How to Train Your Dragon


Movie Previews: AKA What You Know Going Into a Story

3d_glassesThey’re everywhere. They’re in commercials and they’re all over the internet. They keep the movie you’re about to watch from starting for 15-20 minutes (unless you’re smart and show up 15-20 minutes late, like a certain Viking and Celt enjoy doing). And sometimes, previews do what they’re supposed to do, getting you excited about an upcoming movie. Frequently, though, you can wonder who put the darn thing together.

Like those stupid trailers that basically tell you the whole plot of the movie. Even if a story isn’t ruined for you if you know how it ends (there are apparently people like this–though I didn’t know there were until I met the Celt), this is just about the laziest way possible to make a preview. Cliffs Notes for the win, right? Because everyone reads those things because they’re entertaining…

Oh, and this approach forgets that a preview is supposed to be a preview… not a synopsis. Like this trailer I unfortunately saw once for Nicholas Sparks’s Safe Haven. You of course know what you’re in for with Nicholas Sparks, but come on. I know how the whole thing is going to go! What makes this even more annoying is that plot-focused trailers take the focus off the acting and the, you know, other important things that make a movie good. Plot’s nice and all, but it’s not the only thing to a story (although I will admit that the Safe Haven trailer does show off some well done cinematography).

The other thing to hate in trailers these days (or maybe the past ten years?) is how frenetic they can be. Of course, this style of trailer is common because studios want to build tension and a desire to see the story (and my heart can kind of go out to the editors that have to put these things together), but almost all of them throw a billion shots together in an effort to build up some kind of tension. This has even carried over into the action shots in movies themselves, and the result is more often a seasick mess than an actual, tension-filled moment.

Hmmm, that’s been a lot of complaining… so what do you like, Mr. Big Frickin’ Swede? Well, you pulled it out of me: I’ll tell you after the break.

(more…)


BFS Reviews: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

dragonOkay, so… I got a little excited two weeks ago when the Celt found a preview for How to Find Your Dragon 2. A little. I might have been a little un-Swedish. But here’s why.

Trying to tell a story that draws in adults and younger folk isn’t as easy as some think (both critics and creators). You can’t get too stupid (or adults AND kids will hate it), and you can’t get too cerebral or the kids (and let’s face it, many adults) will hate it. But How to Train Your Dragon finds this balance point and soars away with it.

The crazy thing about it is that this movie kind of snuck its way into the movie landscape. Unlike Pixar films that are fanfared and publicized well in advance (a very small teaser trailer for Brave was out at least a year before it hit the screens), I didn’t hear of this one until I saw a trailer a mere couple of months before it was released. And rather than try to give us the whole plot of the movie, the trailer did what the trailer released for its sequel did last week: evoke a feeling.

It’s essentially the moment seen in the poster in the upper right, but better. Dragons (and this dragon in particular) in the movie have up until now been unknown and powerful and dangerous–tapping into centuries of storytelling that have made dragons touchstones of mystery and magic. But, this moment posits, what if you could reach out and actually touch that mystery… and while you were doing that, what if that mystery decided it wanted to reach out to you as well?

Wow.

And this undercurrent is felt throughout the movie. Sure, there are some moments that are more kiddie or more obvious than I’d like (I wasn’t quite sure at first what to make of the voiceover used in the opening), but these shortcomings are buoyed by the undercurrent of magic and mystery, and completely erased by the strong story. We understand why Hiccup–the boy in the poster–reaches out to the dragon, but we also know what this is going to cost him personally. Dragons and humans just don’t mix, it’s been made clear, and there will be repercussions.

Another fine element of the film is that the adults are allowed to be smart. What a concept, I know, but one thing Roger Ebert frequently noted in the last couple of years (I am really going to miss reading that man’s reviews…) is how often adults are made to be stupid when kids or teens are the protagonists of a movie. But in How to Train your Dragon, Hiccup’s father has feelings that are clearly understood and valued just as much as Hiccup’s. He’s not one dimensional, either, changing in reaction to the events of the story: just as Hiccup is allowed to change. True, the adults can be silly at times, but so can the kids (and this movie knows when it needs to be silly and when it needs to be serious).

The movie doesn’t stop imploding typical Hollywood fare there, either. Its characters often aren’t… pretty. Stoick the Vast (Hiccup’s father) is a big, beefy Viking warrior in the classic sense. He doesn’t have slabs of muscle Hollywoodily stacked on top of more slabs of muscle. His arms are thick but not defined, and also clearly strong–not unlike some arms you’ll actually see in the real world. And his skin… his skin is a bit pale and freckled and ruddy, not unlike some other people you’ll see in the real world. How strange to see a bit of real proportion in a cartoon, eh?

So, this movie knows how to be real, knows when it needs to get serious, and knows when it needs to fly (something its upcoming sequel seems to be remembering as well). Not every movie knows how to do that, so it’s a real treat when one does–if you haven’t seen this one already, you should.


Dreams Can Come True: Taking Flight With How to Train Your Dragon 2

*takes a deep breath* Keep calm, Swede. Keep calm–you can do this.
“Wooooooot!”
I said keep calm!
“Sorry.” *sits* “Ohmygoshthisisfantabulisticallyawesome! Yeeeeess!”
You’re totally ruining your image, dude.
“I have a Viking avatar with glasses. I’m way past hip–though hopefully I’m somewhere near endearing. And even if I’m not… thisisthecoolestthingsinceever!”
Tsk. There’s just no helping some people. *walks off in disgust*

It’s pointless to resist. If you’re a fan of How to Train Your Dragon (and if you aren’t yet,why aren’t you?), you are or you will be excited by this trailer, released late last week by Dreamworks. One of the finest animated films I’ve ever seen is getting sequeled.

What’s exciting is not just the sequel treatment. Let’s face it, that doesn’t always work well. It’s what you can see in the trailer. It’s not one of those trailers that stupidly reveals everything about the story–it conveys the feeling of the film, and in doing so, the makers show they know what made the first film great. The flight scenes in the first movie still give me tingles and the trailer delivers that feeling in spades.

More, it seems the film makers are moving the story forward. The main character is older than he was in the first movie, so hopefully this means they’re not going to simply rehash what the first movie did (as much as I enjoy Toy Story 2 and 3, there are elements of rehashed themes in both). Sequels are harder to do than people think, and there is enough there to make me hope.

And to watch the first movie again (like The Celt and I did this afternoon) because we can’t wait for whenever the heck this thing is going to come out.