Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In short: Attack on Titan: Part 1 (2015)

This live action adaptation of the popular and sometimes pretty inspired, some times annoyingly generic manga and anime series (short plot: humanity has nearly been destroyed by being eaten by mysterious, utterly horrifying humanoid giants; there might be a glimmer of hope, but it’s icky; also, mysterious mysteries abound) is a real emotional rollercoaster ride: half of it is nearly brilliant, the other half total crap.

Unlike a lot of fans of the source material, I am perfectly alright with the live action version taking huge liberties with the plot, background and characters; in fact, if there’s one thing that has ruined a lot of live action franchise work coming from Japan during the last decade or so for me, it’s the slavish devotion to just putting the source material on screen beat for beat, as if you could just turn an endless manga series into a pair of two hour films without making huge changes to make it work in a different medium. The art of achieving a good adaptation of anything lies in deciding what’s the visual/thematic/narrative core of the source, and putting that on screen to the best of one’s abilities. Shinji Higuchi’s version of Attack on Titan seems to get stuck somewhere half-way between, though, making huge changes but often replacing the kind of clichéd crap you have to put in your manga and anime or get lynched by horde of angry otaku with things that are just as trite and overplayed.

Not surprisingly, there’s also a decided lack of subtlety, with certain characters – generally played by tired veteran actors or pretty young things with excellent hair – only in the film to (comically, oh har-dee-har) eat potatoes, suddenly ask for a new baby daddy (that scene really needs to be seen to be believed) or creepily (and badly) quote Nietzsche without any of it actually making sense in the context they have been put in. Of course, every single moment of that is presented with grand gestures, unlike, say, in the blockbuster-wise comparable Marvel films of today where the quiet moments are actually allowed to be quiet and still feed into the overall carnage surrounding them. The way Higuchi handles the character moments, I mostly feel embarrassed by their unnecessary broadness.

The good part of the film are the giants and their attack scenes. Blood is flowing in buckets, and the CGI creatures manage to turn something that should be silly just as well into something creepy and horrifying as the manga does. And where Higuchi isn’t good at all at that icky people having feelings stuff, he does come into himself in the scenes of mass carnage and destruction, really bringing home the horror of the film’s monsters as well as how tiny and fragile the humans they eat are. The character bits that are actually integrated into the carnage tend to work better too, perhaps because here, Higuchi not doing “subtle” fits into surroundings that certainly don’t do subtle either.

“But is it actually worth watching!?”, I hear my imaginary reader ask. Well, sort of, I think. At least the film’s big monster doing big monster stuff scenes are fine, and the rest isn’t anything that can’t be fixed by watching this thing inebriated or fast forwarding through it judiciously.

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