The first 40 minutes or so of Wall-E—in which barely any dialogue is spoken, and almost no human figures appear on screen—is a cinematic poem of such wit and beauty that its darker implications may take a while to sink in. The scene is an intricately rendered city, bristling with skyscrapers but bereft of any inhabitants apart from a battered, industrious robot and his loyal cockroach sidekick.
We’ve grown accustomed to expecting surprises from Pixar, but Wall-E surely breaks new ground. It gives us a G-rated, computer-generated cartoon vision of our own potential extinction.
Wall-E falls in love with Eve, a research probe
Not that Wall-E is all gloom and doom. It is, undoubtedly, an earnest (though far from simplistic) ecological parable, but it is also a disarmingly sweet and simple love story, Chaplinesque in its emotional purity. On another level, it’s a bit of a sci-fi geek-fest, alluding to everything from 2001 and the Alien pictures (via a Sigourney Weaver voice cameo) to Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out. But the movie it refers to most insistently and overtly is, of all things, Hello, Dolly! That old, half-forgotten musical, with its Jerry Herman lyrics crooned by, among others, Louis Armstrong, is also among Wall-E’s mementos of, well, us. He is a dented little workhorse who, having outlasted his planned obsolescence, spends his days in the Sisyphean, mechanical labour of gathering and compacting garbage. His name is an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class.
Observing Wall-E’s surroundings, the audience gleans that, in some bygone time, a conglomerate called BnL (for “Buy N Large”) filled the earth with megastores and tons of garbage. Eventually, the corporation loaded its customers on to a space station where they evolved into fat, lazy leisure addicts serviced by a new generation of machines. One of these, a research probe named Eve, drops to Earth and wins Wall-E’s heart.
The residents of the space station, accustomed to being tended to by industrious robots, resemble giant babies. But as they cruise around on reclining chairs, taking in calories from giant cups, these overgrown space babies also look like moviegoers at a multiplex. They’re us, in other words. And like us, they’re not all bad. The paradox at the heart of Wall-E is that the drive to invent new things and improve the old ones creates the potential for disaster, and also the possible path away from it.
The money shot in Wanted appears in the opening minutes of this noisy shoot-’em-up with Angelina Jolie, her many tattoos and some guys. A man has soared on to the roof of a high-rise where he has laid a handful of others to waste. Suddenly the camera cuts to his face as a bullet exits his forehead in slow motion, his skin stretching forward as the projectile tears through it, going straight for the camera and our already numbed skulls.
Wanted is based on a comic book series
That’s one way to get the attention of moviegoers, particularly if, like the director Timur Bekmambetov, you’ve got nothing else going for your Hollywood debut except Jolie and ideas recycled from The Matrix and Fight Club .
Beating down the audience is what the crudest entertainments tries to do, and in this respect, and in every other, Wanted is nothing new. And Bekmambetov, a Russian film-maker who has earned a cult following with his razzly-dazzly thrillers Day Watch and Night Watch, proves here that he knows how to use every blunt tool of the bullying trade.
The basic story, culled from a comic-book series, revolves around a pusillanimous cubicle drone named Wesley (James McAvoy, going for cheeky and packing new muscle) who, at least in the movie, has been conceptualized along the same Everyman lines as Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club. Both have soul-sucking jobs, self-mocking voice-overs and a glamorous comrade in violence who ushers them into thrilling worlds of excitement and life-altering action, except that Norton’s friend is played by Brad Pitt, and McAvoy’s friend is played by Jolie, which, for about a millisecond, makes this sound far more interesting than what actually materializes on screen.
Wall-E and Wanted released in Mumbai and Delhi on Friday.
©2008/The New York Times
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