I’ve had a tremendous tendency to focus on animated films from America or Japan. While that could be credited simply to the sheer volume both countries produce, I can’t help but feel like I’m slighting the rest of the world by ignoring their offerings to the world of film. I was recently reminded of the value in watching a verity of films from a verity of geographical locations by watching The Snowman, a 1982 animated short film that was nominated for an academy award. The 26 minute short is based on the wordless picture book by Ramon Briggs.
The story centers on a small boy who, after a tremendous amount of snow has fallen, spends his day building a snowman. As the boy admires his work throughout the day, and even into the evening, glancing out the window every chance he gets, he can’t help but be amazed by the wonder filled snow land that suddenly surrounds his house. At night, the snowman comes to life, and the boy introduces him to the human world, giving him a thorough tour of his home and yard. In return, the snowman takes the young boy on a magical journey to the North Pole where he meets other snowmen and even Santa Claus himself.
The Snowman is nothing short of beautiful. The animation used makes the entire thing look vividly like the picture book it is based on, but the real triumph comes from the sound. The movie is, with the exception of a particularly powerful musical number, entirely wordless. Not only is it wordless, but the sound effects in the movie are generated only from the orchestra whose score resounds throughout the duration of the short. We’re not subjected to background music haphazardly thrown into the mix to loosely convey emotion, the background music IS the emotion. When the Snowman sneezes or starts up a motorcycle, we rely entirely on the talent of the score to convey the sounds and emotional weight of the actions involved.
Short, sweet and somber. The Snowman blends childrens book animation with a near perfect musical score to present a story that is ripe with analogies ranging from the bliss of childhood to the loss of those closest to us. It’s a visually rich and emotionally valuable little title that taps into basic human emotions, without having to use an exclusive language.
Writer/director Joe Cornish tries his hand at an alien invasion flick in 2011’s Attack the Block. We’re shown an invasion unfold before a teenaged gang in south London who quickly decide to defend their “block” a large apartment building in which they all reside. Instead of dealing with aliens with full scale warfare or secret services dealing with them, we’re given something different in that this movie is basically one big turf war between wolf-like extraterrestrials and a group of thugs. It’s quickly realized that the norm of this alien sub-genre is quickly traded for something unfamiliar, which is what makes Attack the Block as fun as it is.
I should note that I had a hard time sympathizing with the main characters of the film. Within the first scene the group of unruly teenagers mugs a woman in the street at knife point. She is unharmed and, as the movie progresses, becomes their ally. A clear point is made that these kids are not good kids, but their “true selves” as the movie would have us believe will shine through when it comes to protecting their own and defending their block. Even as the movie progressed and the characters became more and more sympathetic, it was hard to completely side with them. This didn’t mean that the movie wasn’t fun, on the contrary, it was a blast! Seeing a group of teenagers defend themselves against a highly aggressive, yet unintelligent race of aliens in a suburban setting is something that you don’t see every day, and Cornish certainly gives us amped up entertainment with plenty of action, violence and character.
The characters, though unlikable at times (read: often) are engaging and interesting. The fighting tactics of both sides is crude, with the aliens clearly being more agile and strong than the humans. The advantage that the gang has, however is that they all grew up on the block, they know it like the back of your hand. The movie plays out in the same manner that you may have imagined your friends defending your neighborhood from aliens growing up. Bikes, baseball bats and squirt guns filled with lighter fluid. The director certainly knows his way around the action/comedy genre and he gives the audience plenty to look at and get excited about.
This isn’t the most thought provoking Sci-Fi to come out this decade, nor is it one of the best, but what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in pure entertainment value. While not the deepest Sci-Fi to come along, Attack the Block shows real production value in the hands of a film maker who clearly knows what he wanted to portray and how to portray it.