On August 3rd, the new animated movie “Fly Me to the Moon” premiered at the Directors Guild of America Theatre in Hollywood, LA. In a very fortunate turn of events Fraser sent me there to watch the first US screening of this “made for 3D” space-exploration adventure. I’ve been bursting to write a review on the experience, but I had to wait until the film went on general release on August 15th before I could spill the beans. Now the day has come, here’s the inside story of this visually stunning tale about three flies (yes, the insects) that hitch a ride on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the Moon…
Firstly, I have to say nWave 3D technology is astonishing. The company uses 3D stereoscopy technique to, quite literally, make the characters in the movie jump out of the screen (with the help of polarizing glasses). If you’ve been to an IMAX theatre or a digital 3D studio before, you’ll know what I’m talking about, the characters look solid and very real. This was my first 3D experience, so I’m glad it was a space adventure experience too. OK, I’ve never reviewed a movie before, so I hope I do it justice…
Right at the start of the animated adventure, we begin with some history. In faux black-and-white, we are in one of NASA’s labs, preparing a monkey for an experimental trip into space. It is the late 1950’s or early 1960’s when it was commonplace to launch animals into space. So far, so good. The 3D looks good, and the 3D characters look crisp, looks like we’re in for a fun 84 minutes (the kids in the audience had a good laugh at the monkey’s expense as he was launched into space, the director was careful not to indicate the primate may not return!).
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But the film, nor the 3D animation, had really begun. Part of the opening sequence, in colour now, involves a long sweep over Cape Canaveral, with the Saturn V rocket central to the scene. Moving over the water, your eyes take a while to focus on the shapes; you need to learn to relax your focus and treat the screen with more depth (especially when wearing a pair of unfashionable polarizing 3D glasses). Suddenly a dragonfly flies into shot and the 3D effect pops into being. There was no one in the audience who didn’t jump; the insect looked as if it was two feet away from your face, hovering above the seat in front (I was ten rows back from the screen). The kids in the audience (plus me) reached out to touch the animated creature, only for our hands to pass in front. Its effects like this that typifies the whole film, long tracking shots, 3D characters jumping out of the screen, vibrant colours bringing crisp clarity to each shot. Without the nWave 3D, the characters would probably be pretty bland, after all this doesn’t have the gravitas of a Disney-Pixar or Dreamworks production.
Sometimes you realise that the director wants you to experience everything the nWave technology can provide, sometimes making the fly-point-of-view flying sequences a little too long, but still delivering a visual delight. Unfortunately, this is probably the biggest drawback of the movie. Languishing in wonderful animated sequences, but filling the time with a basic script where even the rendered characters can seem a little wooden. I think the director misses the mark a little when trying to build up an audience rapport with the central characters; you find yourself thinking “get to the Apollo 11 launch already!”
That said, the youngsters in the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the three young flies: Nat (sensible yet adventurous, voiced by Trevor Gagnon), I.Q. (brainy and geeky, voiced by Philip Bolden) and Scooter (loud and brash, voiced by David Gore), it’s just a shame nWave didn’t build a little dual-humour into the plot which the likes of Toy Story or Finding Nemo were so good at (where a joke means one thing to an adult, but something totally different to a child – after all, you can only have so many burp jokes). But, this is a poor comparison; Fly Me to the Moon isn’t in the same league as these blockbusters. There is more of a focus on the big, space scene animation rather than plot or script. The 3D animated space sequences are what make this film, most certainly beating anything Pixar or Dreamworks can generate on a 2D screen.
For the first 20 minutes or so, we are based in the flies’ world; in the undergrowth and in the air, but as the story develops the fun really begins to start. Once Nat and co. find a way to join the Apollo 11 astronauts (after some entertaining encouragement from Nat’s Grampa, voiced by Christopher Lloyd, or “Doc” from his 1980’s Back to the Future fame), we arrive at some of the most visually stunning rendered scenes I have seen in an animated feature. For starters, the Saturn V lift-off is detailed with painstaking accuracy, reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ Apollo 13 launch sequence, only a little cleaner. As the rocket blasts through the atmosphere (probably a little too quickly for my liking), we’re suddenly in space and the Saturn V begins separation of its first stage. My second favourite part of the whole movie is the separation and re-docking of the lunar module whilst in lunar orbit, this will probably the closet you will come to actually “being there.” If you see the movie for one thing and one thing only, go and watch it for the wonderfully executed space vehicle scenes.
During the Apollo 11 voyage, the fly trio have a lot of work on their hands. For starters, mission control discover they have “contaminants” on board the command module, so throughout the film our miniature heroes are trying to dodge Armstrong’s bug spray can. There are some funny scenes, mainly focused around the always hungry Scooter, voiced by the very talented David Gore (although the “wind breaking escape scene” was a bridge too far for me). Nat, I.Q. and Scooter were also responsible for fixing a glitch in the Apollo 11 control panel apparently, replacing unplugged cable, leaving the crew to think they repaired the electrical fault. All the way through their adventure, the trio are being watched by their anxious Moms on Earth, managing to catch a glimpse of their young explorers via NASA footage (Nat’s mom, voiced by Kelly Ripa, constantly fainting and exclaiming “Lord of the Flies!” when ever a crisis unfolds; funny the first time, a bit tiresome after the third). There are also some evil Soviet Russian flies on Earth trying to undo the American flies space efforts; of course there needed to be a few “bad guys” (which, unfortunately, were surplus to requirements. If it wasn’t for the buxom Russian love interest, Nadia, there would be no point in including any baddies). The 1960’s era is captured wonderfully however, down to the fashion and music at the time.
Although this is obviously aimed at a younger audience, the stunning in-space animations will keep the 15+ crowd interested. And the entire movie is worth it for the famous Moon landing. There are a few technical inaccuracies, but they pass largely unnoticed as the astronauts touch down and Armstrong says his famous speech (although the producers did not use the archival transmission of Armstrong’s “One Small Step For Man…” line, which I thought was a strange decision). I really did feel excited by the lunar landing, seeing the command module in orbit, lunar module landing (“The Eagle has landed”) and animated Buzz and Neil hopping around in the Moon dust; it (almost) felt you were there.
All in all, this is a wonderfully valuable animated film that will engage kids more than adults, but it certainly isn’t boring, in fact, the time flew by. The fight sequences are too long and contrived, and a lot of the script is weak, but the voice talent is superb (especially Christopher Lloyd as “Grampa,” the lovely Nicolette Sheridan as “Nadia,” legendary British actor Tim Curry as evil “Yegor” and the young fly trio voices) and the 3D effects are incredible. Watching this movie was more of an “experience” than anything else, and although I felt my eyes getting a little tired from the changing focal depth for 84 minutes, the wonderful animated set-pieces kept me hooked.
Space exploration needs movies like this to engage and interest the next generation, and with cameo appearances by the likes of Buzz Aldrin only make movies like Fly Me to the Moon more valuable. Right at the end of the movie, Buzz makes an entertaining speech. Starting off with ‘Despite what you might have heard about the Moon landings…’ I thought he was referring to the flawed allegations of the faked NASA lunar landings, but he humorously continued, ‘…there were no contaminants on Apollo 11, flies did not land on the Moon!‘
The best thing about the whole premier experience was to meet and chat to the legendary astronaut himself, such a polite and friendly guy who has a lot of time for fans, reporters and photographers. I also met Tim Curry, an actor I’ve enjoyed for many years, ever since his infamous appearance in the 1975 cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Most of the rest of the cast was there for the screening, including the young voice talents (Gagnon, Bolden and Gore) with Nicolette Sheridan (famed for her Desperate Housewives character), Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Ripa (“Nat’s Mom”), Adrienne Barbeau (“Scooter’s Mom”) and Ed Begley Jr. (“Poopchev”), and probably quite a few I didn’t see. Besides, the after party was fun, involving lots of ice cream and cookies…
So, if you want to see a fun and wonderfully animated film with lots of entertainment for your kids, this is the film for you. Although some of the dialogue can be a little cringe-making, with fight sequences too long and “cheesy,” the animation makes up for many of these flaws, making this an entertaining family animation that can only help boost enthusiasm for space travel in the younger generation. Interestingly, the 10-year old sitting next to me in the screening asked his dad, “Why aren’t we still on the Moon?” At least Fly Me to the Moon has already gotten one young mind thinking…
…also, you’ll never look at maggots in the same light ever again…
As Nat, I.Q. and Scooter would say: “Adventure forever! Dreamers get swatted? Never!”
Fly Me to the Moon is now on general release in the US and Canada, but only in IMAX and 3D digital theatres.
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