In Hercules, there is lots filling each scene. We have a blossoming romance, a plot to take over the universe and an out-of-place demigod. And, yet, in spite of everything happening on screen, Hercules still fails to entertain.
Unlike Disney's best films, we watch Hercules as a third person. What I mean by this is that we're never truly in the film; the whole time, you are wholly aware that you are watching a collection of shots and audio tracks, specifically designed to pull your emotions. This is not what the film should be trying to accomplish.
The film starts with a party, thrown by Zeus and his wife, Hera. This party, we assume, is to celebrate the birth of their child, Hercules. Everybody's happy by the news, except for a certain Hades (James Woods). Hades's dislike for Hercules increases when he hears that his long plan to take over the universe would be thwarted, were Hercules to fight him.
Hades sends Panic and Fear, his minions, to make Hercules mortal and then kill him directly afterwards. In a plot twist that is both shocking and entirely new, Hercules doesn't die. As he doesn't drink the very last drop of this potion, he becomes mortal, but still retains his divine strength. Let's face it, that's extremely lazy writing, there. Anyways...
Hercules survives, but because of his strength, doesn't quite fit in. Hercules goes to find where he truly comes from, and in a lucky coincidence, the first place he looks gives him the answer. He finds that he used to be a god and that if he can become a hero, he would again be able to live on Mount Olympus with his father.
Zeus tells Hercules that, to be a hero, he has to go to Danny Devito's Phil (short for Philoctetes). Phil's trained many heroes who've turned out to be a disappointment, but he believes that Hercules might just be the one that finally gets him the fame he wants.
Hercules's heroicness is tested when Hades's plan to take over the universe is brought into action, and Hercules must save mankind.
The film is a real bore, and this isn't helped much by directors Ron Clement and John Musker. Now, I usually like them, but their direction here is problematic. They can't mask the numerous problems the film has, like they did so admirably in the Princess and the Frog. They also don't have the same directorial flair they had in Princess. Though it has moments of inspiration (particularly in the underworld, which looks very nice), the film looks pretty banal, with the shots seldom giving us anything to look at. They sometimes play with the color and there's one shadow-shot that I love, but aside from that, there's very little.
However, the film's main problem lies with the writing, which simply isn't very good. Written by the directors, plus Barry Johnson, the writing falls flat. The dialogue is stale and the characters aren't particularly interesting. The humor, aside from some clever pop culture references ("He gave me an offer I had to refuse"), isn't remotely funny.
The characters also aren't really entertaining. Hercules is selfish, unendearing, and not all that new. The same can be said about Devito's Phil. Hades isn't a bad villain, though, with James Woods giving him an entertainingly quick-speaking voice. Meg, however, is awfully cliche and really, really annoying. She's the witty, seemingly-shallow-but-actually-quite-fragile character that really gets on my nerves. She is a very, very annoying character, certainly not helped by Susan Egan's bland portrayal of her.
And, lastly, the songs just don't work. And, unlike in Princess, they aren't even directed with flair. They're just bland. The songs are mostly gospel and pop, and pretty uninteresting. Go the Distance is bland and unemotional, and all the gospel songs (Zero to Hero, The Gospel Truth, and A Star is Born) sound most exactly the same, even if they're not as bad as some of the other songs. I Won't Say is bland, and One Last Hope is meh (and the scene is oddly like I'll Make a Man out of You scene from Mulan)
I really wanted to like Hercules. But, its boring songs, uninteresting (and, in one case, really annoying) characters, and mostly bland direction make Hercules a real disappointment. How upsetting....
To a guy like me, Star Trek had very little going for it: I've never seen anything Star Trek and I'm not a big fan of science fiction, action or J.J. Abrams's Super 8. And, yet, I still managed to enjoy the film; it's far from perfect, but it's still provides an entertaining two hours.
However, what burdens the movie, and keeps it from being a great two hours, is the plot. The plot makes the film seem like it's trying to be smarter than it really is and it seldom makes sense. I stopped trying to understand the whole thing when time travel and paradoxes got involved. This comes up a whole lot and it completely ruins lots of the movie. When this came on screen, the film stops jarringly and crashes down, like the USS Enterprise after being shot by a photon torpedo.
To the best of my understanding, the film follows Jim Kirk (Chris Pine), who works on a ship. A spaceship, not a boat ship. Anyways, one of Kirk's co-workers is Spock (Zachary Quinto). Spock is a seemingly emotionless, yet brilliantly clever Vulcan, whatever a Vulcan is. Kirk and Spock have to team together when Nero (Eric Bana) threatens to destroy a couple of planets with some red, jello-looking matter.
The plot might not work and the weakest moments are when J.J. Abrams, in vain, tries to explain it all to us, but the plot still provides a vehicle for some spectacular action sequences.
The action is what lifts this film above sheer mediocrity. The action is well shot, tense, and briskly edited. Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey's editing is quick and frantic enough to keep us excited, yet coherent enough to still make sense.
Adding to the action's energy, Giacchino's score is excellent (shocking!). The score, like the editing, is brisk, energetic and fast, though not quite overdone. The score is majestic at times, and gives you that "Boo-yah!" feeling that was sorely needed.
And, finally, Abrams's directing isn't bad. He has awful trouble with the story, but the rest is pretty good. He has a good feel for sound, and the film looks really pretty. Those darn lens flares get distracting, but the colors and camera placement is very nice. He shoots the action well and times the comedy effectively.
The script isn't quite as impressive, though. The big question I had going into this was whether or not I, a person who is as non-trekkie as they get (seriously, to me, Spock sounds like a type of kitchen mop) , would feel for the characters. That didn't really happen. I didn't mind them, but they just weren't really fleshed out. Look at Spock, for instance. He isn't really given a chance to be fleshed out during the movie. He's got a small emotional moment, but that's not enough. He lacks personality. Zoe Saldana lacks uniqueness, as she is little more than the cliched strong woman that is popping up more and more in movies. Think of her as a human version of The Lion King's Nala. Chris Pine's Kirk had a bit more personality, although I was hoping for a bit more.
Another not-so-great character was Bana's Nero. Nero isn't supposed to be likable, but he is still supposed to be menacing and scary. And that is something he isn't. He's in the whole subplot of time travel, which, as previously stated, is awfully confusing. His motives are trapped somewhere there, and as a result, aren't clear. Furthermore, his actions aren't clear, either. What does he have against Spock? What does he have against those poor planets? Huh? Such a villain should be threatening. You should be scared about what he's going to do next. Nero is not that villain; instead of scared, you wind up confused.
The one character who is right on the money is Simon Pegg's Scottie. Simon Pegg plays him with such a great Scottish accent, it's hard not to love the guy. He's the character that I truly felt for, because Simon Pegg plays him so well and wittily. The lines this guy utters are pretty hilarious and really clever, adding to Scottie's endearment.
The film, as a whole, may not reach the heights of the Pegg character within it, but it's still OK. Good enough to get me excited for the sequel, yet not so good that I feel the urge to see it right away.
Battlefield Earth hurts. Everything from the acting to the directing to the editing to the composing to the writing is just awful. It's just so awful.
Let's start by explaining the plot: John Travolta is an alien. The aliens are bad. Barry Pepper is a human. The humans are good. Ta-da! We have the plot of the movie.
And, yet, believe it or not, that awfully simple plot (can it be called that?) is told confusingly. And, furthermore, told in a way that is riddled with plot holes: 1000 year jets work perfectly? Yeah, that makes total sense.
It's just hard to tell what the movie is trying to be. Is it a drama? John Travolta says yes. Is it an escape film of epic proportions? Barry Pepper says yes. Is it a comedy? The dialogue says yes:
"I brought all the medicine I could find"
"I'm sorry....the gods took your father in the middle of the night"
"Have you ever seen one? Has anyone in here ever seen one? A demon? A monster? A BEAST?! YAAAAH!"
"Do you WANT lunch?!?!"
OK, maybe that last one is pretty funny. But, anyways.
The man who wrote those beautiful lines is J.D. Shapiro, from Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The script is just abysmal, if you haven't already realized that. The characters are bizarrely underdeveloped (seriously, I've seen vegetables with more personality than them), the romance is overwritten and the dialogue is subtle as a jackhammer.
Mix that wonderfully subtle writing with the equally subtle acting and you've got yourself quite a film (sarcasm). Anyways, the acting is horrific. John Travolta and Forest Whitaker try much, much too hard in their roles and Barry Pepper is just sad to watch. Barry Pepper, after being in films such as True Grit and Saving Private Ryan, decided to take a break from critical acclaim, and play here. His performance is way off. And, Kelly Preston as Chirk, Travolta's assistant was forgettable.
The look of the film, on the other hand, was unforgettable. In a bad way. The film is truly hard to look at; there are as many dutch angles here as there are lens flares in Star Trek. And, the color! Goodness me, the color is bad. Black and white films are more interesting chromatically.
Actually, just about nothing is interesting in this film. Please don't watch the film.
Loved though they are, there's no denying that Disney films all use the same formula. They all have some sort of comic relief, romance, a princess with problems, a bit of magic and happy endings. Princess and the Frog, however, is different; this film takes that formula and gives it a little twist. It isn't a perfect film, but it's still good enough to provide a fun 100 minutes.
The film is about Tiana (Anika Noni Rose). She's got a knack for cooking, and a dream of opening up a great restaurant. She works very, very hard, collecting all the money she gets. One day, she gets a great stroke of luck, and it seems like she's finally about to achieve her goal. But, then, her good luck is equaled by a terrible piece of bad luck: she has been tragically turned into a frog, and she's about to lose her offer on the perfect restaurant building.
To direct that story, we get Ron Clements and John Musker, from Aladdin, Little Mermaid and Hercules (among others). They take some narrative shortcuts and under-do the romance, but that can be forgiven. Their work is admirable, if only because it's so stylish. They direct the film with such wonderful flair and rhythm, it's hard not to be impressed.
As for the messages thrown in, it's nothing different than other Disney messages. I saw it to be about how, ultimately, money doesn't make you happy; and, when you work hard, you can achieve what you want. Although these are good, kid-friendly messages, there's nothing about them that'll make you think hard or want to debate about with friends.
The directors also give this film a very dark tone, and I really liked that. There are scenes in here, where you question exactly why the MPAA gave this film a G rating. There's some creepy, dark stuff in here, and it's only made creepier and lovelier by the great animation.
Part of what makes this film so dark is the villain, Dr. Facilier (Keith Davis). Dr. Facilier is, by no means, your average Disney villain - he's dark, evil, and he also happens to be a Voodoo master. I really liked Facilier, and thought that his final scene was one of the best scenes in the whole film.
The other characters are good, but they don't reach the heights of Dr. Facilier. Tiana and Naveen are likable - if somewhat generic - main characters, and Ray, though he has his moments, isn't as lovable as he should have been. Louis, the alligator trumpeter, is likable and fun, but the directors didn't use all the potential that that character had.
Another thing that isn't quite as good as it should have been is the music. The music - an essential part to Disney films - is good, but never great. Written by Randy Newman (who's done the music for most of Pixar's films), the songs are just not as catchy as they could have been. However, there is a song from Dr. Facilier that is pretty great (of course, I'm not sure how much of this has to do with the gorgeous animation that is shown during this scene, or how good the song actually is).
The score, though, is lively and upbeat, and it serves as a bit of a vehicle for the directors to show off their rhythmic style.
However, what could have used a bit of improving is the script. Written by Ron Clements, John Musker and Rob Edwards, the script does some stuff it shouldn't have done. First of all, the romance is done with quite a bit of sappiness, and, secondly, they go for some pretty cheap jokes. Oh, well...
The Princess and the Frog isn't perfect, but the directors do a good job at taking what they have and turning this into an solidly enjoyable film that marks a welcome return to hand-drawn animation for Disney.