The question of what suffices for The Simpsons Movie is a balance of realism with sentiment. At its height, The Simpsons didn't need special episodes to show its potential since it was regularly and reliably the greatest thing on TV. And it wasn't only a pop touchstone: The Simpsons irreversibly affected a generation's sense of humour and view of the world.
But before its 10th year, the series was noticeably slipping. Following the episode where Maude Flanders dies, I stopped making an effort to tune in every week. It isn't that the show crossed a line by killing off a minor character, it was a general shift in attitude and currency that had been hinted at for a while. The Simpsons had lost its soul.
As the show still gets the occasional belly laugh, so does The Simpsons Movie. But a movie bearing this name demands to be something great.
The series has one of the strangest structures on TV, where the first and last halves of an episode will often be connected but separate stories. Reports that the movie plays as an extended episode with improved animation are accurate. Its length is felt because it's too story-bound and rarely breaks free into situational zaniness. It's funnier and more consistent than most high-profile comedies. It just doesn't bridge the gap between pretty good and good enough.
There's a certain thrill that comes from watching Sunshine up close and projected onto a large screen, but it's a case of genre-jumping director Danny Boyle composing big images rather than striking ones. Boyle's foray into science fiction has aspirations to Kubrick and Tarkovsky. Yet, the movie's lack of confidence ends in disappointment. When a character refers to the darkness of space as a reflection of human emptiness, Boyle doesn't take the next step of making his space imagery feel merciless or poetic.
Fifty years from now, the crew of Icarus II are sent to do maintenance work on the dying sun. The intriguing premise doesn't translate into concepts of existence, like worthy science fiction should. Good actors like Chris Evans, Cillian Murphy and Michelle Yeoh are caught in what's basically a space-set disaster movie, with one technological crisis after the next. As Boyle toys with sacrificing the few for the many, he overlooks the story's potential for metaphor—an examination of the sun's function not just as a force of life but as a symbol of hope. By the time Sunshine devolves into Freddy Krueger-in-space, any promise it had gets wasted.
Rescue Dawn is Werner Herzog's dramatized remake of his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Rescue Dawn's straightforward approach shows a regular guy forced to employ extraordinary means for survival. It's a jungle adventure of madness and human limits in the best Herzog sense.
The banality of the plane crash that leaves Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) stranded in Laos in 1965 proves Herzog's control of effects scenes is behind his grasp of the natural world. Dengler becomes a POW and plots an escape. Herzog rejects traditional narrative information, such as time passed and distance travelled, for the impressionism of how scenes together feel. Rescue Dawn views isolation first in confinement and then in the wilderness. The war-time setting is only a context for Herzog's universal need—the necessity of having a place on earth.
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