Monday, March 8, 2010

Film Yap: Planet 51

I will give the movie this: the initial premise of Planet 51 is clever. The story is about an American astronaut who lands on a planet 20 billion miles away and is treated as a typical alien invader. This is also the extent of the cleverness of the movie.

The film is never offensive, but is incredibly boring and underdeveloped. It makes sense that Planet 51 ought to be thematically similar, but it’s almost unnerving how it is exactly the same as Earth. The only differences are they have green skin, antennae, and floating cars. Animation provides the opportunity to create a whole new magical world. If a character travels to a new planet, majority of the film should be parading the new creative differences on that planet. Instead the planet looks like America did during the 1950s. They do everything the same including speaking English.

The movie also suffers from the syndrome of too many themes. In this movie I think it wants us to be ourselves and be more than ourselves and to embrace the unknown and to be tolerant and to hate NASA. It’s very complex. This comes from Chuck the astronaut (voiced incompetently by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) befriending a young native named Lem. He has a crush on Neera but is too shy. He also wants to become an astronomer one day. Justin Long does a solid job about making Lem likable, but he’s too dull to root for. He complains that once Chuck arrives he just “wants his life to go back to normal.” His life really isn’t that different with Chuck. I think he’s just complaining because that’s what other people do in his situations.

Also Chuck shouldn’t be helped. He only has 73 hours to return to his ship. It’s unclear why he only had a weekend to investigate a planet, but I digress. The problem is that he’s way too obnoxious. He’s constantly showing off how awesome he is. He’s screaming various pop culture references that don’t make any sense like telling a group of elderly aliens to find him on Facebook. Meh. The movie goes to great lengths to show how incompetent he is and constantly suggests that astronauts are untrained button pushers. I’m pretty sure if they send you up in space, you are a heavily educated scientist but I could be wrong. His robot sidekick is amusing though. Sure it is an accidental rip-off of WALL-E and sounds like the Pixar lamp, but the idea of a NASA probe only being interested in rocks is amusing.

The film moves in a predictable pace and it is hard to decipher if kids will even like this. They’re not going to understand the numerous Star Wars jokes and the homages to 1950s B-movies. There are no joke set-pieces to really get behind or even fun action scenes. The movie is instantly forgettable, like a reverse Polaroid.

The extras reflect this. There are a few featurettes where key voice actors talk about the plot. There is an ironic feature called “The World of Planet 51” where they just move the camera around various animated locations. There isn’t anyone talking about how they designed these places or what were the creative decisions. It is just a quasi-tour juxtaposed with a song. At least that was better than the irritating game.

Movie: 1 Yap

Extras: 2 Yaps

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