Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Movie Review: Song of the Sea

Unusually enough for me, I actually saw this film in a theater in one of the last weeks it was in DC (the Angelica Pop-Up which was a nice theater but in a borderline sketchy part of DC, got nervous when a bus passed me heading for Capitol Heights, you do not go to South-West DC if you can at all help it). I really wanted to make the effort to see it on a big screen considering how much I loved the visuals in The Secret of Kells which was also made by Tomm Moore/Cartoon Saloon and the art in the trailers for this film looked gorgeous. But actually watching it made me realize that seeing something on the big screen just isn't that much of an improvement for me, it was nice but I feel like I could've gotten the same impression if I had watched it on a nice tv back home.

Song of the Sea

In the quiet corners of the world there still is magic, not much but some. Ben and his sister Saoirse had a selkie for a mother so some of that magic still resides in Saoirse and other magical creatures of the world, benign and plotting, have realized this. It's only after the two of them are taken from the sea that they realize what an important role Saoirse has to play and must quickly return to sing the selkie song. 

To be blunt: this was a disappointment for me. When I saw The Secret of Kells I enjoyed every part of it from the art to the story, it was very much a film that a wide range of ages could enjoy (a family film) instead of a kids film. Here the art and the music were still very lovely but the plot was horrendous, it attempted to have elements of man vs monster and man vs nature where just one would have been sufficient, the characters felt overly simplistic, and Saoirse was no more than an object in the end. It felt like a film aimed at kids, not families which caught me off-guard since that wasn't how the advertising came off at all and I don't think that was the intent of the creators as well.

Those problems are all heavily intertwined so it's difficult to take them apart and look at them one by one, there's no single part of the movie that could have been changed and elevated it to masterpiece in my eyes. The first scene in the film was great and set up a cozy world with rounded characters but after that Ben, who is admittedly at an age where kids can be petulant for no logical reason, was completely unlikable for me even when he goes through his "hero's journey" and learns to appreciate his sister more (who he apparently blames for his mother's death but given the tonal contrast between that first scene where he was excited to have a sibling and the rest of the film it just felt off). The movie could have worked fine, or at least as "fine" as it did, if that was the main conflict of the story, that Ben and Saoirse have been dragged away from their home and need to get back to sing the selkie song, film might have been a bit short but would have held together as a complete story. Introducing the secondary conflict, with the witch-like Macha trying to steal away Saoirse, wasn't a bad idea but when it came time for that climax it didn't quite work. They tried to make Macha both sympathetic and villainous and couldn't mix together the right portions of each which, combined with the fact that after she was "defeated" it had no bearing on the final act of the film, made it seem a bit pointless.

But my biggest problem with the movie was one I articulated soon after I left the theater: Saoirse was never a character but an object. She could have been replaced by a magic flute and the story would have played out the exact same way: Ben is taken from the sea by his grandmother, escapes to try and make his way home, meets strange creatures on the journey, has the flute stolen and then rescues it, and then plays the flute at the end for all of its consequences. It's literally the exact same film and, given that Ben is the most important character in the film and that literally every other character is just an unrounded side character, means that it's lacking substantial female characters. The Secret of Kells was also short on female characters, once is an accident and twice means that someone just isn't thinking which is troubling. 

I also had a quibble about the art of the film; for me it's important that a film look great both in stills and in motion, that there is a reason why this is a film instead of a comic book. Here you get nearly the same experience from looking at a series of stills as you would from watching the movie, it was lovely to see the film done in an art style that isn't often used in feature films but that's a novelty, not a strong point. I did whole-heartedly enjoy the sound track however, that was worked into the movie very well and I immediately went looking for the OST once I was back from the theater. Unfortunately I didn't like the sound track as much on it's own but that's not a problem with the film,  just something odd.

In the end, if you are either a much more forgiving person that I am, absolutely convinced you need to see this movie for the visuals, or under age 11 then you should go see it since you already want to. Everyone else however, I just can't recommend it in good faith because the plot really was that clumsy.