Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Thoughts on "Rise of the Guardians"

I have decided to write a couple blogs.  This is after way too long without writing, and even when I am just commenting on things out in the ether I still feel a creative pressure valve has been turned.  To that end, I am going to write about "Rise of the Guardians", which might be the most poorly titled movie I can call to mind... Maybe "Inception" has a worse title, and the title of "Mind Heist" or something more touching like "Dreams of Home"... I am off topic, "Guardians".

This.  This is the movie that I am talking about.

"Rise of the Guardians" is an uneven movie, when it is good it is great, but there are so many little hiccups that keep it from breaking out.  It is a timeless movie, I imagine this will be played and watched for years to come whenever Easter or Christmas rolls around, but it is not special, it is not "Toy Story" or "Shrek" when it comes to impact or emotional weight.

If you want a short review: 6/10.  It is good, certainly worth watching.  The imaginative worlds that are portrayed take into mind so many cool ideas and expand them in original ways that still make sense and give them a beauty that is more than skin deep.  There are some problems with the animation, like Santa's beard doesn't move like hair, but nothing that breaks the movie.  The jokes are small, punchy, and used to lighten a scene but never detract.  The main character has a good back story that is explored well in the film, and his growth and arc as a character do a good job of framing the story and bringing the audience along for the ride.

All that being said I want to talk about the three big things that I thought were wrong with the movie.  Each of these things could be considered to cost one or two points, if each of these things had been fixed, than I think this would have been a 10/10.  SPOILERS.

Number one, the metaphysics of this universe are a little unclear and move at an unhealthy pace.  It makes sense from a narrative perspective, the Boogey Man has been slowly taking over the role of the Sandman without Sandy knowing, gathering nightmares to serve as minions, then Pitch attacks the North Pole so that Santa will gather the Guardians, since the Guardians are not protecting their home bases this allows Pitch to then attack the Tooth Fairy's kingdom since she works everyday of the year this quickly starts to spread disappointment and disbelief across the globe, as the Guardians fight back Pitch Black then defeats Sandy, the groups most powerful member and the other member that works each day of the year, Pitch then shuts down Easter and at that point all of the members are knocked off balance... But it all happens in a week.  Not every child in the world had a nightmare, not every child across the globe lost a tooth, and not everyone celebrates Easter, but yet every child except one stops believing?  That is a bit much.  It makes sense narratively, but not logically.  Maybe this is just more of a heart-not-head movie, but even there I have a problem.

Yeah, it really doesn't make sense.  Though I suppose that was half the point of having a main character with amnesia, so that he can serve as an audience surrogate, that as the audience asks questions, Jack can ask the questions on there behalf thus allowing the world to be explained organically through dialogue according to the needs of the story...

The Guardians are powered by belief, they raise belief by fulfilling their task, they have the ability to fulfill their task because they have power, power granted by being believed in... It is a Mobius Strip of faith.  What starts the ball rolling?  What spurs the belief that causes them to be real and to be Guardians?  That makes no sense.  Also, I find Jack Frost's core principle (fun) to be at odds with the others, Wonder (Santa), Hope (Bunny), Dreams (Sandman), and Memory (Tooth Fairy).  The current four seem to be part of growing up: dream of new things, wonder at new things, hope for better things, and remember the good from before... Fun is more an ideal of the present, it is a shirking of responsibility in favor of living in the moment, that is not really in tune with the others... It is odd, and that is why I don't really think Jack Frost was an ideal main character, good not perfect.  What would make a better protagonist?  Well, that takes me to my next point.

Number two, the bad guy has a valid point.  Pitch Black is fear, and fear is a healthy part of growing up, it is facing that fear that allows us to push beyond and grow as people.  It is how we move from child to adult, and it is in facing fear that allows the little boy Jamie is able to bring Sandman back to life at the climax (more on that in number three).  The Boogey Man does not have a balance though, he just wants everyone everywhere to experience fear unending, and that is clearly bad.

This is my real complaint: they did not compromise in this movie.  There was no Halloween character... A black cat, an old witch, Dracula, or a Jack Lantern to represent Halloween, the fun time of year to be scared and it be a part of being a child.  I think a fight between Dracula and Pitch Black would be good, they could talk about how fear has a place in growing up, but that Pitch is an aberration and is breaking the system.  This debate would underline what is really wrong with the character, not fear, but imbalance.  But a conversation like this never takes place.

Though I suppose if you try to make Dracula a good guy you'll just end up with something that looks like a piece of shit... Like "Hotel Transylvania".
Conversely they could have had an alternate ending, with Pitch Black beaten he could repent and join the Guardians as that Halloween/fear type of character.  Pitch would become the scary but still heroic member of the team (like Batman) and try to make things right, correcting the system he threw out of whack.  This would make for a strong arc on Pitch's part, and would have been a better ultimate ending... This type of redemption ending actually happened in the two part pilot episode of "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" in which the night god (Nightmare Moon) is shown the error of her ways and asked to rejoin the civilized world in her role guarding the night.  That is good story telling.

Number three, and this is the one most people will probably differ with me on, but this is the biggest and most important one, PAY OFF.  In this movie, two very big things are shown on the topic of death, the first is how Jack Frost became a magical entity, heroically saving his sister from thin ice and dying in an icy grave from doing so; the second death is Sandman being killed by Pitch Black, Sandy had been invested with a lot of personality and was ostensibly the most powerful member of the group, Sandy's death showed Pitch to be a threat, and gave the movie weight.  When they bring Sandman back at the end of the movie, a lot of that weight is lifted, and that causes the film to lose a lot of oomph.

Now, I am not just saying Sandman should have stayed dead, I am saying the movie should have ended with a new Sandman being born.  The movie started with Jack rising out of the ice, and the movie should end with the new Sandman rising to be the rookie protagonist of the next movie.  So who should have been the new Sandman?

In the movie there is a young boy named Jamie.  Jamie still believes in Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy, and all the other magical creatures of the world, he is the last boy to still believe as Pitch starts to extinguish belief throughout the world.  Jamie has a little sister that is adorable and is present during the final confrontation with Pitch.  Logically, Jamie should die saving his sister from Pitch, just like Jack died saving his sister from the ice.  Then Jamie would rise as the new Sandman, that would be the pay off of his character, he went from believing in his dreams, to being the supreme dreamer.  That way the movie bookends with the RISING of two different GUARDIANS... You know, like the title.  You keep the emotional weight of Sandy's death, you also have Jack's death, and then you have Jamie's death, but from that a new beginning... Helps that the movie takes place on EASTER, you know, new beginnings, hope... The theme of the movie.

It makes his character have an arc too.  Arcs are important to narrative.  Without that, he starts the movie as a believer, and ends the movie as a believer, he is in a holding pattern for the film even though he practically saves the day anyway.
            What is more, much like the redemption ending I recommend in number two, this sort of ending has happened in this type of story too.  In the Vertigo comic book, "Sandman" written by my favorite author Neil Gaiman.  The titular Sandman dies during the course of the story and is replaced by a child named Daniel who is invested with all the power and memories of the previous incarnation.  This comic book is so different in tone from "Guardians" though that these similarities are skin deep, this series has a lot of violence and murder in it.

But yeah, those three things held the movie back, each more than the previous.

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