetch back a board member vital to pressing ahead with a merger. No sooner has he reached the alpine wellness centre, resplendent in the grounds of historic castle with a dark past, than he’s involved in a car accident, leaving him with a leg in a cast and “encouragement” to recuperate on site, taking the waters …

Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

Star Trek (2009)
(SPOILERS) If JJ Abrams’ taking up the torch of the original Star Wars trilogy had been as supremely satisfying as his Star Trek reboot, I’d have very little beef with it. True, they both fall victim to some incredibly ropey plotting, but where Star Trek scores, making it an enormously rewatchable movie, is that it gets its characters right – which isn’t to suggest it’s getting The Original Series characters right, but it’s giving us compelling new iterations of them – and sends them on emotional journeys that satisfy. If the third act is somewhat rote, its achievements up to that point put it comfortably in the top rank of Trek movies.

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…