Thursday, February 19, 2009

WALL-E

You'll have to excuse all the movie commentaries I've been doing lately, as I've been feeling in a very Oscar-hyped mood. But with most of the recent nominated movies exhausted, today I'm reaching several months back to a summer release, WALL-E. And let me get this thought out right off the bat: The feeling I get is that if Pixar is unable to squeeze a Best Picture nomination out of a movie as finely crafted and artistically respectable as WALL-E, maybe they should just stop trying. I don't think any animated movie of this decade has been more deserving.

The premise is like one from an Asimov masterpiece science fiction short story. Hundreds of years into the future, the earth has fallen victim to out-of-control human consumerism and environmental neglect-- the whole planet is covered in garbage. The human race has abandoned the earth, leaving it for dead and escaping into a habitat in outer space. Only small garbage compacting robots are left behind on earth to sort out the mess, and 700 years later only one remains: WALL-E.

The scrappy WALL-E has been working forever, compacting garbage and collecting souveniers of the remains of human culture. His routine is disrupted one day when he encounters Eve, a slick probe sent by the self-exiled humans to evaluate the planet's ability to sustain life. The two robots meet and... fall in love. :3

Amazingly for a family friendly movie, the entire first act of the movie is almost completely devoid of dialogue. It's just robots, after all. But on the positive, the lack of dialogue allows it to transcend language, and communicate to the audience in a more fundamental level. Even more amazing is how much personality and character they were able to cram into robots that are basically mute and have no real face.

Credit has to be given to Ben Burtt for all the work he's done on the sounds, an aspect of movies that hardly ever gets any attention. If you've ever listened to his commentary on Star Wars DVDs you know how much creativity and thought he puts into creating the noises-- he's like a savant that hears an opportunity in every unremarkable sound around him. Maybe the lack of dialogue forces my senses to reach into the void for something to listen to, but I don't think I have ever taken such notice to the quality of sound effects in a movie before.

The quiet first half of the movie is the better half, with a sense of wonder to every scene as it follows WALL-E on his otherworldly post-apocolyptic existance. The second half of the movie feels very different and takes on a more conventional tone, as the focus shifts to the human space habitat where WALL-E and Eve dodge security forces and a mutinous autopilot in order to set the ship on a course back to the earth. WALL-E was not nominated for Best Picture, as many people had hoped, and I'd blame the second half for that. Not that there's anything particularly wrong about it, but it's just not the type to win awards.

Personally I liked the reflective first half myself, when the movie was doing what it does best, broadcasting a sense of awestruck wonder through a song without words.

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