Monday, July 28, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Imagine Itself

In continuing the I Watched A Movie In The Summer (da dada dada dada dada dada da da da) miniseries, the Author is glad to welcome an exclusive guest review of How To Train Your Dragon 2 written by none other than the star of the show himself, Chief Hiccup the Averagely Proportioned.  This is a take you couldn’t possibly read anywhere else and we’re looking forward to seeing more of Hiccup’s insightful, original analysis in the future.

This is Berk.  If that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve already heard it spoken in monologue at least twice, once at the beginning of my debut film and once at the end.  A useful narrative framing device, it clearly illustrated the progression of myself and my thick-headed Viking colleagues from brutish ignorance to peaceful understanding.  At the opening of How To Train Your Dragon, I spoke of my village’s many hardships, citing the dragons as perennial pests and a blight upon our livestock, but at the end of How To Train Your Dragon, I spoke from maturity of my village’s many strengths, referring once again to the dragons not as our mortal enemies, but as our greatest friends and companions.  If you go to see How To Train Your Dragon 2, you’ll get to hear me talk about Berk and dragons twice more, except that this time my monologues stem from the exact same perspective in each instance, rather nullifying the purpose of having such a revelatory and reflective monologue at all.  But how else am I to wrap things up in a movie where nothing really changes other than the emergence and predictable downfall of a generic, one-sided villain-character?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  My name is Hiccup, son of Chief Stoick the Vast and somebody else you’ll know shortly enough, though my girlfriend of something like five years-and-running calls me “Babe” for short, as in, “Go get ’em, babe!”  Gods, that’s annoying!  Astrid knows me well enough by this point that she can do a bang-up impression of my speech patterns, right down to the flappy shoulders and arms, but it’s a heck of a lot cuter when she does it, as you can certainly deduce.  My buddies Fishlegs and Snotlout think Ruffnut’s a lot hotter and will remind me so vocally throughout the film, which has an altogether inordinate focus on teenage hormones for a record of war, but I think Astrid has to be the second prettiest girl in the world, with the first prettiest making her residence in a whole other continent and/or universe depending on where the heck Berk actually is.  I just wish she had more of a personality. Remember how wonderfully self-inflated, feisty, ambitious, and affectionate she was five years ago, kind of like a real teenager, punching me in the gut one moment and smooching me the very next?  I miss that Astrid.  All she does now is give me motivational pep talks when I’m feeling blue, something about what’s in here vs. what’s out there and whichever one is more important.

I guess we all grow up at one point or another.  You may remember the days when I was a lone liberal in a village of myopic, irrational warmongers, an open-minded and prudential reformer who stood for independent thought, answering to logic instead of impulse, and knowing who your real enemies in the world are.  As a result of my exposure to the pacifistic mentality so often implanted by post-secondary Viking training, I have since matured into a naïve and insulated “liberal” who likes to imagine that my real enemies in the world don’t even exist or that they can easily be converted to my side through the mystical healing power of peace talks.  Needless to say it turns out I’m the foolhardy ideologue and my father is the voice of reason, which at the very least means this second adventure of mine isn’t a total retread of the first, even though both are mostly about people journeying from ignorance to knowledge, both have cutesy but endearing coming-of-age themes, and both culminate in a bravura showdown between the mountainous alpha dragon and a much smaller, more nimble underdog dragon which wins the boss round against all odds.

There are other differences between my earlier challenges and these, the biggest one being that I now have a token, one-movie “bad guy” to contend with instead of the broader policy issues formerly dividing the dragons and my community.  His name is Bloodspiller* or something ridiculous like that, and he’s got the looks to match, draping himself in a dragonskin robe that conveniently protects him from burns and partially enables him to claim an easy victory in the first major battle, before we good guys come around and turn the tides in a requisite second major battle.   There’s also another sidekick joining me on my quest, a dragon-hunting turned dragon-liberating mercenary type who wants to be devilish and evil but just can’t manage it – as if I didn’t already have enough knuckleheads following me around between Jonah Snotlout Hill, Fishlegs, and the twins, one of whom falls instantaneously and shamelessly in love with this newcomer.  I wouldn’t want to betray the greatest plot twist of them all, but then I fear I already have earlier in this manuscript, and even assuming that I haven’t spilt forth the beans yet, it’s clear that my marketing division has spared no pains to divulge the secret on my behalf.  I suppose it’s only a secret in the sense that the dawning of the planet of the apes is a secret, or that Jake Sully’s ultimate defection to the noble savages is a secret, or that Katniss surviving the Hunger Games is a secret, but it’s not a bad secret as far as they come.

So, what can you expect if you choose to go watch me and Toothless one more time on the big screen? There’s a lot of pretty sights, for sure, not the least of which is my gal Astrid.  Is there a single male alive on this planet who can bask in her high-definition rendering and not do figurative gymnastics inside his head?  Her wavy golden locks, the faintest glimmer in her gaping blue eyes, verily every perfect imperfection** of her lovely aspect is recreated with striking precision by the painters at Dreamworks; in truth, the studio gives all my friends a similarly royal treatment, though they don’t look quite as impressive, obviously.  So too does Dreamworks honor the legacy of our noble brethren in Dragonkind by animating a spectacular array of colors and fantastical frills for your pleasure, envisioning an alternately majestic and adorable race that should lend itself nicely to the overstocked toy aisles of your local Wal Mart or Target. These are the most stunningly accurate CG dragon models I’ve ever seen south of Westeros, but your kids wouldn’t know anything about that, would they?

I swear, this is just like the real deal.

In any case, they’ll be begging you for their own nightfury, deadly nadder, and zippleback action figures long before you’ve left the cinemas, which is almost as ominous for your wallet as the latest Spyro the Purple Dragon video game but shows the filmmakers must have done something right in the visual department.  You’d probably do better to get them John Powell’s musical score instead, which draws too much perhaps on the themes we already know and love but still introduces some beautiful choral sections and soaring pieces to accompany the many creative and cathartic flying sequences featured in the film (one of my kindred trainers has mastered some kind of dragon-surfing by now, an eye-popping and elegant ritual in which you literally dance across your dragon’s wings and back instead of assuming the more functional position and just sitting on it).

The script isn’t as clear-cut a success, though, largely because there’s not a development in the documentary you can’t see bearing down from a mile away.  Anyone who’s read the reports will know the course of things long before they transpire, but the filmmakers do little to heighten the suspense or emotional poignancy for those who are unfamiliar with our people’s near skirting of extinction.  The final destination of the plot should be glaringly apparent to anyone who’s watched a Saturday morning cartoon, and the humorous dialogue added by the screenwriter for a more mainstream appeal is roughly on par with that you might hear in such TV entertainment, as opposed to the genuinely funny albeit entirely fictionalized gags from Dreamworks’ first chronicle of Berk (“What are we going to do about all this?”  “But you just gestured to all of me.”).  For no discernible artistic reason, they have also decided to inject such theatrical clichés as:

* The particular fighting move that the protagonist struggles to execute for the first and second acts until the critical moment when he really needs it, at which point he magically pulls it off perfectly to beat the bad guy and save the day.  See driving backwards and turning right to go left in Cars, repelling the knife in Snow White and the Huntsman, subduing your opponent with his surroundings in Batman Begins, thrusting yourself through space in Gravity, generating a forcefield in The Incredibles, shooting the forcefield in Catching Fire, doing the wooshi finger-hold in Kung Fu Panda, and stopping the bullets in The Matrix (technically not trained for by Neo but foreshadowed by Morpheus in dialogue).
* Two guys constantly competing for the hand of the same girl, who isn’t interested in either of them. 
* A happy, time-consuming moment of singing and dancing and levity to relieve tension before a chaotic battle scene that ends in tragedy. 

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a story that needed to be told, if only for the sake of immortalizing our turbulent history in film.  It’s not nearly as inspiring or relevant to cultures outside our own as HTTYD1, but it still comes as a timely warning about the perils of passing off our real enemies as our fantasy friends.  I just wish it were better told.  For all the staggering trials we’ve endured and overcome, I only feel that Berk deserves far more than this mediocre sequel-on-rails.  After all, how much greater are the problems we’ve surmounted than those of our neighbors?  The Danes have bested their Grendel, the hobbits have toppled their Sauron, and the amigos have vanquished their El Guapo, but we… we have bridled monsters, we have saddled demons, we have domesticated giants… we have mastered…


End review of the glorified Saturday morning cartoon.

Grade rating: I hate to be the purveyor of sour news, but the Author has instructed me to read you this following letter that will undoubtedly put a damper on your spirits.

“The Author will hereby be discontinuing the Files’ grading system on the intelligence that it enables lazy moviegoers to skip over the other 99% of his reviews’ content for a generalized and by no means informative statistic which tells them effectively nothing about the movie and which is entirely relative to other films measured by the same scale and which thusly encourages praise or criticism by comparison rather than by the subject film’s own merits, perpetuating an epidemic of quite frankly idiotic excuses for commentary that devise to convince readers not whether they should like the movie but whether they will like the movie: e.g. ‘If you liked The Hunger Games, then you’re going to love X pseudo-dystopian teenage franchise movie that was made just to capitalize on the Hunger Games hype.’  That so many critics resort to cheaply pinning a number or letter on their estimation of a product is symptomatic of an intellectually tarnished digital generation, one in which people lean on percentages and graphics from critical web aggregators to make up their minds instead of looking at ideas and detailed analysis.  We at the Author’s Files have had enough of the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritics of the universe, and so it is that we’re dispensing with our own blog’s cheat sheets to better emulate Joe Morgenstein, Rex Reed, and other critics who write at higher than a third-grade level.  To determine the Author’s position on a certain movie in the future, you’ll have to actually read his words and read them thoroughly.  It’s better for your brain and better for his, considering the countless hours he’s committed so far to writing what he hopes have been stimulating and enriching critiques of modern art.”

Wow.  All that basically means I can’t give you guys who skipped to the bottom an easy answer to your question.  I will say this: I’ve been saving up to get Astrid a nice ring and it’d really, really help if you chipped in and bought like as many Imax 3D tickets as you can.  It’s really amazing in 3D – flames spouting out of the screen at you, flying through the clouds, it’s all so surreal, like really really awesome! Take the kids, take the whole family, ’cause it’s PG, you know, and there’s nothing remotely offensive in the whole movie***, except for maybe the fact that you paid $100 for it, but that’s not important.

More trailer reviews (by the Author)
“The Giver” – Good gosh, what the hell did Hollywood do with the most thought-provoking and deceptively simple young-adult novel of the last twenty years?  Why are the starfighter thingies chasing Jonas across the desert and sucking him up in their tractor beams like this is an action movie?  Why is Meryl Streep’s Obligatory Antagonist Character leading a conspiracy among the evil bureaucrats to root out troublemaking freethinkers like Jonas who “pose a threat” to the community?  Why’d the a-holes behind this even bother adapting a novel so lauded for its subtlety and philosophical depth if they were only going to pervert it into another gosh-damned Divergent clone?

See?  It is a frickin Divergent clone!

Pardon my language.  I didn’t mean to offend anyone.  Will you accept my apology, Jonas?

Earth to Echo – E.T. had a baby with Cloverfield-/Chronicle-for-kids and it is uuuuugly.
The Penguins of Madawhoha? – Because it wasn’t enough for them to get two sucky sequels from the idea-starved Dreamworks machine and an occasionally clever show on Nickelodeon.  These flightless fowl are creepy.  They need to die.
Home – I take it back now, mmm mmm mmm.  Apparently Dreamworks is capable of having an original idea, if talking alien blobs, Seussian candy-color art styles, and fart jokes are original ideas.  This is possibly the least enticing piece of marketing I’ve seen in my life.  So mind-numbingly stupid…
Dolphin Tale 2 – I reckon I should be partial towards this one because I’m personally familiar with the young lady who stars in it, but I really have no idea how they’re going to sustain the crushing weight of so much animal cuteness and audience tears through a second picture… which is all the first movie was in a nutshell.
Annie – Why is Django Unchained Foxx in the movie?  Was this supposed to be funny?  Heartwarming?  I don’t get it.
Firefighting Rescue Planes: a Cars Adventure in 3D – This would be the sequel… to the spinoff… to the sequel to the movie that was made to sell toy cars?  See Penguins above.

* Drago Bludvist.  I had to look it up in the encyclopedia dragonica.
** Insufferable allusion not approved by the chief editor.
*** (From the Author) In the weeks leading up to Dragon’s release, there was no small furor on conservative websites over a scene that allegedly outed Stoic’s right-hand man Gobber as a homosexual. Said coming-out moment is really nothing more than a throwaway self-deprecating comment Gobber makes about the “one other reason [he never married]”.  This, of course, can be interpreted as referring to many different things, most likely his physical handicap or natural Viking repulsiveness, and hardly constitutes a Hollywood conspiracy to foist a secular ideology on young audiences, as was Paranorman or Happy Feet, the former featuring an openly gay character on top of a brazenly gay message and the latter being a barely concealed, allegorical thrashing of traditional, Judeo-Christian values.  The only reason this line stirred up any controversy was because director/writer Dean DeBlois, clearly not the shrewdest cookie in the marketing jar, tried to force feed us the “right meaning” of Gobber’s joke for no conceivable reason other than to win his Caring Liberal merit-badge.  The whole outrage seems even more overblown when one considers that the line wasn’t even in the original script but was actually ad-libbed by voice actor Craig Ferguson during production.  Like the whole “Dumbledore is gay” incident of several years back, it doesn’t make any sense or improve the story whatsoever, but like the Dumbledore incident, it says far more about the author’s worldview than that of the work itself.


  1. I am the one who looked at Givergent, And I don't know why toothless glowed when he fought the ice dragon.

    1. I don't know why Toothless glowed either. And thank you for looking at Givergent. Between the depressing box office forecasts and extremely scanty campaign Lionsgate has allotted the project so far, Givergent could use a lot of you independently thinking dystopia fans to spread the word about its frightening vision of the future.


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