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Arthur and the Invisibles (Luc Besson, 2006)

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  • noelbotevera
    Besson s indigestibles Noel Vera Luc Besson s latest, Arthur and the Invisibles (2006) is roughly the equivalent of a McDonald s hamburger--not poisonous,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2007
      Besson's indigestibles

      Noel Vera

      Luc Besson's latest, "Arthur and the Invisibles" (2006) is roughly
      the equivalent of a McDonald's hamburger--not poisonous, per se, but
      not exactly food either.

      I don't know where the picture goes wrong--or rather, I don't know
      how on earth the filmmakers could ever imagine that this mishmash of
      fantasy, live-action and CGI animation would ever work out right.
      There's some wit involving scale (a toy car turns into an escape
      vehicle, a construct made out of plastic straws becomes material for
      building some kind of Doomsday device) but said moments whiz by too
      quickly, and you find yourself forced to turn your attention back to
      the rather witless story, which combines two hoary old clich├ęs--the
      farm about to be repossessed by a villainous banker, the youth that
      steps through glass to enter another world (in Arthur's case
      (Freddie Highmore, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Finding
      Neverland"), he's sucked down a telescope). Along the way Arthur
      evades the misguided attempts of his grandmother (Mia Farrow, still
      likeable, still luminous) to take care of him, pulls a sword out of
      a (what else?) stone, falls in love with a princess that has lived
      for a thousand years (voice by Madonna, who sounds too old for the
      part), and eventually battles an evil wizard (David Bowie, who
      slinks away with the picture). Does Arthur win the day, get the
      girl, find the rubies he needs to save the farm from that darn
      banker? Is Besson a hack?

      I don't think it's the lack of originality that sinks the project--
      Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away," the single finest animated feature
      made recently, borrows heavily from the books of Charles Dodgson
      (a.k.a. Lewis Caroll), while some of the best elements in Pixar's
      pictures are borrowed, in turn, directly from Miyazaki--but the
      disparate elements here, unlike in Miyazaki, never fuse into the
      smooth flow of a reasonably whole, if not actually coherent,

      Highmore's Arthur is unflappable from beginning to end; Highmore
      (who was moving and emphatic in his previous roles) seems curiously
      colorless here--as if Besson had told him to "mek like a hero; you
      know, ze dull kind." Madonna puts a little sass into her
      characterization of Princess Selenia, but when asked to act as if
      she were in love with him she sounds repulsively pedophilic (does
      Arthur's grandmother know where he's been spending his time? And
      with whom?), not to mention unconvincing (you don't fall in love
      with Madonna, you--but the correct term's unprintable). Jimmy Fallon
      as the standard-issue comic sidekick is enjoyable enough, though if
      pressed for details I can't for the life of me tell you exactly what
      I enjoyed. Only David Bowie seems at all memorable, with his Dark
      Lord demeanor (he sounds sexier than Darth Vader, wittier than Lord
      Voldemort, considerably more charismatic than Sauron).

      Jonathan Rosenbaum, who liked the movie well enough, mentions that
      Harvey Weinstein cut 18 minutes from the original French release; I
      can't find any further confirmation of this but I certainly can
      believe it, watching the movie. Much of the opening sequence is told
      in a hurried voiceover narration; Masai warriors pop out of nowhere--
      yes, I know they're meant to appear like that, but they're hurried
      through so quickly the incongruence of African warriors in a farm
      never has much of an impact; Arthur, pondering his grandfather's
      words, realizes how a message was hidden and deciphers them
      accordingly but the scene is so perfunctorily it barely makes an
      impression. A sense of wonder and enchantment takes time to build,
      preferably from the solid rock base of a reasonably realistic world
      (that's why "Spirited Away" starts from modern-day Tokyo, and Brad
      Bird's "The Iron Giant"--the best recent animated feature to come
      out of the United States--starts with '50s America). An
      understanding of pacing, of the need for moments of tranquility, of
      how silence can build atmosphere, suspense, a sense of mystery--
      well, what can you expect from the director of "The Fifth Element?"

      Besson has never done an animated feature, but you'd think it would
      be easy for him--his live-action features ("La Femme
      Nikita," "Leon," the aforementioned "Fifth Element," even the
      godawful "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc") already have a
      strong cartoonish feel--yet on top of the trite storyline and flat
      characterization are totally uninspired CGI animation (well,
      arguably all CGI animation looks uninspired) and action sequences.
      The action in particular is a keen disappointment--say what you will
      about his work (trite storyline, flat characterization, relentless
      frivolousness (where he hasn't flopped over into turgid
      portentousness)), Besson at least knew how to stage and shoot action
      sequences. Here, the action looks pretty much like in any other CGI
      feature ("Robots," "Over the Hedge," you name it)--loud, frenetic,
      basically glorified amusement park rides writ large. It's as if
      animation, with its endless possibilities, had shackled the man
      instead of freeing him; or rather, given the opportunity to do
      literally anything he wanted thanks to the miracle of animation,
      Besson reveals his innermost desires to be as banal and mediocre as
      anyone else's. Late last year Besson made the announcement that
      after "Arthur" he was to retire from filmmaking and devote time to
      charity work and his family (fat chance; he's mentioned making a
      trilogy out of "Arthur," a la Peter Jackson). I wish he'd stick to
      his word.

      (First published in Businessworld, 1/19/07)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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