Arthur and the Invisibles Review
"Ground control to Major Tom..." Anyone else, given a lifetime of wholly negative reviews might have given up by now but not David Bowie. Even when asked to do nothing more than move backwards, talk nonsense and not hang about, all of which should have come naturally to one who was once in Tin Machine, he was embarrassingly bad in Fire Walk With Me, a world away even from the have-you-actually-ever-done-this-before supporting cast in Twin Peaks. And that's not even - the horror! - taking time to remember his appearances, being that one can't quite call them performances, in Absolute Beginners, Basquiat and Into the Night. Oh, and Jazzin' For Blue Jean, which, in spite of the protests from Anthony Nield, might actually be one of the very worst things ever committed to film, video or the rant-filled pages of a crazy man's notebook.
Bowie returns to the screen in Arthur And The Invisibles but the good news is that he's animated and only provides a voiceover, meaning that his performance, though a good deal longer, is no worse than the spoken-word introduction to Modern Love. Get things done indeed! He's still the very worst thing about the film. Of course he is - putting David Bowie in a film is a bad idea in the way that letting crocodiles into a nursery school is a bad idea but there are some lovely surprises in Arthur And The Invisibles, albeit that it doesn't quite make for a convincing whole.
Arthur And The Invisibles stars Freddie Highmore as Arthur, a young boy who's living in a quiet part of the American countryside with his grandmother while his parents look for work in the city. Arthur is schooled there but has few friends and spends the long summer days footling about on the farm and opening the book of adventures left to him by his grandfather. In its pages, he finds tales of great explorations, wonderful inventions and marvellous tribes, none moreso than the Minimoys, tiny little beings who formed a close relationship with a group of tall warriors, their symbiosis enabling to do what the other could not. Harmony was achieved between them and as a reward Arthur's grandfather was given a great many rubies. Unfortunately, with a building developer attempting to buy up her house from the bank, those rubies could come in awfully useful but some years before, Arthur's grandfather had gone off in search of them and never returned.
One night, Arthur is awoken by the Masai who lead him outside and tell him that there is a way to enter the world of the Minimoys and that he must do so tonight. Remembering the rubies, Arthur agrees and by the light of the moon and a magical telescope, Arthur feels himself getting smaller and smaller. Clinging onto the end of the telescope, Arthur's feet lift off the ground and, by eventually being little more than an millimetre tall, he falls inside the telescope. Arriving at the bottom, he's surprised to see a face looking back at him, a Minimoy face belonging to Betameche. Tumbling through the glass lens, Arthur has taken on the form of a Minimoy and walking with Betameche learns that he must do much more than simply find the rubies. The Evil M is planning terrible things and Arthur, who pulls a sword from a stone in their city, may be the one to save the Minimoy. And, if he can do so, find the rubies and save his grandparents' farm...
There is very little in Arthur And The Invisibles that you won't find elsewhere. Indeed, Bowie aside, that may be one of the film's greatest failings. A sword in the stone is but the most obvious example of the debt that Arthur And The Invisibles owes to other films and stories but there are also steals from The Ant Bully and, well, just about any and every fantasy film that you care to name, particularly those that feature a young boy setting out on a magical quest. Time Bandits and The Black Cauldron are two that come to mind. But, for that, there's a fair amount of zip in the opening scenes set above the ground. The setting looks beautiful, Freddie Highmore is a charming young lead and Mia Farrow, who for her Woody Allen years was the most miserable-looking actress, has a good deal of fun playing Arthur's grandmother. Adam LeFevre has much fun playing the wicked property developer - and this shows his lack of scruples - who's happy to do land deals in church and who, as he leaves the farm, kicks Arthur's birthday present of a wind-up car into the drain. The setting for the adventure is very capably handled, which makes what follows all the more disappointing.
It's not just Bowie. Rather, when Arthur enters the animated world of the Minimoys, the film goes from its rather gentle opening to a breakneck quest across the seven kingdoms of the Minimoys and into the Evil M's lair in the city of Necropolis. No sooner is Arthur introduced to the king of the Minimoys than they are attacked by a group of Evil M-serving Seides riding mosquitoes. Rather than, in the manner of a good meal, allowing the jokes and situations to settle, we're no more out of one than another comes barreling along with the various asides getting lost in the buzz of the mosquitoes and the noise of the action. What begins as a gentle ride downstream ends with another attack by the Evil M's minions, the straws in which they're hiding being sawed into sections and facing certain death by waterfall. And all along the way, Arthur, who brings marvellous inventions as once did his father, breathlessly explains what it is he is doing. Two or three seconds here or there would have done much just to let Arthur And The Invisibles breathe a little while it could certainly have coped by losing a scene or two, particularly the boat ride downstream. Otherwise, there's a wholly unwelcome scene in a bar that features the ten-year-old Arthur drinking some noxious liquor but - worse! - dancing Pulp Fiction-style to a playlist that includes Stayin' Alive to discs spun by Max played by Snoop Dogg. That will be the Snoop Dogg who stood trial for the murder of Phillip Woldermarian and who appeared - though not nude - in the hardcore porn video Doggystyle. I don't know...Snoop Dogg might not be the most welcome of voice artists in a children's animated feature.
All that said, there are some nice little moments, not least that Madonna actually does a very good job as Princess Selenia while Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel are reunited for the first time since Cop Land in the roles of the King and Miro. And it does look wonderful, not only in the opening scenes above the ground but in the dank cities in which the Minimoys live. However, it being so rushed, there's very little time to take this in, with Arthur And The Invisibles not offering the audience the time to marvel at its setting in the way that John Lasseter and Pixar did with A Bug's Life. It isn't only that it compares badly to Pixar - although, to be fair, most CG animation does - it's more that there are some very good moments in Arthur And The Invisibles but that they tend to get lost. However, given how much my own children talk about the various sword fights, I fear that I may have already passed the age at which I'll enjoy frantically animated films, leaving this for an audience who won't care a jot about the sometimes lovely design of the film but love a good fight on a rotating vinyl album that, perhaps inventing a staple of hip-hop, gets scratched by Snoop Dogg.
There has been a lot written about Arthur And The Invisibles and the various versions that are available - Luc Besson suggested that the French version was longer with the English-speaking release of the film having suffered in the Miramax editing room - but none of the romantic subplots or cultural references look to be missing in this release. We still have Freddie Highmore's Arthur falling in love with Madonna's Princess Selenia. Having perused Madonna's Sex book, paedophilia is one of the few fantasies that she doesn't have so although, if one thinks about it, it's very out of place, one soon forgets about that and, taken as a whole, Arthur And The Invisibles is a fairly enjoyable film. Perhaps it's not the most memorable of animated films - David Bowie, for all of the wrong reasons, may be one of the few things in it that one will remember a year or two from now - but it was successful enough to have a couple of sequels agreed. Hopefully without Bowie and the rest of the pop/rock/hip-hop stars who, like the Dame, fancy themselves as actors.
Animated films would be one very good reason to go High Definition as this would look wonderful either on a HD set or in the cinemas. The colours are vibrant, the detail is sharp and the whole film, from the live action to the animation, looks rich and rewarding. That said, it still looks very good on a SD set and DVD. However, Arthur And The Invisible's best moments come when the Minimoys emerge from under the ground and rustle about amongst the flowers, grass and rivers of the world above. This is where it's closest to A Bug's Life but speaking as one who is very fond of Pixar's much underrated take on The Magnificent Seven, this is no bad thing. The DVD is a treat to watch and with it being taken directly from a digital source, there are no faults on the picture. The DD5.1 nicely complements the picture but there isn't a great use of the rear channels and very little low frequencies even when one might expect otherwise, such as in the flood water that rushes towards the cities of the Minimoys near the film's end. However, though the dialogue, like the action, sounds very rushed, it is generally clear. It does have a habit of getting lost in some of the more frantic moments, such as the barroom brawl when it struggles up against Stayin' Alive, S'Express and the humming of Betameche's lightsaber. Finally, there are English subtitles although Momentum could have included the French language track for completeness as well as having the option of watching the film de-Bowied.
Music Videos: Two are included here, one a rather dippy ballad by Jewel (Quest For Love, 3m14s) and a dreadful bit of summery hip-hop by Elijah (Beautiful Day, 3m25s) who has no more the makings of a pop star than he does prophet. Believing that we want to see and hear more of Jewel's syrupy song, we're then offered In The Recording Studio With Jewel (2m18s) but given how Elijah's offering is one of the most pointlessly annoying pop songs ever recorded, we're thankfully spared any more of it.
The Voices Of... (7m09s): Never mind David Bowie and Madonna, it's odd to see Anthony Anderson, who was more than a match for Vic Mackey in The Shield where he play Antwon Mitchell, talk without reference to drugs, gangland shootings and cop-killing. Actually, Bowie and Madonna are two of the members of the cast who decide not to appear in this and so we're only treated to Snoop Dogg, Freddie Highmore, Jimmy Fallon, Jason Bateman and Chazz Palminteri.
Finally, there is a Theatrical Trailer (2m31s).