Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back

by Jeffery Bui  

imagesAround twenty years ago, almost every child’s dream was to become a Pokémon Master. The fantasy created by the Pokémon franchise acted as a safe haven for children—allowing them to both catch a break from the hectic life of long division as well as catch Pokémon while they were at it. When the franchise finally announced the 1998 release of their first feature-film Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, the Y2K scare was put on hold as Pokémon fanatics could not contain their excitement to see a ten-year old boy and his furry yellow mouse at their local movie theater.

Although marketing to the hearts of eight-year olds, the movie did not disappoint. The plot begins with the backstory of a laboratory experiment gone wrong, Mewtwo. What Mewtwo does is exactly what you would expect in a children’s movie that explicitly includes “Mewtwo Strikes Back” in its title: it strikes back—getting revenge on the dastardly group of scientists at the expense of the entire Pokémon world. As a result, the stars somehow align and the naïve yet courageous protagonist, Ash Ketchum, is put in the position to save the Pokémon world from devastation and prevent Mewtwo from obliterating everything the Pokémon world knows and loves.

MV5BMjE3OTcxNDA1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDI2MDE3._V1_SX640_SY720_Of course, being a children’s movie, it is suited for the resolution to be nothing less than rainbows and butterflies. However, the beauty of Pokémon: The First Movie is not found in the “what happens,” but the “how it happens.” The idea of how Ash is able to be the underdog and halt what seems to be the most powerful being exposed to the Pokémon world seems almost impossible; Yet, it happens—and in quite tear-jerking fashion. Pokémon: The First Movie takes the juvenile concept of Pokémon and alters it into something a little more tenderhearted. Shinji Miyazaki’s choice in music paired with the cinematography of Hisao Shirai caused for elicited emotions that one would expect watching something along the lines of Titanic or Marley & Me, not Pokémon.  

Pokemon.The.First.Movie.1998.DVDR.NTSC.R4.LATiNO-18-20130128-18211911The most notable aspect to the movie that sets it apart from being an ordinary animation is Takeshi Shudo’s creation of multiple layers within the characters. In just 96 minutes, Shudo is able to develop the character of Mewtwo as a hostile psychopath while still causing the audience to sympathize for it and almost justify its actions. Intended to simply empower and glorify the scientists who made it, Mewtwo is tasked with issues everyone faces, whether it be during confusing teenage years or a mid-life crisis: self-worth and self-identity. As a result, Mewtwo, just like many of us, channels the confusion into frustration towards those around it.  

There are only two plausible reasons that come to mind as to why I would not recommend this movie to anyone: I either strongly dislike them or they saw it right before I could recommend it to them. It may be the nostalgic toddler in me speaking, but the movie was a masterpiece. The fact that I have such firm support in Pokémon: The First Movie 17 years after its release means that the Pokémon franchise did its job. Even at a box office standpoint, the Pokémon franchise’s ability to net a revenue of $130 million in a 1998-valued economy speaks for itself.  

pokemon1sub_4The positive message entailed in Pokémon: The First Movie is both universal and eternal as it contributes to the progressive world we live in today. Regardless of the Pokémon’s origin, purebred or artificial, they come to an understanding that we can use in our daily lives: “Maybe if we start looking at what’s the same instead of always looking at what’s different, well, who knows?”

Birdman: Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is Phenomenal

by Erik Harty

Birdman-1Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a phenomenal film.  Written and directed by the lesser-known Alejandro González Iñárittu, it finds its life very much in the technical magic behind the scenes.  It is made to look like it is one continuous shot until the end of the movie, where some obvious hard cuts take place. But was it actually one continuous shot?  Absolutely not.  There are dramatic shifts in setting and time, not to mention the insanity of trying to choreograph every single moving part for nearly two straight hours.  So no, the film is not one single shot. Rather, it is a magical tapestry, woven together by the magic of clever cinematography, solid editing, and polished visual effects.

As an aspiring editor, I thoroughly enjoy learning about the inner-workings of the post-production process.  I love hearing editors, colorists, sound mixers, and visual effects artists discuss their work and the very specific decisions they made during their time with a particular film.  In the case of Birdman, the editors have actually kept a lot of their “secrets” to themselves, but that doesn’t mean their work can’t be dissected from the outside.  

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When examining the film to find its edits, one of the things that immediately struck me were the interior/exterior transitions.  At many places throughout the film, a character will be moving from indoors to outdoors, or from one room to another through a doorway.  Often times, the camera pushes in to fill the frame with the character’s back or the area around the doorway is so dark that the frame is briefly entirely dark.  Assuming that lighting and color are consistent, a cut can be placed unnoticeably at the point where the frame is completely dark.  This particular method is very reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), where he attempted to make a continuously shot film, but was limited by the amount of film that a camera could hold.  To hide the cuts, he had the camera push in to fill the frame with someone’s back.  Fortunately for Iñárittu, technology has progressed enormously since Hitchcock’s time.  The other two methods of hiding Birdman’s cuts require a little more post-production magic.

birdman_movie_stillThe first of these two methods is dramatically simpler than the second.  Known as “whip” or “swish” pans, these cuts find their strength in movement.  They work by cutting on the action, where the action is blurred because of fast camera movement.  The effect is further improved by using a frame rate near the cinematic standard of 24 frames per second.  Often times, a well-executed whip pan can even provide an unnoticeable transition between two completely different settings, so a discreet transition between two shots in the same setting is very feasible.  Birdman utilizes this technique all over the place, which actually helps add some energy to the film, in addition to its function as a transition.

birdman-emma-stone-changing-room-xlargeThe final technique used to mask transitions in Birdman is really more of a category than it is a specific technique.  “Visual effects” is a broad term than can mean a whole lot of things, but in the context of the cuts in this film, it refers to a method of smoothing transitions.  In some cases, such as the small number of exterior shots that showcase the transition from night to day, the effects are more akin to a very complex dissolve.  In other cases, they may add some extra blur to a whip pan to make it more believable.  Depending on the situation, they may even be a reanimation of some aspect of a cut that makes it almost unnoticeable.  Some might consider this category cheating, since it wasn’t how the film was originally shot, but it certainly rounds out the continuous feel of the movie.

Birdman-5Ultimately, I love Birdman because the unique way that it was shot and edited contributes significantly to the film.  It isn’t made to look like a continuous shot just for the sake of being different.  Rather, the continuous, almost dreamlike flow of the framing assists in characterizing this chapter of Riggan Thomson’s life as confused, dazed, and lost.  Birdman is a film worth viewing for its success in accomplishing a technical feat, but more importantly, for how its technical feat contributes to the overall character of the movie.