Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ratatouille on DVD

It's not often you'll find me endorsing the purchase of Disney commodity, but with today's DVD release of Ratatouille (2007), I'll make an exception. I saw the movie back in July and was completely dazzled; so much that I described it as one of the most engrossing cinematic experiences I'd had in years. One could go on forever trying to explicate the depth of the story or characters, but it's the sumptuous compositions that elevate this movie to sublimity.

Here's a passage from my original review wherein I try to focus on these these more intangible qualities:

"Ratatouille, despite being purely digital, exhibits a real love of the art of filmmaking: the cinematic staging of actors and mise en scene, the simple beauty of composition, the depth-of-focus in how the camera 'captures', and the shear viscera of movement. This movie is not over-edited, but rather enjoys its 'filmness' despite not existing as 'film'. Interestingly, [Brendon] Bouzard was responsible for some of the finest writing I've come across about another film which blends the photographic with the digital: Miami Vice. In different ways, both Vice and Ratatouille represent crucial works in the advancement of the medium of digital cinema. They each acknowledge and romanticize their photographic origins and properties, but which actively pursue new syntactical approaches to how we see cinematic images and construct the world of a film in our memory.

There are moments in
Ratatouille so visually arresting and yet challenging at the same time. Its images do not exist for the spectator to become a passive recipient of information. These images actively involve the viewer in the construction of the "world" of the movie, which (in my mind) is closely connected to a movie's affective abilities. As we process the visual, auditory, and narrative information, we construct a knowledge of the cinematic space occupied by the characters and action. Too often, this aspect of film viewing goes unrecognized in criticism, but I maintain that the construction of cinematic space is crucial; specifically, how a viewer makes sense of a moving image and constructs a relational memory of its elements. This is no doubt an intricate process that I couldn't even begin to lay out in precise detail, suffice to say that the film exhibits a joy for movement and cinematic space that takes advantage of its digital and analogic properties. The end result is a film with so many memorable moments, images, and feelings that is both incredibly subtle and accessible to all viewers.

Its richness features in moments both large and small, from the detailed atmosphere of the film's rainy opening shot, to the sweeping majesty of Paris when it is first revealed. Amazing detail went into the construction of every aspect of this movie; its tones and moods come through in every scene and every shot. Sometimes, one can notice such details; others have to just be enjoyed to be understood."

Indeed, the fantastically realized world of the film is both real and dream-like, breaking simple barriers between "digital" and "analog" in how its fluid movements and images enable the viewer to see, hear, and feel its linear story and characters in a nonlinear way. Brad Bird finds amazing subtlty in what seems to be standard Disney material. Its dance between realism and moody surrealistic rhythms results in an intoxicating visual and narrative experience the likes of which Disney has rarely produced. Ratatouille, in its transcendence of quantifiable boundaries and categories, accomplishes what the best of digital cinema can: it destroys the walls between animation and live-action, film and video, realism and fantasy. Seeing it as a critic and lover of cinema, I couldn't help but feel like the discerning critic, Anton Ego, tasting the dish of ratatouille in the final moments of the movie. Great cinema is an experience that washes over you; sometimes that's the best way to describe it.

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