Monday, February 09, 2009

Film Review: 'WALL·E' – 9.5/10

Film Review: Sci-Fi • Romance (2008)
'WALL•E'
Written by Joé McKen on Monday, February 09, 2009


A reflective WALL•E (voiced by Ben Burtt) stares longingly at the stars in this promo art for Disney•Pixar’s 2008 masterpiece WALL•E.

There’s something about WALL•E (Ben Burtt). He’s not your typical little bot. He’s a short little roving trash compacter, speeding around the landfill landscape and spending his days compacting the waste around him into cubes, which he then piles into tall skyscrapers, which now comprise most of the city he operates in. When he routinely finds something remotely interesting in the mountains of garbage (be it a spork, bobble-head figurine or a Rubik’s cube), he pauses, toys with it, then keeps it as an object of fascination, and adds it to his ever-growing collection of random junk in his ‘home’, a paralyzed utility transport vehicle.

When the Sun starts to set and WALL•E decides his day’s work is done, he heads home, roving amongst mountains and piles of unrecycled waste, riding the creaky rails of ancient elevated train passages, and is now so used to the holographic advertisements that still pop up whenever he approaches them he completely ignores them. Or perhaps he just doesn’t understand what they say – for it’s rather likely he wouldn’t still be compacting garbage, 700+ years after humanity left the Earth they’d finally killed with neglect and pollution and embarked in huge spaceships that rocketed out into the cosmos, while an army of little WALL•E units (Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-class) were left behind to gradually clean up the planet until the humans’ scheduled return, five years after their original departure, now nearly three quarters of a millennium ago. Soon, all the little units died or broke down – until only WALL•E was left, presumably being the only one who learned to repair himself.

Every night before ‘going to sleep’, WALL•E feeds his loyal pet cockroach, usually with a perfectly-preserved Twinkie, and endlessly replays an old cassette of the 1967 musical Hello, Dolly! on an old jury-rigged iPod with a magnifying lens stuck before it. From this, he learns about human things such as emotions, love, and holding hands (which become patterns throughout the movie), and the look on his robotic, featureless face is unmistakably sadness and longing for something he’s never had, and realistically, never will have. WALL•E can certainly give off a surprising amount of emotions for a rusty little roving trash compactor.

One day, something happens that shatters all this: a recon spaceship descends from the skies and after a little moment, departs, leaving behind the object of WALL•E’s fascination throughout the movie: a sleek probe-droid named ‘EVE’ (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) (Elissa Knight). Her job is to locate and recover a living plant specimen (not that it will be easy on a dead, barren Earth), and not to let anything in her way – including lovestruck little robots, the kind of which she nearly blows up not five minutes after her initial arrival. Fallen head-over-heels for this graceful, beautiful and dangerous newcomer, WALL•E will have to tread carefully if he’s to meet her without ending up in tiny little smoldering pieces of metal and rubber. She does eventually cool down, though, and finally bonds can start to form between the two diametrically-opposed robots: the high-strung fancy girl and the low-class rusty trash compacter.

Being Pixar’s latest work, WALL•E is of a technical brilliance that sometimes makes it hard to realize you’re staring at animation, and not high-definition real-life camera footage. The animation is, dare I say it, the single best bit of computer-generated film ever seen on a theater screen, and I can safely imagine that it will take a while before it’s matched, or surpassed. The palette alternates between faded-out earth scenery and vibrant, colorful tones, and the level of detail and effort put into the movie’s visual department is simply perplexing as you often wonder: ‘How was it humanly possible to add all of that in there?’.

One also needs to commend the film for its brilliant sound design, and for that, one must forcibly commend the man behind it all: none other than Ben Burtt, the legendary sound genius behind many of the iconic sound effects known today, such as Indiana Jones’ whip crack, or the sound effects in Star Wars. His task was a highly daring one at that: the movie is mostly without dialogue, except for a few short little words now and then, and relies mostly on visual storytelling, and sound effects. And unlike most movies which would likely bungle this and end with the movie being a catastrophic failure, the genius behind Pixar have once again proven they are the absolute best at what they do. They went for quality and originality over tried-and-true popcorn-movie methods, and as usual, the result is nothing sort of phenomenal.

I also wish to give my blessings to the score, from Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.). While not as onerous as it his scores usually are, it suits it’s ‘Sci-Fi’ purpose perfectly, with some truly beautiful pieces such as ‘Define Dancing’. But then, how could the score be anything other than great – it was co-written with Peter Gabriel, who also performed the theme song, ‘Down to Earth’. (Both aforementioned songs won Grammys, by the way.)

The film takes a risky adventure into political and social commentary at times, with colorful, caricaturized yet offhand references to unrestrained overconsumption, and the increased automation of our everyday lives. The dangers of technology have never been better illustrated – but not in the manner you’d think. The commentary, while obvious to anyone who doesn’t live with their head stuck in the dirt, is far from detracting from the experience; you can easily ignore it as though it weren’t there and focus on the story, which is a careful balance few movies seem to find these days (being either all morals/commentary or all story).

For lighting the screen with its storytelling magic and uncontested brilliance, and for touching me in ways I didn’t think a movie could, I award Disney•Pixar’s WALL•E with 9.5 little saplings out of 10, along with an honorary mention as my favorite movie of all time.

Cast
WALL·E/all other robots: Ben Burtt (voice) • EVE: Elissa Knight • AUTO: MacInTalk (voice) • Axiom Capt. B. McCrea: Jeff Garlin • John: John Ratzenberger • Mary: Kathy Najimy • Shelby Forthwright: Fred Willard • Ship's Computer: Sigourney Weaver
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Andrew Stanton • Writer(s): Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Jim Reardon • Original Score: Thomas Newman
General Information
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures • Released: June 27, 2008 (US) • Running Time: 98 mins • Budget: US$180 million • Rated: G


4 comments:

  • Christopher

    Wow. I was sorry to have missed Wall*E when it was in the theaters (I wanted to see it then but was just too busy)and now I regret it even more. Your comments about the soundtrack are especially interesting, since you're a musician, and you've written some soundtrack music. I don't think any other review I've read or heard has even mentioned the soundtrack, but it really makes me think how much a great soundtrack can enhance a film.

  • Bumdark

    You didn't see it? You ... you heathen! >:( Lol, just j/k. It's a wonderful film – I may have embellished it a tiny wee bit in my review, but I suppose I'm still awestruck by it. You know, what with it being my *fave of all time* and all. *_*

    That's actually about the millionth version of my review for that damned movie – I can never write a review for it that's 'just right', I always change what I say or how I say it. Any other movie, first review I write is the one I'm satisfied with, but this one ... hell.

    And yes, a great soundtrack can pretty much make or break even the greatest of movies. I doubt Titanic would be as popular as it is/was if it didn't have genius James Horner composing the incredible score behind it. (He's my idol in the film music world. :D )

    You certainly should at least rent the DVD now that it's out. I personally recommend the 2-Disc Editions, either DVD or Blu-Ray (same content). It's got the movie, plus enough of those sweet sweet Bonus Features to kick you straight to Nirvana if you're into that stuff like I am. 'Making Of', 'Behind the Scenes', 'Outtakes', Commentary, Production Notes, etc ... *drools* It's even got a full-length documentary on the history of Pixar, and that's pretty good, too. Again, if you're into that sort of thing.

    And just in case you may have missed them, as they're now on Page 2 of this blog, I've already posted all my current songs on this blog. Just if you're interested. (Keep in mind, the sound quality is crappy seeing as it's on YouTube; follow the 'fmt=18' bit for much better sound quality.)

    Jeez, sorry I write so much all the time ... It's my own pet peeve. Owch.

  • Melissa

    The funny thing is, you probably never give a second thought to the cgi that is applied to LIVE action films. They have to be reaslistic, so much that they aren't even noticed, unlike with fully animated films.

    To make this short, no this is not the undoubtedly best cgi to date. Even I'm not qualified to say what is. I'd imagine budgets should be considered.

  • Bumdark

    No, I didn't give a second thought to CGI sequences in Live Action films, for the simple (and evident) reason that I wasn't talking about Live Action films. I'm talking about entirely-CGI, or mostly-CGI, films, like WALL·E, and I've seen most of the recent (and older) CGI films. That's more than enough to qualify me to state that it's the best I've ever seen. Obviously everything in a critic's review is going to be subjective to that critic's opinions and viewpoint.

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