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Feature


“The story you are about to see has been told before… a lot, and now we are going to tell it again… but different.”

When I saw the ads for Gnomeo and Juliet, I assumed it was going to be a load of crap. I was generally correct, of course, as we need another adaptation of Romeo and Juliet about as much as we need scabies, and an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet enacted by lawn decorations sounds like just about the most unneeded case of scabies in the long, sad history of unneeded scabies. However, in the long, sad history of unneeded movies Gnomeo and Juliet ranks surprisingly high, and is even kind of, well, enjoyable. The version of the story, as stated, surrounds two groups of lawn/garden decorations, led mostly by two families of gnomes – the Reds, who live in the yard owned by one Mr. Capulet, and the Blues, who live in the yard owned by one Mrs. Montague. The yards are separated by a wooden fence, which doesn’t stop the two families from bickering, playing pranks, and generally damaging each other’s property. While committing an act of property damaging mischief the Blue’s favourite son, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) meets a free spirit Red named Juliet (Emily Blunt), and the duo begin to see each other behind their family’s backs.

Gnomeo and Juliet
This adaptation was written by no fewer than seven people (eight if you count Shakespeare, several dozen if you subscribe to those wacky Shakespeare conspiracy theories), and it certainly shows, especially in terms of the comedy stylings jumping all over the place. But it’s also plenty obvious that a few of the participants are a talented lot, because some of the jokes are actually funny. The quality is certainly patchy. Sometimes we’re privy to genuinely witty word play and well executed physical gags, other times we’re trudging through stupid pop-culture references and bland appropriation of an over told story. The only example of this variation on the theme does anything clever is when Gnomeo meets a statue of William Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart), who in a very metatextual moment insists that both he and Juliet are destined to die (this is the only place to hear two generations of Professor Charles Xavier interact). However, the more patently successful comedy comes out the simple joys of slapstick. The animators do wonders with their limitations, finding an odd place where the movements of concrete and ceramic creatures seem somehow natural. The characters are expressive and zippy without major stretch and snap effects. The incredibly speedy eye movements are particularly memorable, along with the jittery movements of speechless characters like the stone rabbits and Gnomeo’s sidekick stone mushroom.

Some of the comedy revolves around the fact that the characters are all lawn decorations, but most of these gags actually ended up depressing me. In the Toy Story universe the toys are loved, and live to be loved, but the lawn decorations are just objects with sentience. It’s a concept I’m sure plenty of garden enthusiasts entertain, and I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to think about it this hard, but I am. A prime example is a gnome spends all day fishing the same fish, which itself is sentient, and not happy about the fact that it cannot escape the line. Twice the fish is freed only to sink to the bottom of the pond, where it sighs in disappointment, because it is unable to swim. This disturbing quality (which by the way, I didn’t find offensive or anything) even extends to the proper plot. Since gnomes apparently don’t require sustenance, Juliet’s father isn’t above gluing her to her pedestal after catching her with Gnomeo. Her sentence appears to be an eternity, or at least until the day she rots away entirely (in which case she is dead?). This isn’t exactly torture since Juliet doesn’t appear to experience physical pain, but she’s a hyper vigilant free spirit (which is what got her into trouble in the first place), and in love, so the psychological damage must be immeasurable. I also wonder where this ends. A sprinkler is sentient, toys in the house are sentient, what objects aren’t sentient in this universe? It appears that the computer and lawnmowers are not, so perhaps it doesn’t extend to machinery? I’d hate to think that the toilet was aware of its lot in life.

Gnomeo and Juliet

Video


It’s certainly not as incredible to look at as some of the pricier computer animation, but Gnomeo and Juliet is a pretty good looking flick overall, and benefits greatly from 1080p enhancement. There are millions of pixels worth of sharp details, blindingly vibrant colours, and no real digital artefacts or compression issues in sight. As seems to be the case so much of the time, the close-up details are impressive, but not as awe-inspiring as the intricacy of the details in the wide shots. The more realistic natural elements are scientific in their super-fine elements, including dirt and gravel that can practically be counted by the grains, and the blades of grass beg to be touched. All the major characters are colour-coated for our viewing convenience, and the red and blue hues are surprisingly consistent given the changeup in texture and style. On the included DVD copy the bright reds are especially rife with blocking and blooming, while this Blu-ray features edges about as close to perfect as possible. This is the kind of ridiculously awesome perfection that I can’t find anything interesting to say about. It’s really good. Seriously.

Gnomeo and Juliet

Audio


This disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is much more impressive than I’d like to admit, and adds a whole lot of production value. The sound department really made the most of their strange arrangement, finding every excuse to make a grinding or clicking concrete sound. Character winks? Concrete sound. Character touches something? Slightly different concrete sound. The same basic idea goes for the plastic or wood based characters. The action scenes aren’t too bombastic, but feature plenty of aggressive stereo and surround work, strong directional work, and just enough LFE impact. When I read the Blu-ray’s box art my stomach lurched as I realized Gnomeo and Juliet was kind of an Elton John vehicle, but I was relieved to realize that the filmmakers (which include John in a producer capacity) mostly used music from John’s back catalogue (minus two meh new numbers), most of it from the days he was actually an interesting artist. I admit that I was entertained by the way composers Chris P. Bacon and James Newton Howard sneak melodies from John’s recognizable songs into their symphonic score.

Gnomeo and Juliet

Extras


Extras begin with ‘Elton Builds a Garden’ (5:50, HD), a brief story from behind the scenes. This featurette mostly covers Elton John’s presence in the film, especially his music, but includes quick glances at the pre-production, and casting. It was apparently a somewhat tortured production, moving from Disney to Starz, then back to Disney where it was released through Touchstone. From here we move onto the two alternate endings (4:50, HD), each in story-reel form, and each with filmmaker introductions. I prefer the first choice. This is followed by a lot of deleted/extended/alternate scenes (42:30, HD), which are presented in much the same way. These present an entirely different version of the flamingo character, and reveal more of the film’s ‘too many hands in the pot’ problems, though they do sort of widen the scope of the universe. Extras end with ‘Frog Talk with Ashley Jensen’ (1:30, HD) and ‘The Fawn of Darkness’ (1:30, HD), two generally funny behind the scenes glances with voice cast Ashley Jensen and Ozzy Osbourne, a ‘Crocodile Rock’ music video, and trailers.

Gnomeo and Juliet

Overall


Well, Gnomeo and Juliet certainly isn’t a ‘good movie’, or even one that ‘isn’t stupid’, but it’s more entertaining than I expected based on it’s asinine, sub- Toy Story premise. It doesn’t compare to the kind of wonderful, thoughtful, imaginative animated material we’ve been seeing out of the major studios lately, but frightful parents with excited children will be happy to know this one won’t hurt them. The video quality and the DTS-HD MA soundtrack are both more or less perfect, and the extras are decent, including a whole lot of deleted, extended and alternate scenes that give some insight into the growing pains the film endured during production.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.


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