Saturday, 21 May 2011

Flying Spaghetti Monsters [Review: Rango]

The greatest mystery of all time: why do good ol' Spaghetti Westerns suck so much, while tributes to the very same Westerns are awesome? I'm thinking of Blazing Saddles for instance, a spoof from the pre-Scary Movie era when spoofs were still allowed to be well-written movies in their own right. Mel Brooks was a large figure in this genre - you can't say he wasn't - and Blazing Saddles one of the best comedy movies ever.

Then there's Firefly. It's unbelievably cool to watch bar-room brawls, cattle rustling and train robberies in space - why, when the same plots out West leave me cold? Blame the sci-fi gene deficiency again... on the other hand, some things about the earliest Westerns are off-putting, including the unthinking racism of the cowboy and injun roles. The constant send-ups of racism in Blazing Saddles prove that the older filmmakers had no excuse (although admittedly, along with the greatness there are some misfires in there too.) I'm wondering exactly how Cowboys and Aliens will work this one out.

The animated movie Rango stars Johnny Depp as a thespian chameleon who finds himself an unwelcome stranger in Dirt, a tumbleweed town populated by lizards and other desert-dwelling animals. The animation: realistic is the wrong word, for example, if you're describing the animation of a rattlesnake with an automatic pistol for a tail. Or a Mexican guitar-playing owl. Or for that matter a chameleon wearing a bright red shirt. A better word for the animation would be "awesome" and it serves the tone of the story very well.

Like the best Westerns* there is action, tragedy, comedy, romance and gratuitous riding across sunsets. Unlike the best Westerns, there is also a village of inbred water-rustlers who ride on bats, setting the stage for a Star Wars-style canyon chase.

I raised the ghost of Blazing Saddles for a reason: Rango is as much a tribute to this movie as to the real Westerns, from the themes of reality vs fiction to the heroine, a lizard cowgirl named "Beans."

* I will admit to liking High Noon if you ply me with enough cactus juice.


Jenn of Many Cabbages said...

I think our sensibilities for pacing are different now. "What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a-going on here?" (Okay, sorry, had to be done.)

You got me thinking about the western genre... One issue was pacing. Even though there was action in the Spaghetti Westerns, the late 60s was not the best time for pacing... everything seemed to go very slowly by today's standards.

Also-- character. The Spaghetti Westerns weren't known, or meant, for character depth. I enjoyed Rooster Cogburn, but that was later and John Wayne's character and Katharine Hepburn's were both very animate with lots of layer of personality.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I love spaghetti westerns and Blazing Saddles is a piece of cinematic genius. Good to know that Rango salutes them. Depp is a genius so I know I'll enjoy it. Thanks for the review.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Jenn those are some mighty fine points. I agree about pacing 100%.

Maurice, thanks and enjoy: good to know Johnny is still occasionally making films that are not about pirates or set in the Caribbean.