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How to Train your Dragon: Visually Captivating for the Child at Heart
Throw on your 3D glasses and allow your imagination to soar with the latest animation film by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, the directing team that also worked side by side on Disney’s Mulan and Lilo & Stitch.
In their latest venture into the 3D animation world, How to Train your Dragon revolves around Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (Buruchel), a young and immensely sweet young boy who has the ultimate dream of joining the Viking ranks alongside his father, Stoic the Vast (Butler). In the eyes of the humongous and steaming-attitude Stoic, young and clumsy Hiccup is not good enough to gain the Viking horns, and is better left to wield swords and stay out of Stoic’s way.
Taking place in a Viking village called Berk, the film guides you through Hiccup’s fight against disenchantment, evil and the ironies of life experienced by the 10-year-old boy that can apply to anyone, no matter the age.
The small yet brave Hiccup sets out on a personal journey that takes his quest to become a dragon-fighting Viking down a completely different path. The illuminating discovery that Hiccup stumbles upon not only changes his perspective on the Viking vs. Dragon world but burdens him with the responsibility of enlightening his community, which is bound to never listen.
In the meanwhile, Hiccup’s love for Astrid (Ferrera), a female Viking-in-training, keeps a lighthearted twist on an otherwise tumultuous and heavy journey for little Hiccup.
From Hiccup’s fight against the village’s ignorance to his surprising friendship formed with the Night Fury dragon, who he names Toothless, Hiccup’s journey is bound to enthral you with the young boy’s determination and courage to bring peace between both sides of Hiccup’s new found world.
The cinematography is empowering at times, including the incredible flying scene where Hiccup is mounted on the back of Toothless, flying through beautiful landscapes of a lush valley and bouncy clouds. Intricate details and textures are used throughout the entire film, leaving you reaching out for a feel, from the single strands of hair woven into Astrid’s braids to the wrinkle lines revealing the intensity of Stoic’s life.
While the ending might possibly tug at your emotions, How to Train your Dragon is capable of pulling you into the absolute beauty of a child’s imagination, which is often times squelched. You’re left wanting to be engaged with your childlike self and noticing the creatures around that we often forget about; from the tiniest of bug to the most gargantuan of dragon. Allow yourself to be there and take part in Hiccup’s story that is bound to teach you one thing or another.
Held together by a couple of strong performances, Peter Sattler’s directorial debut, Camp X-Ray, explores the story of an unlikely friendship between a female Guantanamo Bay security officer and a long-suffering Arab detainee.
Private Cole (Stewart) is a young woman from a small town in Florida, who – shortly after the atrocities of 9/11 – enlists in the military and is eventually deployed to Cuba to serve as a security guard at Guantanamo Bay.
Enveloped in her own securities in a harsh, male-dominated world, Cole buckles down and begins her daily routine of walking the restrictive cell-block halls. It’s doesn’t take long before she attracts the attention of Ali (Moaadi), however; a well-spoken Arab detainee who has been locked up for the past eight years. Recognising a chink in the armour of her tough facade, Ali baits Cole for some much-needed attention. Though she initially tries keeps her distance, an improbable, though inevitably strained, relationship develops.
Shot with a sense of pining, Camp X-Ray has a small-movie feel that, despite its sometimes shallow approach and lapses into stereotyping, has a big message. Grounded and engaging, the story very much focuses on the dynamics and the growing connection between two very different, but similarly lost, souls whose hopes and dreams are very different from their existence. Its politically-charged premise is never abused and the script, unlike other war-on-terrorism productions, never spoon-feeds its political overtones to the audience; in fact, it leaves it to them to decide and determine the nature of everyone involved.
For a character-driven piece, Stewart’s trademark cold demeanour is actually well suited for her role, while Moaadi – best known for his turn in Iranian Oscar-winning drama, A Separation – is superb as the tormented detainee, managing to convey a variety of emotions with one seemingly haunted look.
Despite its occasional – and predictable – forays into clichéd territories, Camp X-Ray commendably refrains from using its controversial setting as a plot device, instead using it as a backdrop, letting the characters develop in a much more organic and human way – which the actors execute impeccably.
Peter Jackson’s fourteen-year-long Middle-Earth adventure has finally come to a close with the third and final instalment Bilgo Baggins’ journey with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; a slightly bloated, but generally successful, finale that boasts plenty of action and technical superiority over its immediate predecessors.
Hitting the ground running and wasting no time in plunging audiences in the deep-end, The Battle of the Five Armies begins exactly where the second film left off, with Smaug (once again voiced superbly by Cumberbatch) setting Lake-town ablaze as Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) and his army of loyal dwarf-followers watch from the Lonely Mountain.
After escaping imprisonment, Bard (Evans) slays Smaug, leaving the endless treasures of the mountain unguarded for Bilbo, Thorin and co. to continue their quest. But as news spreads of Smaug's demise, the lure of the mountain's coveted riches triggers an inevitable path to war.
A With a running time of just over two hours, The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of all of The Hobbit entries, though it’s also the most ambitious and visually-creative of the lot. The cinematography is exquisite and the CGI techniques seem to have been pushed to their very limit.
The cast is, as always, steadfast and dependable with Armitage delivering a blockbuster performance as Thorin, though Freeman’s usual whimsical nature and superb comic timing is, surprisingly, underused. Similarly, the rest of the cast, including Lilly as the she-elf, Evans, as the newly-emerged leader of Lake-town, and McKellen take a back-seat.
With this being the finale, it plays out like a climax and is heavy on the action and not much else – as a standalone film, it may feel a little hollow for some, but for fans, it's a fittingly spectacular conclusion to the series.