Crusade: A March Through Time
Another movie I discovered through a friend. It's based on the novel Kruistocht In Spijkerbroek (Translation: Crusade In Jeans) by Thea Beckman. The premise seems weak and hokey: A teenage soccer player attempts to travel back in time after losing an important game and accidentally ends up in the middle of the Children's Crusade. Surprisingly, the movie pulls it off well. If Disney had done this, it would have been over sentimentalized and silly. (I say this as an avowed Disney fan.) This movie avoids the "family movie" trap very nicely and still manages to be entertaining for kids and adults alike. I'm told that the internationally released version has a much longer ending, which would be a good thing, because the one glaring weakness I can see in the American release is the abrupt and badly thought out ending. Overall, I have to say that the "science" in this science fiction film is...well...not. But view it as a fantasy and just have fun. Emily Watson has a supporting role as the mother, who is also the head researcher on the time machine project that sends our protagonist to the middle ages. I'm not a particular fan of hers, but I enjoyed this role anyway. Joe Flynn is flat-out terrific as Dolph Vega. I'd really love to see more from this young actor. Hm. Maybe a role opposite Saoirse Ronan from my last post? One can hope.
Dragonslayer is a cult classic from the early 80s. It came in the wake of Star Wars, and the studio was very obviously trying to milk the Skywalker cash cow. There are so many parallels between this movie and what is now called A New Hope that I won't even try to list them. It's pretty comical in that sense, but ultimately I don't think it's a deal-breaker, because the movie has enough of its own merits to stand up. The protagonist is written very much in the vein of Luke Skywalker, which means I don't like him all that much. (I think Luke is annoying as hell in ANH; aggravatingly cocky in ESB; and finally grows up to be respectable in RotJ just in time for the series to end.) What I really like about the story is the cool and unexpected angle on the love interest. For those who might see the movie sometime, I won't spoil, but this point of originality easily makes up for the Star Wars feel. Visually, the movie goes for a gritty, realistic look--insomuch as the word "realistic" can be applied to a medieval fantasy about dragons--which is a sharp counterpoint to Legend or Labyrinth. The effects are certainly not cutting edge, but given the era in which the film was made, I find them pretty remarkable. The dragon is terrifying, and the battle scene at the end is still one of the coolest things I've ever seen. If for nothing else, fantasy enthusiasts will want to see the movie for that.
I can't remember how I came across this gem of a movie, but I'm glad I did. I read something online (probably an Amazon review) that said the movie was written entirely from the perspective of its pre-teen protagonist, a fifth-grader experiencing all the terrible and wonderful stuff that comes with first love. I was intrigued. I watched the movie expecting something cute and enjoyable, but not particularly memorable.
The protagonist, Gabe, is played by Josh Hutcherson, who later achieved notice in the role of Jess Aarons in Bridge To Terabithia. His co-star is a very believable and compelling actress named Charlie Ray, who unfortunately hasn't done much else. Both actors did a great job in their roles, giving life and personality to characters who could easily have been cardboard cut-outs. The characters are at a transitional point in their lives, neither entirely children nor ready to grow up. Their confusion and awkwardness comes across when it's supposed to, but is never distracting. The dialogue and interraction between them is rich and believable. When they're supposed to be comfortable with each other, the viewer is comfortable. When they're not, the viewer winces sympathetically, but the scenes are never over-done.
The ending is bittersweet but not overly dramatic. The supporting cast is interesting, the problems that the kids face are realistic and dealt with in a dignified way by the writer and director. There are inevitably going to be comparisons to My Girl, simply because the characters are roughly the same age as Veda and Thomas J, but whether you like My Girl or you hate it, try to put those expectations aside and look at Little Manhattan for itself.