The Review: Pirates must have the best PR people in the world, based on their current profile and perception. Never mind general thievery and seafaring atrocities on a scale that’s probably only outdone by the Vikings, from International Talk Like A Pirate Day to the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow these days it’s cool to roam the high seas with a parrot and a heavy West Country accent. The Pirates! and their obligatory exclamation mark are only likely to make that worse, given that the Captain is the world’s most famous stuttering Englishman, his first mate is Tim off The Office and they’ve been brought to us by the same firm that brought us Wallace, Gromit and Arthur Christmas.
Yes, The Pirates! is the latest from the wizards of Plasticine from Bristol, and like their most famous man and dog creations both the Pirates! and Scientists! of the title are carved from the same clay and they share the same very British sensibility that has characterised every big screen adventure that Aardman has embarked on to date. (Sorry, I’ll stop with the exclamation marks now.) While their philosophy has always been that it’s better to see the thumbprints, the better to appreciate the quality of the craft, it’s never stifled their ambition and Pirates is rich in quality from the tiny background details to the beautifully realised characters. Aardman have also managed to apply their distinctive style to the story while allowing the material to retain a feeling of freshness.
There’s also wall to wall quality in the voice department, with the biggest surprise being Hugh Grant. Casting aside his trademark foppishness and instead channeling a gruff yet playful tone, almost like a younger, more coherent Brian Blessed (who also pops up as the Pirate King), Grant is a thoroughly cheerful presence who keeps the story rolling on his bountiful charisma, and he’s ably supported by his pirate crew, including standout Russell Tovey. The other star of the extensive cast, which ranges from Jeremy Piven to Lenny Henry, is David Tennant as the fraught and slightly scheming Charles Darwin. As with Darwin, the real world characters (such as Imelda Staunton’s Queen Victoria) are not particularly faithful but are all the more fun for it.
However, fun is actually where The Pirates! is sadly a little lacking. While it’s all entertaining enough and will happily while away an hour and a half with the rest of the family, the humour and the peril are both just a shade underdone and there won’t be the repeat value of the likes of Wallace and Gromit or even Chicken Run. There’s a couple of decent set pieces and some moderate chuckles, but the only thing that truly soars is a whale which crashes a pirate get-together early on. It’s so frustrating when we’ve seen what Aardman can do when on top of it’s game, and like Pixar the disappointment is even more acute when the treats on offer aren’t as fulfilling, knowing how high their bar is normally set. Since writer of the original stories Gideon Defoe provides the screenplay and Aardman stalwart Peter Lord direct proceedings, it’s maybe a surprise that it’s all a bit flat in places, but despite the consistently gorgeous animation the occasional pacing issues and the lack of a steady supply of truly great gags mean that you’ll probably enjoy plundering Pirates once, but the treasures here are in somewhat limited supply.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s amazing how much the lumps of clay can be moulded into epic vistas, albeit with a little CG augmentation, but as well as the fantastic visuals, allowing you to see every fingerprint, there’s just enough laughs to make it worth seeing with a big audience.
Why see it in 3D: While animation still seems to hold an advantage over live action in terms of clarity of image in 3D, there’s nothing here that stands out (if you’ll pardon the pun) in terms of a compelling reason to see this in 3D. 2D absolutely fine this time.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: If you’re about the same age as me, then many of your childhood movie memories are focused around the great movies of the Eighties, such as Ghostbusters, Gremlins and The Goonies, and other movies beginning with the letter G. It would also be around the age that you first became aware of horror movies; straddling somewhere between those classic family movies and the first flushes of horror was Fright Night, and while not a classic it’s fondly remembered by many who then graduated to more serious horror. But while it sank its teeth into the necks of some fondly remembered Eighties names, now the modern fondness for remakes has now also claimed another victim.
Comparisons to the original are inevitable, not least in terms of the cast, who have to compare to the likes of Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall. In truth, this remake hasn’t skimped in that area, and even the smaller family roles are filled out by familiar names such as Toni Collette and Imogen Poots. Christopher Mintz-Plasse also continues his run of geeky best friends / comedic foils, but the biggest name in the cast is undoubtedly Colin Farrell in the suspected vampire role. (I’m not a fan of spoilers, but frankly if you’re in any doubt whether Farrell turns out to be an actual vampire or not, then you’re probably watching the wrong film.) Farrell relishes the role, and successfully switches from a sleazy charm to a quiet menace effortlessly and fairly owns the bad guy role.
Just like the original, though, this isn’t an out and out horror; there’s not huge amounts of gore or massive scares, but director Craig Gillespie does do a good job of building up the tension at various points. Occasionally the characters make what appear to be massive leaps of logic or behave in slightly unbelievable ways, but that’s mainly due to the slightly knowing tone of the script, and maybe that’s not surprising given writer Marti Noxon’s background on TV, writing for the likes of Buffy and Angel. Consequently she’s not afraid to toss in the odd Twilight reference or other cultural meme, but she and Gillespie do give events plenty of forward momentum and there’s not many in the way of dull moments.
There’s one person I haven’t mentioned yet, though, and that’s the person taking the Roddy McDowall role. Previously, this was a TV host of a vampire show with a cowardly streak when it came to real vampires; as that simply wouldn’t work in this internet age, the role’s been reinvented as a TV magician with a penchant for the dark arts. Oddly cut out of much of the promotional material and not appearing until the half way mark, David Tennant turns up and promptly steals nearly every scene he’s in, his Cockney Criss Angel getting most of the best lines and being generally uncouth and unhelpful at all the right moments. This reinvention of Fright Night won’t go down as a classic, but it’s a lot of fun and should play well to multiplex crowds, whichever night they decide to get their frights on.
Why see it at the cinema: Director Gillespie makes good use of the space he’s got, and there’s plenty of big laughs when Tennant’s on screen and reasonable scares when Farrell’s around.
Why see it in 3D: If you’ve got any sense, don’t. The image is fairly dark for most of the movie, due to being mostly set at night, and there’s been no effort to compensate for this in the 3D image, so the fact you’ll be watching it wearing sunglasses just makes it worse. There’s the odd good 3D moment, but not enough to compensate for not being able to see anything. Stick to 2D on this one.
The Score: 7/10