Friday, December 28, 2012

Brave new world

Pixar's Brave was going to be our first 3D movie on our "new" 3D TV.

I'm very glad it ended up being the second. But first some history.

We got our "new" 3D TV around the time we moved, which makes it seven months old and nearly ready to shed the descriptor "new." To our great shame, we went the first six-and-a-half months of its life without even tapping into the feature that gives it its name. We knew we couldn't watch a 3D BluRay until we followed up this purchase with a 3D BluRay player, but we also knew that there were some 3D features on our TV we could access directly through the TV. Still, watching programming in 3D remained for us a peripheral priority, something that seemed vaguely too hard to do.

Flash forward to Cyber Monday, when I decided to convert on my intention to buy us a 3D BluRay player for Christmas. I couldn't click the "purchase" button on Best Buy's website fast enough. The thing cost a scant $70, and with having it delivered to the store rather than to my house, there was no shipping cost either. The next Saturday, I walked my son down to the nearest Best Buy and returned home with this tiny new component, less than 2/3 the size of our current BluRay player.

I knew I couldn't wait for Christmas to present it to my wife. I also knew it couldn't be a present specifically for her, because that's cheating -- I'd obviously get as much use out if it as she would, and probably more. So I decided to repurpose some birthday money for the purchase, and decided I would present it to her on the Saturday night before Christmas (she should still unwrap it, as a good way of revealing the surprise). That left Sunday and Monday nights as two possibilities for watching our first 3D movie. Oh, it would have still been "special" if our first 3D movie didn't come until after Christmas, but the days leading up to Christmas have this special kind of magic to them. Besides, one of my two movie choices would only make good viewing prior to Christmas.

See, another thing I'd been working on in December was borrowing the copy of Disney's A Christmas Carol I bought for my friend two Christmases ago. I bought him the version that included a 3D BluRay, even though his family didn't yet have a 3D TV (and still doesn't). But the timing of the borrow was tricky. His family planned to watch it this holiday season, but hadn't yet. About two weeks ago we realized that my needs and theirs were not incongruous. They weren't going to be watching the actual 3D BluRay, because they couldn't. So his wife secretly slipped me that disc in a padded manila envelope when she was babysitting for us two Saturdays ago.

I figured my wife would choose A Christmas Carol and that's what I was rooting for, but it seemed only fair to have another option available. And we do in fact own one 3D BluRay: Tangled. However, in my mind, that was a definite Plan B. We had both already seen Tangled twice. This would be my third Christmas Carol viewing as well, but she'd only seen it once, and had also proclaimed it "probably her favorite movie version of that story." Besides, Tangled would keep until after Christmas. A Christmas Carol would not.

As it turns out, she wanted a Plan C. And that's where Brave came into the discussion.

Both of the proposed BluRays were movies we'd seen within the past two years, and my wife was eager for another option. She mentioned that Brave had been in 3D, and neither of us had seen Pixar's latest yet. My Christmas Carol bias notwithstanding, I thought it was a great idea and went to work figuring out how to procure it.

We weren't so excited to see Brave that we thought it was worth it to actually own the movie, which would currently be priced at its all-time high. So Sunday morning I swung by Blockbuster to see if they might rent 3D BluRays. I didn't even need to get further than the front counter, where the friendly clerk told me that they didn't. I gave him an opening to refer me to one of his competitors: "So the only way to see a movie in 3D at home is to buy it?" "Pretty much," he responded.

I was satisfied with the response, because I thought it clinched my desired Christmas Carol screening. It did not. My wife chose Tangled.

And I'm so glad she did. Even if it denied us a seasonal viewing, Tangled is far and away the better movie. And watching a great movie in 3D on our own TV was as wonderful a way to usher in this new era as I could have possibly imagined.

Simply put, the 3D was astounding. I would have expected something that was very clearly a lesser version of what you get in the theater. At the very least I figured you needed to position yourself at a perfectly straight angle to the screen in order for the images to have that third dimension. But no. Tangled was as breathtaking as it had first been for me in the theater, with incomparable depth as well as images occasionally popping out of the screen. My wife, who hadn't previously caught it in 3D, claimed to like it better than she ever had before. Even a part of the third act that she had previously considered a significant narrative problem did not bother her this time. Amazing how an extra dimension, when done correctly, can just wrap you up in its spell and eradicate all your complaints.

Unfortunately, Brave could not pull off the same feat.

Last night, we did watch Brave in 3D -- without needing our new BluRay player, in fact.

It turns out that our LG 3D TV (all three of our components, including both of our BluRay players, are LG) has kind of an "app store" accessible from its home screen. It can use our wifi to deliver us a variety of movies directly from the TV, and it being a 3D TV, has a section devoted to movies we can rent in 3D. The other two 3D movies were movies we'd both already seen (The Avengers and Gnomeo & Juliet), so Brave was clearly it, especially since we'd flirted with this very idea on Sunday. Eight dollars even seemed a reasonable price to pay for such a rental -- that's probably a quarter of what it would cost if we bought the BluRay combo pack to own.

And after watching it, I can tell you that we don't want to own Brave.

Keeping in mind that I have yet to see Cars 2, Brave is the first Pixar movie that I have actually given a thumbs down. A Bug's Life might have been close, but even that lame movie would get a marginal thumbs up from me. Well, not this one. Even reasonably good 3D (though not as good as Tangled) and images that are certainly beautiful were not enough to blind us to the movie's many, many narrative flaws.

Name a few? Okay. (SPOILERS)

1. It's pretty damn hard to forgive your heroine after she has gotten a witch to cast a spell on her own mother. When was the last time you trusted a witch to do exactly what you told her to do? I didn't think so. Much like the devil, a witch's main priority is to make a nearly legalistic analysis of your request in order to figure out creative ways to follow the letter of what you asked for, though not the spirit of what you asked for. See Brave for a very good example.

2. As a result, Merida spends the entire second half of the movie trying to correct her own mistake. My wife always says that she can't stand movie characters who create their own problems. There are certainly exceptions to this, but it's hard to get behind a character who has to go to considerable trouble to undo something he/she never should have done in the first place.

3. I was led to believe one of the main plot points was that Merida competes against her suitors in a variety of feats of skill, in order to "win her own hand in marriage" rather than letting someone else win it. In this way I expected the story to resemble the tale of Atalanta from Free to Be ... You and Me (though originally a Greek myth). Turns out, she has one archery scene against the three dopes trying to marry her, none of whom can do anything with a bow and arrow. (One suitor hits the bulls-eye, but it's by accident.)

4. What the story is actually about is human beings turning into bears. Really. That's what this movie is about. The problem is that if a human being is confused for a bear -- because of, you know, being turned into a bear -- another human being might try to kill that bear. Never mind the fact that Merida could just say to her father, who has built his reputation on his desire to exact revenge on the bear who took his leg, "Dad! Don't kill this bear. It's Mom. I gave her a cake that had been cursed by a witch, and she turned into this bear." Instead, they have to hide the bear and run around like idiots.

5. When Merida and her bear mother are out in the woods, trying to find a cure to the mother's bearness, they somehow learn things about each other that make them understand each other better. However, none of this is actually dramatized in any particular moment. I guess being turned into a bear by your daughter is enough of a reason to realize that she doesn't need to get married against her will. 

6. Even while it's clear that the cake Merida has given her mother is making her physically sick, she doesn't care. All she cares about is whether her coughing and choking mother has changed her mind on whether she must marry one of the three dopes. Which, you remember, is the reason she poisoned her in the first place. All of these so far should lead naturally to #7 ...

7. I didn't like the characters. Any of them, really.

But I've saved possibly the most problematic element of the movie for last ...

8. Nothing that occurs on screen here -- I mean, nothing whatsoever -- requires an ounce of bravery. No one does something really daring. No one puts him or herself in position to make a sacrifice. No one leads an army against impossible odds. The film's only established antagonist (other than the witch with ambiguous intentions) is the king's brother, who was turned into a bear (called Mordu) after becoming evil and trying to take over sole control of the kingdom. He only appears in the story a couple times, and his motivations are so vague and generic that they almost don't even exist. He is dispatched somewhat easily. You could say that the queen engages in a bit of bravery by taking on Mordu, but since she is also a bear at the time, the risk to her is considerably less than if she had been, you know, not a bear.

So yeah, I didn't like Brave.

But that doesn't mean I can't use its poster art to symbolize our exciting new home 3D adventure. And now I'm just rubbing my hands together, figuring out which movie to rent or own that will blow our dimensional minds next.

My wife hasn't seen Wreck-It-Ralph, and I didn't see it in 3D. That seems like a probable one to own come February or March, as we get ever deeper into this brave new world.

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