Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rango 2-D

Rango 2-D.

Rango 2-D is an odd movie. It's not quite for kids, but it's not quite for adults. It isn't quite whimsical, but isn't quite a gritty Western. It seems to pay homage to classic Western movie themes, while at the same time it is almost mocking of them and reaches too many times outside of that genre. This isn't to say that it is a bad movie, just an odd one.

As far as plot goes, it is really rather cookie-cutter in a lot of aspects. Rango is a lost lizard who wanders into town; he creates boastful lies about his past to impress the townsfolk who believe him; he accidentally kills the towns nemesis which cements the townsfolks' opinion of his heroics and is made sheriff; he bungles his way into an investigation; he is confronted publicly about the lies of his past and leaves town in shame; he has a metaphysical moment of realization that he can rise to be the hero; he returns to town and the townsfolk no longer like him, but he ends up saving the day with newfound bravery that he didn't have when first confronted by the bad guys.

The whole "lie about your past and be believed, only to be confronted about it and leave in shame, then return to be the hero" trope is very overplayed.

But anyhow, there are things to like about Rango: first of all, it was in 2-D. That's right, it was a CGI movie that didn't try to pad its box office numbers by giving an unnecessary third dimension to a two dimensional film (and plot). Secondly, I love westerns and watching this movie, I realized one of the reasons why I like them the most: Western soundtracks fucking rock. Hans Zimmer did the music for the movie, but did it with a definite homage to Ennio Morricone. This tribute is obvious with the Rango soundtrack including the "Ride of the Valkyries " played on banjo, which pays homage to Morricone's recomposition of portions of that score oddly in the soundtrack to "My Name is Nobody" (I believe the song is "The Wild Horde"--it's worth checking out).  Yeah, I'm a little bit of a Western movie geek, but more of a Western soundtrack geek.

The movie itself has a few odd problems to it. For example, the movie begins with Rango being a lizard in a human's terrarium that ends up being lost in the Nevada desert. So, humans are a part of this movie, but as soon as Rango is away from them, scale leaves the movie and gekos are a tall as tortoises which are as tall as hares which are as tall as opossums and frogs. However, the bad guys in the movie, the hawk and the rattlesnake are enormous in comparison to all of these characters. But that is a small thing and easily overlooked.

The plot is really very simple and it is plainly obvious who the real bad guy is behind the story and that leaves no mystery at all. The simplicity and obviousness of that makes it seem more like a movie for kids than adults, but the number of murders and violence through the plot makes it seem more for adults than kids.

The biggest glaring issue with the film is when Rango leaves the town, ashamed of his true past being revealed to the townsfolk, he embarks on an existential journey where he crosses a highway through traffic to encounter the "Spirit of the West", which is Clint Eastwood (referred to by Rango, however, as "The Man With No Name"). Now, the Spirit of the West is human (or at least in human form) and talks to Rango directly, letting him know what heroes have to do and that this is his story. Rango then follows some walking cacti to the source of the town's problem. The problem is that the walking cactus can be taken metaphorically, if it wasn't for the fact that it lead him to a physical location and solution. Looking into some stuff about the movie afterwards I figured out why this occurred: Gore Verbinski directed the movie. He also directed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And like the Pirates movies, he shows that he has no ability to meld metaphor and existential journeys into plot without it being a jumbled, confusing physical mess (look at the Davy Jones' locker/dragging the pirate ship behind Jack Sparrow in his desert purgatory/million crabs of the voodoo woman mess from "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End").

My last problem with the movie is that it wasn't quite a homage to classic Western films because it just shallowly recreated each stereotype from those movies: Beans was the lizard girl who's father died and she was refusing to sell her ranch to the (obviously) evil and corrupt mayor, the crow was the Native American tracker who was deputized by Rango to hunt down the robbers in the movie, the little weird rodent girl who kind of had a Joey/Shane relationship with Rango, the villainous rattlesnake who came into town to call out Rango but gave a chance to let him walk off in shame instead of just calling him out and killing him. I could go on and on. And these stereotypes are needed in an homage, but something needs to be done with them to make them into homages and not just clichés. The plot itself took a lot from "Once Upon A Time In The West", but didn't really do much with it.

Anyhow, it is an odd film and not exactly bad, but just missing a lot of heart that would have made it good. It's not quite a Western homage, but more of a clichéd Western setting and a clichéd Western tale with clichéd Western characters that pulls a metaphysical, unrelated and awkward existential journey right out of its ass and sits it there on the screen for  us to take as a physical reality.

But at least it wasn't in 3-D.

Molly: (As usual, I'll be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. We're at my computer and I'll be typing up what we are saying as we talk and I'll go back and format it afterward. Her review will be in Q&A form due to her age. She's sitting next to my computer as we do this.) 

Chuckie: So, what did you think about the movie, Rango 2-D?
Molly: I liked it.

Chuckie: What did you like about it, Pixie?
Molly: Where the boy kissed her.
Chuckie: Which boy?
Molly: Remember, Rango? Him. That's the only boy that kissed anyone in the movie.

Chuckie: Which girl did he kiss?
Molly: You know who. There's only one girl. The one has was talking to and she froze. We don't know her name, right?

Chuckie: It was Beans.
Molly: Oh. I forgot.

Chuckie: So, tell me what happened in the movie?
Molly: The snake came and he said, (She puts on a deep, gruff voice, trying to imitate the snake from the movie.) "If I see you again, I'll kill you."

Chuckie: Then what happened?
Molly: Rango got away. But then he came back after he met a rat or a mole. I'm not sure what it is.

Chuckie: It was an armadillo.
Molly: What that heck is that? Armygillo? Daddy, are you making that up?

Chuckie: No, it really was an armadillo. I'll show you pictures.
Molly: Of real ones?
Chuckie: Yes. (I go online and start to show her pictures of armadillos after a web search for them.)
Molly: Aw, they're so cute.

Chuckie: So anyway, what happened after he met the armadillo?
Molly: He went back to town and the bad guy got both of them in there where the water was. And then they escaped and the water came back and they lived happily ever after. The end.

Chuckie: What did--
Molly: I said, "The end."

Chuckie: Of the movie, but not our review, right?
Molly: Nope. Of everything.

Chuckie: Okay. (I stop asking her questions and begin to format. I really was going to end the review like this, but then she started to talk to me again a few moments into my formatting.)
Molly: Daddy, I was just kidding. The review isn't over.

Chuckie: Okay, so you kept mentioning that you didn't need glasses during the movie. Were you happy it wasn't in 3-D?
Molly: Yes, because I don't like the glasses on. Besides, one time when we were in there with a different movie, I had glasses on and I was eating Gummi Bears and I forgot I had my glasses on and I was like "What? Where's my Gummi Bears?" because I couldn't find them because the glasses made everything darker.
Chuckie: So that's your big problem with 3-D movies? It's harder to find your Gummi Bears?
Molly: Yeah. And sometimes my popcorn.

Chuckie: Okay. Well, was there anything that you didn't like about the movie?
Molly: No, I liked it all.

Chuckie: Tell me about the character of Rango.
Molly: He was a lizard, remember?
Chuckie: Yes, but what about him? What was he like?
Molly: A lizard.
Chuckie: I mean, what kind of person was he, Sweetie?
Molly: A lizard person.

Chuckie: How did he act?
Molly: Funny and nice. And like a lizard.

Chuckie: Okay, who was--
Molly: Daddy, remember he was funny because he made everyone laugh and he was nice to the girl, Bean, because he kissed her.
Chuckie: Yeah, good points. So, who was your favorite character in the movie?
Molly: The girl who frozed and was named Bean.

Chuckie: Okay, remember when Rango met the Spirit of the West?
Molly: What Spirit of the West?
Chuckie: The old man he met in the desert.
Molly: The human being?
Chuckie: Yes, Pixie. Tell me about what that was.
Molly: He said hello and talked to Rango, but I don't remember what they talked about, maybe golf? Daddy, can I do the stars now?

Chuckie: Sure. How would you rate this movie?
Molly: With stars.

Chuckie: Okay, fair enough. How many stars would you give this movie?
Molly: Thirty.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: In Africa.
Chuckie: So, thirty stars in Africa?
Molly: Mm-hm. And don't forget the moons and suns!

Chuckie: Okay, how many moons would you give it?
Molly: Thirty-four.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of July.

Chuckie: And how many suns would you give it?
Molly: Thirty-one. That's big.
Chuckie: I suppose so. Out of how many, Pixie?
Molly: In the United States of America.

Chuckie: Who do you think would like the movie. Pixie?
Molly: Everyone that watched it. And I think Mike would like it because people smoked in the movie and he could smoke with them.

Chuckie: Do you think that this movie is good for kids?
Molly: Uh-huh. Unless they don't like lizards.

Chuckie: Anything else that you want to say about this movie, Sweetie?
Molly: Yes, smoking is bad for you. Mike shouldn't smoke cigarettes because then Doc-Opoly can get out the back door and run away.
Chuckie: So smoking is bad because it gives our cat a chance to run away?
Molly: Yeah.

So that's our review. This is a strange movie that has all of the trappings and stereotypes of a Western, but without ever taking on a heart of its own and instead safely lingering in the clichéd. I'm very pleased to see a non-3-D CGI animation release, even if the movie didn't quite find it's place.

I give Rango two out of five stars. The computer animation is very beautiful and the soundtrack is great. However, the music is the only true Western homage. Everything else is a weak stereotype that never finds a heart of its own. The movie also tries to be too silly (with burping fire after drinking whiskey and swallowing a cigar) and too deep (with finding the Spirit of the West to guide the character's journey along) and fails to bridge the gap in between, leaving the scenes to be juxtaposed awkwardly instead and never committing fully to one or the other to establish a cohesive theme and find a real audience.

Molly gives it thirty stars out of Africa, thirty-four moons out of July and thirty-one suns out of the United States of America. She also thinks that people who smoke might find something relatable in the movie, even if it is a bad habit that puts our cat's escaping at risk.