Flying High with How to Train Your Dragon

16-Apr-10 2:48 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 4 comments.

Currently playing in theaters is How to Train Your Dragon, a CGI film based on the first in Cressida Cowell's series of children's books. Set in a Nordic village, the story is that of Hiccup, the Viking chieftain's son who's more intellectual and sensitive than his brawny, boisterous brethren. Their island is constantly besieged by dragons, which come in dozens of breeds, the most terrifying of which is the mysterious Night Fury. When Hiccup secretly captures one of these creatures of myth, he must decide if his loyalty lies with his family or with his heart.

At its root, the tale is a familiar one, with aspects of everything from Old Yeller to Avatar. The main plot focuses on the developing relationship between a boy and an animal, the latter which behaves in ways very familiar to any dog owner. As each character has or is building a relationship to each other, there are no true villains in this story, which makes for some incredibly tense moments: everyone is simply trying to do what's right based on the information available to him or her, sometimes leading to decisions that hurt others. The audience can hope only that everything turns out for the best.

Any film with dragons perforce features plenty of flying sequences, and How to Train Your Dragon's are to die for. There's excitement as rider and beast learn to coordinate their movements, bliss as they experience sights never before seen by man, and tension as the duo act in harmony to save their loved ones. I dream, both asleep and awake, about being able to fly, and Hiccup's experience are some of the most enviable I've encountered — and that's based on a 2D showing of the film; it's also available (as most CGI films are nowadays) in 3D.

The imagery is accompanied by excellent voice acting. Those I recognized were Gerard Butler (300) as Chief Stoick, with bit parts played by David Tennant (Dr. Who) and Jonah Hill. Most notably, 28-year-old Jay Baruchel plays Hiccup with great zeal, imbuing the character with sarcasm, frustration, and wonder.

How to Train Your Dragon is rated PG and is an appropriate experience for parents to share with their children. Some of Hiccup's tactics defy logic, his flying companion ultimately conveys little of the fear found in Tolkien's dragons, and the final action sequence reminds me of Iron Man's. But the conclusion doesn't uniformly leave the village and its inhabitants better than before — an unexpected twist that can prove a valuable talking point for families.

You Say 'Cute,' I Say 'Special'

On his Facebook page, fantasy author R. A. Salvatore commented about this film, "I'm not a big fan of 3D … but this one gets a big thumbs' up from me. The graphics were simply amazing, and the story was charming." I'll add my own endorsement to that weightier one. Will the remaining seven books be translated to film? We can only hope!

The Invention of Lying

05-Feb-10 2:41 PM by
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The Invention of Lying, a recent comedy starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner, has a unique premise, so it's fitting that it be reviewed from a unique perspective. I am no movie maven — in fact, I likely have less expertise in the genre than most of the American population. But what I am is a theologian (or rather, a theologian-in-training), and that expertise made this movie one I can't resist talking about. [Note: Spoilers follow. –Ed]

Ricky Gervais stars as Mark Bellison, a rather unremarkable man in a remarkable world. The society in which Mark lives is, quite simply, one where no one has ever learned to lie. It's not that they've chosen to always tell the truth — the ability to do otherwise has never been imagined or developed, ever. As a result, a world that looks at first glance just like ours — down to the same technology and brands — is in fact a world with no fiction, no religion, no pretense, no imagination at all. Empathy is, at best, a vague concept, and it stops no one from saying what they think anyway; there is not only no politeness, but also no filter, so a person is just as likely to comment on someone's hideous choice of clothing as to divulge their own erectile dysfunction. This world does require some willing suspension of disbelief, but this comes easily to an audience who find themselves preoccupied with comparing the painfully hilarious conversations between characters to their own nuanced methods of communication.

Mark, through a random and unexpected evolution, suddenly finds himself the only person on earth who can lie — and, as no one else can but take his word as utter truth, he soon realizes that this ability is nothing less than a superpower. Yet in a wrenching attempt to use his powers for good, he paints a poignant, if endearingly childish, idea of heaven for his despairing, dying mother. Though she dies happy, as he'd hoped, the nurses who overhear naturally take his words as dogma (bad theology pun intended) and spread word of the man who knows something new about what happens after death. Mark's unintentional career as a prophet begins as he tries to use his ability to make everyone happy, imagining for them a vague religion based around the "Man in the Sky" who created everything, controls everything, and determines who is worthy of spending eternity in a mansion after they die.

The Invention of Lying

Good intentions + false words = great comedy!