Friday, March 05, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon First Impressions

UPDATE: Paramount and Dreamworks Animation have offered to reshow the film--in its true S3D form--to people who were at my screening.

Michael here. I just got back from a screening of Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon at The Grove in LA, and despite technical issues with the screening I greatly enjoyed the film.

First off, the screening was not in S3D. They handed out Dolby 3D glasses, but there was a mixup and the film was projected only in 2D. I kept waiting for them to fix it, and eventually stepped outside to let the theater employees know. Alas, it turned out that the projectionist thought the film was supposed to be 2D, so no fix was incoming. Funnily enough, at least half of the packed audience kept their glasses on throughout the entire film, apparently not realizing that what they were seeing was not S3D. What this says about general audience education regarding S3D is slightly troubling.

Secondly, the film went black and the sound would cut out for 20 seconds or so a few times throughout the film.

But the movie was charming, funny, and at times possessed a real lyrical beauty. The sequence where the hero, Hiccup, rides his dragon for the first time with his quasi-romantic interest gave me chills--I felt like I was soaring through the skies with them. It's different from the banshee flying sequence from Avatar, but is similarly awe inspiring. The CG is incredible throughout the film, especially the Vikings with their knotted beards and fur lined outfits.

But, most importantly, the movie has a real soul to it. I cared about Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless (which has an awesome design), and wanted the Vikings to see the error of their dragon-fighting ways. I also wanted a dragon of my own. The film is, on a fundamental level, about the relationship between a boy and his amazing, super-special pet. In fact, this type of dragon is legendary in the Viking lore, as it has never been glimpsed. The "taming" sequences between Toothless and Hiccup are a joy to behold, especially for those of us who have owned pets.

The film is probably the darkest of the Dreamworks CG animated films in both the production design and plot: the story revolves around the fact that Vikings and dragons have been killing each other for years. It also shows the consequences of battle; for instance, in a character who is missing an arm and a leg. And the final confrontation is very intense, with lives on the line throughout. The story itself is also mature, dealing with the relationship between Hiccup and his dragon-killing Viking father who wants him to follow in his footsteps, but has only been dissappointed in his son thus far. The story is also a coming of age tale, showing Hiccup's growth as he learns to stand by what he believes is right.

The movie has many funny moments. Thankfully all of the laughs in the film come from the plot and the characters, not cheap gags or pop-culture references.

My only criticism of the film is that what turns out to be the "bad guy" is not given enough explanation. I was hoping to learn more about this creature. But the battle with it does make for a thrilling action sequence.

I missed about 10 minutes of the film while trying to get them to turn on the 3D, but I was so caught up in the story that I watched the rest of the movie in 2D anyway instead of holding out for a pristine viewing experience, just to see what would happen. This, in my opinion, is the mark of a successful film. I look forward to seeing this again (Dreamworks has offered to show it in its true S3D form), this time in gorgeous S3D.

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Jim Dorey
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