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Posted: June 10, 2009

Dave on film: Of balloons and scatological dinosaurs

Reviews of "Land of the Lost" and "Up"

Dave Taylor

It’s the beginning of the summer movie season, even if we Coloradoans are starting to wonder if we had a weather transplant and are stuck with Seattle summer. That means that there's a never-ending stream of big budget films and a couple of huge movies, which are what they in the industry call “tentpole” films (they prop up the studio. Get it?).  Sadly, though, lots of money has never been a guarantee of a great film and this summer will doubtless prove that true again.

"Land of the Lost"

I was born in the 60s so I pretty much grew up on the weird, innocent joys of Saturday morning television, including Sid and Marty Krofft’s two big hits, "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Land of the Lost." Both were daft, but they were sweet and harmless oddities. Apparently the years have not been entirely kind to the Krofft brothers and when comedic star Will Ferrell suggested a cinematic remake of “Land of the Lost,” they not only agreed, they produced the film.

The storyline? There isn’t really much of one, but it’s something about a tachyon amplifier that Ferrell invents to tap into the limitless energy of alternative dimensions, just to find that he, assistant Anna Friel and redneck Danny McBrideas are whisked away to an alternative dimension that might be some sort of Bermuda Triangle-esque place, but isn’t explained at all. They have various adventures, but it’s pretty incoherent and about as raunchy as they can get away with.

And, oh, what a bad film they’ve made. Big budget, terrific sets, good special effects and even some very amusing scenes, but add it all up, throw in far more scatological humor, crass jokes and have the female lead (Anna Friel) be molested again and again for “comic value” and it just doesn’t add up to a movie I can recommend to anyone, let alone children. Skip it. Even on DVD.

"Up"

Pixar has ushered in a new era of animated movie, films that aren’t feature-length children’s cartoons but are instead full cinematic experiences with complex characters, interesting storylines and plausible stories. "Up" joins these rarified ranks and, told in two parts, has some passages that are as sweet, evocative and touching as anything you’ll see on a theater screen this summer. The story is of a couple of childhood sweethearts who meet, get married, find they can’t have children and grow old together. She dies and he (the voice of Ed Asner) is left lonely and alone in their house. About to be taken to a retirement home, he instead fills thousands of balloons with helium and literally floats away, seeking to fulfill his departed wife’s dream of them living in the remote South American location of Paradise Falls.

Along the way he finds that earnest and awkward young boy Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) has ended up along for the ride, and the two of them forge a gradual bond as they share in the adventures of the film. Christopher Plummer voices Charles Muntz, the antagonist, in a role that’s surprisingly evil and unrepentant. Spoiler alert: In a twist that surprised me, Muntz is killed off at the end of the movie. Yes, and it’s a family movie.

I really enjoyed "Up" and found it far more touching than I expected. It’s not a great film and there are some problems with the story, but if you have children who are already theater-savvy and enjoy big screen adventures, I recommend it. Just bring some Kleenex with you.

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Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at  www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at taylor@intuitive.com.

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