I remember reading the book Mrs. Frisby & The Rats Of Nimh as a child and being utterly transported by Robert C. O’Brien’s prose and storytelling. I think it’s the duty of any filmmaker adapting a literary work to do three things; 1) keep the spirit, themes and intention of the sacred source material on hand and implement it accordingly, 2) present a great deal of their own artistic and personal flourishes wherever they can and 3) utterly transport their audience to the world they are both adapting and further exploring. In the case of Don Bluth’s The Secret Of Nimh he has outdone himself by keeping the dark, often threatening beats of the book intact while offering up a dazzling galaxy of unbelievably gorgeous still-frame animation tableaus for equally stunning animated animals in motion to inhabit and tell this unique story. Mrs. Frisby (Elizabeth Hartman) is a widowed field mouse living in a vast and dangerous farmyard realm with her wee mousie children, one of whom is very ill. Every year when the farmer comes to plow the fields, all the woodland creatures are violently displaced in an apocalyptic ritual they refer to as ‘moving day.’ Because of her youngest child’s illness, moving day would be especially torturous for them this year and so she sets out on a mythical quest to find a better life for her family, a quest that puts her in contact with many other animals in the realm including friendly crow Jeremiah (Dom DeLuise), a spooky old great horned owl (John Carradine), the vicious and predatory farmer’s cat and a troupe of scheming rats, some trustworthy and others treacherous. This is a dark, prophetic, devilishly imaginative story that isn’t just children’s nursery rhymes but gets intense, introspective and downright menacing, I can see how this would scare the ever-loving soul out of young kids. Bluth’s animation is the real star here and every breathtaking backdrop is gorgeously hand painted, detailed and atmospheric tapestry of swirling colour, borderline abstract shapes and boldly audacious expressionism. The animals are vividly drawn with a touch of the surreal and the images and sound on display are dreamlike wonders of artistic creation. The world feels frightening, full of wonder, lived-in and soaked in ambience whether it’s overgrown forest thickets, arcing wheatgrass meadows, cluttered farmyard dwellings and even a brief trip to a nocturnal cityscape in a hellish flashback that holds the key to the story’s central mystery. This film is an unbelievable artistic achievement and benchmark in the medium of animation.
Kate Beckinsale roars back into action with Underworld: Evolution, a sequel that, like many follow ups, isn’t as structured or fresh as the first but still manages to be every inch as stylish, baroque and gorgeous looking as the other few in the series I’ve seen (I am making my way through a Blu Ray box set of all five films in their extended cut glory). The action takes up right where it left off; outcast warrior Selene (Beckinsale) has killed vamp elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) and ran off into the night with her halfbreed lover Michael (Scott Speedman) with monstrous final boss Marcus in hot pursuit. This provides one of the entire franchise’s most jaw dropping, visually dynamic action sequences as they careen down Vancouver’s Sea To Sky highway against a muted overcast sky in a big rig semi truck. Now Marcus (Tony Curran under a metric ton of makeup) is one of those snazzy Spawn-esque vamps who can fly and has extra razor sharp limbs and cool bodily accessories to help him fight, so basically he’s flying alongside them at a crazy speed attacking the truck while Selene empties clip after clip into his face from her semiautomatics before ploughing right into the Britannia Mine tunnels, it’s just an exhilarating, incredibly well shot action sequence and the highlight of the film. Also I’m a bit tired of American studios filming here and then trying to pass off my beautiful home province as some place in the states or wherever so from now on I’m just going to refer to any film shot in Vancouver as being set here as well. Anyways, this is a solid entry that benefits from Marcus as a formidable, physically ruthless villain and continues the ongoing trend of seasoned British stage actors cast as vampire elders, Derek Jacobi stepping in here for a mostly absent Bill Nighy. Not my favourite of the series that I’ve seen so far, but a solid entry with memorable set pieces including a snowy medieval prologue that sets the tone for Rise Of The Lycans, an impressive climax set atop a ruined mountain castle complete with hovering helicopters and that Sea To Sky truck chase is just one for the ages.
Those learning the craft of film-making nowadays shall have little to no experience with cutting film the old fashioned way. True – it was timing consuming, sometimes messy and fraught with peril – depending on your mastery. It was, however, also romantic. The trims at your feet, the smell of celluloid, the tactile nature of editing a movie . . . one splice at a time.
Mick’s a gentleman, aside from being and exceptional craftsman, and please do check out all the great work he is doing over at his family owned and operated venture Sprocket Rocket Soho. Mick is continuing to contribute, educate and bring together all those with a passion for telling stories via the moving image.