Tuesday 3 May 2016

Ratchet And Clank

Clanks A Million

Ratchet And Clank
2016 Hong Kong/Canada/USA
Directed by  Kevin Munroe and Jericca Cleland
UK cinema release print.

Hmmm... well this is going to be a painful one to try and review.

Regular readers of this column might wonder why I chose to go and see this one. Well, it’s like this...

Back when I had time to do such things, before I started writing this blog, I used to play computer and video games. Starting from 1982 when I got my ZX Spectrum computer and, years later, when I graduated onto the Playstation, and then Playstation 2, games consoles. Being as I was brought up in a time when the highest tech computer game was two lines and a pixel representing a ball, in the mid 1970s, before the even more jaw dropping Space Invaders came out, I think many game players today might describe my taste as ‘old school’ at best (or maybe just ‘old’, I dunno).

So it would be true to say I prefer the simpler games and the old 2D platform games were something I definitely liked playing. So when everything got into something a little closer to what is now considered cutting edge, my favourite games on the Playstation were probably those aimed at the younger end of the market, because the sheer addiction and playability of those reminded me of the great times I had playing stuff like Manic Miner and Chuckie Egg back in the 1980s. So games like 40 Winks, Ape Escape and Spyro The Dragon were the order of the day. And, of course, Ratchet & Clank... which was pretty much just another variant on those ones I just mentioned. So, when I found out, literally a week before its release into cinemas, that a movie version of Ratchet & Clank was coming out, I leapt into action and asked my friend if he could bring his young ‘un with us to the cinema so I had a legitimate excuse to go and see this thing.

And I’d like to say, “A good time was had by all!”... but I can’t because it’s neither a great movie nor, as it turns out, the most interesting or faithful adaptation, from what I can remember of the original game. Furthermore, the young ‘un was so interested in the on screen antics of the much loved duo that he spent a lot of the time asleep... as did his father, it turns out. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t drifting off in places too, as it happens.

So, anyway, what we have here is a partial remake, to some extent, of the original game. However, things seem to be less exciting and interesting in the movie version than I would have expected them to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination... it’s just not a good one and I’ve been trying to figure out why it failed, in my eyes, to hold much interest.

Well, you know how some movies are just set ups for various set pieces and the story moves through the action, peaking and troughing to give you a build up between sections? Well this movie just doesn’t seem to have that kind of 'up and downtime' structure, it seemed to me. It was almost all just peak (or trough, take your pick), with no real uplift or build up to give the action any meaning. I mean, sure I was rooting for the good guys as they tried to foil the evil villain’s plans but somehow it all just felt kind of flat. Like the film was trying really hard to just offer up constant dessert without letting you appreciate that dessert in the context of a main meal. It just seemed really ‘even’ and, consequently, any emotional context was kind of lost in translation.

Also, in terms of adaptation, there are a couple of things which stood out for me when I used to play the old video game on my games console. One is Ratchet’s trusty hydro spanner (or wrench, or whatever you want to call it) which he would fling at various objects and which would return to him like a boomerang. Well, since that weapon is such a basic constant in the game, I could have done with it not being stripped down to a single token appearance near the end of the movie, where Ratchet just hits somebody over the head with it. Especially given its prominence in the posters. It was a bit of a letdown, to be honest. The other thing which I used to like about the game was when Ratchet would don special boots and ‘ride the grind rails’ found on various worlds as the game unfolds. Alas, there’s no grind rail chase or even a nod to them in this version.

There was one bright spot with a movie ‘in joke’ which highlights, in no uncertain terms, the use of the old ‘Wilhelm scream’... a specific sound sample which has been used in movies for many decades. This time it actually gets a shout out on screen and, if you’re in the know about this one, it’s quite a funny moment... at least I thought so. Although, I think most people in the screening I went to didn’t realise why one of the characters name checked someone as ‘Wilhelm’ after he’d fallen screaming from a structure. But, hey, I liked it... and by that point in the film I was ready to laugh at anything funny, should it decide to turn up on screen.

The film has an impressive voice cast. Among them are Paul Giamatti, Armin Shimerman, Rosario Dawson, John Goodman and Sylvester Stallone... but it’s a shame that such talent was held back somewhat on a script that, while it does have it’s moments, just doesn’t have enough emotional weight to pull the audience in, so much. They all, of course, do a wonderful job, but they really could have been anybody saying the lines, I felt.

The film’s score, by Evan Wise, was a competent and appropriate job but, I have to say, it didn’t really stand out as much as I would have liked. It certainly supported what was there on the screen but, again, when the score is supporting much the same kinds of scenes over and over throughout the movie, it gets a bit ‘bland’ after a while. That being said, it does what it does quite well and I think this may well be a composer to watch in the future, if he manages to get some bigger and better projects under his belt. I’m toying with the idea of buying the stand alone CD when it’s released in a couple of days because it’s a very competent set of compositions, it seemed to me, and I suspect a lot of it got buried under the noisy sound mix in the movie itself. So yeah, I’ll probably give that one a go sometime soon.

Other than that, though, I’d have to say that the movie version of Ratchet & Clank definitely doesn’t live up to its potential. However, saying that, not all the kids in the audience were asleep through it... although some of them seemed rather restless. Probably something which is more appreciated by youngsters, though, I would imagine, rather than adult game players of years gone by. One of my least favourite movies of the year so far but, again, not a completely terrible one.

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