The Edinburgh International Film Festival wound down yesterday, without the traditional Closing Night Film (then again last year’s closing film, Third Star, was mediocre at best). The Festival was brought to a more dramatic end, really, on Saturday, with two late additions to the Festival Programme: the premieres of The Lion King in 3D and the Kings of Leon documentary Talihina Sky. In the interest of transparency I have to make two confessions up front: I am not a fan of 3D, and I am a fan of the Kings of Leon.
Despite their best efforts (we of course gave 3 pairs of tickets away ourselves at OWF), the screening of “The Lion King” in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre was far from capacity – perhaps three-quarters full – but it seemed to go down very well with the families in attendance. I was a little surprised by how many kids apparently had never seen the movie, given how much comforting of children was going on after the death of Mufasa, but then, it is a 17-year-old film. It’s also, originally, a 2D, hand-drawn affair, coming as it did in that creative boom Disney experienced after The Little Mermaid.
The movie was preceded by the teaser trailer for the upcoming Disney-Pixar movie Brave, about a Scottish Princess voiced by Kelly Macdonald, a name that can inspire me to go see any movie to which it is attached. While the trailer revealed little of the movie itself, it evoked the world that the filmmakers have created for the movie; a mystical Scotland of dark green and purple hues (the heroine, naturally, is ginger). According to IMDb the movie is to be released next July; is it too optimistic to hope for a UK premiere at next year’s Festival?
The trailer was followed by a member of the cast of the “Lion King” stage show in London in a performance of the opening song, “Circle of Life.” She was fairly incredible and inspired me to check out the show at some point, given that people are always raving about it and it never seems to stop playing in London.
We had the more expensive, active shutter 3D glasses which offer a slightly clearer 3D image. The movie for the most part simply separates out the different layers of animation to give an illusion of depth to backdrops (which cinema, frankly, already has in 2D). The animated characters themselves were mostly unaffected (I took off my glasses to check a few times, and it was generally the backgrounds, not the characters, that looked blurry). Occasionally, as when Zazu is flying over the opening sequence, it is impressive, as it was for the flying scenes of Avatar. But as with that movie, for me at least, it takes away more than it adds. It still diminishes the brightness of the movie, and every time there is too much fast action on screen – whether the camera or the characters are moving fast – it simply becomes a blur.
Overall, however, I’d say this is the least annoyed I’ve been about 3D. It looks better in animation, even one that worked perfectly fine in 2D, than it did in, say, the ‘real world’ parts of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, which made me feel nauseous. Clearly some effort has been put in, and if you like 3D, you’ll probably like the way it is used here. I was surprised by how quickly I forgot about it; I just really enjoyed the movie. It had been years since I’d seen it, and it stands up as one of Disney’s greatest late-period achievements; great animation, great voice acting (particularly from Jeremy Irons) and great music. It will also give a new generation of kids a chance to see it on the big screen. What the kids will think of the 3D I don’t know; the novelty of the whole thing has worn off, and recent box office figures suggest a turning of the tide against 3D. It doesn’t help that they also seem to have been designed for Michael Jackson, and most of us with a normal proboscis find them pretty uncomfortable.
The new documentary from the Kings of Leon, Talihina Sky, comes advertised as a brutally honest, warts-and-all documentary. In fact, the filmmakers and the band must have said the word ‘honest’ about 20 times after the film finished. When I was a kid, my dad told me never to trust people who say ‘honestly’ a lot, and his advice seems to hold here. The movie is produced by the Kings of Leon. It is directed by someone with whom the band used to get high when they were kids. That pretty much adequately sums up my problem with the movie.
I didn’t have high expectations, particularly, but I was expecting something more entertaining, at least, than what I got. There is not a great deal of music, first off. Instead there is cross-cutting between the band touring and their roots as the children of a pastor in the American South. Relatives with, to put it mildly, thick Southern accents discuss their upbringing and the effect of their success. The repressive effect of the church in these States is touched upon, but not explored. In one moment of jaw-dropping misguidedness, footage of children speaking in tongues at some evangelical meeting is intercut with the band performing energetically on stage; it’s a cheap, superficial connection, done for effect and completely ignoring the controversial issues attached to that troubling practice.
Structurally, the movie is weak; its constant cutting between past and recent-past leaves it feeling without direction, and it drags. We don’t really get enough sense of the link between those boys in the home videos and the band now; in fact, I’d say we don’t get much sense of the band now at all. My problem with the movie goes beyond its structural flaws: deep down, I really felt like this was an exercise in egotism. The more honest and gritty the Kings of Leon want to be, the more attention-craving they seemed. There is a scene, for instance, of the band smoking a joint and exhaling into a sink’s plughole to avoid getting caught. The whole thing feels like some friends messing around (‘hey film this dude, it’ll look really cool!’), but not in a way that reveals anything authentic. When the band do speak, as when Caleb talks at the end about his wicked ways, it sounds disingenuous and self-important; it’s like he got bored of journalists’ questions, so decided to interview himself. At the Q & A after the film, Caleb said he ‘hates being called a rock star,’ and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to walking out at the Festival.
It would help if it ever felt like the filmmakers were actually capturing something, but there’s something contrived about, for instance, an argument between two members of the band. It’s the only real argument, and one of them is filming it. Why did he pick up the camera? To capture the argument, or to use the fact he was filming to control Caleb, at whom he was ranting? Is Caleb’s response affected by the fact he is being filmed? This isn’t a question the movie is interested in asking. It isn’t that it manufactures roots for the boys; these are the Kings of Leon’s genuine roots. It’s just that it repositions them as a marketing tool.
Adam Whyte, our man in the Highlands is attending the Edinburgh Film Festival. Check out all his reviews HERE.