Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Question and a Quickie

First off, is it just me, or is "Ratatouille" the first recent big-budget animated picture to not have a tie-in with a big fast-food franchise (here in America, anyway)? And isn't that a welcome change? Animated movie tie-ins with fast food places are always the same thing: the kid's meals come with a toy from the movie, thus cementing the idea in people's heads that animation is for kids only and that animation itself is cheap, low quality and unsatisfying like fast food. Who wants the public to equate their film with greasy cardboard Happy Meal boxes and the smell of French fries?



It would also be an uncomfortable proposition for any fast-food giant to have a tie-in with a movie that's all about eating well, I would assume. When I worked on "Home on the Range" there was a lot of debate over whether a movie about cows should have a fast-food tie-in. In the end Disney and/or McDonalds decided not to partner on the deal, so I guess that makes "Ratatouille" the second recent animated film not to have a fast-food tie-in. In any case, let's hope it's the beginning of a trend.

Anyway, after watching the Spielberg documentary (see below) I watched part of "Saving Private Ryan" to look at some of the staging. Spielberg is a master of great staging - there is absolutely no one better to look at to get a feeling of how to place the camera to tell the story. For all of the amazing staging in all of the incredible battle sequences, I was struck by this example, in particular: the Jeremy Davies character (Upham) is asking the Tom Hanks character (Miller) the question all of his men want to know: where did he come from and what did he do before the war? He asks the question in a roundabout way and Miller deflects the question, and the lengthy scene is all staged from this angle. The light and focus are all on Upham and Tom Hanks is out of focus, in the dark and turned away from us the whole time.



Spielberg resisted the obvious choice to cut around to Tom when he is giving his answers. Most directors and/or producers would want to show as much as they could of Tom, I would think: he is the most famous actor in the world, and why give all the emphasis to Jeremy Davies instead? Well I can't speak for Spielberg but I'm guessing it's because the visuals underscore the point of the scene: at this point in the movie, the Miller character is remote and unknowable. Because Spielberg has made such a point of that information, it has become important to us and we want to know the answers, but we are not going to get them just yet. On that point Miller is inscrutable and so he appears that way to us: he looks away, we can barely see his face and he won't meet Davie's gaze (or ours either). Even though we have had many close-ups and explanatory scenes with him so that we feel we know him pretty well, when it comes to his past he is still a cypher to us, blurry and unknowable. It's a subtle piece of staging but very effective.

35 comments:

ToastyKen said...

I kinda assumed that the reason is because it features somewhat realistic-looking rats (unlike, say, Fievel), and that fast food restaurants don't want pictures of rats around.

mark kennedy said...

Actually, I had forgotten that about six months ago Disney announced that it was moving away from fast food, in general, so I guess that's the REAL reason.

John S. said...

That is good news Mark. Especially since a certain fast food restaraunt started to try to dictate the content of the films they were promoting. The fact that this was allowed to go on is unpardonable.
I'm happy to hear that this is coming to an end,

mnmears said...

Yes, I'm glad to see the beginning of the end to fastfood tie-ins --

Actually, I'd love to see Remy used for public service announcements or some similar campaign touting nutrition, healthy eating and easy-to-make snacks.

Imagine a 60- or 90-second Schoolhouse Rock type of thing on nutrition and the impact it might have.

I'm also happy about the situation because "Ratatouille" is really the first G-rated film with a strong adult sensibility. It's the best American animated film in quite a long time to encourage friends or other adults to see -- you know the people who so quickly dismiss animation as "kid's stuff."

chickennuggets said...

i saw the spielberg thing too, it was wonderful...

TS said...

I think Spielberg has always been remarkably consistent with his films even if you go back to 1941, Used Cars, and Dual. My favorite still has to be Raiders though.

I still think you have to give some mention to Janusz Kaminski for his camera work on Spielberg's films for the last decade or so. One thing that is interesting about Spielberg is that he has been able to keep a consistent crew from film to film so he is able to work very fast. I think nearly all of his recent films have come in under time and under budget (compare that to James Cameron or any other A List director out there).

You know, I also think many of Spielbergs recent films have been pretty under rated most noticeably Catch Me If You Can and AI.

gemini82 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gemini82 said...

Most of you all have probably already heard about it but go check out David Brodwell's blog Obeservations on film. Its a really interesting blog.

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/

P.S. Sorry if i sound like a walking commercial. Just felt the urge to plug that particular blog

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Absolutely! I completely agree with Sidney Lumet who claims that Spielberg was the best director for the past few decades. He knows his stuff, and shoots incredibly effeciently. War of the Worlds was shot in a very very short time compared to most features today. I might not always be the greatest fan of his films (though, not having seen 1941, he still hasn't made a picture I don't like), and might not always have the most unique vision, but I don't think there's anyone that fits the "director" job description better than him.

But, as mentioned by somebody else, I think Janusz Kaminski definitly deserves to be mentioned here too. He hardly does any work without Spielberg, and therefor usually stands in his shadow, but in my eyese he's one of the best of his generation.

samacleod said...

I finally found some time to watch that spielberg interview. Really enjoyed hearing him talk about kubrick. Spielberg is amazing.

joe said...

Why'd you choose to show the Japanese poster? The title translates back to English as "Remy's Delicious Restaurant" which actually sounds kiddie to me. I'm not sure how it sounds to Japanese ears though, of course. I wonder if there's a food tie in over there?

Anonymous said...

Just to point out, the Japanese version (whose poster you included at the beginning of the post) is entitled "Remy's Tasty Restaurant."

barry johnson said...

I don't think Meet the Robinsons had a Happy Meal toy either.

Will Finn said...

Mark, don't you remember that McD's bailed on HOME ON THE RANGE even before the split with D? apparently they were skittish about having cows as toys in their kids' buger meals. at one point we asked if it was clear to them that the cows in the movie were merely dairy cows, but apparently there's no actual milk in the sludge they make shakes out of.

personally i took the snub as an honor.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

toastyken - another good point!

Hey John - absolutely, thank God that era is over.

mnmears - good idea about the psa, they should do that.

nuggets - it sure was cool, huh?

ts - good point, and I like both of those films too, I thought I was the only one who actually liked "A.I." Don't tell anyone, okay?

hey gemini - thanks for the link, that's a good site.

benjamin - you are right, good point.

Steve - it was really cool to see him talk about Kubrick, wasn't it?

hey joe and anonymous - I picked the Japanese poster to show something different that the usual pictures you see everywhere.

barry - dangit, good point. I am going to add a bit to the post correcting it.

Hey Will - yeah, that's how I remember it...I do remember seeing some designs lying around for pretty cool Happy Meal toys, so if I'm right I think they were on the fence for a while before it was decided not to do they tie-in. Or maybe I'm remembering it wrong.
They joke among the story crew was that they could rename the Big Mac the "Big Maggie" for the promo as well as having a burger that came with Caloway's hat on it.
I could never quite believe that they would do a tie-in with "Chicken Little", but they did. I guess I was the only one that always thought Chicken Little's head was exactly the same shape as a McNugget.

Jenny said...

I watched Raiders again last week(it'd been a while), and I was struck by how many sequences were shot wide, as well as how many times Jones' lines come from off screen(!), with the camera on the reaction of another character--or on something else altogether.
It's the furthest thing from what 99% of filmmakers choose now, seems to me. But it made for the reality of the situation--it wasn't pandering to the audience filmically even while telling an outlandish story.

In other news: 3 guesses who's partnered with McD?

mark kennedy said...

hey jenny - I always see something new when I re-watch a Spielberg movie. Always worth the time to check one out. I saw "The Terminal" DVD for sale at WalMart for five bucks yesterday. I should've nabbed it.

I'm not surprised that McD's would hook up with you-know who, I can't believe it took this long.

Jenny said...

I need to grab a copy of "The Terminal"--the production designer on Bees was also PD on that film(he did "Corpse Bride" and "Fight Club" too), and was showing us some clips and talking about his process...he's the nicest guy imaginable--and the work he does is fascinating.

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