“Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs” is the actual title of the film, but if you’re going to go see it, then go see “Ice Age 3!D!” as it should be called. Find a digital theater. Blue Sky is, just speaking on a technical level, exceptionally good at what they do. They do a lot of really sophisticated work building the world of the dinosaurs and a huge (pun intended) new cast, and the performance work by one character in particular is so good that I expect a new franchise will be born Monday morning.
As a film goes, it’s a gag reel, as you’d expect, with sentiment ladled on with two fists in a few places. It’s a Fox movie, through and through, but generally inoffensive fun. On the sliding scale of Fox movies, I’d say it’s going to generally satisfy most of the audiences that go this weekend.
I wasn’t screened the film by Fox. Instead, I went to the theater that’s about four minutes from my front door and saw the midnight show. I was surprised to see a fairly large crowd in the lobby, buying tickets. Heading in and down the hallway to the right. I had cut it fairly close to midnight on purpose, and I suddenly worried I wouldn’t get a seat. When the dude tore my ticket, he told me to go down the hall… to the left. Totally not where the large crowd all seemed to be going. The crowd was sort of a free-floating mass of dolled-up hot 20-year-olds and the irritated dudes with them. I stood for a moment to see where everyone was going, and I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked: “Public Enemies.” Fellas, buck up. Two hours of tragic Johnny Depp in love and dying at the end? You guys are getting laid tonight!
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My end of the theater was actually only about a quarter full when I took my seat, 3D glasses in hand. Young crowd. Not as young as it’ll be all weekend, but I’d say looking at who was there, it’ll do solid business with teenagers. It’s funny… when I was working in exhibition, teenagers did not go see Disney movies. When I was a teenager, before I worked in a theater, teenagers did not go see Disney movies. After about the age of ten, it was considered TRAGICALLY UNHIP to go see Walt Disney movies unless you had the excuse of a younger brother or sister, under the age of ten, who you “had” to go with. Then you could freely enjoy them. But today, teenagers drive business to movies like “Up” and “Ice Age” and “Bolt” just as much as kids and parents. These computer animated films have done the unthinkable and gotten teen audiences to accept them as cool entertainment. Well freakin’ played.
Couple of Fox trailers to start. The obvious ones. “Aliens In The Attic,” or “Home Alone” meets “Gremlins,” as I’m sure someone kept saying as they pushed it through the process. The Doris Roberts fight got huge laughs from the people behind me. I’m not remotely surprised. Then “Alvin Deux,” the so-called “squeakuel,” a marketing word so nauseatingly cute that just typing it trips my gag reflex. It’s one gag. The entire trailer. And there’s no punchline. Just a music cue. Have you seen it?
Title card: THEY’RE BACK. Alvin, Simon, Theodore walking down a hallway at school, talking about fitting in. They stop. Reverse angle. Three girl chipmunks closing their lockers at the same time. One for Simon, a brainy one for Simon, and a little chubby one for Theodore. And as a pop song plays, they look at each other with google eyes and sigh. Title card: DATE. SEE IT. YOU KNOW YOU’LL HAVE TO.
Wow. Okay. Then we got the 3D trailers. “A Chrismas Carol,” which got a really big reaction from the people in the theater. “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.” Toshi’s dying to see that one. “G-Force.” Ditto. James Bond hamsters? My kid’s in. I hadn’t seen a 3D version of that trailer before, though. It’s sort of awesome. There’s a trick they did that is subtle, but reeeeeeeally effective. The trailer is slightly letterboxed. I think people subconsciously just accept black bars on things at this point. And for the most part, it’s really letterboxed. But every now and then, to sell a gag in the trailer, something will extend out, past the edges of the letterboxing. It makes it look like things are leaving the frame. It’s fast. It’s almost subliminal. But it’s a great way to sell the gag, and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone do that before with 3D.
And then… the movie. Remember the “Alvin And The Chimpmunks 2: The Chipmunkening” trailer I described above? How the gag is the lovable logo characters of the franchise meeting female versions of thiemselves while a pop song plays to ironic effect? Well, that’s the exact same scene that opens “Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs,” too. And it was the teaser trailer for this film in the first place. Fox has a real thing for that idea. Did Garfield meet a female version of Garfield in “Garfield 2: Garfield Harder”? I’m still so busy savoring the first film that I haven’t wanted to get greedy and move on to the sequel yet, so I’m not sure, but I’ll bet he did. I wanna know who the Furry at Fox is… cause seriously, someone’s got something they’re working out.
The “Ice Age” films are structured with an emphasis on gag sequences over story, which is not to say they’re bad at story… just that they’re more interested in setting up and paying off elaborate gag sequences, like a series of individual Looney Tunes cartoons strung together with some recurring situations. And the film certainly never stops moving except for a few strategically placed pauses for breath. It’s all pretty routine stuff. There’s some cursory business at the beginning to drive the core characters Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (John Leguizamo) apart, and then a little more cursory business to get Sid kidnapped into the magical underground land of dinosaurs so everyone has to reunite to get him, and that’s pretty much it. Beyond that, it’s just gag, gag, gag, gag, sentiment, gag, gag, gag, gag, sentiment. I was surprised how many dick jokes there were… I think I counted five. There’s a way to make a film that plays to both young and old audiences without resorting to just plain dirty. Don’t get me wrong… it’s not “Bruno” or anything. It’s more lazy than it is upsetting.
The 3-D is well-utilitized, so there’s one thing to recommend, and Simon Pegg’s addition to the cast gives the film just enough energy to coast to the end. He plays Buck, a weasel who lives in the dinosaur world, who has gone completely insane and who lives like Rambo, like Errol Flynn with fur and a serious personality disorder. I think he’s going to be the thing that makes the film a word-of-mouth hit. Kids will sit up when he hits the screen, and even adults will laugh at a lot of wht he says and how he says it. Very nice combination of design and performance, and there are moments with him that belong in a better film.
I’m not sure there’s much gas left in the tank on this one, but I imagine Fox is already planning a fourth film and a fifth, and I’m sure this one will make fairly solid money over the long holiday weekend. I know Toshi’s desperate to see it, and although some of the action involving the dinosaurs might be a little scary for young moviegoers, depending on their tolerance level, I think Toshi’s going to get his wish sometime between now and his birthday on the 6th.
In general, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.
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