Go See How To Train Your Dragon!

Look, I see a lot of films, and I like a whole bunch of them. But never do I unabashedly rave about things, so believe me when I say this is important:

Go see How To Train Your Dragon. Right now.


It finally justifies the money being thrown by studios (and audiences) at 3D technology. It makes me realize why people love roller coasters (I have a weak stomach for that stuff). It's thrilling, it's touching- it's about eight billion times better than Avatar. Yeah. Clearly Cameron and co. pioneered live-action 3D shooting, and 3D as a hugely successful business model, but you can't buy heart and you can't force thrills.

The comparison is inevitable- much of the action sequences in Avatar involve the main character riding on a dragon-like winged creature, but the cinematography in Dragon finds a way to take us up in the air for the ride- Avatar was looking for ways to flaunt itself and its world. It's the difference between "Hey look at this flying thing! Isn't it neat?" and "WE'RE GOING TO HIT THE GROUND!"

The story helps, of course. People said Avatar was like being fifteen again, dazzled by the wonder of cinema, but there was a dourness and self-seriousness to it that prevented me from getting swept away -it didn't help that it was hopelessly out of touch, painting ridiculously broad strokes. Dragon is simple and compelling- all it takes is a dragon that's more instantly personifiable than Wall-E.

Nearly every other part is done right: there's none of the Shrek and Madagascar winking pop-culture references (though there's a funny moment when the dragon tries to smile that I hope is a self-referential gag about the Dreamworks Animation Face). The voice cast mostly makes sense- Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson as Scottish-brogued Vikings and Jay Baruchel as the awkward hero (America Ferrera doesn't bring much, nor take away anything- other than a job from a voice actress). The familiar father/son conflict is undercut by genuine warmth and humor, in particular the other misfit dragon-fighter trainees.

The dragons themselves are elaborate and wildly varied, the humans expressive and not too uncanny. It's a snappy hour forty pace. John Powell's score is solid if not spectacular (though I loved it in the early meeting-the-dragon scenes). And the palette of the film seems more photorealistic than any earlier CGI effort, maybe because the filmmakers brought in eight time Oscar nominated cinematographer ROGER F*CKING DEAKINS to coordinate lighting.

Hell, even the song during the credits was fantastic:

I wish I could say that this signals a change in the Dreamworks Animation brand, moving toward films with more heart and less forgettable mugging. But since their release schedule contains a fourth Shrek, a Shrek spinoff, and the completely unnecessary Madagascar 3, I wouldn't hold out hope. It's fair to point out that there's a Kung Fu Panda sequel coming, and Dreamworks does distribute Aardman projects in the US (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit), so it's not all a loss.

So go see How To Train Your Dragon in Digital 3D (IMAX 3D you can't turn your head from side to side) and welcome the new era of cinema. I know there are things that will replicate 3D for the home theater, but there won't be anything like seeing this in person for a while. This must be what it was like before home video.

I think I might go again tomorrow.

1 Response to "Go See How To Train Your Dragon!"

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