Pete’s Dragon (2016): A Celebration of the Wonder of Nature and Magic of Childhood

   The new “Pete’s Dragon” is one of my favorite films. This is a film that manages to capture the wonder of nature, wildlife and childhood and also the complex relationships that come with family. The soundtrack leads to a beautiful meditation on it all with some absolutely wonderful performances by Bryce Dallas Howard and the legendary Robert Redford. Non-spoiler thoughts, I recommend this film and think you should check it out. I grew up on the original film and this film so different, and in my opinion so much deeper and better.

 The film was directed by David Lowery who co-wrote the script with Toby Halbrooks and produced by James Whitaker.

    The story involves Pete who is presumed dead when his parents die in a crash in the forest. It is here the dragon Elliot finds him and raises him before he runs into Ranger Grace whose husband is a foreman of the Lumbermill that has impeded on the territory where Elliot and Pete are living. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: The World – The world is rich! The forest is full of life, the small town is full of politics and there is a dragon. This is very much a surrealistic fantasy world.

The Soundtrack – Daniel Hart creates a  beautiful americana folk soundtrack that captures the brutal feel of the lumber mill, the isolation of the town and the magic of the forest. It is meditative and reflects the feelings in our characters’ heads. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to see what music he does next as I’ve always been a fan of folk and it was perfect for this film.

The Characters – The characters are a strong part of this film! From Karl Urban’s Gavin who feels powerless so wants to own and capture Elliot as he’s in a dying industry (he works on a lumber mill) and his brother doesn’t respect him. Howard’s Grace is someone who is trying to make things work with her own family and make peace with the fact that her husband’s job is destroying the forest she works in as well as her own doubt of her father Mr. Meachum whose arc is capturing the magic of his childhood (Redford does this wonderfully) and of course the child actors who play Pete and Natalie who become friends as it is Natalie who helps Pete realize he wants to be a part of the world again and no longer separate in the forest.

The Wonder and Terror of the Natural World – The natural world is front and center in this story and all the wonder and terror of it all. It is almost hitting a deer that leads to the death of Pete’s parents and Elliot almost kills his new parents when he turns on his attackers and rage and attempts to burn them. It is only through respect that humans can co-exist with nature and with the natural world, is what the film argues. It is very Miyazakiesque and it is part of what makes the film so beautiful.

Okay: Dealing with Grief  and Loss – The film dealt with this a little bit but not really as Elliot was Pete’s way of dealing so we never him truly face the fact that his parents are dead. There are a few moments he misses them, but we never have the chance to see him face his grief. There was shock but after that not much else besides him forming a bond with a new family. It was dealt with a little but not enough for me to put it as a pro. The one way it worked was that Pete was tied to the forest and is always trying to run back until he faces his grief to some degree, which helps him form bonds in the world and a new family, in turn leading him to leave the forest.

The Cons: Jack – Jack, Grace’s husband is a plot device and is only there to counter the antagonist Gavin (his brother) who is hunting and captures Elliot. He never felt fully fleshed out and I didn’t know why he and Grace were together.

    This was an amazing film that is the only one of the Disney remakes that I consider great. “The Jungle Book” remake was awful and even though I’ve heard good things about “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” I am still worried. A good story can pull upon past stories, but it shouldn’t be a retelling, if I wanted a retelling I’d just read or watch that same story again. This film gets away from that and it is part of the reason it is a favorite film now. This is a film where magic happens and truly captures the beauty that can surround us.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Would be higher if Pete dealing with his grief had played a bigger role and Jack had been a character not a plot device.

Godzilla (2014): The Movie that Could Have Been Great

Godzilla 2014
Godzilla 2014

I came into “Godzilla 2014” with pretty high expectations. The trailer made it look as if it was a truly American adaptation of the original “Godzilla 1954” which dealt with the dilemma of advanced technology that could be used as weapons (Nuclear Weapons as the real life metaphor), how to deal with new life (Godzilla’s very existence) and what war does to people as witnessed in the survivors of Godzilla’s destruction and the scientist who builds the weapon that eventually kills Godzilla. It is a powerful film that is much more than a Kaiju/Monster film.

The film was good, but it could have been great. First I should go over what I liked, found okay and disliked about the film.

First the pros – Godzilla the monster was fantastic. The creature looks like a creature from another time and the sound editing surrounding it and the other monsters make it like they are actually on the screen. The special effects and soundtrack are truly fantastic (though Godzilla 1954 still has the better music). The scientist played by Ken Watanabe was also an amazing character who with his assistant kept me interested over the dullness that most of the other cast brought to the screen. His assistant was also very cool, I found myself wondering what brought them together? When did they start looking for Godzilla? What power do they have in relation to the military and governments? There are some great scenes that Ken Watanabe has with the military commander who played Dr. Lee Rosen on the great Sci. Fi. show “Alphas,” Where he argues against the use of Nuclear weapons. I wish this could have been the movie. Watanabe, his assistant, the military and government and of course Godzilla and the consequences of such a creature existing.

Okay – Bryan Cranston, Ford’s wife and the other Monsters besides Godzilla. Each of these characters and creatures full potential was not realized. They were minor characters and ideas…and not fully explored ideas either. Cranston’s character was clearly suffering from PTSD after what went down at the beginning of the movie, but that is never explored. He’s a plot device, just like the main character’s (Cranston’s son) wife was. They were better actors than the main guy, but the script did not give them much to work with at all.

Cons – The White Military Family^TM. This family that Ford the main character was a part of was one of the weakest bits of storytelling I’ve seen in a movie that had this much poured into it that wasn’t a Michael Bay, Oliver Stone or Roland Emmerich film. The trope they existed as is that to elicit emotion but to have no conflict besides survival. This is sad because any family is more complicated than that, especially a service member’s family. But I could see why it was done. It was the same reason the other directors do it. Trite jingoism that can trump up base nationalistic feelings because all the family (and main character) are is a plot piece. They aren’t supposed to be people, they’re supposed to be ideas…like the communist Martyr’s of the Revolution. Ford the main character was flat and was just there to be heroic and to be in places where action was taking place. He was a cipher and a weak cipher at that, as was his kid (which was a shame since young Ford at the beginning of the film had more depth). The movie didn’t need him or his family at all and they just detracted from the narrative and propped up base nationalism. Ford in doing this ended up serving the White Savior trope as well since he is the only military guy who (SPOILER) thinks to destroy the Monsters’ young since the Monsters’ parents are fighting and beating Godzilla until he does the act. Anyone could have done it and it took more of the wind out of Godzilla’s sails. Speaking of which, Godzilla wasn’t even the main point of the movie, he was a minor character which also made it a good and not a great film. The other monsters and the White Military Family^TM did nothing else but detract from what good narrative (Ken Watanabe’s character and his relationships over the course of the film) and action (The Monster Fight!) that made the movie good.

The film still gets a recommended from me.

But don’t go in expecting “Godzilla 1954.” Enjoy the minor characters who drive the film and the Monster Fight in the the Third Act. Godzilla’s arrival alone is reason enough to see this film. I would rate it 7 / 10.