Monday, 10 December 2012

Rise of the Guardians (Dreamworks) - movie review


I was surprised and very impressed by the new Dreamworks movie Rise of the Guardians. I'd rate it at Four-and-a-half Stars (from a possible Five 5 - see the postscript for why I deducted half a star).


I had expected a humorous action adventure, like the Ice Age movies, for instance; but I got a lot more.

Indeed, RotG resembles Pixar's Toy Story 3 in being a very ambitious philosophical statement of the best kind of modern, post-Christian metaphysics - but takes things a step or two further.


In other words, RotG presents a complete and complex new myth (derived and developed from various bits and pieces of old and recent myths and folklore); yet although perhaps not quite so accomplished a movie as TS3, the result is much more hopeful - probably because of the underpinning presence of a benign deity (The Man in the Moon).

(I found TS3 so very sad and nihilistic that, despite regarding it as one of the best movies I have ever seen, I have never been able to re-watch it.)


The existential basis of RotG is that modernity is utterly lost in jaded, materialistic, empty alienation; and that the only residue of The Good is in the imagination of young children, and their fantasy beliefs.

These fantasy beliefs are represented by the Guardians.

The premier and most powerful Guardian is the Sandman who brings to children their wholesome dreams. He is depicted as a mute Harpo Marx character that communicates by mime and symbols.

The other Guardians are associated with particular emotions: Santa Claus/ Father Christmas with (wide-eyed) wonder; the Easter Bunny with the renewal of Hope; the Tooth Fairy with happy childhood memories (made accessible in later life because stored in the milk teeth) - and eventually Jack Frost who embodies innocent, shared fun.


All of these characters depend on the idea (maybe from Peter Pan, or Terry Pratchett's Small Gods) that the Guardians power, size and existence is linked to the belief of children; thus the happiness and innocence and redemptive power of children are guarded by the consequences of their own beliefs.

Against them is the evil bogeyman, Pitch, who is a classic Satan/ Sauron/ Voldemort villain that intends to engulf the earth in darkness and fear; since the only way he can get people to believe in him (and therefore the only way he can really be alive) is when they fear him.


The set up is therefore superficially a witty and suspenseful action movie; but underneath it there is a well-structured and emotionally-satisfying symbolic depiction of spiritual warfare between God and his angels (the Guardians) and Satan and his demons (the Night-Mares).

The moral drawn is rather like that of Tolkien's in On Fairy Stories - the importance of fantasy in our era; as being the last means of contact with reality for many or most people.


Naturally, RotG is not explicit about all this; and indeed I doubt whether any kind of Christian symbolism was deliberately intended.

But, by implication, such an interpretation is a natural outcome of the underlying honesty and seriousness of this movie.


POSTSCRIPT: I deduct half a star from my rating of this movie because of the disgusting and gratuitous 'sleeve' tattoos on Santa's forearms; which are very frequently on display, including the movie poster. I regard this as a deliberate and strategic act of wicked subversion on the part of (at least) the animator responsible for Santa, and also the producer and publicity people - intended to 'normalize' this gross form of self-mutilation ( ). It is a measure of the rapidity of our cultural corruption this this kind of thing now passes either unnoticed, or with a cynical grin of approval at making Santa 'edgy', 'relevant' (or something of the kind).