Stale Popcorn vs. Food For Thought

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - July 16, 2008
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Saw two movies recently. One was full of bad language and had a hero who was skanky, mean and alcoholic, played by an actor who is often called the biggest movie star on the planet. It also contained one of the grossest visual “jokes” (involving what’s supposed to be a “funny” interpretation of prison rape) that I’ve ever seen.

No big-name stars in the other one. It takes place in a future in which humans have abandoned the junkyard called Earth. They live in a spaceship and have evolved into enormous, pampered, baby-like creatures. Their savior comes in the package of a dirty and determined little machine whose solar-powered heart contains more than a hint of the humanity they’ve almost lost.

Guess which one I liked?

I went into Hancock hoping for a movie that maybe had something to say about the true meaning of heroism and redemption. I got what I should have expected - a vehicle for star Will Smith to make tons of money. Watch Will Smith belch and curse! Watch Will Smith crush trains and torture (admittedly nasty) little boys! Hear your kids add “a-hole” to their list of favorite words!! And then watch as the film self-destructs in incomprehensible chaos before your very eyes!!!

I can forgive a lot of things in movies - they’re make-believe, after all. And Hancock doesn’t go for depth - it’s obviously meant for instant gratification, like junk food. But Hancock isn’t even good junk food. It’s like stale popcorn - tastes OK at first, especially drenched in that greasy goo euphemistically labeled “butter flavor,” but then disappointment kicks in when you realize how mediocre it is.

Contrast that to Pixar’s animated gem WALL-E. Instead of sitting slack-jawed, staring at things going boom!, the audience gets to react to real characters telling a real story. Instead of a barrage of bad language, the audience is treated to an almost Chaplin-esque experience - storytelling that engages the mind and heart without all the distracting chatter. Words are used sparingly, but there is not a moment in this beautiful movie that is confusing or boring. Are the themes too “dark” for children? Only if you underestimate them.

WALL-E is that rarity - a film that works for adults but doesn’t talk down to kids. Even better, it actually provokes thoughtful conversations long after the families leave the theater. So much to talk about - the care of the Earth, the meaning of courage, the importance of hope, the power of love and the triumph of humanity.

Hancock, on the other hand, is a lot like that stale popcorn - quickly ingested, easily forgotten. All flash and no substance. The big question boils down to this: Why is Hancock so mean? Who will he fight? Will he learn to be nice? Does he have a girlfriend? I will admit I enjoyed the flick for what it is - an easy way to spend a hot summer afternoon. And I suppose I could just accept the fact that this mess of a movie will trounce the lovable WALL-E at the box office. I just wish it were the other way around.

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