Nepali Times
Critical Cinema
Worlds apart


There's a delicate balance that producers have to strike when taking up an existing piece of popular culture with a dedicated fan base. They have to bring it mainstream but also keep the core fans happy.

The belatedly released Fanboys (two years in the vault), directed by Kyle Newman, is about Star Wars devotees who throw themselves so profoundly into that universe that it seeps into their everyday world. When Linus (Marquette) learns that his three trekkie friends have kept the secret of a terminal illness among their fellowship, he convinces them to take to the road, break into George Lucas' ranch and steal Episode 1. Did I mention it is set in 1998, before the release of the three prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy? If you are lost already, you've hit upon the problem with this movie. It is terminally self-referential, uninviting to outsiders and overly dependent on viewers caring as much as they do about the material. It is not altogether without its charm - there are a few head-turning cameos and some amusing shenanigans on the road. But there are also frequent queerphobic (homophobic?) put-downs, in-jokes that would fly over the heads of the uninitiated (while not being that funny to begin with) and a reverence to George Lucas that leaves him unscathed (probably so the movie could get distributed).

Adaptations of children's fantasy novels are still enjoying success and have a dedicated fanbase too thanks to the overbearing success of the Harry Potter movies. Production houses are willing to loosen their purse-strings to replicate the formula. The much-loved Chronicle of Narnia by C.S. Lewis has made that jump, to mixed success.

Adaptations of Philip Pullman's excellent children's novels have not fared as well, their status in limbo after the disappointing The Golden Compass (2007). The star of that latter film Dakota Blue Richards plays yet another precocious girl chasing adventure to her peril in The Secret of Moonacre, another adaptation of a popular children's fantasy novel, directed by Gabor Csupo.

Csupo's directorial debut was Bridge to Terabithia (2007), a largely successful adaptation of the poignant children's novel by Katherine Patterson, which ramped up the fantasy element in a story marked by its gritty realism. It's a strategy that he applies here too, with grandiose CGI full of magic but bereft of soul, packed with fantastically-garbed characters but with a tedious unconvincing story (too tedious to repeat, frankly) and dull uninteresting characters. The most important element in the fantasy formula - the drab, mundane existence contrasting with magical reality (Harry Potter's Muggle world, World War II Britain in Narnia, even Franco's Spain in Pan's Labyrinth), is put aside in an effort to make everything appear fantastical.

It is that very same separation that Coraline explores, exploits and reverses, a gorgeous, creepy stop-animation from Henry Selick, the director of The Nightmare before Christmas (1993) and adapted from the novel by (yes, yet another British fantasy novelist) Niel Gaiman. Again, we see an author benefiting from the doors that Rowling's Potter series have opened with Gaiman's work reaching the screen in two previous (thankfully good) adaptations, Stardust (2007) and MirrorMask (2005). Coraline is (yet another) precocious young girl whose writer-parents abandon to her own devices in their new home. She discovers a hidden passage to a mirror world where the doppelgangers of her parents lavish her with attention and her neighbours, already eccentric in the real world, put on shows for her entertainment. It is an enticing world that only belatedly reveals its darker purpose. Selick intelligently keeps Coraline's normal world just as visually interesting as the one she escapes to. It is well-matched by the voice talent and the composition by Bruno Coulais whose score is every bit as delightful as the images. Coraline is proof positive that just as important as dazzling effects, are the characters that are believable and likable and the story, which is tightly reasoned.

Director: Kyle Newman
Cast: Sam Huntington, Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, Kristen Bell

The Secret of Moonacre
Director: Gabor Csupo
Cast: Dakota Blue Richards, Ioan Gruffudd, Tim Curry, Natascha McElhone

Director: Henry Selick
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ian McShane

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)