dir: Peter Ramsay
Many, many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a galaxy just like this one except it smelled a little bit like juniper berries, I watched a film at a mysterious place called a cinema. That film was called The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Yeah, I knew it was Christian propaganda going into it. Yeah, I knew it couldn’t really be that great, considering the source material. But it did have Tilda Swinton in a key role, and that’s almost enough for me to justify watching any flick.
In this movie were four kids going on adventures. Three of the kids were painful to listen to and even more painful to watch trying to act. I didn’t mind it too much, this being a childish fantasy, after all, and one of the first books I can remember reading all on my own.
The moment that had me standing up in fury and yelling at the screen as if the actors themselves could hear me, and the director, the assistant directors and their assistants could hear me too, was the moment where Santa Claus comes out of nowhere and gives the kids all the tools they’ll need to beat the evil Snow Queen.
I screamed “Oh come on! It isn’t ludicrously far-fetched enough already, you’ve got to drop that fat fuck Father Christmas on us as well? Give us a goddamn break!”
This flick here, Rise of the Guardians, doesn’t play ‘hide-the-Santa’ on us for an unpleasant surprise; he’s there right from the start. Only you can decide whether it makes something unbelievable untenable as entertainment, like it did for me with that Narnia flick, or whether your deep love of Christmas makes anything with Santa in it immediately better.
This is, pretty much, The Avengers for the under 10 set. Any kid older than that probably downloaded illegally a copy of Avengers onto their iPad and was watching it before their grandparents ever tried and failed to be all contemporary and with-it by saying “Oh, yes, The Avengers, didn’t Patrick Macnee pull off the bowler hat and umbrella combination rakishly, and that Diana Rigg as Mrs Peel? Rawr!”
And yes, it has a Santa Claus, a Pére Noel, a Kris Kringle in it right from the goddamn start. In this world, which is, apparently, our world, not only Santa, but the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and Jack Frost all exist.
Why do they exist? Because the Man in the Moon made them exist so that they could protect the children of the world. Who is the Man in the Moon? Well, there’s a looping logic here I don’t think I can risk insulting you or my intelligence with. Either the Man in the Moon is some separate magical, mystical entity, or it’s code for ‘God’. As in, either the Man in the Moon is God, or someone very like a god.
Now that’s disturbing. As a card-carrying atheist, how comfortable am I with this crypto-deist bullshit? Turns out, I’m quite comfortable with it, because it’s utterly meaningless. In conversation with my daughter after the flick, she never even registered that the Man in the Moon was anything other than some massive, silvery deus ex machina, thought of course she never used those words. I mean, she’s only five, what were you expecting? I never said she was a genius. No child of mine could ever be so, much to no-one’s surprise.
Maybe she is, I don’t know, but if she is she’s hiding it very well. Bang up camouflage job, my dear. Like a ninja, you are, with the sneaky genius skills.
Our ‘in’ into the movie is Jack Frost, adequately and obnoxiously voiced by Chris Pine. He wakes up in a watery grave, and finds he can freeze stuff just by touching it, and wanders around doing various mildly irritating stuff, but nothing too villainous. He is invisible to all of humanity, and ever so alone. Three hundred years of this doesn’t improve his disposition.
The Man in the Moon, fulfilling his role as a S.H.I.E.L.D boss Nick Fury – Samuel L. Jackson type bringing the ‘heroes’ together, alerts the other guardians that Jack will be joining them. The guardians, who seem to defer to Nicholas St North (Alec Baldwin, using an inexplicable Russian accent), which is just a fancy way of saying Santa, are unhappy with Jack’s inclusion.
None are more unhappy with it than Jack, who follows the classic path of not wanting to be in the gang, and then reluctantly joining the gang, and then falling out with the gang only to come back in the nick of time to save the gang. I know, I know, you’ve never heard of such a plot before. I am gifting you with my incredible powers of synopsis. Consider it a late Christmas present. You’re welcome.
The reason why the Moon is interceding (I feel really stupid even writing such a thing) on children’s behalf in worldly affairs is because an old villain has come back, and seeks to extinguish their sense of hope and wonder. The villain is Pitch (Jude Law), and what he really is, is the embodiment of fear and despair that ruled the world during the Dark Ages.
I wish I was making this shit up, but I’m nowhere near talented enough. The various guardians are also completely dependent on kids still believing in them, not just in the idea of them as concepts, myths or memes, but as actual entities.
Santa himself, in his Northern stronghold, staffed as it is by yetis (the elves are just a cover story), has a big magical globe which seems to monitor the belief levels of kids the world over, kind of like the Nielsen television ratings system. I guess he just had to create something like this, being the insecure type, but it does make these creatures seem awfully narcissistic.
I don’t know if anyone has told these geniuses lately, but practically no kids actually believe in any of these entities past the age of 4. The world, without the help of the literal Boogieman, does enough to disenchant and disappoint them that believing in literal magical beings like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or Jesus is something they go along with because it’s a lucrative imaginary game, not something they fervently believe because it’s real, any more than they believe there’s a literal Man in the Moon.
This film felt very long, for a number of reasons. It has good points, and some less than good points. It had a very generic feel to it, at certain times. I can’t point to any specific films of this type that it’s aping, because it felt like all of them, and it certainly felt like I’d watched it before and been bored by it or thrilled by it many times before. Thinking about it now in retrospect makes it seem far lamer than I thought it was at the time, and I haven’t forgotten that I really liked it as I was watching it, but I think that’s because my daughter enjoyed most of it, and it looked tremendous.
It has some other strengths as well, mostly to do with Pitch as shown and voiced by Jude Law. He’s not a motiveless villain, in that he’s motivated by the same desires as Jack, for meaning, and for substance. And he still has a charming manner to him, making him the most malevolent yet comfortably gay villain I hope we see this year, if you don’t count Javier Bardem in Skyfall, and you probably wouldn’t, being the contrary person you are.
The entrance to Pitch’s realm also did a number on my childhood memory. It’s something so obvious and yet so powerful, the visual image of a shadowy realm under a broken bed, and yet it really stuck with me, to this day. The nightmares, as in, horses created from the corruption of the Sandman’s sand, also looked pretty hideous for a children’s entertainment. I kept expecting the Nazgul/ Ringwraiths to appear astride them, looking for the One Ring. Though there were no obvious nods to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which totally wouldn’t have worked anyway, since his Sandman is a surly and pompous git, I really liked the way the diminutive, silent guardian was realised, complete with having him speak in rebuses / symbols, floating above his head.
I can’t claim that I really understood what the whole point was apart from making it seem like the most action-y and exciting kid’s film (but completely sanitised at the same time) that could mimic the tropes and moments of more adult-aimed movies but still guarantee a lower rating, but I guess box office is what matters. I guess it was okay, it looked a treat in 3D, and it’s probably no more absurd than any of the multitude of children’s stories we endure, I mean, enjoy, at the cinemas.
But, come on, really? Santa Claus as an action hero? What’s next, Santa Claus: Vampire Killer? Easter Bunny: Zombie Hurter? Tooth Fairy: Decay Slayer?
I want royalties if any of those get used. Be my eyes and ears out there, go on.
7 times I felt like I was watching the sequel to its own film already out of 10
“That dream is over! It is time for fear to rule the world!” – um, I don’t know if you’ve been looking at the news for the last 100 years, but… it’s a bit late for that – Rise of the Guardians