Fantastic Fest is a double-edged sword. It’s simultaneously the most fun and most stressful film festival I attend. Packed to the brim with programming and events, the festival always brings together the most wonderful and weird films from all over the world in a genre festival that movie geeks from everywhere can appreciate.
With that in mind, I set out to the opening night film with an appropriately open mind. Luckily, Frankenweenie, the latest film from Tim Burton, did not disappoint on any level. Funny, creative, energetic, and most importantly, deeply felt, the film is Burton’s best and most personal film in nearly a decade.
Expanding on a premise from his original short film, the story follows Victor Frankenstein, a loner in school whose best friend on earth is his dog, Sparky. One day, fate intervenes and Sparky is killed in an accident. Consumed by grief, Victor attempts to bring Sparky back to life via thunderstorm with successful results, but not without consequences. Sound familiar? Naturally. The film pays tribute not only to classic horror and monster films, but also to Burton’s earlier films. With plenty of references to movies ranging from Edward Scissorhands to Gamera, horror fans will find plenty to geek out about and love. It’s also just a damn good film. Consistently brisk and funny, it never once drags. It tells a very simple story but does so in such a beautiful and compelling manner that one never feels the length (admittedly short at 87 minutes), especially with how entertaining it is.
Tim Burton really should stick to movies like this more often. Stop motion animation really lets his visual creativity and macabre sense of humor run wild, and if Frakenweenie is any indication, he still has quite a bit of gas left in the tank.
Unfortunately, not all Fantastic Fest films are created equal. Enter Dredd 3D, a new film adapting the popular British comic book character to the big screen. I’m not personally familiar with the character, but the sense I got from those more acquainted is that it does the man justice. For this uninitiated viewer, however, it made for a rather dull affair.
The film follows Dredd, a “Judge” aka over-the-top cop in a dystopian future that sentences criminals on the streets. After taking on a new partner for a field exam, the pair find themselves trapped in a tower controlled by the local crime lord, who sends all of her goons after them, forcing them to fight through level after level to survive. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s literally the exact same plot as 2012’s earlier film, The Raid. To be fair, screenwriter Alex Garland technically wrote his screenplay for Dredd before The Raid had been written, but because Sony Pictures Classics managed to release the latter first, the comparisons are inescapable, especially since The Raid is so much better.
Dredd simply lacks any of the energy, choreography, or sheer excitement of a great action film. It’s excessively chatty, clunky, and just lumbers along from poorly executed set piece to poorly executed set piece. There isn’t a single standout visual moment, and the paint by the numbers screenplay picks up none of the slack. Sure, Karl Urban carries the film like a total champ, selling every terrible one-liner with total conviction, but it only goes so far. The film simply doesn’t come together as any kind of satisfying experience, and that’s a damn shame.
All things considered, it’s been a terrific start to Fantastic Fest 2012, and I look forward to seeing many more movies in the days to come. Onward and upward!