Thursday, August 07, 2008

The View from the Tank : Wall*E (2008)

In the past few months, after seeing a movie, I have usually found myself eager to rush back home, and punch out a prolix and boring movie review. Somehow, I've found myself putting off writing a review of Wall*E, which I saw two weeks ago. I'm not sure why that is, but I think it may have to do with my conflicted feelings about the movie.

It's true that the beginning of the movie -- the first thirty or forty minutes or so -- are spectacular, and a radical departure for Pixar, or any other computer animated movie. The scenes featuring Wall*E going about his life alone (with the company of his pet cockroach) are, beyond their superficially cute aspects, deeply disturbing and relentlessly bleak -- in addition to being fantastically rendered. If the movie ended before the "female" robot Eve arrived -- perhaps with Wall*E watching "Hello Dolly" by himself in his sandstorm-proof trailer -- it would remain a classic and terrifying picture of our future.

But that's not what happens, and the film continues, with Wall*E falling in love with Eve, who looks like a next generation Ipod (with the cutesy simple display icons to match), traveling into space, saving humanity and the planet, etc. Everything goes pretty much downhill after Wall*E leaves earth, with the possible exception of the deranged massage robot, and the compulsive cleaning robot we meet in space.

Though the filmmakers clearly applied a great deal of thought to the initial portion of the film, even there, I found the presentation of the wasteland earth that Wall*E inhabited a bit, er, cartoonish. The earth had been rendered uninhabitable through overconsumption, driven by a massive world-controlling superstore called Buy 'N Large. Okay, so we should buy less stuff. Got it. What is the point? Buy fewer Wall*E tie-ins? Don't supersize your lunch?

This is for sure misplaced griping, but I felt that if the filmmakers were going to get into the global crisis of overconsumption, they needed to go a little darker still. Overconsumption is portrayed mainly as a waste or trash disposal problem -- indeed, Wall*E is in fact a waste disposal/arrangement unit. But the film, in emphasizing modern/later capitalism's ability to produce excessive abundance, presents a deeply incorrect -- and therefore, unconvincing -- view of the world, as we see by just looking around today.

Metal scavenging is on the rise in America, as the price of scrap metal has skyrocketed. Prices for staple foods have shot up in the past year, in part due to demand for biofuels, and in part due to increased demand in rapidly developing economies. Investors have begun speculating on water futures, as they see a coming future where scarce fresh water is the new oil. We are in fact running out of everything, just as huge segments of the world are beginning to want more of everything. The world is polluted and full of crap, sure -- but isn't the more likely and believable future not one populated by fat people perpetually at their leisure in an automated wonderland, but rather a world of water wars, Mad Max oil battles, the skeletal bodies of mass famine, etc.?

Apologies -- what was intended to be a movie review has turned into a blog post. And it is to the movie's credit that it provokes these types of responses. It is, after all, a cartoon. And we are reminded of that once Wall*E leaves earth, and the film begins to degenerate into a more, um, earth-bound computer animation. Pixar has apparently given up trying to render humans accurately; the simplified humans in the film were unfortunate distractions for me. And the story is pretty formulaic.

Still, a largely beautiful movie, with a truly wonderful opening thirty or forty minutes. Four tentacles (out of of five).


jose said...

did you catch the part where it said "rated G"?


Octopus Grigori said...

Um, yeah, when I saw that it was a cartoon. Though it was no Kung Fu Panda.


David said...

agree. pretty much lost interest as soon as the female robot showed up.