MovieBob Reviews Mowgli

first_imgStay on target It would now appear that Andy Serkis has fully committed himself to the cause that either he or someone under his supervision is eventually going to get an Oscar for CGI motion-capture acting; and since it didn’t happen for his Planet of The Apes prequel trilogy, he set his sights on directing, producing, and co-starring in a big-budget, “dark and gritty reimagining” of The Jungle Book for Warner Bros. But while the studio trudged along getting the ambitious project ready, Disney went ahead and did a more traditional version of their own with a lot more to spend on post-production polish, — and made a billion dollars worldwide. So Warner Bros. delayed the film for several years (ostensibly the work on the special effects), changed the title a few times, delayed it again and have now finally sold it off to be released direct-to-streaming by content-hungry Netflix as Mowgli. Ouch.Even taken separately from the circumstances of being a more hypothetically ambitious, “riskier” version of something that probably got smothered in the crib because The Disney Juggernaut decided to do a safer, more mainstream version; this is the kind of movie you find yourself wanting to root for. It has an actor-filmmaker committed to showing what a specific type of still-unproven filmmaking technology can really do, applying their own very weird off-kilter sense of tone and narrative to a famous story, cashing in (what had to be) a bunch of favors to pack the cast with other interesting actor friends in supporting roles, actually trying to simultaneously restore the bloodier, edgier gravity of Kipling’s original stories while also confronting the ugly colonialist aspects in a more frank way than other versions have… this is not some cash-grab — this is someone really trying to do something special. So it’s unfortunate that the end result is so… well, unfortunate.It’s also frustrating because even though you can tell what we’re seeing is what several successive waves of executives have decided is the shaved-down “releasable” version of something that probably didn’t work in the first place, but was maybe at least more interesting; it feels like this ship was sinking from the get-go. The whole production feels “off” from the weird mix of stagey point-and-shoot cinematography to directorial choices that careen from inspired and strange to flat and dull with little connection, the tone is all over the place in a way that’s almost fun when it hits an “off the rails bonkers” pitch but mostly just feels mismanaged and further victimized by the haphazard editing and confused narrative.The story conceit aims to hit spot in the Jungle Book story where most versions end toward the midpoint and then mix in significantly less faithful elements from the subsequent, less well-known Mowgli stories along with a new secondary human villain to go for an edgy alternate take on a resolution that’s definitely different from the source but not really different enough from the last hundred or so years of jungle adventure movies. As a result the “fresh” parts end up feeling the most cliche’d (while, amusingly, being nowhere near as dark as Kipling’s actual canon ending for the last Jungle Book story.)But what really ends up sinking it is that the use of mo-cap just doesn’t work out this time. Maybe they really did need to do a lot more work on the animation, maybe it’s a budget issue, but what it mostly looks like is the “facial capture” technique of letting the performer’s familiar face be recognizable in the expressions of the CGI animated creatures (a technique that served Serkis and others so well as Gollum and Ceasar in the Apes films and is arguably the main reason mainstream audiences are even aware of the potential of mocap and face-capture in the first place) turns out to be a disastrous decision here.Maybe they implemented it wrong, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be used to this kind of extreme for animating animals that are less similar in facial-construction to humans than apes or Gollum. The effect seems to go to one extreme or the other: Half the animal characters stand around looking as rigid as furniture (but not well rendered enough to actually be just statues) while others are in a constant bizarre uncanny valley effect where their bodies look like photo-realistic animals but their faces look unavoidably like Christian Bale or Benedict Cumberbatch (or whoever else) elaborate but in no way humanity-obliterating prosthetic animal makeup. It looks creepy and “off;” which shouldn’t necessarily be a problem except everything else looks so dull.There seems to have been an overall attempt to go in a more “high-fantasy,” less realism-focused direction with the animals overall, which is a solid idea. But they’re all dropped into a thoroughly ordinary-looking jungle environment with the palette of a dreary network drama and all the stylistic flourish of a sedan commercial; like bare fluorescent bulbs humming at full brightness in an otherwise bare beige room.Maybe it’d come off as an offbeat affectation in what was always going to be a strange piece of work if there was anything else to hang onto, but apart from the nominal interest in seeing the “teaching the mancub” the “law of the jungle” plot points framed in the more hard-knock British boarding-school/junior-military brutal context from the original stories after so many years of the Disney version (with Serkis himself going characteristically over-the-top as a surly drill-sergeant version of Baloo) and inconsistent tonal shifts from jarring grownup violence and “save the animals” fantasy plotting that still feels aimed at kids.In the end, it’s difficult to tell whether Mowgli’s ambition was merely misplaced or wrongheaded to begin with, but the end result is impressively misfired regardless.More on Reviews: ‘Robin Hood’MovieBob Reviews: ‘Creed II’MovieBob Reviews: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ MovieBob Reviews: ‘Shadow’MovieBob Reviews: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ last_img

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