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In this episode: Treasure Planet | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

WHAT HO, LONG-LOST MATEYS! 'Tis eye, Peg Leg Lek, here ter brighten yer day with a bout of overdue movie reviewing! I know yer just as excited as a scalawag is disinterested in the success of lady justice. So hold on to yer eye patches, mateys, 'cause we're aweigh!


Warp Speed, Mr. Silver!

I thought for a moment of doing this whole review in pirate talk, but that moment was strangled into lifelessness when I realized how annoying it might be and how after waiting so long (if in fact you were waiting so long) for a new Review On The Side, you'd want me to talk in the lucid and educated tones I tend to utilize in my essays of cinematic critique.


Get ready, folks, because aside from upcoming Pixar product, this is the best thing you're gonna get out of Disney's animation subset for a while. (I could tell you that Home on the Range will be not so great, and that Bears looks interesting but who can tell yet. I could tell you that, but then I'd be sent to Non-Disclosure Island.)

Thank goodness this is a good movie. It's not as solid or memorable as Lilo & Stitch is, but it's certainly 400,000 times better than Atlantis was. As far as I can tell from never having read the book Treasure Island from which this movie big bangs, Treasure Planet follows the story rather closely. By having a firm story as its bedrock, Treasure Planet succeeds as an entertaining and enjoyable movie.

What blows me away about Treasure Planet is the animation. I don't feel like I'm lying when I say it's one of the most beautiful Disney films ever. Sure, Fantasia and Fantasia/2000 were gorgeous, and Hunchback was a beautiful and underrated jewel, but Treasure Planet is something new and unique. The film mixes swashbuckling pirate adventure with science fiction. There are still huge ships with masses of plumey sails in this story, but these huge ships are actually of the space variety. They fly through the "epherium" using solar power collected by those plumey sails. There are robots and aliens and cyborgs and mechanical setpieces of a grand scale, but there's also old fashioned thingies like ropes, carts, dirt roads, and lots of things made of wood. If the combination sounds too stupid to be worth your time, you'd be a POLLYWOG. The concept is, I think, flawless in its creativity and originality. It's certainly nothing I've ever seen before, and that kind of uniqueness is a welcome sight fer sore eyes.

But beautiful and creative visuals can only take you so far. Character and story still drive a movie, and thankfully, on the character front, we have a good collection here. The main blokes, Jim Hawkins and John Silver, have dimension to them, thanks to the writing and the voices. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, does a credible job portraying troubled teen Jim, and Brian Murray, of whom I've never heard, is a disarmingly likable Silver. Emma Thompson and David Hyde Pierce add good flavor as, respectively, the cat-like Captain Amelia and the dog-like Dr. Doppler. David does his funny Frasier thing, which is not out of place here, and Emma plays amusingly off her Britishness. I only wish there had been more of Amelia in the movie, since she was interesting enough to warrant more exposure.

The one performance I can't stand is Martin Short's. He plays B.E.N., who here is a marooned robot. (The acronym stands for... er, something with Navigation. Damned if I remember.) I generally like Martin Short, but God almighty up in heaven he needed to be toned down as B.E.N. He grated on me. To be fair, however, the audience I saw it with in its final form seemed to love him. So maybe my hearing aid was just shorting (ha ha ha) out on me. Not that audience reaction generally sways my opinion about these matters, of course. I just thought you may want to know what the POLLYWOGS thought.

The end of the movie is incredibly huge and exciting, yet if there's a flaw in the movie it's somewhere here. Visually and conceptually, the ending flies right. But it may be that it suffers from Hollywoodness. You may go "Wow!" at one point and "Oh, uh, RIGHT" in another. It tries a teensy bit too hard. This small dissatisfaction with the ending does not bring the entire movie down by any means, but it keeps the movie from being exactly just right. It could be worse, of course, and by not being worse, it's better than good. Yeah.

I know you've been hearing that John Rzeznik song all over the place. The one where he sings, "I'm still here." Yes. Well, that's from this film. I want to congratulate Disney for finally putting a real song into one of their animated movies. Sure, there's some good minstreling in past movies, but here, finally, is a song that does not have Adult Contemporary written all over it. I like this song enough to want it on my iPod as soon as I get my free copy of the soundtrack. (Marcy?) (No pressure!) (You can have my DVD of Frank McKlusky in exchange.)

I will end up seeing this movie again, which partially shows how much fun it is after all is said and done, but also partially shows that I have a hankering to see this gorgeous movie on an IMAX screen. You heard right, me POLLYWOGS! This is the first simultaneous release of a Disney movie—maybe ANY movie—on regular movie screens and on IMAX screens. And this is not going to be a 35mm print projected in the middle of the huge IMAX screen. It's been formatted and shot for IMAX at the same time it's been formatted and shot for 35mm. Sounds awesome to me. I must go see.

Treasure Planet comes out this week along with Solaris and that Adam Sandler whatever. It may get pummeled at the box office, but unabashedly I can say I hope it succeeds. I say so unabashedly because it is a worthy movie and not because I want my Disney stock to go back up to $46 a share. Trust me! Give it a viewing if you're in the mood for something unique.



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Kids Who Kick AssThanks to my ever-growing fondness for The Fellowship of the Ring (see my comments on its new expanded DVD edition here) and therefore my ever-growing excitement to see The Two Towers, my Who Caresometer was reading rather high for the second Harry Potter movie. (For those of you not versed in double negatives with an implied positive, being high on a Who Caresometer is not a good thing.) The first Harry Potter was good, but after my initial enjoyment of it faded, it proved not interesting enough for me to watch again on DVD. Therefore, I was not excited for the next film. Having Chris Columbus bow out already after directing only two Harry Potters also made me wonder how excited he was about making The Chamber of Secrets. Hmm.

Guess what? Guess friggin' what? I really liked The Chamber of Secrets! I do not like Chris Columbus' movies, yet I have to say he pulled it off here. The movie was completely engaging, the proof of which I offer by telling you this uninteresting story:

After downing a 20-ounce Coke and a bottle of some kind of 100% sparkling juice (a tasty and delightful creation that will, since I enjoy it so much, fail to last longer than Al Gore's comeback), I was getting pretty urinal-ready somewhere near the last fourth of the movie. So out I dash, finding a point where I could leave without missing something important in a movie that had so far proven to be filled leader-to-leader with important moments. I do, as they say (and not so tastefully in my opinion but I'm saying it anyway because I wanted to add yet another parenthetical statement to this already parentheses-heavy review) my business, then, after washing and drying my hands, take a cursory glance at my watch. Now, if before I had taken that glace a perfect-haired schlock TV magazine reporter in a nappy sweater and recently Rembrandted teeth had come to set up a beachhead of IN YOUR FACE visual entertainment media acquisition and asked me with vegetable-shortening-coated vocal tones and a logo-emblazoned microphone how long I thought the movie had been running up to that point, I would have— Well, first I would have given him a "Who ARE you and what have you done with journalism?" glance and probably, just to make him annoyed, asked him instead "Huh? What was that? Could you repeat the question?" Then I would have told him I thought the movie had been close to two hours, certainly no more. Well, thankfully, there was no intrusive lite journalism in the restroom that day, but the surprise was still there when I looked at my watch and discovered that the movie had already been going for 2 hours and twenty minutes!

The upshot of that whole loquacious tale? The movie did not feel long. Every moment, for the most part, was interesting and had some twist to add to the story. Despite having read the book and thus knowing all the plot points, I was entertained the entire time. The first movie, which was shorter, didn't fill the time as perfectly as this movie does. The first movie also lacked oomph. Had no spark. This time, everything works very well.

Part of the movie's success is its darkness. I know others have been bitching like sour POLLYWOGS that this movie is too dark and will scare children. Hmm. Okay, so maybe it will scare some children. So should the Homeland Security bill. But unlike the Homeland Security bill, the dark tone of Harry Potter is a good thing. Instead of being a movie where some creepy little Goosebumps things happen and everything is really okay at all times, this movie has the weight of important and dangerous goings on. It seems to matter more. Most importantly, kids aren't talked down to by having the darkness lightened. The Harry Potter books are dark, and that is, I'm sure, part of their appeal. (For funnier but darker stories, try something by Lemony Snicket!) The books do not talk down to kids, and the movies shouldn't, either. And that means keeping the dark and scary overtones in tact.

So what kind of creepy scary stuff are the POLLYWOGS talking about? Well, there's the whole huge spider segment—huge meaning not huge segment but HUGE SPIDERS. I never saw Eight Legged Freaks (which really should be Eight-Legged Freaks, because without the hyphen the title implies something about eight freaks who all have legs), but I'd guess the spiders in The Chamber of Secrets are much more frightening. There's also the ending with the huge— Well, I won't say because I don't want to give the ending away. But another very huge, very loud creepy thing is involved. And there's messages written in blood, ugly screechy plant creatures, and the ghost of a dead girl. The girl ghost, Moaning Myrtle, is, I feel compelled to mention, horribly played by Shirley Henderson. She sounds like the voice of the mean cat in Babe. I don't understand why they decided to go with an adult doing an awful little kid voice instead of getting an actual kid. Ridiculous.

The rest of the acting is perfectly fine. The kids have all gotten rather older in one small year. I liked Rupert Grint a lot in the last movie as Ron, but not so much this time 'cause all he does is whine and make funny faces. Emma Watson was very good as Hermione. You can see her talent has improved quite a bit. And Daniel Radcliffe as Harry has gotten neither better nor worse, but thanks to Harry's character, I enjoyed watching Daniel more this time. The adults are all great. Best is Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. He provides a finessed performance, walking the very entertaining line between clownish buffoonery and boring predictability. He was great fun to watch. Of course, Richard Harris can hold the screen with a glance, so it's very sad he's gone now. I doubt Ian McKellen would want to take his place. Too many long bearded characters for one career!

Surprisingly unannoying to me was the house elf character Dobby. The voice, provided by Toby Jones, is pleasantly tolerable. Often, these kinds of low-status characters are destroyed when they are portrayed strictly and over-exuberantly as comic relief. Dobby can grate a bit, but on the whole he's a rather useful and mischievous character. [Skip to the next paragraph if you want to remain ignorant!] Some of Dobby's actions are that of your typical bumbling numbskull, but most of the other events Dobby's responsible for are there for a purpose. Okay, partially, the purpose is to create story and plot, which is annoying, but the treachery Dobby causes is something he consciously chooses—or is ordered—to do. The cake and the bludger, for instance, are not accidents but something Dobby does on purpose. That makes his meddling more acceptable and not quite as lazy as anything a character like Jar Jar does that would be used to poorly advance a story.

The script moves along at a nice pace, but it still contains a lot of exposition and silly cliché dialogue. The rest of the movie was strong enough for me to overlook this, though, which is quite a complement for the rest of the movie!

Special effects are a bit better this time 'round, but on the whole are not great. Some sequences are, again, better than others. The Quidditch match, while still suffering from bad compositing and tracking, is saved by the grade A editing and sound. This match is incredibly exciting, with a rogue bludger chasing rather menacingly after Harry. This inanimate object is as threatening as any of the "living" monsters in the movie, and I think we can thank the sound editing for that. Every time the bludger just misses Harry and smacks into and through wooden beams or walls, the reverberant crunches are awesome. Add Draco and a Star Wars-like trench chase into the mix, and it's a smashingly good Quidditch match indeed. Bravo!

There's a lot to this movie. It feels very rich with dimensionality. I'll bet the new director, Alfonso Cuarón, will keep with the dark and dense tones of The Chamber of Secrets. I never saw his lauded A Little Princess, but I loved Y Tu Mama Tambien. I think the Harry Potter series will continue to evolve for the better thanks to Alfonso's presence.




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©2002 Steven Lekowicz except
Treasure Planet art ©Disney;
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets art TM & ©2002 Warner Bros.