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Movie Review: Brave

13 August 2012, 13:00

I've decided to adopt the title of the movie as the style of my review. I am going to be brave and say what I REALLY think about Brave! I will also attempt to be as the movie's protagonist... different and a non-conformist (a contrarian, if you will).

CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) movies have a very special place in my heart. I used to be a 3D designer and worked with the exact same software that is used to create these movies. I know how difficult it is to create the scenes, characters, animations, and textures that bring these movies to life. There is some SERIOUS effort and skill that goes into producing these movies and it helps me appreciate just how good PIXAR has gotten at their craft.

But this is not going to be an article dedicated to talking about subsurface scattering, quasi-Monte Carlo radiosity, cloth physics and rigid body dynamics, procedurally generated environments, displacement mapping, or 1 million polygon characters meshes. To most people, Brave is just a 'kid’s movie', and what they will be looking for most is a good story and memorable characters.

Brave is especially critiqueable because Pixar has not had a 'real' hit since Wall-E. Up was a disasterpiece, and Cars 2 was a desperate attempt at copying the commercial success of Blue Sky Studio's Ice Age series. I've been eagerly awaiting PIXAR's inventiveness to break boundaries and reclaim the number one spot in the CGI developer's world. Brave delivers - masterfully in the visual effects department... but shamefully disappoints in the story department by being just another cliché.

That is enough for me; I suppose. Gawking at the intricately detailed environments and subtle character animations (while being bored to death by the story and character development) is enough for a CGI junkie, such as myself. I can really appreciate the little details that often get glossed over. As Merida lets fly her arrows, one can even see her fingers slender out as the pressure of the bowstring loosens (in slowmo). The details in the forrest are absolutely riveting and near photo-realistic. The facial animation of her horse, Angus, is also precisely matched to that of a real horse. Pathetically, the story is an amalgamation of Braveheart meets one of those 1980's 'mom turns into daughter, daughter turns into mom' comedies. I cannot say I found Brave's story (or characters) deep, profound, or worthy of contemplation in any sense.

The fiery-haired young lass, Merida, takes up most of the screen time. She is a somewhat brattish tomboy with the mundane desire to chase down adventure as opposed to doing her duty as the future queen of 'whateverland' (they never mentioned the name of the land, but it is obviously Scotland). Like all tomboys, she strives to be unladylike. Her passion in life is discharging arrows from her bow and putting them in the red circle of any target marker in sight.

Merida stuffs her face, nags and moans, talks back, and fails in the etiquette department. She is everything the modern-day teenager is, and this modernity actually hurts this movie. In the medieval timeframe that Brave plays off in, disobedience was often met with inquisitorial punishment. Kings and Queens were renowned for being brutal, even to their own offspring if they didn't follow the status quo.

This whole plot feels like the plight of the office worker! I mean, do people still fantasise about quitting their day-job to go streaking butt-naked through the forest in search of danger and adventure? I suppose so! At least if the director of Brave (Mark Andrews) is to be consulted as to his opinion.

What happened to someone wanting to become a genius, or a world renowned scientist? Why do we never see stories about people who become the next Steve Jobs, or Martin Luther King? Why are these movies always about the aspirations of common people? Living in wanton (it’s a noodle dish here) abandon, while waiting to get old and die! Why are movies this dumbed down? Is society really only happy with this sort of nonsense?

I apologise. Clichés do something to me that is difficult to explain without resorting to the excessive use of expletives. Why could this not have been another Monster House or Adventures of Tin Tin? Oh wait… those were directed by a VISIONARY director, Steven Spielberg!

Back to the Brave review...

Brave is just another clash of the generations (or tradition VS modernity) rip-off that transports the modern-day social drama of mothers trying to be their teenage daughter's best friend to a society of yore.

The Scottish accent, however, never sounded this good, and I have to say; I think it was a superb choice for the characters. Or maybe Mark Andrews is one of those Scotts on a mission to prove that at least at some point, there was something admirable about the Scottish. But there is just something about the 'in your face' Scottish way of English that makes for some fun and laughter is this otherwise bland movie.

I also loved the splendid use of yester-century English in the movie. It was beautiful to again hear archaic English (as opposed to just reading it), and unlike my last encounter with it (Shakespeare in high school), this time, I have the vocabulary to understand every word.

This touch of sophistication will make parts of the movie extremely confusing for anyone who is not a bit of a literary troll. But, let’s face it, most people just want cheap thrills and effects... and in this department, Brave will impress.

I sadly can't go into detail about the plot as it is so fragile that the slightest analysis may, inadvertently, give it all away. I also can't really identify with any character in this movie as they are all so commonplace it makes me feel as if they all got voiced and animated by one person!

While PIXAR is back in the game (technologically speaking), I wish they would now chase down directors who have a flair for the unexplored. I also wish they would do some movies that are for mature audiences. The idea that CGI = children’s movies has become a cultural meme, and it is pure nonsense! The CGI medium is capable of doing mature movies if these studios would just be run by someone who is single or without child.

Also... a comparison must be made between Brave and Ice Age 4. They are both competing for the 'young and immature' audiences' money. Ice Age 4, while visually bland and outdated, actually has characters that are more interesting. Captain Gutt is much more entertaining to watch than a whiney Scottish girl with a thirsttt fer adventeuurreee! Aeiiiii! I'll take a possum skinning Gigantopithecus (Captain Gutt’s specie) over a red-haired whiny Scottish lassie any day!

I always know I've seen a good movie when I leave the cinema with that 'I want to conquer the world' feeling. Brave left me feeling satisfied, but with a terrible heartburn. It was like a lukewarm meal with too much spice. If I could have it over, I'd have it warmed up a bit and some effort put into the flavor.

In the end, both Brave and Ice Age 4 not only failed to reach the child in me but also thoroughly bored the adult in me. They are watered down clichés and reproductions of the same nonsense we all grew up with and possibly will choke and die on if the bastards of Hollywood keep running the movie industry. The ray of sunshine in this gloomy review is that that Brave (and Ice Age 4) will appeal to kids and simpletons alike. It keeps the money flowing and helps drive the CGI technology to new heights, where, one day, perhaps, it will be used to create real cinematic art!

Summed up:

Brave is a movie about a girl who wants to be different... which makes Brave a movie that is no different than most.

It succeeds spectacularly at creating the most believable, detailed, realistic, and awe inspiring CGI world and characters you’ve ever seen... how sad then that it's story so deliberately aims for the commercial bulls eye (pun intended - how cliché of me)!

Final Score:                                                                               

6/10 - It really takes much more than great visual effects to produce a great movie!

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