Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs

Along with the new Cinematic Titanic, Matt Groening, David X. Cohen and company have released the second of the Futurama movies this week.

Massively disappointing.

I had trouble staying awake.

It’s gorgeous, aside from a few weird animation artifacts (out-of-synch dialog, e.g.) and the premise is reasonably amusing: The tear in the universe created in the previous movie Bender’s Big Score has allowed a large, tentacly universe-monster to invade us.

The opening is great, too, featuring a “Steamboat Willie”-style rendition of the cast, and there are a lot of amusing ideas. But I didn’t laugh. None of us laughed. I got a couple chuckles. And it seemed like it went on and on and on.

Also, one of the characters is killed and we all knew they’d bring him back, which they did in a not particularly interesting way. One of the funniest gags was the recycled Bender “dropping” bricks joke. There was no music, which is okay, but…where were the jokes? I mean, yeah, there’s the smelloscope, the Wernstrom rivalry, the squishy Kif, etc., but we’ve seen these gags many times before, and they only elicit smiles at this point.

Also, while one could argue that the last movie was overly sentimental, this one involved the population of the universe falling in love with a creepy tentacle being (voiced by David Cross), which is sort of alienating. So, no yuks and no emotional attachment = boredom.

Sigh. Ah, well, time to re-watch The Doomsday Machine.

Cinematic Titanic Sinks Again! The Doomsday Machine

Update and bump: See the comments for more information on Rifftrax, which I may have misrepresented in my description. Conor from RT sets me straight.

So, I finally
got the DVD for the latest Cinematic Titanic experiment. I so wanted to go to the live show which was playing at the Ford Theater here, but the tickets sold out lightning fast. With any luck, the fact that they’re recording nearby will mean that they have more live shows in the area.

What’s especially cool about this one, delayed though it be, is the sense I got that the CT crew was actually listening to me. Well, not just me. (Hey, why not just me? I’m the god! I’M THE GOD!!!) But I suspect some others had similar complaints and they responded.

To wit: The show opens with the five cast members (Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu and Mary Jo Pehl) silhouetted, as before, but now with their picture underneath briefly as they speak. It’s a little thing, but it helps.

The sound mixing is awesome. That whole problem with MST3K, where you had to crank up your TV just to hear the movie and the riffing, then got blasted by a commercial–okay, you don’t get blasted on the MST3K DVDs, but there’s still a lot of noise–that’s just plain gone. I don’t know if I mentioned it last time, but this time was even clearer, if that’s possible.

And Mary Jo Pehl just comes alive on this feature. I was somewhat concerned on the first episode. She didn’t seem to have much riffing time. In this one, she scores more than a few good shots.

Finally, there’s a backstory of some sort. There was just a teaser for it this time, but it seems as though our five heroes have been snatched by future people (in the future!) and are watching bad movies to…uh…save the earth or the space-time continuum, or somesuch. This provides a pretty good setup for a “Thunderdome” joke–and, by the way, forced perspective works wonders when you’re dealing with silhouettes–and will, I think provide more opportunities for insanity in the future.

I mean, as fun as the movie riffing is, one of the problems that occurred during the original show is that the movies are so bad, you literally start hoping for some sort of break. And with no commercials, the only breaks here are when they stop the movie to discuss something.

That aspect, by the way, of stopping the movie to discuss things worked way better this time.

This movie was one of those movies. Not all of it. It starts out deliriously goofy. The opening scene is, I’m sure, from a completely different movie (a Japanese spy flick?), and then, about 10-15 minutes before where a good movie would have had its climax, it once again goes to a completely different movie.

What actually happened was that the movie was filmed in the late ‘60s, ran out of money, and then resumed shooting five years later, with none of the original actors. I’m not making this up. The movie just grinds to an absolute, merciless halt. The riffing is inspired, but it’s still hard to watch.

One of the all time greatest MST3K episodes was based on Manos: The Hands of Fate, which was similarly hard to watch. I had to see it several times before the pain stopped and I could learn to laugh–and love–again.

This kind of raises an issue I have maintained for years: That it’s equally easy (if not easier) to riff on good movies. Riffing on Citizen Kane, for example, would be hilarious. I think Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy, and some of the other MST3K guys do that on Rifftrax. (They’ve got Alien, 300 and The Sixth Sense, for example, up there.) I’ve never used Rifftrax because it seems too complicated and it’s got “digitial rights management” (DRM). Yeah, just what I need: A computer to tell me I don’t have the right to watch what I’ve just paid for.

Also, confronted with quality movies being riffed on suddenly doesn’t seem as interesting in practice as it sounded in theory. I don’t know why.

In any event, there’s the sheer joy of the low-budget film watching. The cardboard tombstones, the lizards being shoved into tiny models, or, in the case of this movie, the high-school gymnasium converted to serve as the inside of a very small spaceship. Said spaceship itself taking the form of five different models during the movie.

Rambling aside, this is a strong episode. It opens fast and funny, has some callbacks to familiar friends (“Don’t ever look at me!!”), works well with the new set (like Josh reacting to being “splashed” with water, or walking off the set to be replaced with a completely different actor), and just plain feels right. The real problem they’re going to have is keeping up with my expectations.

And CT assures me it won’t be four months till the next one, so, yeah: Life is sweet.

Kung Fu Panda Express

The Flower wanted to see Kung Fu Panda and, though The Boy had resisted it, he came along with us. We had dinner out first which is always fun. I’m not sure why, except that my kids are very polite and also really enjoy it, but it’s just a blast to take them out. The Flower didn’t even eat anything, but she colored the menu and did the word search.

The movie itself? Well, Dreamworks is about the only studio that can hold a candle to Pixar in terms of animation quality. They’re also real hit-and-mostly-miss as far as story goes. (Sorry, but while I’ve enjoyed the Shrek movies, they’re horribly clich├ęd and don’t really stand the test of time. They’re too busy being hip.) KFP is similarly shallow–though not as tragically hip–but with some excellent choices made that buoy it up well past the usual kiddie fare.

The artwork is truly exquisite. There’s a wonderful blend of more typical CGI with a heavy eastern influence. Mulan did this well, too, but it’s more in-your-face here. And it works, even though this is a light comedy film, there’s no attempt to convey “wackiness” with the artwork.

The story concerns a panda named Po, who works with his father (a duck!) in their ancestral noodle house, but dreams of being a kung fu master. Not just a kung fu master but the kung fu master, revered by the Fighting Five. (Of course, rather than just adhere to certain fighting styles, the Fighting Five actually are the animals of those styles: tiger, crane, mantis, monkey and snake.)

Predictably, he is the kung fu master and just as predictably, he struggles through training until he blah blah blah. You know the drill. Not really the point. Every one of these movies (like this year’s Forbidden Kingdom) has to have a transformation scene where the hapless would-be kung-fu-er finds his strength in some (hopefully meaningful) way, and this movie’s approach is quite amusing and clever.

As is the whole movie. Jack Black is eminently likable, as usual, and the jokes and action were good enough to keep The Flower from too much fidgeting.

I, of course, spent the whole movie going…“Who is that?” I identified Dustin Hoffman (the master, some kind lemur-like creature) and Seth Rogen (as the Mantis) right away. Oh, and James Hong, the 50+ year veteran of TV and film, of whom everyone says “who?” when I say his name, but “Oh! That guy!” when I mention that he was on “Kung Fu” or in Big Trouble In Little China, or any of literally hundreds of other shows and movies. Wayne Knight and Michael Clarke Duncan were instantly recognizable as well.

Ian McShane (“Deadwood”, the evil tiger in this movie), I couldn’t place my finger on. David Cross (who was the Crane) drove me nuts, as his voice is very familiar, and I’m a big fan of “Mr Show”. I don’t even recognize women’s voices, honestly. Dunno why, but I didn’t place Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu or Laura Kightlinger at all. (OK, Kightlinger doesn’t have a lot of lines but I used to watch her on “Stand Up Stand Up” in the ‘90s all the time.)

Anyway, with the exception of Black–and Hoffman does all right, though he’s soooo restrained and it carries through–everyone else is disposable and feels like they got their parts out of a grab bag. (Isn’t that what they do now? Put a bunch of celebs’ names into a hat and say, “Who shall we pick for this role?”) Don’t get me wrong, they all do well, but they all could’ve been scrambled and put in different roles, too.

But not the Jables. Don’t believe me? Check out Along Came Polly sometime. Philp Seymour Hoffman is basically doing Jack Black. And while PSH is a fine actor–well, that’s what he is. Jack Black has star quality: Whether or not he can act is a separate issue, and PSH doubtless has the greater range, but if you’re going to be a disgusting slob, as in Along Came Polly, you better bring the charisma, too. They oughtta reshoot that movie and digitally put Black in there.

Similarly, this part requires a completely sincere expression of highly nerdy enthusiasm that is more lovable than off-putting, and JB is one of the few guys who seems to actually have that in him. A complete unselfconsciousness. He throws a role to his Tenacious D bandmate Kyle Gass and maybe had something to do with David Cross being in the show, since Mr. Show was a big part of JB’s climb to glory.

But I digress. Ultimately, this was a funny, fast-paced and beautiful flick I won’t mind watching again. (That’s the greatest thing animated film producers can do for parents: Make movies that don’t make you want to stab your eyes out on multiple viewings.) Unlike Dreamworks’ other stuff, I think this one may hold up.

Even The Boy enjoyed it, and thought they struck the right balance between too serious and too silly.

Incredibly, New Hulk Gets It Right

Sometimes I feel like an Ang Lee apologist and I’m not really sure why. Sense and Sensibility was a great film, but it was material that was distinctly suited to Lee’s style. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon while beautifully shot and quiet poetic was, let’s face it, overlong and even rather dull at times. His Hulk movie is a spectacular failure, worth re-watching just to try to figure out why it completely fails to engage.

Sorta like Kubrick, I’ve figured that you have to be in the right mood to enjoy a Lee film. I haven’t really been in the mood since Hulk. Can’t say I’ve been in the mood for another Hulk movie, either.

But you sort of instinctively know that a movie directed by Louis Leterrier (of the Transporter series) is going to be a lot more watchable, just as you surely know that some critics are going to review it negatively because Lee is a darling of the critic set.

Rest assured, however, that this new movie is not just a little better, it’s a lot better.

It starts by ignoring the first film completely. The set-up is done in the opening credits, so the movie starts with Bruce Banner on the run in Brazil, trying to find a cure. The first action sequence is actually a foot race with Banner (played by Ed Norton) running from a military squad sent to capture him.

When Banner finally transforms, it takes place in shadows and we never get a clear view of The Hulk. Smart move. The first film’s CGI was a definite weak spot, with the Hulk appearing almost weightless and never really feeling integrated with the live portion of the scene.

Later, we do get clearer views of The Hulk and–well, it’s CGI, so whaddayawant? But major flaws have been corrected: The Hulk looks to have some real mass, he’s not day-glo green, and he’s not cute. This keeps the bottom from dropping out on you while you watch it. Even the final battle, which has two CGI characters battling it out in NYC works fairly well, considering.

The story is brisk and clear: Banner is trying to cure his condition, on the run from evil General Ross (played by William Hurt) who just happens to be the father of his girlfriend (Liv Tyler). Meanwhile, mercenary soldier Blonsky (Tim Roth) covets The Hulk’s incredible powers, and mad scientist-ish Samuel Stearns (Tim Blake Nelson) might be able to cure–or cause–said powers.

Good, solid comic book fun with a good, solid cast. Hurt’s performance doesn’t quite measure up to Bridges’ in Iron Man, though I did have a similar experience of identifying him by his voice rather than appearance. (He doesn’t look so different but it’s out of type.) Similarly I’ve heard some unfavorable comparisons between Tyler and the original film’s Jennifer Connelly. I don’t envy any actress having to follow Connelly but Tyler has a sort of plaintive look that fits pretty well.

Norton’s kind of a sad sack, too, so that works out. Roth is a little scrawny for a super-villain, but they sort of work the fact that he’s playing a guy almost ten years younger into the plot. And he does the ambition-driven villain thing well. Tim Blake Nelson turns in a great performance as the mad-scientist-ish guy (though he’ll forever be Delmar to me), and he’s set up to be a super-villain in a later film.

To top it all off, the action is really pretty good. The Boy approved, and he’s a hard-ass about this stuff. The bullets look like they hurt even if they don’t harm The Hulk. The movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that The Hulk is killing, though it doesn’t dwell on it either.

And it doesn’t get over serious.

Is it perfect? Well, there’s a weird anti-military thing going on, which is just a common ‘50s and ’60s trope. The anti-science thing is a little weirder: Stearns wants to use Banner’s blood to create a disease-free world, and Banner’s so determined to not have it be used as a weapon, he rejects the notion outright. (How is it that super-scientists are so unprepared for the consequences of their actions? )

This touches on a tangential point that is more stylistic than anything else. I’ve never read The Hulk (I was a DC kid) but I sort of thought the point was that Banner had a terrible temper. It’s an intriguing super-hero concept and a great power-fantasy, best epitomized by Ben Stiller’s performance as “Mr. Furious” in Mystery Men. (We all like to think our rage is powerful when mostly we just look goofy.)

The struggle between this flaw and the power it gives him should create a more involving dichotomy. To the film’s credit, it’s central to Banner’s motivations but it doesn’t really resonate. And, in fairness, I’m told the film was cut way down, which I can appreciate, and in the end it’s nit-picking.

We got a good, fun, funny, and fast-paced Hulk flick. That’s something to be grateful for.

Indiana Jones and the Walker of Impending Mortality

I am precisely the wrong sort of person to gauge the relative merits of the new Indiana Jones movie relative to the others. (Also, Star Wars.) When I saw the first movie, I was enjoying it, I was having a good time, and then Harrison Ford rode a submarine across the Atlantic.

I realized later that with Indy (and Star Wars), Lucas and Spielberg were trying to recapture the magic of the serials of their youth. Those serials, of course, blew rotten monkey chunks. Even Fritz Lang’s seminal, incomplete serial “The Spiders” isn’t very good. And my beloved Flash Gordon serials, while they hold up relatively well, are still pretty high camp.

So, I hated the original Ark (just like I hated the first Star Wars) and then later re-adjusted my view based on a new understanding that these were, essentially, kiddie flicks. Different standards applied. So I enjoyed the heck out of Temple of Doom–and people hated that one. I thought Last Crusade was okay, but mostly for Sean Connery. (The same thing happened to me with the second set of Star Wars. I liked Phantom Menace the best–I’ve actually written in defense of Jar Jar Binks!–and the other two hardly at all. Though I admit to a real feeling of relief at the end of Sith. It’s over! I don’t have to see any more!)

So, dragged to #4 in the Indy films, my feeling was that it was…so-so. It’s buoyed considerably by the return of Karen Allen to the series, and Shia Le Beouf really isn’t bad in his amusing parodic Marlon Brando style. Without a doubt, Ford’s age impacts your viewing. I mean, he wasn’t really a young man (nearly 40!) for the first film, but at 65, you wanna chide the villains for punching a senior citizen.

Also, if you’re 25 and run hunched over, it looks like you’re avoiding attacks. If you’re 65 and run hunched over, it looks like you need a walker.

Anyway, the killer for me with these films is that there’s never any jeopardy to the hero. Now, in point of fact, there can’t be too much actual danger to the hero–that’s against the formula. Nobody wants to see Indy (or Superman or Spiderman or Luke Skywalker) die. But a skillful approach makes you forget that. There are moments in Raiders–right up to the submarine ride–where you get the impression that something bad could happen to Indy.

This movie opens up with Indy surviving an atomic blast at ground zero by hiding in a (fake, even!) refrigerator. I realized about the time that the party goes over the first (of three) waterfalls, that I didn’t feel any suspense because not only was it obvious the characters were not imperiled, the characters acted like they knew they were not imperiled.

Superman is (dramatically speaking) one of the most difficult characters to write for, if you keep true to his roots. He’s literally invulnerable, and his morals are flawless. But comic writers and the Salkinds and Donner in the ‘70s, have managed more-or-less, off-and-on.

Part of Indy’s appeal is that he’s not Superman, but check it: In the waterfall scene, it’s not just he who goes over increasingly larger waterfalls, it’s him, Shia LeBeouf (OK, Shia’s filled out, looking buff), the 57 year old Karen Allen, and the 68-year-old-probably-playing-older John Hurt. And they all emerge without a scratch.

The score holds up pretty well.

I didn’t hate it. I was only bored in a few parts. Probably less than the beloved Crusade. Way more than Doom which (if memory serves) at least had a lot of unexpected stunts.

But I’m getting a “Worst. Indy. Ever.” vibe off of people who really dug the first three (or at least #1 and #3) so I’m not the person to ask.

As I noted up front.

Son of Rambow

In a forehead slapping moment half-way through Son of Rambow, a character pulls out a cell-phone the size of a toaster, and I realized it took place in 1983. Seriously, up until that moment, I had sort of vaguely wondered what time period it was supposed to take place in, with a sort of half-conscious amusement at these kids dressing like Boy George and drinking Coke while eating Pop Rocks.

The anchor for the film is a Brit show called “Screen Test”, which I think went off the air in ‘84, so that would’ve been a clew for them. (There was an unrelated game show in the US in the mid-’70s called “Don Adams’ Screen Test” but who remembers that?)

Anyway, the story concerns a young Christian boy, Will, (a Mennonite?) who takes up with Simpson-esque troublemaker Lee Carter to film a short for the show “Screen Test”. Since the only video Will has ever seen is “First Blood”, he wants to make their film The Son of Rambow. This results in a number of amusing montages, and a strange new popularity among the kids at school for Will.

It’s a cute coming-of-age film, without the resonance of a classic like Stand By Me,
though with some oddities. For example, Will is supposed to belong to this Christian group but none of its morality seems to have touched him at all. He lies and steals fairly casually. This doesn’t really fit in with what I’ve seen with kids raised in similar faiths. There is some question as to how long they’ve been members of the church, though. In any case, it raises the question but doesn’t really answer it.

Still, the ending seems to work well, and the ride is pleasant; I was actually a bit surprised it didn’t last longer at the theater, but that may have been because of the influx of summer films. It may re-emerge in the fall.

Refuseniks

So, The Boy and I ended up doing a double-feature last week of two movies that weren’t going to be around after the Friday turnover. The first movie we saw was the documentary on Soviet Jews who were denied egress to Israel. The “Refuseniks”.

This is a classic case of a documentary with really outstanding material in an unfocused presentation.

The basic premise is solid: Jews–highly discriminated against in the Workers’ Paradise–tried to get out of the USSR and to Israel after WWII. As soon as you applied to leave, however, you were fired from your job. At the same time, you were not necessarily allowed to leave.

Both the anti-semitism and the “refusenik” stuff was largely ignored by the western Jewish establishment until some desperate Jews attempted unsuccessfully to hijack a plane, even though a grass roots movement had been brewing for years.

The main-ish focus of this movie is on a couple who were 17 years “Refuseniks” and how they finally got free.

I wish I could tell you more about this couple but we didn’t really learn that much about them. I don’t know how they survived those 17 years. Apparently some lower level work was available, but I don’t know if that’s how they did it, or if they had benefactors of some sort, or what.

There were all kinds of interesting bits of data in this, but nothing too cohesive. (Other than “Life in the USSR was bad, mm-kay?”) They particular dropped the ball when discussing why the American Jewish community–the establishment, not the grass-roots–was so unwilling to do or say anything. It took a hijacking to get their attention.

The guy representing the community made a really stupid, self-serving statement that it was because the Soviet Jews, by risking their lives, had proven they were really serious about getting out, and that up till then they couldn’t do it alone. “Yes, we were just waiting here, silently, almost as if in complete approval, until we couldn’t pretend it wasn’t happening any more.”

My wild-ass guess would be that Jews in this country have always been fairly positive toward socialism in its various forms, and that that particular intellectual vanity trumped their concern for fellow Jews. But that’s just my WAG. We never get told.

The movie suffers at a result. Despite all the historical highs and lows it touches on, there’s never any real focus to the two hours, and it gets a little hard to sit through after about 90 minutes. Worth watching, but maybe worth breaking up in to several viewing periods.

Strangers In A Familiar Land

Update for Ace of Spadesers: Thanks for clicking through and thanks to Ace for the link. You can click on the poorly maintained “reviews” keyword below to see some other bits of criticism I’ve written (mostly movies, some books, the occasional game). I do quite a bit of horror, so you might look at that and also post-apocalypse stuff is big. Still, some prefer the pointy breasts (start at the bottom of that link if you want to see how it all got started). Also, there’s a little slice-of-life series called Conversations from the Living Room. Thanks for stopping by!



I am adding
the following annotation to my will:

Should I die in mysterious and violent circumstances, please do not allow them to portray me as a jackass in the horror movie portrayal of my final hours.

We went to The Strangers today which was “inspired by true events”. Since the entire movie takes place virtually without any interaction with anyone with any insight into what could have happened, what we have is a broad imaginary reconstruction between two real bookends, as we’ve seen before, many, many times.

Actually, in this case, the story is entirely fictitious, except that some people, somewhere, at some time, have been terrorized during home invasions.

That said, this a pretty good entry in the home invasion genre.

Now, the home invasion picture is usually an unpleasant affair: A gang of thugs invades some poor middle class (usually; occasionally wealthy people are the target) and the next 60 minutes are spent torturing and humiliating the poor bastards. Sometimes, at the end of the movie, a woman is offered a chance at revenge.

Nasty business, where the only suspense comes from wondering what horrid thing will happen next. (The quintessential such movie is Wes Craven’s execrable Last House on the Left.)

In The Strangers, however, the villains break a lot of rules. While no actual home invasion would miss these rules, the action is the better for it. Instead of subduing them, the three psychos terrorize them for the bulk of the movie.

Some good starts, nice atmosphere, creepy moments, even if it all feels sort of familiar.

So, what about the stupid parts? Well, at one point, the victims have a fully operable shotgun with lots of shells. At that point, you know, it should’ve been game over. The characters’ behavior wasn’t unbelievable, but it was stupid.

The other dumb thing is that, after the bad guys have demonstrated an ability to show up inside the house and move through it silently–whenever they feel like!–the man goes off to do something and tells the woman to stay behind, and he takes the gun with him! This one is a little less believable.

Overall, a watchable flick. Though it did strike me while watching it that horror movies, in particular, are far more effective in the theater. The lead couple (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) do a good job, and the movie comes in at a brisk 80 minutes or so.

So good work to Brian Bertino. But don’t let them make a movie like this about me.

Pride before “The Fall”

I’ve compared Tarsem’s mixedly-reviewed film The Cell to one of my low budget favorites, Huyck and Katz’s Dead People. (Huyck and Katz would later go on to write Howard The Duck!) Dead People is a movie of strikingly disturbing visuals which fail to be tied together by a plot that is both incomprehensible and banal.

The Cell is similarly full of striking imagery, allegedly in the service of a murder mystery that is so weak, it’s transparently a flimsy excuse for the visuals. It’s the equivalent of the plot in a porn movie.

I wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to see The Fall, therefore, but The Boy picked it and Althouse’s review gave me some hope. In this movie, an East Indian child with a broken arm is being told a story by an injured, heartbroken stuntman whose motivation is to entice the child to get him enough morphine to kill himself.

The story is, as a result, disjointed and internally incoherent–but it works this time for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it works as a reflection of the reality of the main story. The man and the little girl both inform the story with their understanding of each other. This is what actually provides a lot of the tension.

Perhaps the main reason, however, is that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, after all, being told to–and envisioned by–a little girl (as opposed to being the inner workings of a serial killer, as with The Cell) and this allows the costumes to be rather outrageous and colorful, with the expectation that the audience will laugh at certain things.

There is a Princess Bride vibe, as Althouse (and I think Ebert) noted, though the suicide/whimsy combination also evoked for me The Little Prince. In fact, this could be a good kids’ movie, except for the fact that the director needs blood to color some of the scenes (which I don’t consider that big a deal) and for the climax, which features a number of deaths that might be upsetting. (There’s a shot, too, where the little girl is watching two people have sex. We don’t see it; we’re watching her watch it, and we hear the sounds.)

But the “R” rating is harsh, to say the least. I mean, I suppose it’s a little intense, adult theme-y and all that. But the MPAA may have been reflecting on Tarsem’s previous film. They do that sort of thing.

Now, as to the visuals themsselves. I am not, like Althouse, averse to CGI. It can be poorly done, and is, a lot. It can be overdone–and is, a lot. But I love Pixar, the first Jurassic Park and movies like Master and Commander, where it’s hard to tell where the CGI is.

But compare, some time, if you can stand to, the first two (recent) Mummy pictures. Both use CGI by the bucket-load, but the first movie is punctuated by actual landscapes that are quite breathtaking, while the second substitutes CGI almost completely for the real world, to its considerable detriment.

This movie forgoes CGI (almost?) completely for real shots of Giza, The Taj Mahal, China, Turkey and so on (all to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony) and it reminds, painfully almost, how superior reality still is to CGI, in the hands of a competent cinematographer.

Moral of the story being: If you’ve got the money, and you’ve got the chops, step away from the computer and shoot reality.

Edit: I forgot to add that the boy really liked it. He does not suffer fools or foolishness gladly, so this tells me the movie walks the fine line very well indeed.