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Cutting Edge Films Don't Reach Masses


Written by: Ryan Kresser
Date: January 2001

Old Man and the Sea and Cyberworld Take Viewers Somewhere New -- But Can't Seem to Reach Enough People


Category: Columns

I was reading an article in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times yesterday about Alexander Petrov, Russian Academy Award-winning painter of the wonderful, beautiful Old Man and the Sea.

I was fortunate enough to see Old Man and the Sea in IMAX® (2-D). I’ve also seen the short "Monkey Brain Sushi" twice, the coolest 3-D animation I’ve ever witnessed, and in my humble, undocumented opinion, high art of the present/future. This is now part of Cyberworld 3-D -- a project that would seem to have the slick, commercial appeal to bring in lots of viewers. Apparently, so far it hasn’t been performing up to expectations.

In the Times interview about Old Man and the Sea, Petrov brought up the point that unfortunately, most will never get to see his film. (Distributors, and museum and commercial theaters: Why not?? Hemingway is entertaining and educational all at once. His work—and even his person--have been the subjects of countless Hollywood films, and some of the less-lame school assignments I can remember.)

Petrov (and his son) hand painted Old Man and the Sea’s 20,000 or so frames using their fingers, in incredible colors, with a result that made me cry for sheer happiness that someone went to the time and effort, definitely out of love, to create something this cool. It’s impressionism as moving picture. (Oh, and yes, there’s even a dramatic story, of sorts. Probably the best one that’s ever graced an IMAX format film.) One reviewer complained that the impressionism wasn’t up to the standards of Monet's paintings – as if anything worthwhile must be, but that's another issue altogether. Apparently, this person did not realize that this was a FILM, not a painting, created to be experienced as a moving, five-story high plus picture telling a dramatic story on a giant IMAX screen. And a beautiful, emotionally rich job it does.

Of course, I suppose the same people who are art snobs can be "above" an incredible, vibrant, visual rendering of classic Hemingway. But I think critics have generally embraced the film, along with the "mainstream entertainment world" in the form of the Academy (Old Man and the Sea was the first IMAX format film ever to win an Academy Award). And even defending Hemingway may be missing the point. Bottom line: the film combines great animation unlike anything most have ever seen, with a simple story of heroism that can move anyone with feelings. Compare it to the Lion King, not Monet – guaranteed you’ll be blown away. (Not to mention, two people did all the animation, as opposed to Disney's legions.) Better yet, don’t compare it at all: just sit back and enjoy. It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The best thing, for those still wary, is the fact it’s only 20 minutes long, with a 20 minute live-action documentary on Hemingway’s colorful life to get you in the mood and build anticipation. Boom, in and out – and wow!

The sad thing, now that I’ve tried my best to get you all fired up, is that Petrov seems to be right: most people will never get to see Old Man and the Sea, because it will never be booked in a theater anywhere near them. Cyberworld has fared better – it’s still out there, with a fair number of leases. It offers lots of other interesting animation segments cobbled together with Monkey Brain Sushi and three more cool companion pieces, all from different animators, all over the world. Those particluar sequences alone are worth the price of admission, conjuring Pink Floyd on digital steroids, kicking butt.

Aside from the fact that both of these films are wonders, of a sort, and both quite enjoyable, the absolute best thing about them is that they open up endless new worlds of possibility in the mind of the viewer. The first combines a classic story, a tool-free painting technique, and the ultimate in cutting-edge film technology to create something fresh and wonderful. The latter opens up a whole new three-dimensional canvas for the Picassos of the future.

For now, I definitely have to agree with Petrov’s sentiment that it’s a shame people make such cool Big Movies that so few people see.

**Want to see a certain Big Movie in your area? Go to our BMZ Community Bulletin Board and respond to "Where do you live, and what Big Movie would you like to see in your local theater?"

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