Sunday, October 19, 2014

Godzilla vs. Wak Wak

Godzilla may be able to flattened Tokyo with a swish of his tail, but he proved to be no match for a pack of paper dolls.

I came to this conclusion during a recent weekend of excessive TV viewing. I had started my Saturday off by watching The Adventures of Prince Achmed that I had recorded off of Turner Classic Movies.

I knew virtually nothing about Lotte Reiniger’s 1923 silent classic except that it is one of the first full-length animated films.

I had anticipated something as visually stunning as Max Fleischer’s fabulous work, but my hopes were quickly cut to ribbons when I learned that this film “starred” a collection of black cardboard figures, which Reiniger had created with a pair of scissors and brought to life with stop motion photography.

Did I seriously really want to spend my morning watching a 91-year-old feature length shadow play? How could I possibly stay interested in such a crudely made cartoon?

How did I stay interested? Very easily, that’s how. Once Prince Achmed started I was completely caught up in the story.

Reiniger had an incredible eye for detail, so the cardboard figures become real characters. Shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling and this film continues that venerable tradition.

There’s an early scene where Prince Achmed clings desperately to the back of a runaway flying horse that has been presented to him by a malevolent magician.

The horse goes higher and higher as lightning cracks through the sky and snow blows all directions. Perhaps my fear of flying was acting up, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

The story contains elements of One Thousand and One Nights and is packed with witches, wizards, demons, a beautiful princess and a climactic battle between good and evil in the enchanted land of Wak Wak.

From the technology side, the film is incredibly dated and simplistic. But it has a sense of magic and wonder that is sadly lacking in most modern movies.

The Shadow Knows

This point was heavily underscored later that evening, when I returned home after dinner with some friends and decided to use a freebie coupon that Time Warner had sent to me for being such a good customer and upstanding human being.

I was entitled to watch any pay-for-view movie, so I chose with the latest version of Godzilla, which stars Bryan Cranston, one of my favorite actors.

Yeah, I know, but it was Saturday night, I was tired, stuffed, and looking for some enjoyable junk cinema. I’m a huge fan of the original film, 1954’s Gojira and I thought I’d get a kick out of the remake.

I was wrong.

The film starts off well enough, with some suspenseful scenes, but it quickly runs out of the little energy it has. Despite all the special effects and explosions, I could barely watch the thing and I finally fell asleep during the climactic monster mash. And it didn’t bother me in the least.

Perhaps I would’ve been a little more forgiving if I hadn’t seen Prince Achmed that morning, but I couldn’t help marveling at how this $160 million aspiring epic had so thoroughly failed to move me.

Those of you who haven’t seen Godzilla yet should know that neither Cranston nor the King of All Monsters have much screen time.

Instead we watch whole cities being destroyed as two drab-looking Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs) prepare to get jiggy and cover the earth with scores of mean little mini-MUTO mothers.

I truly believe that director Gareth Edwards is a skilled filmmaker, and I’ve heard great things about his low-budget 2010 feature, Monsters, but I would like to see him work on something more substantial.

While Prince Achmed is literally a handmade work of art, Godzilla is an act on commerce, a prefab blockbuster designed to hit all the right notes and pulled in monstrous mounds of money.

I see that there are plans for Godzilla 2, which is hardly a surprise as studios search for the next big franchise.

Good luck with that, but I would much rather take another wild flight to the land of Wak Wak.


Ron said...

Rob, before I left this comment I went over to You Tube and searched for a clip from "Once Prince Achmed" and found several. I watched this one:

And just from the short clip, I could see that you were right, Reiniger had such an incredible eye for detail, so the cardboard figures seemed to real! Also, the scene I watched was beautiful and full of emotion.

"From the technology side, the film is incredibly dated and simplistic. But it has a sense of magic and wonder that is sadly lacking in most modern movies."

Amen! Many of the movies today are more technically advanced, however, they lack substance. And sometimes I think the technology is just too much because that's all you notice in these films...the TECHNOLOGY.

Thanks so much for sharing this movie because I'm going to see if I can find it in its entirety over at You Tube and watch it.

Have a super week, buddy!

Great movie review!

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, isn't "Prince Achmed" such a beautiful piece of work?

I can't begin to imagine how she was able to make those figures and then go through the whole stop motion process in order to them to move.

She was a real artist, which is something I can't say about the current crop of CGI geeks.

Thanks for stopping by, buddy, and have a great week!

Bijoux said...

I remember being mesmerized by shadow puppets, marionettes and the like as a kid. I can see how Once Prince Achmed would be a fascinating movie.

Anonymous said...

I will start off by saying you have me very interested in the Prince of Achmed. Not sure I could get my bf on board for this one but it sounds really interesting.

As for Godzilla I actually really liked it. The best part for me was that they actually didnt make him a demon and stuck to the original idea.

Rob K said...

Hey, Shae!

Yeah, the Prince is not an easy thing to watch in this day and age, so I understand why the bf might not be into it. But he might surprise you...

And I'm glad you enjoyed Godzilla. I'm an old grump when it comes to movies and tend not to like anything made after 1970.

Take care!

Rob K said...


Are shadow puppets fascinating? It is such an intriguing and beautiful form of storytelling! I wasn't sure it would translate to film very well, but it worked extremely well in Prince Achmed.

CrystalChick said...

I only watched about a minute of it (Vimeo clip) but your thoughts on this are right on! Yes, it is very old and simplistic, but definitely magical and very interesting visually.
I read that it is the oldest surviving animated feature film. You found a winner, Rob.
No desire to see Godzilla.

Rob K said...

Hey, Mary! Yeah, I was really very happily surprised by this film!

Stephanie Faris said...

Comcast sent me one of those coupons once. I think they sent it to me to get me comfortable with renting movies On Demand (as they call it). I will say it worked--I'd never rented a movie that way before and the coupon showed me how easy it was. We still don't do it very often, but I'd often rather do that than make two drives to a Redbox (one to rent and one to return).

Rob K said...

This was a first for me, too, Stephanie. But I also belong to Netflix, so I can always get the DVD from them.

But it sure beats driving to Redbox and back.