A Dreamer Walking

An Industry Without a Soul

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 17, 2019

Example picI’m in a dark mood right now, I apologize.

The trailer for the “live action” Lion King came out the other day. The film is just one in a long line of remakes that Disney is producing. Then there are the franchises, connected Universes, the sequels, prequels, and more sequels. Of course, scattered about is some original storytelling. These original films are mostly safe and used as a sort of reward to the artists who are being pressured through money and enticed by state of the art technical developments to make assembly line films.

The reason I say “assembly line films” is because the stories have literally already been done. The most clear examples are the remakes. Look at the trailers for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The trailers reek nostalgia with no soul.  We are expected to get excited because the images we fell in love with as kids are being brought to us in a “live action form”. Instead of the cartoony reality we had before, we are now being given a photo realistic example of the story. The greatest sin is the comment Disney Corporation makes about their understanding of the medium of animation.

The key difference with the remakes, that are desperately trying to stick to the original film’s successful formulas, is the transition from something that was stylized to something that has the look of realism. Understand, to call most of these Disney remakes “live action” is utterly inaccurate. The Lion King film will not hold a single frame of live action footage. They simply want to take a Picasso painting and render it so it looks realistic. In most cases they completely destroy what made the original films the magnificent pieces of art they were in the first place.

And here I get to the core of my rant. Disney Corporation has rendered the soul out of these great pieces of art by turning its back on its heritage. The goal of Walt was never to render things realistically, rather his efforts constantly strove toward creating something real inside the imagination.  I can say from years of studying and being influenced by the man’s films, Walt Disney would be ashamed of what the company he, his brother, and Ub Iwerks, originated. The lack of originality and innovation is staggering in today’s Disney.

The Disney Corporation still has creativity. The artists are simply too talented to not allow for some wonderful entertainment and provide great character work in this constant bombardment of remakes, prequels, and sequels. Yet, when the financiers are calling all the shots, as they are so clearly doing for Disney, a decline in innovation is inevitable. The great irony is eventually it will lead to great financial loss as well. The reason? Because money men can not spark audience’s imagination. The pattern has already shown itself in the history of Hollywood.  The financiers didn’t know how to deal with sound, they let artist call the shots and we received one of the greatest five years in the history of Hollywood from 1937-1942. Then slowly the money people took over. It took awhile but by the 1970’s the old Hollywood Moguls had all but given up. Thus the artists rose and began the greatest decade in cinema. The eighties showed some financial success but lacked innovation and thus we saw the rise of independent cinema in the 1990’s. Disney even has example of this. The reason the origins of Disney are so strong, where classics like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi were created, was due to the vision Walt Disney cast, leading the charge. After his death in 1966 we witnessed one of the most lack luster periods in animation, all the way up to the 1980’s.  From the late 80’s through the mid 90’s the CEOs of Disney had no idea how animation worked, thus they allowed the artists to take center stage which produced the second golden age of Disney animation. Though the money men at Disney thought they could control 2D animation in the late 90’s and 2000’s, a small computer company arose, driven by artists, to produced one of the strongest start-ups in animation history. Pixar’s first 10 films are considered unmatched in their consistent excellence and innovation by critics and historians. Yet from the late 2000’s to the present Disney financiers took more and more control, Disney bought Pixar, Marvel, Lucas film, and now Fox. With all this has come unbelievable financial success.

I’ve been bothered about the length of success Disney has had with such little innovation and original storytelling. I’ve studied their changes carefully. Walt Disney is my greatest inspiration as a filmmaker and I had once dreamed of working at the company. However, the Disney corporation looks so little like the place I fell in love with. The reason for the length of their success I believe is due to the strong foundations originally established. There is so much love for the magic of Disney animation. Each remake holds a piece of that magic. Those who love the original Lion King can’t watch the recent trailer and not feel a strong emotional tug when they hear the great music and Mufasa say, “You must take your place in the circle of life”. However, just like a photocopied painting, magic is lost is lost in the duplication. Where we once saw vibrant brush strokes, nuanced lines, and bold texture, we now see a muted, over sharpened, and flat reproduction.

Disney’s actions right now are very similar to former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s decision to produce dozens of “direct to video” sequels of all the Disney animated classics in the mid 90’s through the mid 2000’s. The only real difference is the current CEO, Bob Iger, has thrown far more money at these remakes. He has also been able to hire more creative filmmakers. Still the problem remains, below the surface of these multiple hundred million dollar remakes is a hollow shell of what was before. The greatest missing link in the remakes is the very thing that put Disney on the map in the first place, character animation. 

The more realistically you are required to render characters, especially the ones that are not human, the less personality animators can infuse into them. In the 1993 animated version of Timon and Pumbaa we saw a lively impression of a meerkat and warthog. They were also given many human characteristics. The four legged Pumbaa had extremely expressive eyebrows, larger than life proportions, and could hold poses in order to hit emotional beats. The 2019 version hardly has any visible personality. He can’t. He needs to look “real”.

EXAMPLE

 

Before the release of the first Hollywood feature animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released, the Disney artists were terrified. They simply didn’t know if a feature “cartoon” could hold the audience’s attention. The one person they trusted with their countless hours of backbreaking work was Walt Disney. See, he had this crazy idea. He thought the world could love his simple cartoons, with ill proportioned bodies and exaggerated actions, as long as his artist could capture one thing, their souls. He spent all sorts of time and bundles of money, he did not have, so his artists could bring characters like Grumpy, The Queen, and even Snow White to life. They spend days talking about the characters fears, joys, and loves. They developed every aspect of their design and motion to capture the essence who who these characters were. And yet, they still didn’t know for sure if the audience would understand.

Legendary animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston once spoke about the moment they realized what they had accomplished. It was during the premiere of the film. Snow White had already thrilled the audience. The human characters were believable, the dwarfs completely entertaining in their antics, and even the animals gave the audience some laughs. But the time Thomas and Ollie knew they had done the impossible was when the dwarfs mourned for Snow White as she lay on the bed motionless, thinking she was lost. Frank Thomas animated the simple shot of Dopey turning into Doc’s arms, overcome with sadness. There they witnessed a whole theater tearing up. They had done it. They had created life inside the imagination of their audience. A life so precious the audience mourned over Dopey’s loss.

Again and again I witnessed simple drawings rendered to life inside the animation of Disney studios. I would not be who I am today without this wonderful life I experienced. The good news is the Disney corporation can not destroy the life Walt Disney protected so dearly. The films he championed will always be there for me to see. But more importantly Walt’s influence is not lost. His spirit has arisen in other artists. The great tragedy is the corporation holding his name is no longer a refuge for those artists. The magic is all but gone. What is left are people at the top who prove through these remakes and franchises and sequels, they never knew the magic of Disney in the first place. The real magic of Walt wasn’t his films, it was the belief in the power of the imagination becoming real.

War Horse- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 10, 2012

War Horse is a passionate tale that takes place during World War I. The only clear villain of the film is the Great War itself. We see stories unfold on both sides. The film is full of loss, but what sticks out is hope. Their is a sentiment to this film that makes many critics stop liking Spielberg as much as the Fincher’s and Scorsese’s of our time. However, the heart and emotion so openly expressed in this film is what draws me so deeply to Spielberg’s work. The Sentiment of this film does not feel fake. It is genuine because Spielberg believes deeply in what he is expressing on screen.

War Horse opens to a beautiful landscape. The land moves us in this film just as much as anything else. We see it in it’s glory with beautiful sunsets and warm colorful country sides. We are drawn in because of it. The innocents we see at the beginning of the film in the land and characters is even more cherished because they do not last. When war comes we see the land change. It gets corrupted by the evils of battle and bloodshed. The vibrant greens and warm reds slowly turn to gray. The land is cut into to create trenches. It gets infected by, machine guns, canons, and barb wire.

The land is a direct reflection of the emotional state of the star of the movie, Joey. He is a horse and we follow him from birth. He is foolishly bought by an old handicapped farmer named Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan). The true heart of the story begins when Joey is introduced to Ted’s son Albert, played by  Jeremy Irvine. For being his first big role Jeremy does a fair enough job. Everything relies on us buying into the relationship he creates with Joey. Unlike most Hollywood films these days Steven Spielberg is not afraid to take his time at the beginning of his movies. Spielberg spends a good half hour getting us connected with the relationship between Ted and Joey. We are sold with their relationship by the time Joey is sold away by Ted to a kindhearted English Captain (Tom Hiddleston). This starts a series of smaller stories we experience through out the rest of the film as Joey is pulled deeper and deeper into the Great War.

Through Joey we are shown the humanity of both sides of the war. The war is the only evil in the film and Spielberg does a delicate job expressing it’s cruelty. War Horse is the ideal film to introduce a younger audience to the evils of war. The film is not for all ages. However, it portrays war and violence in a much more bearable way then films like Saving Private Ryan or Glory. We see the war’s evil without needing to constantly turn our head from the screen. Spielberg knows the most impacting images often come from the imagination of the audience. Joey is found and treated well by both sides. However, the requirements of war come close to killing him several times in the film. Joey gives us plenty of reason to like characters who fight on both sides. We also see Joey’s profound influence of several characters in the film.

The images of evil are bearable because of the humanity Joey brings to this war film. Spielberg allows us to cherish Joey without making him seem too smart or mobile to be a real horse. My only criticism of the film would be that at times the acting feels a bit overdone and insincere. However, Spielberg more then makes up for this. The pace, visuals, and story of the film will remind many of old classics. Cutting is used sparingly. The film is mostly shot with wide angle lens’ and the story is in no hurry. Cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski’s work has never been better then in this film. Spielberg and Kaminski bend light in magical ways. The ending has some of the most touching shots I have ever seen. John Williams’ music flows as well as ever. It consumes us without ever feeling overpowering. The movie transports us back to the beginning of the twentieth century through the making of the film and the era it portrays.

War Horse is a instant classic it has all the elements of great storytelling, which would have been just as entertaining to those in the 30s and 50s as it is to us today. In the movie Joey represents the land itself. When war comes and the land is torn apart, Joey reflects it’s pain. The movie is a commentary on what it takes to make this world good. The land we live in can provide many good things if we are willing to come together and treat it well. If the world stopped caring Joey would die. Thankfully in this movie the world cares. At several points in the film Joey’s life is brought to the edge, but humanity wins. In the end War Horse is a sincere story about trying to find humanity in a time of war.

What Makes a Great Film?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 14, 2011

What makes a great film?

Is it cutting? The music? Many people say that it is the actor. Or maybe, maybe it is the idea that makes for a great film. Of course the idea can’t be expressed very well if you don’t have a good director. So is it the director?

Actually, you sort of need all of them.

I am trying to tackle a pretty untouchable subject here. There have been people who have devoted their entire lives to discovering what makes a great film. How possibly can a twenty one year old explain it?

Actually the question arises after researching a broad range of directors. Through out the last few months I have devoted my studies to understanding filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher, Frank Capra, and Marin Scorsese. All these guys are considered good. In fact, by many they are considered masters at the craft of filmmaking. However, the more research I put into these guys, the more I realize that they have completely different styles of filmmaking. So I guess the question is; if all these guys are great filmmakers but have completely different ways of going about making films, then what is the magic formula? What makes for great films?

I will tell you one thing, I certainly like certain directors movies more then others. Frank Capra’s movies speak volumes more to me then Hitchcock’s. David Fincher, has curtain movies that speak to me more then others. Scorsese’ style is completely unique and stimulating, but the heart can sometimes hardly be seen. I can see the true talent in all these directors, but why do they not impact me in the same way or to the same extent.

Of course every movie you see should not impact you in the same way. The beauty of movies is that they all give you at least some kind of different way of thinking of things. However, realizing that all movies are different and make you think in different ways, makes the question, “what makes a great film?”, all the more complex and hard to answer.

All I can give you in this personal blog is my opinion on what makes a great film. A great film is not necessarily created through epic actions scenes, a happy ending, or a complex story line. A great film is a film that has stayed true to the heart of the director. With all the directors I have researched, one thing is consistent; They all have a visions that they will not allow to be altered.

A great director makes a film that is personal to him or her. The reason why the films are unique is because each one of the directors are unique. All of the great directors I have studied have a rich education. They learned to perfect the way they deal with camera, acting, music, and editing. But that is not what makes them great. They have learned how to separate themselves from other filmmakers and movies. They takes risks and create stories that the producers and even themselves are not completely sure about.

Some of the greatest movies ever made are the ones were said to never be able to make it. Whether it is Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, or Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the directors pushed through and made their movie no matter how many doubters they faced.

What I look for more then anything when I am studying directors is the origin of their passion. I want to see the vision behind the movie’s they made. What made them push the envelope? What made them convinced something completely unfamiliar was going to work? If you want to know what makes for a great film, you need to figure out what makes for a great artist.

A great artist consists of individuality more then anything else. As a Christian I believe God gave us all a unique vision. The great filmmakers fallow that vision whether they know the author or not. We as filmmakers need to be able to figure out the technique. We need to know how to deal with the camera, acting, music, and editing. But all this is worth very little if you do not have a vision. The vision dictates all the other things. And, following the vision is indeed what makes for a great film.