2018 Statistics

For today’s portion of my review of 2018, it’s one of my personal highlights every year: the statistics!

For any newcomers among you, this is where I take the 261 films I watched for the first time in 2018 and analyse them in all kinds of different ways, and compare them to previous years too. It’s exciting, I promise. (Well, it is to me.)

As a bit of a P.S. before we begin (yes, I know that doesn’t make sense), I’m now a “pro” member of Letterboxd, which means I get stats there too. They’re somewhat different to these because they also include my rewatches, a few TV bits and bobs, and things like that. They do include categories I’ve never bothered to tabulate though, like repeated actors and various crew positions and so on, so there’s that. Anyway, if you’re interested, you can check those out here.

And now, without any further ado…

As I previously mentioned, I watched 261 new feature films in 2018. That blows away all previous years, becoming my highest final total by 30.5% over the previous best, 2015’s 200.

Included in that is the one extended or altered cut of a feature I’d seen before that I watched this year. The film in question was Terminator 2, which I counted as part of the main list because it was (a) in 3D, and (b) the original theatrical cut, which I’d never seen before.

Those 261 films aren’t the whole story, however, as in 2018 I continued my Rewatchathon, in which I aimed to rewatch 50 films I’d seen before. I hit that goal exactly, meaning my total feature film viewing for last year was 311 films. That’s a 36.4% increase on the previous best, 2017’s 228.

I also watched eight short films in 2018, which is a small number but is also the most shorts I’ve watched in a single year since 2007. They won’t be included in the following statistics… except for the one that says they are.

The total running time of those 261 films was 461 hours and 9 minutes. That’s a little over 19 solid days! It’s way beyond the previous high, 2015’s 370 hours (aka 15½ days), though not as much of an increase as that was at the time: 2015 beat 2014 by 133 hours, while 2018 beats 2015 by ‘just’ 91¼ hours. Finally, add in the those eights shorts and the total running time of my new 2018 viewing was 462 hours and 48 minutes. (Maybe next year I’ll start counting my Rewatchathon here too…)

Next up, a graph I’ve never done before. I thought of it in a sudden flash of inspiration in early December, at which point it felt glaringly why-have-I-never-thought-of-this-before obvious. It’s my viewing mapped out across the year, month by month. It would be interesting to do this for every previous year, to see if the shape remains roughly the same or not. (I could do that, but it would be a lot of data to re-examine. Knowing me, I’ll wind up doing it someday.) One particularly noteworthy thing on this year’s chart: April and May are my two highest months ever.

Now, the ways in which I watched all those films. For the fourth year in a row, the year’s most prolific viewing format was streaming. It accounted for 109 films, which sounds like a big increase from last year’s 76, but because I watched so many films this year its percentage actually fell, from 2017’s 43.2% to 41.8% in 2018. That’s well down on 2016’s 57% as well, which pleases me because I own an awful lot of discs that I ought to be watching instead.

To break the above down further, my streaming service of choice was actually Amazon (same as last year, in fact), with 37 films (33.9% of streams). Netflix was close behind on 35 (32.1%), though if I included TV series it’d be far in front. A little way behind was Now TV with 25 (22.9%) — not bad considering I only subscribe for a month or two in order to watch the Oscars. Well, I like to get value for money. Finally, there was Rakuten with nine (8.3%), all of which were individual rentals rather than through a subscription. That was mainly thanks to my parents having some vouchers that needed using up, but also a couple of UHD rentals — it’s so much easier to find 4K films on Rakuten than on Amazon, in my experience.

The format in second place was Blu-ray. Every year I write in this stats post that I need to watch more of the stuff I buy on disc, but this year I finally made good(-ish) on that desire: I watched 82 films on Blu-ray (31.4%), a 78% increase on the average of the last four years. That’s a solid improvement, but I could still do better.

It’s a big drop to third place, where we find a tie between TV and downloads, each with 25 films (9.6%). That represents an increase in percentage for both of them from last year, so my reduction in streaming didn’t go entirely to Blu-ray. Oh well. The graph below is for TV, because it was once so mighty in my viewing, but it’s worth noting this is the highest year for downloads ever. Not sure why — I don’t feel like I download that many films.

In fifth place we find the once-dominant DVD, reduced to a lowly 12 films (4.6%). That’s an increase from last year’s eight, though the percentage is more or less the same (it was 4.8% last year). I’ve got hundreds of the things that I purchased in the format’s heyday but never got round to watching, which nowadays are sometimes trumped by availability elsewhere. I don’t even mean paying to upgrade to a Blu-ray — why watch something in SD on DVD when I could stream it in HD on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

With such a high overall total, it’s no surprise that almost every format saw an increase this year. The only exception was cinema, which stormed up to third place in 2017, but now returns to bringing up the rear, as it has since 2013. I made just nine trips this year (eight for new films, plus I saw Mission: Impossible – Fallout a second time), exactly half of last year’s 18. Will it go back up again in 2019? That depends what the big screen offerings are like, I guess.

In amongst all that, I watched 18 films in 3D (6.9%), up from 11 last year, and 14 in 4K UHD, a massive increase on last year’s one! Goodness knows what direction those numbers will go in future. I still buy 3D Blu-rays, but there are an increasing number of forthcoming titles that were released in 3D theatrically but don’t have a 3D Blu-ray scheduled. It feels like the format may be tailing off now, sadly. As for UHD, Netflix continue to favour it for their series, but only sporadically for their movies — a number of their recent high-profile acquisitions are actually only 1080p, like Mowgli and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. But I did get a UHD Blu-ray player for Christmas (though I’ve not had a chance to set it up yet), so we’ll see how that affects things.

That brings me to the HD vs. SD comparison — or UHD vs. HD vs. SD, as it is now. HD includes virtually all my Blu-ray viewing (I actually watched one film that was in SD but included on a Blu-ray disc), the vast majority of my streamed movies, most of my downloads, 60% of my TV viewing, and all my cinema trips. For UHD, it’s mostly streaming, but with three downloads too. Meanwhile, in the SD camp there’s DVDs, the other 40% of my TV viewing, a handful of streams, one download, and that one Blu-ray. The final result is 220 films in HD (84.3%). Topped up by the aforementioned 5.4% in UHD, that’s 89.6% in HD formats. It’s up over 1% on last year for the highest it’s been since I started keeping track in 2015. It’d be nice to leave SD behind entirely, but, like I said, I still have so many unwatched DVDs…

Talking of formats, back in 2015’s stats I tallied up how many documentaries and animated films I’d watched (as opposed to “live-action fiction”, which unquestionably makes up the bulk of my film watching), because I felt like I’d watched a lot of documentaries that year. I’ve continued doing this count each year since, but never mentioned it again because there was nothing noteworthy to say. This year, however, it seemed like I was watching quite a lot of animation, so I’ve revived it to see just how many. Well, the total was 34 animated movies. In terms of sheer volume, that’s over double the average of the last three years. As a percentage, it’s 13% of 2018’s viewing, vs. an average of 8.1% over the previous three years. So, yes, I did watch more animated movies than usual this year. (And while I’m here: documentaries were well up on the last two years too, though not quite as numerous as in 2015.)

Turning to the age of my viewing now, and the most popular decade was the 2010s (as it has been every year since 2012) with 138 films. It’s a high number, but in percentage terms it actually represents a significant drop: it works out as 52.9%, and you have to go back to 2014 to find a time it was lower. In other words: I watched a greater number of older films. Good good.

So, which decades benefited the most? Well, several of them saw increases from last year, with more achieving double-figure tallies than ever before, but the ’60s and ’80s fared particularly well. In second place, however, was the 2000s, though with just 29 films it was a distant second indeed; and at 11.1%, it’s actually a slight percentage decrease from last year’s 11.9%. The same is true for the decade in fifth place, the ’90s: it increased its number (from 15 to 20), but the percentage went down (from 8.5% to 7.7%).

In between those we have joint third, where there’s the aforementioned ’60s and ’80s, each on 21 (8%). In sixth place is the last decade to make double figures, the ’70s with 17 (6.5%). Rounding things out, the ’40s had eight (3.1%) and the ’50s had six (2.3%); then, after nothing for the ’30s or ’20s, the 1910s had one (0.4%).

In terms of languages, English was as dominant as ever, with 229 films wholly or significantly in my mother tongue; but at 87.7%, that’s easily the lowest percentage it’s ever been. Still, nothing else comes close, though for the second year in a row Japanese was second, in 23 films (8.8%). The only other language to manage double figures was French with 11 (4.2%). In total, there were 27 languages, plus one silent film. American Sign Language once again put in more than one appearance, and British Sign Language appeared in a short film too. Other more uncommon (for me) ones included relatively strong showings by Korean (six) and Hindi (four), and single credits for languages like Hebrew, Urdu, Xhosa, and Yiddish. Also, two films with some Klingon.

As for countries of production, the USA once again dominated with 189 films, though at 72.4% that’s down quite a bit as a percentage. Second place (as ever) was the UK with 52 films, which at 19.9% also represents a drop in percentage. In third place for a second year was Japan. Last year it more than doubled its previous best, and this year it’s done it again, going from 14 to 30 (11.5%). Close behind was France on 25 (9.6%). After that there’s a drop to Canada on 12 (4.6%), and tied for sixth place are China and Italy with 10 (3.8%) apiece.

Normally I’d run down the rest of the countries with multiple films, but there were quite a few this year. The likes of Germany (seven) and Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand (five each) contributed about as many as normal, but there were uncommonly strong showings for Sweden (six), South Korea (five), and Spain (also five). In all, 29 countries were involved in the production of at least one film.

A total of 208 directors plus 17 directing partnerships appear on 2018’s main list. The former is a record, smashing the previous best of 157. The latter… isn’t. It is a tie, though. Of those 225 directing ‘units’ (I mean, what do you call them?), 29 had multiple credits, which is also a new record. Top of the pile are Giuliano Carnimeo and Sylvester Stallone, each with four — the former all Sartana films, the latter all Rocky films. Right behind them with three apiece are Kazuo Ikehiro (all Zatoichi films), Frank Oz, Ridley Scott, and Kimiyoshi Yasuda (also all Zatoichi films). A preponderance of sequels also bulk up the list of directors with two films to their name, though I won’t list the series they each contributed to. The directors, however, are: John G. Avildsen, J.A. Bayona, Ingmar Bergman, the Coen brothers, Ryan Coogler, Jon Favreau, Richard Fleischer, Spike Jonze, Richard Lester, Doug Liman, Akira Kurosawa, Christopher McQuarrie, Kenji Misumi, Hayao Miyazaki, Roger Nygard, Todd Phillips, Peyton Reed, Martin Scorsese, Hiroyuki Seshita & Kôbun Shizuno, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, and Edward Zwick. Finally, Alan Crosland directed a feature and a short.

For the past few years I’ve specifically charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. There were 9 female directors represented in 2018’s viewing, with 8½ films to their name — the half coming from Marjane Satrapi co-directing Persepolis. As the graph below shows, it’s a pathetically small number, representing just 3.26% of my viewing. It’s an increase on the last two years, at least, but not much of one! I could undoubtedly do better if I sought out more films by female directors, but that’s kind of my point: I just watch films, and this is what happens — if female directors were better represented in the industry as a whole, the graph would automatically look healthier.

On a somewhat brighter note, at time of writing a stonking 27 films from 2018’s list appear on the IMDb Top 250 (or whatever they want to call it nowadays). That’s my best total ever. However, because the list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by 20, to 49. I’m getting relatively close to the end now, though… The current positions of this year’s inclusions range throughout most of the list, from 29th (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) to 241st (Paper Moon).

At the end of my annual “top ten” post I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases, and I continue to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’. In 2018 I watched more movies from every year’s list. To rattle through them (including the overall total seen in brackets), this year I watched: two from 2007 (36); five from 2008 (29); two from 2009 (31); three from 2010 (33); five from 2011 (38); two from 2012 (34); two from 2013 (34); one from 2014 (42); one from 2015 (33); and 12 from 2016 (42).

Finally, in the first year of watching 2017’s 50, I saw 33 of them. For the fourth year in a row, that sets a new record for the best ‘first year’ ever, beating the 30 from 2016’s list that I watched during 2017. This year has also set a record for how many films I watched across all the lists: it adds up to 68, which tops the 60 I saw during 2016.

In total, I’ve now seen 385 out of 550 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s exactly 70%, up from the 63.4% I was at by the end of last year. Shiny. Though, how long this can keep improving is debatable — a couple of those lists are getting fairly near completion, and most of them include some titles I’m not at all interested in watching. Time will tell. (As usual, the 50 for 2018 will be listed in my next post.)

To finish off 2018’s statistics, then, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

At the top end of the spectrum, this year I awarded 39 five-star ratings. Despite the record-breaking total, that’s not the most I’ve ever handed out (there were 40 in 2015). Did I watch less-good films? Am I stricter? Who can say? Well, it means I gave 14.9% of films full marks, which is roundabouts in my usual range (the lowest year was 11.9%, the highest 21.2%).

Second place went, as usual, to four-star films, of which there were 122 — the most ever. Again, turning it into a percentage makes things more normal: at 46.7% it places bang in the middle of previous years (five have higher percentages, six lower, with a range from 31.5% to 53.3%). The total of 76 three-star films is also the largest number ever, but at 29.1% isn’t close to being the biggest proportionally (that’d be 2012, when three-star films made up 38% of my viewing. It was the only year with more three-star films than four-star ones).

Bringing up the rear, there were 21 two-star films — again, that’s the most ever, but at 8% it’s actually the third smallest proportion-wise. Finally, there were just three one-star films, which sits in that category’s regular ballpark as both a number and a percentage. I don’t know what this all tells us, if anything. Possibly just that I’m a consistent marker. I guess this graph backs that up (barring the weird spike in 2012).

Lastly, all those numbers lead us to the average score; the single figure that (arguably) asserts 2018’s quality compared to other years. The short version is 3.7 out of 5, the same as it’s been for the last three years, and 2007 and 2009 before that too — that’s exactly half of all this blog’s years. But if we go to three decimal places, we can actually rank the years. At that level, 2018 scores 3.663, which is the lowest average for five years. That said, it’s still higher than 2007-2010 and 2012-2013, which means it sits more or less in the middle of all years — 6th out of 12.

As I was saying: pretty consistent marking. (Goodness knows what exactly went on in 2011 and ’12, mind.)

And that’s all the stats done for another year!


2018 is almost at an end! All that’s left is to rank my favourites in my “top 10%” list. But, having watched so many films this year, that 10% is notably bigger than usual — the list might take a little while to put together…

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

2015 #183
Mark Burton & Richard Starzak | 85 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | UK & France / silent (English) | U / PG

Shaun the Sheep started life in the 1995 Wallace & Gromit short A Close Shave. Eventually granted his own TV spin-off aimed at little kids, it’s become a global hit thanks to the decision to make it a silent comedy — no need to pay for pesky dubbing into other languages, while its sheer quality (it is Aardman, after all) helps it to transcend national boundaries. This year, Shaun and friends made the leap to the big screen, in what may be the year’s best animated movie.

The film begins with Shaun and the other ovine occupants of Mossy Bottom Farm getting fed up with the daily grind of being sheep, so they concoct a plan to distract sheepdog Bitzer so they can lure the Farmer into a slumber and take over the farmhouse for a well-earned break. Naturally things go awry, and the Farmer ends up whisked off to the Big City. With no one to feed or care for them, Shaun, Bitzer, and the rest hop on a bus and set off to retrieve their friend.

Expanding a series of five-minute-ish shorts to feature length is always a risky proposal, but fortunately we’re in the more than capable hands of Aardman Animation here, and they’ve come up with a plot big enough to fill a feature running time. In a style one might describe as ‘classical’, you can break the film down into individual segments and sequences, each one a crafted vignette of silent slapstick. That doesn’t make the story episodic, but rather serves to keep the humour focused — no gags are overused or outstay their welcome. Indeed, some fly so fast that they’re literally blink-and-you’ll-miss it. I suspect this means Shaun would reward repeat viewings, particularly to spot all the little background details.

It’s also in the details that Shaun proves itself to be a true family film. Like the TV show, it’s sweetly innocent and simple enough for little’uns (that US PG is thanks to a couple of oh-so-rude fart jokes), but there’s a sophistication to the way that simplicity is handled that adults can enjoy. There are also references and in-jokes for the grown-ups; not hidden dirty jokes that’ll put you in the awkward position of having to explain to the kids why you were laughing, but neat puns (note the towns that the Big City is twinned with) and references to other films (like Taxi Driver. Yes, really.)

Naturally, technical aspects are top-notch. Aardman are the kings of claymation, consistently delivering work in which the animation is polished, clever, and surprising, but which also retains the sense that it was achieved by hand (unlike some other films — Corpse Bride, say — which are so slick you begin to wonder if they’re actually CGI). I always marvel at stop-motion anyway — the persistence to animate something a frame at a time, taking days to create one shot and months to create one scene, is a dedication and skill I can barely fathom — but Aardman’s productions routinely push beyond your expectations of the form.

Aardman’s stop-motion silent comedy will certainly lose to Inside Out across the board come awards season (apart from at the BAFTAs, perhaps), but it’s the more inventive, amusing, innovative, accomplished, and impressive achievement. Delightful.

4 out of 5

Shaun the Sheep’s Christmas special, The Farmer’s Llamas, is on BBC One on Boxing Day at 6:10pm.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

2015 #98
Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders | 82 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English & Hawaiian | U* / PG

Lilo and StitchFrom the heart of Disney’s most recent poor period, Lilo & Stitch is possibly the only film that comes out of that era with any affection. Certainly, it spawned several sequels and a relatively-long-running TV series. By the standards of the films that surround it, it’s a good’un; in the grand scope of all Disney films, however, I didn’t care for it that much.

The story begins in deep space, where a self-proclaimed evil scientist has created a six-armed little monster, who we will later come to call Stitch. The scientist is sentenced to imprisonment, the monster to some kind of exile, but it escapes and makes for Earth. There we meet Lilo (Daveigh Chase), a rambunctious little girl who’s shunned by her peers and is cared for by her older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere), after their parents died. After a Secret Service-y child protection officer (Ving Rhames) gives Nani just three days to prove she’s capable of caring for Lilo, she decides getting a dog would help. Unfortunately, the ‘dog’ Lilo picks is actually Stitch. Mayhem ensues, life lessons about family are learnt, everything ends happily.

Lilo and NaniThe story is something and nothing. Despite strong and relatively mature thematic notes, it doesn’t quite break free of the family-movie trappings to achieve the kind of insight or age-group transcendence that, say, Pixar movies routinely manage. For kids, though, especially ones who are feeling like misunderstood outsiders, there might be a lot to take from it. The zany antics of the heroes might also work for them in a way they didn’t for me — the ‘craziness’ comes across as a series of vignettes to bide time until the climax, and I didn’t find it massively engaging either. This is also the stage at which Disney had decided musicals were a Bad Idea, so there’s only a couple of non-diegetic songs to keep things ticking over, and… well, your mileage may vary.

On the bright side, the animation is nicely done. Well, the characters are nothing to particularly write home about — they have all of Disney’s usual slickness without being particularly remarkable. Aside from the fact that it makes all Hawaiian women look exactly the same, anyway; and bonus points for giving Nani a more realistic body-type, rather than the impossibly-stick-thin way women are often rendered in animation. The real star, however, are the backgrounds, which were watercolour-painted for the first time since Dumbo, over 60 years earlier. In some respects it’s a minor, literally background touch Lilo and... Elvisthat might be missed by many a viewer, but it gives a subtly different feel. It’s a little more classical, which sits nicely against the very modern zany-aliens storyline.

Lilo & Stitch is a long way from the worst of Disney’s ’00s output; indeed, in places it’s even quite good, and I can see why a lot of kids would get something out of it. Not one that’s especially worth bothering with as an adult, though.

3 out of 5

* The version rated U has a re-animated bit showing Lilo hiding behind a pizza box instead of inside a dryer. The one I watched on Amazon Prime includes the dryer bit, but as that’s never been classified by the BBFC I guess this is technically unrated (or a 12, which is supposedly what the original would’ve received). ^

Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance. (2009/2010)

aka Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha / Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: Break

2011 #65
Hideaki Anno, Masayuki & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 112 mins | Blu-ray | 15

Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) AdvanceJust over a year since the preceding film made it to UK DVD and Blu-ray, and two years since this was theatrically released in Japan, the second part of creator Hideaki Anno’s Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy reaches British DVD/BD today. Continuing to re-tell the story originally visualised in the exceptional, and exceptionally popular, TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, You Can (Not) Advance throws in more changes to the original tale than its predecessor, including at least one significant new character.

This is very clearly a second part. It hits the ground running, with no thought for those not up to speed on the characters and events so far. Indeed, there’s perhaps little regard for those who may be familiar with it anyway: certain significant events rattle past, the storyline spewing mysteries via dialogue we barely understand, so dense is it with references and allusions. In some respects that’s realistic, of course — why would characters explain, for instance, the Vatican Treaty to each other when they all know about it — but it might leave the viewer struggling to keep up. It’s not all like that, but there’s plenty of it; and when there’s few answers forthcoming within the film itself, the mysterious references feel even more opaque.

Eva vs AngelFor my money, the first 40 minutes or so of the film are (by and large) the best bits. It opens with a barnstorming action sequence, a great scene for newbies and fans alike as we’re introduced to Eva pilot Mari, who didn’t appear in the TV series. That she then disappears for most of the film, only to make a thoroughly mysterious return later, is one of those explanation-lacking flaws. I’m sure it won’t look so bad once the next two films provide us with answers. Well, I hope not.

After that the film seems to trade one-for-one on character scenes and action sequences: ostensible lead character Shinji and his father have what amounts to a heart-to-heart, for them, in a vast cemetery; Eva pilot Asuka is introduced in another action sequence — different to her intro in the TV series, and I’d say not as memorable, though it’s still visually exciting. This is followed by some of the film’s best sequences: an “everyday morning in Tokyo III” montage is a beautifully realised piece of animation, depicting the commute to work/school under the backdrop of a megacity that can sink and rise as needed, moving into the school lives of our band of awkward misfit ‘heroes’. It’s not readily describable on the page, which is arguably the definition of properly filmic entertainment.

AsukaThen the gang take a trip to a scientific installation which is trying to preserve the oceans and their wildlife. It feels like animation shouldn’t be as effective for such a sequence as, say, the footage in a David Attenborough documentary, but nonetheless it feels extraordinary, in its own way. It also marks itself out with the interaction of the characters on a fun day out rather than their usual high-pressure monster-fighting world. And then it’s back to that world for another impressive three-on-one Angel attack.

I’m loath to say it’s after this that Evangelion 2.22 begins to slip off the rails, because flicking back through it after (the distinct advantage of watching something on DVD rather than in a cinema!) I struggled to find any point where I felt it lost its way or dragged with an interminable or pointless sequence. That said, this is where it begins to get more complicated. Much is made of the international situation, something I don’t recall from the TV series. It’s a neat addition — the world bickering over who has the Evas and how many — but it takes some following at times and the relevance isn’t always clear.

Rei vs AsukaBut it’s all building somewhere. For one, there’s another of the film’s best sequences — certainly, its most shocking, which readily earns the 15 certificate. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone yet to see the film, because it’s one of the plot points that differs from the TV series, but it involves the death of a main character in a brutal, deranged way. I say “death” — they pop up in the third film trailer that runs after the end credits, so there’s more to this yet…

Other than that, it sometimes feels like the story is meandering through thematic points that don’t engage as well as the character and action ones earlier in the film. Again, flicking back through, I couldn’t spot what I felt had slowed it, so maybe it functions better on a second viewing, knowing what ending it’s headed towards — at least one apparently minor subplot is, in its own way, vital to the climax, and the climax is certainly vital: unlike the first film’s ending, which was suitably climactic but clearly with story left to tell, this is a major turning point, a proper cliffhanger. Indeed, after a long stretch of confusion, it’s something of a gut-punch to reach such a dramatic point. I loved it, even if I felt I was missing some of the significance of the five minutes that led up to it.

Watching Third ImpactAnd then, after the end credits, there’s a brief scene that throws another spanner in the works! Double-cliffhanger-tastic… one might say…

Oh, and we get an explanation for why Shinji’s still using a tape player in the near-future (which, you may remember, was a (minor) complaint I had about the last film).

The second new Evangelion film isn’t as straight-up enjoyable as the first. It starts incredibly well, but then it feels like its getting too bogged down in the politics of a world that hasn’t been properly established for us and in the intricacies of some thematic considerations — the latter is especially worrying as it was this that made the ending of the TV series so unsatisfactory, which in turn led to a pair of movies that, frankly, didn’t do that much better. But the ending did cause me to rethink my position a little, and perhaps a second viewing would find the whole film a better structured and more understandable experience.

Tokyo III sunsetIn short, if you’ve always liked Evangelion then you won’t be waiting for me to tell you this is a must-see reimagining; if You Are (Not) Alone was your first experience and you enjoyed it, this is an essential continuation of the story — but be prepared that it’s not as simplistically entertaining. I didn’t enjoy it as much on this first viewing, but it may in retrospect pan out as the better of the two.

4 out of 5

Evangelion 2.22 is out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

1945-1998 (2003)

2010 #66a
Isao Hashimoto | 14 mins | streaming

1945-1998 title cardIs 1945-1998 actually a film? Or is it a piece of video Art? Or just another online video?

Its setup is quite simple: it charts every nuclear explosion between the titular years; the total, by-the-way, is 2,053. These explosions play out as flashing dots on a world map; different colours indicate which country was responsible for the explosion, accompanied by running totals. You might note at the end that the US are solely responsible for over half.

The film begins with close-ups: the first test by the US; then the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II. Then it zooms out, to a map of the whole world (arranged differently to how we’re used to seeing it here, with the UK and Europe off to the far left and America on the right. I suppose this is neither here nor there, but it took me a bit to get my bearings on where the explosions were happening). From then it progresses through time at a precise rate of one month equalling one second. If that sounds quite reasonable, the maths holds that it’s 636 seconds, aka ten-and-a-half minutes; or, quite a long time to look at a static map with flashing lights.

There are long gaps between explosions to begin with, but as it heads into the ’60s things pick up (so to speak). As time wears on further, the initially lifeless map transforms into an almost hypnotic array of multi-coloured flashes and variously toned bleeps (provided your 1945-1998: the first testattention didn’t already wander, that is). There are ultimately so many flashes and bleeps, and the effect is so lulling, that I had to force myself to remember these represented Big Nasty Bombs that were Not A Good Thing. Perhaps something more aurally grating would’ve been appropriate; the counter argument going that this would cause even more viewers to abandon the work.

Sadly, it’s become outdated: the bleeps all but stop after 1993 but, as the webpage you can view it on notes, North Korea have since tested nuclear weapons several times. Perhaps Hashimoto needs to add another 2 minutes and 24 seconds, just to ram home that the issue of nuclear weapons is still depressingly relevant.

So is it a film, or video Art, or just another online video? It’s all of the above (of course). 1945-1998 isn’t exactly fun viewing — really speaking, it’s a kind of moving graph — but, if one sticks with it, and despite its outdatedness, Hashimoto makes his point reasonably well.

3 out of 5

1945-1998 can be seen at CTBTO.org.

Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone. (2007/2009)

aka Evangerion shin gekijôban: Jo / Evangelion New Theatrical Version: Prelude

2010 #41
Hideaki Anno, Masayuki & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 101 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / PG-13

When I (first) reviewed Watchmen, I commented that it was hard to divorce my opinion of the graphic novel from my opinion of the movie, so faithful was the adaptation. That’s as nothing to this, though: Evangelion: 1.11 (also known as Evangelion: 1.0 and Evangelion: 1.01, slightly different versions of the same thing) is a retelling of the first six episodes of the highly-acclaimed anime TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, using the original animation and voice cast to recreate the story.

To put that another way: as a retelling of the first quarter of the original series, reconstructed from the original animation elements, some may wonder what the point of You Are (Not) Alone is — why not just re-watch the series? And how well can six episodes of a TV series work when stuck back-to-back as a film? To be frank, I’m in no position to accurately compare the content of the film and the original episodes, as I last (and first) watched them about three years ago. I can say that some of this is very familiar — one is certainly aware it’s the original elements re-appropriated — while other bits I suspect may have been drafted in from later in the series, and others I’m certain are actually all-new.

Despite some animation tweaks, other things go unchanged, occasionally making the future-set story seem already dated. A line mentioning cell phones, in an attempt to cover why Shinji is bothering to use a phone box, is a new addition I swear, while he also listens to a (digital, at least) cassette player rather than an iPod (other MP3 players are available, naturally). It’s not a major flaw — unlike, perhaps, the fact that the “covert” and top-secret Nerv organisation has great big signs plastered all over town and everyone seems to know about them — but, still, maybe a new bit of animation to replace the tape-playing close-ups would’ve been nice.

The original episodes run around 2 hours 20 minutes total (including all titles, trailers, etc) so edits have been made, but it’s intelligently done. Despite the time since I watched the series I’m aware of where some episode breaks fall, so it’s hard to accurately say how it hangs together as a film to a newbie, but it seems to me that it does rather well. It throws you in at the deep end a bit, but then so does the series. It’s a non-stop opening 25 minutes, a relentless onslaught of information and action, before the pace lets up a little. The pace is surprisingly good throughout, a well-considered balance between action, character and mysteries. Anno and co have retained some of the original’s light and shade — this isn’t just a plot recap, but includes some of the humour and character-based subplots. These elements are still the most trimmed, but there’s enough retained that they work in the context of the film. Indeed, it’s been so skilfully done that an uninformed viewer might even accept it was originally created as a film.

The pros and cons of the series remain. Shinji is alternately interesting, perhaps even complex, and a whiney little irritant. Here he has a character arc at least, suggesting he may be more sufferable next time out. His relationship with Major — sorry, Lieutenant-Colonel — Katsuragi, important in the series, seems to have an even greater focus here, providing a key emotional through-line for the characters. Some of the philosophical bits survive too, feeling as pretentious as ever, but — like the occasionally OTT humour — have been reduced by the need to hit a feature-length and still pack the story in.

As best I can tell the English voice cast is entirely the same as the TV series. Though I presume they’ve all been re-recorded for the film, your opinion of their work is unlikely to be changed. I don’t mean this specifically as either criticism or praise, just that there’s nothing to distinguish between this and the TV version vocally.

One thing that worried me was that this would feel less like a standalone film and more like Part One of a much longer story, primarily because I recalled episode six being ‘just’ another big battle — an action sequence, certainly, but no more of a climax than any of the other fights. I don’t know if I’ve misremembered or if work has been done to place a heavier emphasis on it here, but it is unquestionably a Big Climax — an all-or-nothing finale, bringing together the plot, most of the subplots, and a Threat To The Whole World. There’s still a “To be continued…” — not only literally, but quite clearly in a raft of unresolved subplots — but it fits as an End Of Act One, much as does the end of, say, Fellowship of the Ring.

Another factor thrown up by the TV-series-to-feature conversion is the image quality. An HD big screen is a mixed blessing here. On one hand, it looks great on Blu-ray, with crisp lines and solid colours, the result of re-filming, colouring and CGI-ing the original animation elements rather than using the finished TV shots. On the other, such clarity sometimes shows up a lack of detail in the original animation — these elements were created for 4:3 mid-’90s TV, not a hi-def (home) cinema — and the solid colours and money-saving techniques (for example, showing something static rather than a lip-synched (ish) mouth during conversations) can remind the viewer of cheaper TV roots. Perhaps I’m being overly critical though, because much of it does look fabulous; at the very least, the thorough ground-up rebuild means it looks better than the TV series ever will, never mind has.

Ultimately, You Are (Not) Alone works satisfyingly as a film. Arguably it has a slightly unusual narrative structure or slightly unsophisticated animation, but it works much better than you’d expect from six TV episodes stuck together. With introductions, character arcs and a suitably important climax, it even functions as a standalone film, in a similar way to Fellowship or other trilogy/tetralogy/etc first instalments.

Plenty of mysteries remain at the end: who are Seele? What is the Human Instrumentality Project? Why does Shinji’s father hate his son but smile whenever he sees Rei? To mention just a few. They’re not allowed to over-dominate this story, but they let the viewer know that, while You Are (Not) Alone functions as an entertaining standalone tale, there’s a lot left to be revealed and investigated. It’s enough to make one scurry back to the series for answers, though the three movies still to come promise whole new characters, plots and a — frankly, much-needed — brand-new ending. After two misfires (one in the series, one in a film), hopefully Anno can provide something truly satisfying this time.

4 out of 5

Evangelion 1.11 is out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Flushed Away (2006)

2008 #57
David Bowers & Sam Fell | 81 mins | DVD | U / PG

Flushed AwayAardman Animations, the Bristol-based company most famous for Wallace & Gromit and Creature Comforts, branch out into CGI for the first time with this tale of rats trying to save the sewers of London. CGI rats? Yes, thoughts of Ratatouille are inevitable. Can Aardman beat Pixar at their own game? You might be surprised…

The primary reason for comparison here, as mentioned, are the rats. Despite Pixar’s stated intention to redeem rats in the eyes of viewers — to turn them from vermin into loveable little fluffy things, essentially — I felt the same about bloody rodents at the end of Ratatouille as I did at the start. Here, however, they’re Disneyfied (oh the irony) — where Pixar had cartooned versions of the real thing, Aardman have given them a human shape. It’s surely this disjunction from reality that makes them more likeable, but it does mean there’s never that distracting “but they’re vermin” impulse. They’re humanisation is helped by the performances of a star-studded cast, including Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet amongst the ratty voices. Ian McKellen is a fabulously dastardly villain, ably supported by a pair of comedy henchman… and Jean Reno as a French frog. Yep, the humour is that British.

One thing Pixar unquestionably still excel at is the actual animation, however. Ratatouille is gorgeous to watch and will take some effort to beat; Flushed Away, on the other hand, doesn’t really come close to Pixar’s earlier efforts, never mind Ratatouille’s artistry. It’s mostly passable, especially once the action migrates to the mini-London in the sewers, but at other times it looks little better than a computer game. The second biggest mistake (I’ll get to the worst in a minute) is opening the film in a pristine up-market house — presumably it was an artistic choice to have it so tidy and clean, but this has the unfortunate side effect of highlighting the animation’s plainness right from the start. Once the story moves underground the level of detail improves, but it takes a little while to get there.

A bigger error was made with the lip-synching, however, and obviously this dogs the film throughout. Aardman consciously designed the characters’ mouth movements to imitate the clay animation the company usually employs (Flushed Away is CG because of the volume of water featured, an element too complex to achieve in stop motion). Instead of invoking that stop motion feel it just looks cheap and underdone — such jerkiness is easily ignored as part of the technique when viewing clay animation, but there’s no need or excuse for it in CGI. Ultimately it looks like the animators were lazy or the rendering has skipped frames, and is frequently distracting.

It’s possible to put the disappointing quality of the animation aside though, because the script’s a good’un. Like the animation it doesn’t really get going until we’re flushed into the sewers, but once there it’s pleasantly witty, full of good one-liners and clever visual gags. The latter includes a good line in intertextuality, with entertaining and easily-noticed references to Finding Nemo, X-Men and others, including numerous nods to Wallace & Gromit. They don’t dominate, but their variety makes for a nice bit of I-spy for both kids and adults of varying degrees of film-buffery.

Despite the inevitable comparisons, Flushed Away is really a very different beast to Ratatouille. Pixar’s effort is, for want of a better word, artistic; Flushed Away is simply a family-orientated slice of adventure-comedy… rather of the kind you might expect Pixar to produce. Aardman’s initial CG effort is not better or worse than ‘the other CG rat flick’, but it is perhaps more like what you — or, at least, kids — would expect. With a starry cast, strong script and good sense of visual comedy, Flushed Away manages to overcome its lower production values to create an above-average piece of entertainment. And that’s, as Wallace would say, cracking.

4 out of 5