If you missed a little 3D movie called FLY ME TO THE MOON in theaters—and just about everyone did—it’s just been released on DVD, so you have a second shot at it. Regardless of what you may have heard, it’s actually a decent little movie for— Now hold on a minute. Before any of you true cineastes lynch me, let me finish. I was going to say that it’s a decent little movie for very young kids and maybe some 3D enthusiasts.
That does not imply that MOON is a good movie in general. However, it does do two things that it sets out to do: it entertains young children (the theater of children I saw it with was certainly entertained – several kids were even reaching out to grab at some of the 3D imagery and they applauded at the movie’s end); and the 3D effects in this first-ever full-length 3D animated movie (if you don’t count 3D releases of films that weren’t specifically designed for that purpose) were actually well executed. I’ve heard one critic call the effects fourth rate, but I would argue that that individual was acting on his negative bias toward the film as a whole and/or that he is not overly familiar with 3D experiences. It’s the detail in the story, characters and animation that is sometimes fourth rate.
Truth be told, and I know I’m gonna catch it for this one too, I found the 3D in this little kiddy flick more engaging than what I saw in the summer’s much more touted and embraced extra-dimensional offering, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. I couldn’t understand why critics weren’t harder on that one. It was a costly 3D project that seemed to be trying to be something it was not—clever and exhilarating. Its makers were also touting its “breakthrough” 3D technology. Neither I nor the individual with whom I saw it were overly impressed with that technology. And right now I’m hard pressed to remember any standout 3D moment, or any moment that I even honestly cared about (and no, I haven’t forgotten about the T-Rex scene). EARTH too lacked solid imagination, wit, interesting story telling and engaging characters. But at least MOON has the excuse that it was targeting an age group in the single digit range.
This little kid’s movie was completely immersed in its dimensional imagery. It felt like a true part of the film’s environment; not like a gimmick, as with so many other 3D projects. Oh, there were the in-your-face moments, but the film was deftly filled much more with subtler periods of its effect’s expressions. And rightfully so, for the film’s director, Ben Stassen, has spent about 14 years working in the 3rd dimension, with much of that work being for specialty venues, and I believe it does show, especially with the detailed rocket launches and ships traveling through space. Those are the most emotionally affecting moments in the picture and the detail within them is quite nice. It’s just too bad the entire picture couldn’t have been graced with quality so.
Like any self-respecting geek-boy, I grew up watching the skies and dreaming of traveling through the stars, so I’ll be up front in that this is probably one of the reasons I could connect with those moments and the film’s message of always continuing to push toward one’s dreams. But there is also some nice effects material in the day-to-day environment of the bug’s world. It’s there if you let yourself be open to it.
All of this, however, will most likely be overshadowed by the film’s creative weaknesses. And they are significant. First, and foremost, the animation ain’t exactly Pixar level and it’s painfully obvious, especially where humans are concerned. Their rendering and characterization is almost wretchedly poor; anyone over the age of seven or eight should be able to spot that from the—uh—moon. Another huge weakness is the pacing. There are large holes in the timing of the interaction between characters and also the actions they take. It’s all rather stilted.
Then there is the script itself by Domonic Paris (THE SLEEPLESS). It never rises above average TV fair. I’m not sure it ever aspired to be anything else other than a 3D vehicle for Mr. Stassen, because if anyone ever did take plot structure and character development seriously at any point, it is not on display. The movie does boast some significant acting talent, such Tim Curry and Nicollette Sheridan, but no one ever stands out, with the possible exception of Christopher Lloyd as Grandpa.
Something else that came off as completely forced and out of place was the inclusion of bad-guy Russian flies that were determined to foil any success that the little American flies might have. Head baddie, Russian comrade Poopchev (voiced by Ed Begley Jr.) was, of course, big & ugly and had jagged teeth. His cohorts were typical underdeveloped lackeys. A couple of these characters could have been entertaining in a different, better movie. There could have been plenty of spectacle, drama and action without going down the unimaginative & uninteresting road that they did.
Unfortunately, most adults will find the DVD release of the film to be as lackluster as the movie itself. The only special feature offered is an interactive planetarium game. This is too bad; it would have been nice to see a fun documentary on Mr. Stassen’s history in 3D work and how he culminated those experiences for MOON. Commentary by the 3D savvy director would have been welcomed too. It would also have been nice if viewers could learn little tidbits like the fact that Steven Spielberg has announced that he has been involved in patenting a 3D cinema process that does not need glasses, and which is based on plasma screens (apparently a computer splits each film frame, and then projects the two split images onto a screen at differing angles where it is picked up by tiny angled ridges on the screen). However, the film is presented in both 2D and 3D formats and comes with 2 pairs of 3D glasses, so folks can watch it in all its 3D glory if they wish. I’d recommend viewing it that way and on as large a screen as is available.
But look, the bottom line is that it would be easy to sit around and rip FLY ME TO THE MOON to pieces. But, when I walked into that theater I told myself to try to view it through the mindset of a five-year-old. And for that age group it works as a safe, kid-friendly movie (something many folks seem to be yearning for). It also embodies a positive message that real-life astronaut Buzz Aldrin comes out and (rather awkwardly, due to the inclusion of other comments) drives home at the end: “Let us always continue to dream and reach for the stars.” I can think of worse bits of entertainment and messaging to try to cram down the throats of our young children.
FLY ME TO THE MOON (Summit Entertainment, 2008; 84 mins.) Directed by Ben Stassen. Screenplay by Domonic Paris. Story by Gina Gallo and Domonic Paris. Produced by Gina Gallo, Charlotte Huggins, Mimi Maynard (who also voiced I.Q.’s mom), and Caroline Van Iseghem. Music by Ramin Djawadi. Art Direction by Jeremy Degruson. Animation Supervision by Philippe Taillez. Voice Cast: Tim Curry, Robert Patrick, Kelly Ripa, Buzz Aldrin, Trevor Gagnon, Philip Bolden, Nicollette Sheridan, Ed Begley Jr., David Gore, Christopher Lloyd and Adrienne Barbeau. MPAA Rating: G.