I don’t go to the flicks much but it was a wet day (again) last week, not quite dreich but nearly there; and so off with the good lady to the local (12 miles!) multiplex to see Wall.E. Apparently it is pronounced wally. Don’t Pixar know what that means in Britain?*
First we had to suffer the barrage of ads and promos – 30 minutes worth! (Why, apart from there being likely to be children present, is C-Beebies being advertised in a cinema?)
The film as a whole is clearly derived from (or at the least, influenced by) Silent Running, which also had robots and a long sequence without dialogue. This is to the good. Silent Running is one of the films which I remember very fondly.
Wall.E‘s opening visuals of a skyscraper city consumed by rubbish, in some cases constructed of rubbish, are impressive. We see a somewhat dishevelled, grungy Wall-E happily trundling about the place collecting detritus, compacting it and stacking the cubes skyscraper high. In the first 30 minutes or so there is no dialogue, except for electronic banner adverts automatically activated as Wall.E motors past them, but these ads do contain some necessary background info.
The establishing of Wall.E’s world before the change which chunters up the plot is an example of what can be done filmically. A piece of written fiction of an equivalent reading length but without dialogue would be hard going.
In this world there are no plants; but there must be oxygen as Wall.E has a small companion, a cockroach – whom he accidentally crushes at one point, an occurrence which is clearly distressing, but relief comes when the cockroach survives. (Okay, it’s an animated cockroach; which would need no oxygen.) Wall.E’s only other source of companionship is a video of Hello Dolly, two songs from which he plays to himself incessantly.
This placid existence is disturbed when a rocket lands – one of those stylised V2-shaped things which is the iconic image of a rocketship. It disgorges a smooth, gleaming, white! robot which starts scanning the surroundings. Wall.E is fascinated by this arrival, follows it about and is almost killed when he makes a noise and the robot immediately discharges a weapon from the end of its arm. The re-holstering of its arm after this, like a gunslinger from a western, was a nice touch.
Eventually Wall.E and the robot, EVE – Wall.E’s pronunciation sounds like EVA – make friends. How emotion can be conveyed with gestures and movements or in EVE’s case a slight constriction of the blue lines that are her “face” is familiar from Wallace and Gromit films but is still affecting.
The idyll is broken when, as a present, Wall.E gives EVE a plant he has found and saved. She scans it, takes it inside her casing and shuts down apart from a green blip on her torso. She spends some time totally immobile while Wall.E carries on collecting rubbish before the rocket returns and takes EVE away. Wall.E, off on his duties, panics at the thought of losing his only speaking friend, scurries back and has to hitch a ride on the outside as the rocket blasts off.
It’s at this point that I thought the film lost its way in a way that Silent Running did not, as it became not a portrayal of Wall.E’s relationship with EVE so much as an excuse for a romp, big action sequences, and other filmic references, though there is a modicum of humour in these scenes. I’m probably hankering after a more adult film here, this latter stuff is certainly more likely to appeal to kids than to me.
I did, however, appreciate the earlier foreshadowing which, in most cases, is agreeably subtle and arises naturally out of the events as they unfold.
However, the humans they then meet are rendered in that computer animated style which I find distracting. Unlike the cityscapes, these seem too unreal. A plus, since I’d not read anything about the film before going, was the pleasant surprise on recognising Peter Gabriel’s voice on the end-credit song.
Why would an apparently self-contained space-going environment need a waste disposal airlock? Surely everything, including metal, would have to be recycled?
The plant is at one point exposed to vacuum. Wouldn’t it immediately lose all the water from its leaves and therefore die? Instant plot killer there, though.
A fire extinguisher vents in a vacuum to propel Wall.E through space, but still makes a noise. (That’s a cliché I suspect will never go away.)
In sum, I enjoyed Wall.E. Give it a shot, at least when it comes on TV. Yes, it has moments of sentimentality (it is, after all, a Disney film) but it is also engaging. However, it does lack one thing that Silent Running had in spades, and that is the performance from the superbly laconic Bruce Dern.
[*In this case not a set of false teeth (which are, in any case, pronounced differently.)]