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Double D’s Double Feature: Megamind and The Art of District 9 Book

Hi ya’ll, Double D here again with two new reviews, the first is for DreamWorks’ latest outing (their third this year), Megamind as well as something that isn’t actually a movie, but still movie related. That’s right, I’m talking about a book and of course you all know I wouldn’t read something unless it somehow related to movies, so guess what? I’m reviewing The Art of District 9 by Weta Workshop’s Daniel Falconer, featuring pre-production concept art from last year’s epic sci-fi masterpiece. And yes, I still say that District 9 is better than Avatar. So screw you if you disagree.

Alright, let’s start with Megamind. Now, I work in a comic shop and being a comic shop employee means you get a lot of downtime to just sit there and read comic books. Now, reading so many comics often raises questions about character’s motivations, reasons and outcomes. I almost wonder if this is what the writers of Megamind were thinking about when they came up with this movie.

It’s kind of hard not to compare Megamind to The Incredibles and Despicable Me, but it seems like there’s been a trend recently of taking the super-hero genre in kid’s movies and re-examining the motivations of the archetypical characters in the films, drawing attention to conventions and breaking them all at once. In this sense, Megamind does a very good job. The basic premise is, “What would a super-villain do if he or she actually won?” I think it’s something all of us comic book lovers have thought about at one point or another, but we really never see it happen. As they say in the movie, “The bad guy never wins and the bad guy never gets the girl.” I guess this is true, but if they did win, what would they do with that power?

Megamind (Will Ferrell) finds himself with this very dilemma. His whole life has been plagued with a non-stop rivalry with a goodie-two-shoes super hero named Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Right from childhood the two, having escaped dying worlds in one of the film’s many homages to Superman, both find their way to Earth where Metro Man is raised by a good-hearted, rich family and Megamind is raised by convicts in the local prison. All through their childhood Metro Man finds acceptance, while Megamind, only rejection, his one friend a talking piranha named Minion (David Cross), who was sent with him on his voyage to Earth. Later, Megamind and Metro Man grow up and begin battling together over Metro City where they both live. Megamind has spent so much time fighting Metro Man by the film’s beginning that their exploits have become old hat and reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) is all too used to Megamind’s hostage situations. Then something magnificent happens. Megamind accidentally finds Metro Man’s weakness and finally defeats him. Now with no one protecting the city, Megamind can have anything he wants, except the one thing he really wants, Roxanne Ritchie. So he devises a plan to pose as the Metro Man Museum curator in an attempt to win her over. Something is still missing however and as Megamind continues to tear up the streets and take whatever he wants, he feels emptiness instead of satisfaction. Soon he comes to realize that this is because there’s no challenge anymore. Where there was once a hero to try and stop him, now there is nothing but an empty void. That is, until Megamind devises his best plan yet, to create a new super-hero using Metro Man’s DNA.

He accidentally chooses for his test subject Roxanne’s 28-year-old under-achieving camera-man Hal Stewart (Jonah Hill). Posing as Hal’s “Space Dad” in a somewhat unnecessary Marlon Brando send-up, Megamind convinces Hal that he’s destined for greatness as he trains him to take down villains and gives him the name Titan (or Tighten as it’s spelled in the film). Things go horribly wrong however, when Titan doesn’t show up for his big confrontation with Megamind and he soon discovers that Titan doesn’t want to be a super-hero, but rather a super-villain after being rejected by his long-time crush who happens to be, once again, Roxanne Ritchie. Now Megamind must decide, will he continue his villainous ways or take down Titan and save Metro City in Metro Man’s absence.

Megamind had a surprisingly well thought out premise for a kid’s movie, once again, clearly designed by a comic book geek like me to explore a few rarely explored facets of the comic book universe. Sure, it’s a DreamWorks movie and as we all already know, that means it’s not going to be perfect like Pixar. The soundtrack is littered with awkwardly placed 70’s hits, some of the referential humor is so forced you almost want to slap yourself in the face and the whole movie feels like it was rushed through development by a bunch of suits who just want to make money from 8-year-olds, but you know what? Despite all this, I actually liked Megamind.

First off, I enjoyed Will Ferrell’s portrayal and it never really felt like he was just playing the same character he always seems to play. He actually put some effort into getting into the right mindset for this character and it shows. The supporting cast all do their jobs quite well too, even if Brad Pitt was only in the movie for 15 minutes. Most importantly however, I liked the story here. I actually cared about Megamind. He feels like a real man with real motivations, not just a cartoon caricature of Lex Luthor with a blue head. I enjoyed watching him try to deal with not knowing what to do when he gets what he wants and most importantly, he’s convincing as both the bad-guy and the hero. Although I will have to deduct a few points for making the audience sympathize with him a bit too early.

The plot can feel a little rushed at times, but it’s a well thought out one anyways. Someone here wasn’t a suit. Somebody here actually gave a crap and it shows through, even through all the corny jokes. And that’s not to say that all the jokes were bad, there are a few great laughs to be found in Megamind too, so you’re definitely not going to want to strangle your kids for taking you to see this one. No, save that for Yogi Bear.

Anyways, for the final verdict, if you’ve got nothing to do one afternoon and you feel like taking the kids to see a movie, go see Megamind. They’ll enjoy it. You’ll, at the very least, not hate it and everyone will have a good time. And after all, I guess that’s all they were really trying to go for here. I wasn’t looking for the next Godfather when I saw this. All I wanted was an entertaining kid’s film and I wasn’t really disappointed. In fact, if anything, this was better than I expected. So, there you go. It seems like DreamWorks has been on a role this year, what with this and How to Train Your Dragon and even Shrek: Forever After wasn’t half-bad. Keep up the good work guys. You’re getting there!

I give Megamind a 3/5.

Next up we’ve got another product review for ya’ll. Of course I’m talking about Weta Workshop’s The Art of District 9, written by Daniel Falconer. First off, I need to thank my friend and This Week in Geek co-host Mike Dodd, since this was his book and he was nice enough to give it to me when he found me flipping through it one afternoon in his apartment. I was ecstatic.

I don’t think I need to tell you how much I love District 9, but in case you don’t know, I love District 9. Easily one of my top five favourites of 2009, District 9 encapsulated everything I love about science fiction. A powerful story with strong characterization and heavy social themes that sought to teach the audience something as well as entertain them, through stunts, action and dazzling special effects. Director Neill Blomkamp had once and for all proven himself to fans that were once wary of his attachment to the temporarily defunct Halo movie. District 9 was nothing short of a masterpiece and when critical acclaim and financial success led the film to a best picture nomination at that year’s Oscars I was surprised, but also very pleased that one of my favourites had made the roster. Though, I did it would have made it if they still had five nominees instead of ten, but that’s beside the point. The point is that District 9 is an amazing film and many people love it just as much as I do.

Now when I found out there was a Weta Workshops art book for District 9, I was so excited. This book is rare, but if you can find it somewhere, don’t think, just buy it. Trust me. The District 9 DVD and Blu-Ray don’t contain any concept artwork like The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVD’s did for example, so this is the only place where a lot of these images can be found and many of them are just plain stunning to see. There’s nothing like be able to have a sneak peak into the secret behind-the-scenes world of developing a film right from inception to final product and you’ll be astounded by just how many changes District 9 underwent during development.

Within the book you’ll find the designs that went into creating everything from the Prawns themselves to the MNU trucks, to the exo-suit and even pages about fake labels, fake news logos, fake signage and everything else that went into making District 9 pop to life and feel like a real world. The level of detail in the film and the extant of realism they were going for is astounding. Also astounding is the level of detail put into this book. There’s even a page of fake tabloid covers for goodness’ sake. Weta didn’t skimp out at all on this book and literally every little detail of design you could think of is represented here. For example, did you know that there were originally going to be three different types of aliens, slavers, who controlled the other races and the engineers and workers who would be controlled by the slavers? There are a lot of interesting ideas here and even things that didn’t make it to the final film like a weapon that sucks people up like a big vacuum cleaner. There was even a point where budgetary constraints were going to have most of the prawns played by men in suits instead of the CGI used in the final film. The amount of secrets revealed in this book is astounding and believe me, I’ve barely even spoiled them for you.

Obviously the book is filled to the brim with concept art, full color, hi-def photographs and 3D computer generated renderings, but what also makes The Art of District 9 worth buying is the writing as well. Daniel Falconer has worked for Weta for many years and definitely knows what he’s talking about. His insights will open up a world of movie design you never thought possible. Along with that, however, you also get quotations from the designers who worked on the film as well as from director Neill Blomkamp himself. The other big bonus is a Foreword by Blomkamp and introduction by Weta Workshop Design and Effects Supervisor Richard Taylor. In the few short pages that this prelude takes up, it provides the viewer with a better understanding of the film and the statement that the filmmakers were trying to make. Taylor even references the film being like a phoenix that rose from the ashes of the Halo movie they were planning on making. This book will give you a new exciting perspective on art, sci-fi and of course the movie District 9.

So, if you’re in a Chapters or something like that and you’re browsing through the film section and come across The Art of District 9, I’m telling you right now to buy this sucker! Even if you haven’t seen District 9, buy the book, buy the movie, watch the movie and read the book. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. Weta knows how to pour their heart and soul into everything and that includes the collections of concept art that they’ve been putting out recently and this is definitely no exception. Obviously this is a book, not a film, so I’m not going to give it a rating out of five, but I am going to tell you that purchasing this book is something you will most definitely not regret.

So, thanks for reading again guys and don’t worry, I will be back real soon with a review of Due Date, plus another movie from my top 25, so remember; keep it locked and loaded.

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