Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
December 2012

Rise of the Guardians

The dark night rises

Childhood heroes team up to save the world from darkness and gloom in handsome, lightweight 'Rise of the Guardians'

Rise of the Guardians
Paramount Pictures
Director: Peter Ramsey
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the book series The Guardians of Childhood, by William Joyce
Starring: The voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo
Rated PG / 1 hour, 37 minutes
Opened November 21, 2012
(out of four)

From a story standpoint, Rise of the Guardians is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing. Someone evil is trying to take over the world and it's up to a group of heroes to save the day. Jude Law's bogeyman is Loki, and all the mythological beings from our childhood are the Avengers. Simple as that.

Very little of the film's impact - even in its broad strokes - is the result of the plotting. Instead, the visuals and characterizations fill in the gaps left within the story. Director Peter Ramsey deftly twists and redefines perspective throughout, shaping his characters' identities (as well as the shifting balance of power between good and evil) through his playful compositions. He knows exactly when to use a tilted angle, or when to rely on shadow and silhouette. Even during the action sequences (despite an over-reliance on zooms), there's a clear sense of the dramatic dynamics of the scene.

I couldn't help but notice (and certainly wasn't surprised by) Roger Deakins' name in the closing credits, listed as a "visual consultant." Deakins is probably the world's best cinematographer, and in recent years he's gotten himself a nice little side business working behind the scenes on animated films. You can see his valuable work in the likes of WALL-E, Rango, How to Train Your Dragon and now this.

On that same note, I also couldn't help but notice that one of the opening shots of Guardians mirrors one of the climactic shots in Skyfall - perhaps not so coincidentally also shot by Deakins. Both shots involve their respective protagonists submerged in water, staring up at a shaft of light peaking through a thin layer of ice. Both are scenes of rebirth. Again, I don't know if the similarity is entirely a coincidence or not, but this early shot in Guardians speaks to the kind of visual language Ramsey and his animators are going for.

The rebirth in this case is that of Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), who wakes underneath the cold but persistent gaze of a divine moon, unaware of who he is or what he's doing here. He discovers his fate rather quickly - the name says it all - but his life, for the ensuing centuries, is a lonely one. He brings joy to people the world over - the spontaneous Snow Day is his signature accomplishment - but because no one believes in him, he's invisible to everyone. "Jack Frost? Oh nothing, that's just an expression," one suburban mother insists.

He periodically keeps in touch with the only people in the world who can see him - other mythical beings, that is - but his ongoing identity crisis keeps him from forming any sort of lasting bond.

Which makes it all the more surprising when, one day, he's called from on high by the Man in the Moon to join the Guardians, a supergroup dedicated to protecting the children of the world from fear and harm. Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) is essentially the ringleader, with the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and Sandman (fittingly, a mute) alongside him. Jack Frost is hardly the addition to the group the rest of them were anticipating - and it's particularly troubling to Jack's natural rival, the Easter Bunny, whose annual egg hunts have been thwarted by a sudden blizzard far too many times over the years. The resentment is palpable.

Jack is called to join the Guardians mostly because they need all the help they can get. Their nemesis, the bogeyman Pitch Black (Law), has finally perfected a way to turn dreams permanently into nightmares. Driven by his own desire to be believed in (not unlike Jack's), Pitch aims to enforce his will on the collective subconscious of the world's children, eradicating their belief in the Guardians in the process.

Unfortunately, that angle isn't played up nearly enough. Once Pitch's power begins to take hold, belief rapidly disintegrates as children's dreams are replaced by nightmares on a nightly basis. But aside from a group of kids mentioning that fact in one scene, the idea is hardly touched upon. It's too bad, because really exploring the pain and heartache Pitch causes - without, of course, getting too dark - would have made the fate of the story feel much more important, and the children themselves would have been more than mere plot vehicles.

Still, Rise of the Guardians offers enough in visual detail to at least partially make up for what might be lacking in the story. The images tell us all we really need to know, and in that regard Ramsey and Co. prove themselves worthy storytellers.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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