Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I See: Wall-E

The geniuses at Pixar are not content with merely creating some of the best animated films since the golden age of Walt Disney. It is apparent in every film that they are only interested in making great films, period. Computer animation just happens to be the medium in which they are immersed, but they do not limit themselves to the conventions of that medium. Never is this more apparent that in last year's masterpiece, Wall-E. Not only did they blend some live action footage with the animation, they applied conventions of live-action film making to their craft to make the film as photorealistic as possible and present a realistic feel within the context of their theme, going so far as to consult with Academy Award nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins on how he would light the film if it were live action. The result is a film whose atmosphere and themes are highlighted by the conventions of live-action film making.

Each setting of the film has its own lighting scheme:

-Earth is dusty and dingy, befitting of a planet abandoned by its people once their rampant consumerism left it too filthy to inhabit safely. They only truly bright and clear spot on Earth is Wall-E's home, a no longer need storage truck for Buy N' Large's Wall-E army that was intended to dig us out of the mess we made. The warm feeling conveyed by the Christmas lights used to brighten Wall-E's home at night allows the viewer to feel closer to the character.

-The Axiom: By comparison, the Axiom is bright in a clinical, almost depressing way. Here is a world in which human communication and interaction is almost non-existent. Everything is handled by computers and machines. There is even a scene in which two men discuss plans for later in the day via video chat, only to reveal that they are seated next to each other.

However, for me, the most intriguing thing about the way Andrew Stanton and his team composed their film was the way in which they manipulated focus to draw the viewers eyes to important elements of their story. Whether part of the initial design, Wall-E is a film with a strong environmental message. One of the focal points of the film is a plant which Wall-E finds on Earth and is vital to the plot once EVE arrives. Almost every time the plant enters the frame, especially at important moments, such as its initial appearance and a pivotal moment late in the film when it appears that the plant has been destroyed for good, the Andrew Stanton uses rack focus to draw the viewer's attention to the plant, and give the audience time to register the importance of its appearance. Without the plant, the human living aboard the Axiom would remain aloft in space, in their clinical seclusion. Thanks to Wall-E, EVE and the plant, they are broken free from the shackles of consumerism and isolation.

Ricky Gervais at Hunter College

On November 3rd and 4th, Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse was host to one of England's funniest men, Mr. Ricky Gervais, who was using the setting to test material for his show at Carnegie Hall for the New York Comedy Festival. Prior to this show, the following was all I knew about Mr. Gervais: he's brilliantly funny and excels at what some would consider highly uncomfortable comedy. What I did not know about him was that even while being awkwardly uncomfortable, Mr. Gervais could also be obscene, raunchy, and, to some, slightly offensive.
While I was not offended by any of Mr. Gervais' off color humor, he seemingly felt that no topic was off limits or above ridicule. He made fun of fat people, religion, charities, holidays, being charitable at the holidays, and pedophilia, to name but a few of his targets. There may always be an air of the impish about his delivery, as though he were a child getting away with doing something naughty behind the adults' backs, but his delivery was straight forward and brash. It would appear that there is a sliver of David Brent at the core of Mr. Gervais' stage persona.
Perhaps my favorite bit of the night was when Mr. Gervais decided to take on religion via the tale of Noah and the ark. He was equipped with a children's book which looked like it was from the 1960's and a video screen. As he read the book aloud, the screen showed the pages of the book so the audience could see the illustrations. However, this was not direct story time at the Kaye. No, Mr. Gervais interjected constantly, noting contradictions and how the illustrations undercut the story. At one point, he showed how the ark was too small, according to the drawing, to house all the animals, as the giraffes took up almost the entire ark by themselves. In addition, he cried racism upon discovering that the raven lost his job to the dove after only one attempt to find land, while the dove was "given another go."
It was a thoroughly satisfying evening, and if the reaction of the Hunter crowd is any indication, his Carnegie Hall show should have been a success.