Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Under Milk Wood

Under Milk Wood. Directed by Les Orton & written by Dylan Thomas.

Preconceptions: Hmm, modern movies? Movies people have heard of? Doomwench writing movie reviews? I think things have gotten far too accessible around these parts. In order to combat this, I've dug up Under Milk Wood, a short animated film, based on the poem by Dylan Thomas. That should put us firmly back on the unbeaten track. While I've read a bit of Thomas, I'm not much of a poetry enthusiast and hadn't read this one. Not being able to speak to the accuracy of the movie version will be a nice change of pace.

General Review: Be warned that this movie is only minimally animated. While the backgrounds are quite pretty and the character design is good, we spend a lot of time staring at unmoving paintings. Any time that the movie can get away with a character standing stock still to deliver their lines, or we can hear the lines coming out of a picture of a house, we will. Fortunately, good voice acting and solid writing makes up for sparse animation, every time. In case you, like myself, don't spend your evenings in a Masterpiece Theater style study, reading leather bound poetry (I've seen Doomwench's house and I know she doesn't have one of these rooms and yet, it's still where I picture her spending her time) here is the skinny on the poem. It's a wry look at the beauty and mundane horror of simple village life. We start by getting a look at the dreams of the townsfolk and then follow them through a typical day, knowing what we know about their secret fears and hopes.

It isn't a surprise that it's pleasant to listen to Richard Burton read pretty words. He'd probably win second prize in a nice reading voice contest (the winner, of course, being Stephen Fry). What is surprising is how well I followed along through the different feelings of the piece: the grotesque, the idyllic beauty and the comedy. This movie switched its gears constantly but kept me on board. It managed to walk the fine line (extremely fine for me, due to my lack of sophistication) between these contrary feelings. I laughed with Under Milk Wood and I felt uneasy at the everyday madness. I also felt roaring support for Miss Cottage who plans to "sin till [she] blows up." This flick is full of similar great lines.

The voice acting deserves more than a nod, as well. I could have easily been bored by the often stationary animation, but I wasn't because of the excellent voices. Not only is it studded with aging big time stars, but the overall size of the cast made Milk Wood feel like a village full of distinct characters, rather than a small room with five guys in it (something that's all too common in animation).

While the animation is bare bones, Orton made a lot of interesting choices. There is a subtle difference in how the characters look in dreams and in real life. Another more overt, but still good visual choice, was the way the blind Captain imagines the things he hears. The look of the movie is very cool.

You might think that Under Milk Wood isn't going to be your thing. I think you'll be surprised. It's funny and weird and will give you a shot of culture without feeling stuffy (plus, animated nudity).

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