Review: Scrooge

Scrooge is a musical version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. The film from 1970 is a lot of fun although there’s a lot of over-acting and the music is for the most part second-rate. Albert Finney is quite good as Scrooge; the Cratchitts are all very well acted, and are a convincingly happy family. Marley’s Ghost – played by Alec Guinness – is rather a disappointment, though the costuming and effects perhaps are mainly responsible. Kenneth More’s Ghost of Christmas Present is rather better, though his seasonal trinketry, much like the other effects, is cheap and a bit dated. The director was also perhaps a little too enamoured of flying wire effects.

But that’s about it for the negatives. It sells the story – which benefits from the exaggerated tropes of musical theater. Actually my favorite thing about the film might be that the period costumes – although I rather doubt a consistent period is achieved – actually are carried off as clothes being worn and not just costumes. There is, I think, often a little disbelief that people would ever have actually worn such outrageous old fashions; in this film, especially during the party scenes, the effect really is something like, “Oh, those clothes really would be worn by real people.”

About the only memorable tune in the thing is the instantly recognizeable ear-worm “Thank You Very Much”, which gets some startling use the first time it shows up – a bit of black comedy one doesn’t quite expect but which very much works – and sets up the later reprise quite well also.

I’m not sure it’s quite a Christmas classic but it definitely invites a re-watch or several.

Review: Paprika English Dub

I decided this year that I would use my Spring Break to, among other things, watch all of the movies I own but have never watched. Since people give me them and I really don’t watch many movies, they stack up a bit.

This is not one of them. Paprika, Satoshi Kon’s animated masterpiece exploring themes of dream, reality, control, and maturity, is one of my favorite films. However, I’d never taken the time to watch the dub, so this is a quick note by way of preface to the actual project. (No plot spoilers ahead: some references to characters is made.)

Overall I thought the dub was fine. My chief complaint is that it provides explicit interpretations here and there where the subtitled form – and, I assume, the original Japanese – leaves implications to be drawn out by the viewer. Sometimes this results from differences in the translations, but there are also additional lines or at least phrases here and there.

Some of the differences seems inexplicable: why “line of action” (subtitle) but “action line” (dub)? (And while the concept makes sense – it’s explained as the imaginary line between camera and subject – neither phrase seems to be, on a quick web search, the term actually used in English.) Other differences seem like there’s a probable explanation, but the choice might not be justified. For example, the (friendly) criticism of a character’s weight is, “It’s not the outside the counts, but there’s a limit to that too,” in the subtitles, which sounds like a proverb. The dub has something like, “…but there’s a lot of your outside,” which makes me suspect the Japanese proverb also has a pun the dubber was trying to capture or replicate. I don’t speak Japanese myself; I admit a preference for the subtitled line, with its possibility of varied applications.

One thing the dub emphasizes in contrast to the subtitles is the maturity theme, simply because of the voices (or accents) chosen for the characters. This I suspect was replicating the original Japanese voice-acting, which hadn’t quite registered the same way. The “childlike” side of Tokita is really brought out more by the dub, as is the insufficiency of the Paprika alter-ego. For instance, her response, “Run?” to a threat near the end came off previous (watching only subtitles) as a sort of humorous only-option-left; the effect in the dub more brings out he out of her depth the situation is.

I don’t know how directly Kon was involved with the dub. I suspect not very closely, because as noted above it does seem to draw with much harder lines where Kon – both stylistically and particularly in this film – tends to leave things blurred, and up to the viewer’s interpretation of his implications and suggestion. I’m also not sure how closely they consulted native English speakers: there are certainly lines here and there which sound odd to my ear, without obviously being attempts to capture cultural connotations, and the approach to nicknames and honorifics feels a little uneven.

I don’t watch many dubbed films – honestly, many foreign films at all – so it’s hard to say how it ranks as a dub. It certainly captures the overall tone of the film: you are watching the same movie, so on that count it’s a success. I’ve listed above virtually every quibble I had with the translation. I don’t know how I’d rank the film if I’d seen only the dub: not likely as a favorite, simply because the occasional auditory oddity takes me out of the story a little – but it’s still quite good.

Some Thoughts about Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire is perhaps the best film which has been made about an athletic feat.  It twines together – with extensive substitution of the dramatic scene for already remarkable fact – the stories of Eric Liddell’s and Harold Abrahams’ preparation for the Paris Olympic games of 1924.  The Olympics merely provide the stage.  The true subjects of the film are faith and inclusion.  Liddell famously refused for conscience’ sake to run his best event due to a heat scheduled on a Sunday; Abrahams saw himself – here the film may understate the matter – as bound to show he could be fully both Jewish and a loyal Englishman.

I first saw the film as a child and have rewatched it several times over the years: it remains a favorite.  As a child, it was easy enough to understand the themes and classify the characters.  Liddell and Abrahams are clearly the protagonists of the story.  Their friends and teammates play roles of positive support.

However, the films strikingly different moral themes provokes asymmetric sympathies in quantity and type.  The British and Olympic bureaucracy are, if not quite villains, at least antagonists for Liddell.  The supremacy of the conscience in morality I had been taught already.  I would suppose I would not yet have known the formal phrasing of the Reformed dictum, “Christ alone is Lord of the conscience,” but the principle was already fixed, as well as the fact that Christ had warned us quite clearly that those who follow Him will face opposition which should be counted as an honor.  Liddell’s heroism was therefore clear and his vindication obvious and justified.

In contrast, the masters of Caius appear to wish to repress Abrahams but take no overt action: on a surface viewing Abrahams has no clear opposition beyond his own frustrations.  He was therefore a much less compelling character to my younger mind.  I had not yet been led to consider the question of inclusion as unsettled.  In fact I doubt the racial animosities Abrahams faces would have been portrayed in the same way had the issue appeared as unsettled politically as it does today.  Abrahams’ friend makes a thoughtless joke based on a stereotype and remains a friend; an unknowing order of pork (on a first date, as we would say today) is treated as a colossal joke; the masters of Caius may attribute Abrahams’ intransigence to his Jewish race but the legitimacy of their positions is not called into question as a result.  Abrahams desires to prove his loyalty despite being mistreated; the legitimacy, even the requirement, of that loyalty is not up for discussion.

On a more mature viewing, subtleties emerge.  The friend and the girl make the mistakes, but they realize them immediately.  The masters of Caius make their assumptions in oblivious self-righteousness and not to Abrahams’ face.  Worse, after attempting to force Abrahams away from his chosen methods, they comfortably assume the glory of his medal, assuring themselves that they foresaw the victory.  On a naive viewing, this seemed a kind of victory for Abrahams; to a more experienced eye, the hypocrisy stands out.  It is all too easy to imagine their reactions had Abrahams failed at the Olympics.  Worse, Abrahams’ Arab-Italian coach is found excluded from the Olympic stands, apparently even as a spectator: again the naive viewing can see this as a result of the professionalism question, but the mature eye is forced to consider the possibility of racism when Mussabini’s ancestry was so pointedly highlighted earlier.

Chariots of Fire opens and closes not with Liddell or in balance but in reflection on Abrahams.  The film’s creator David Puttnam – who produced this film which had a sort of direction by committee of its stars – had a Jewish mother himself and it is not hard to see his sympathies lying more particularly with Harold Abrahams.  In fact it seems almost miraculous that the difficulties of Liddell’s conscientiousness towards his ministry and strict keeping of the Lord’s Day are portrayed as well as they are – or then again, perhaps not, as one understood difficulty of loyalties might easily inform one’s understanding of another, per Terence’s declaration of human unity.

But a hint of a question remains about Abrahams.  He desires to prove he belongs by succeeding.  He succeeded, and found a kind of belonging.  But there is a reading of subtext, I think, which suggests that to Puttnam his understanding was, if not wrong, incomplete.  Mussabini follows the same logic, but it buys him no acceptance.  The masters of Caius follow the same logic, but they are not shown to be trustworthy.  Sibyl appeals to a form of the argument, but markedly does not fully accept or understand it.  Her truer appreciation of Abrahams’ own worth is shown by her comprehension and advocacy for the love of a good thing.  There is no real virtue in accepting only that which has already proved the benefits to one’s own self or society.  It is quite clear to the audience that Abrahams would in every sense be a true Englishman and credit to his country had he failed even to make the Olympic team: it is sincerely to be doubted whether we have all learned that lesson as comprehensively as we should have.

And One More Thing

It turns out I was slightly ahead of myself when I thought I was done with reviews, as events snuck one more in under the wire.  New Year’s Eve a few of us watched When Harry Met Sally, which I hadn’t seen before.  It’s cute, in a jaded, explicit kind of way, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.  It’s very ’80s, too.  The plot bears a distinct resemblance to most other “when will they finally realize it?” stories.  I’d watch it again but I probably wouldn’t go looking for it.

Reviews: Inversions, 2046

The problem with break is that it means I have more time to read and watch things, which means I get behind on this.  Almost done with 2015, so my project of reviewing all the new things is just about over.  But for now, another twofer.

Inversions, by Iain M. Banks

Iain Banks is best known for his science fiction, oddly personal stories set in a cosmos starkly unforgiving, not to say amoral and at times inhuman (literally or figuratively).  Inversions is not one of those, however, but is a fantasy set some time after the fall of a great Empire, leaving warring kingdoms squabbling over the remnants with late-Medieval technology.  The title refers at least to the structure of the story, as Banks presents concurrent events from the perspective of members of two such courts.  However, I think the reference is supposed to go deeper than that – the story has layers – I am simply not sure how far.

I am inclined to consider this one of Banks’ better novels; it is also probably a good place to start for the reader curious about Banks but put off by his reputation, as his normal tendency to vulgarity (and depravity) is toned way down.  He may even suggest something like a moral.

2046, dir. Wong Kar-wai

I stumbled across this film by accident, trying to track down on YouTube the music of Hanyu Yuzuru’s recent phenomenal free skate, “Seimei” by Japanese composer Umebayashi Shigeru.  Various tracks he did for 2046 came up – and the full movie, which tells, in what is apparently Wong’s signature style, the story of some of Mr. Chow’s various affairs, over which the number “2046” seems to hang.  The Chow character, a journalist and writer, serves as narrator as he recounts his various misadventures and reflects on what love is, or could be.  I am not entirely sure whether to regard the film as attempting to be profound or at least “human”, or to see it merely an exercise in displaying pretty women in pretty dresses (or out of them but carefully covered up, in a plethora of sexual moments throughout the film).  At times Chow reminded me of Hemingway (either the author or his characters), of Hitchcock’s film of The 39 Steps, or of some of Le Carre’s work.  A very finely made film, and one I would not mind seeing again, if only to puzzle out its “message”.

Review: Appleseed

This should catch up my backlog of things to review.  Appleseed is a Japanese animated film from 2004 which I was first introduced to as an example of a trend towards newer, shinier, and most especially more detailed animation from Japanese studios as their style evolves.  Stylistically it’s quite interesting, as a result.  The backgrounds and scenery are hugely detailed and have a somewhat “realistic” feel; but the actual characters are portrayed in the traditional “anime” style.

Plot-wise, it’s an adventure story with questions raised about the nature of life, human ethics, what it means to be a person, and so forth.  The actual adventure is unremarkable: find the special person, rescue the gadget, save the world.  Yay!

The film owes a lot to Blade Runner, with the major ethical question being the treatment of a race of totally-not-replicants-we-swear – you can tell they’re not because they’re considered (at least by the people in charge) to be a valuable part of society, though subjected to various stigmas, subject to potentially short lifespans, and not allowed to reproduce because of social stability or something.  So some people want to wipe them out, some people want them to integrate better with society, and a (human) lunatic fringe wants humanity gone and the “Bioroids” to take over.

The question is – let’s say, not sufficiently addressed.  As a result, it’s a momentous bit of philosophy hanging over a cheesy blow-’em-up film which muddles the tone severely – especially the five minute or so segment in which the problem is attempted to be addressed, but nothing particularly substantial is said on either side.

It looks good, but despite pretensions there’s not much substance to it.  I’ll give it a C, since I seem to have started grading everything.

Review: Jupiter Ascending

Easily the worst thing about Jupiter Ascending – the Wachowski’s latest bid at relevance – is the ending, which wraps up approximately none of the plot’s loose ends and is probably supposed to be a sequel hook.  On the one hand, I don’t trust these guys with sequels.  On the other hand, a sequel might have a more unified vision and be a better movie.  You know, potentially.  But actually, other than the ending, despite its development – originally planned as a Summer blockbuster for last year, then delayed by production problems, unwillingness to compete with Marvel, and a rumored recut – it actually pretty much works.  It even manages to distract you from the problems with the ending plot-wise with some shiny special effects at the ending of the film time-wise.  The effects are probably the film’s strongest point.  The effects, and one particular gadget which approximately 99.56% of all audience members now want.

As released, the reason it works is that it’s really hard to completely mess up a “save the girl” storyline.  Sure, the storyverse is implausible on its face, and a lot of the questions raised by the plot go unanswered.  It’s not a great movie, and probably not even quite a good one.  But it’s pretty, and it’s fun, and maybe I have low standards for films but I liked it.

One thing I haven’t figured out how to do yet is to discuss movies in any detail without spoiling things.  So this is the part where I warn you to stop reading if you actually care about not knowing things when you see a film yourself.  Savvy?

Other than the ending – and probably related to it – is the fact that Jupiter Ascending is evidently at least two and possibly three films sort of smushed into one.  There are three distinct threads to the plot, any two of which might have worked in the same film, but with all three in it causes some dissonance.  First, there’s the straightforward “rescue the princess” story, with a Cinderella twist and a bit of spunk from the lady as well.  Second, there’s a touch of a “naive heroine learns to navigate the upper class insanity” idea; finally, there’s a bit of going on about the evils of capitalism.

I suspect from what I know about it that the film was originally supposed to major in those latter two, and the rescue-and-love story got pasted on afterwards by somebody who thought the movie as originally conceived (and apparently shot) wouldn’t fly.  Unfortunately, mostly all that’s left of the second idea is a bureaucracy montage which is actually very funny but doesn’t quite fit the tone of the rest of the film.  Of the economic screed, there’s virtually nothing left but faint erased pencil-marks: the fact that the villains are galactic evil businessmen, and the occasional lines from our heros that, I assume, couldn’t be cut or reshot to fit the now-dominant adventure story.  Honestly, one of the reasons I think Jupiter Ascending is an okay-to-decent movie is that it made me want to see the movie I think it was supposed to be.

Which brings me back to the ending, and why I’m virtually certain a sequel will be attempted, and now for the honest to goodness run-away-now spoilers.  It turns out our heroine’s an heir to a vast galatic-scale fortune.  But the ending shows her trying to get back to her old life without a really good reason.  Okay, the reason’s pretty clear: she used to kind of hate her life and her family was pretty terrible, but now she appreciates it and the family’s learned to value her because she disappeared.  But, uh, the responsibility ball kind of got dropped in a pretty big way and then ignored completely.  So with no explanation why that’s possible, it’s a pretty big problem.  And the logical solution of that problem is for someone to come along in the next movie and go, “Hey girl, look, we know you love your family, and yeah your boyfriend’s cute even if he’s not really an aristocrat, but you have problems, you know that, right?”

On the other hand, like I said, they did a pretty good job of distracting you from that with the shiny scene at the very end.  I want a pair of those boots.

Film Review: Maleficent

The Actual Review

Last night I went to see Angelina Jolie’s new film Maleficent.  A week ago I likely would have added the phrase “against my better judgement” to that first sentence, although the trailer I saw was intriguing (also ambiguous and, as it turns out, somewhat misleading), but Howard Tayler liked it.  While his taste is not identical to mine, he has the great virtue as a reviewer that I can usually tell whether or not I will like a film regardless of his enjoyment.  All of which is to say I went to see the film not out of morbid curiosity – which I have done occasionally (see: Peter Jackson’s Hobbit 1) – but because I thought I would like it: and I did.

The film is presented in a fine combination of the expectations of fairy tales and modern fantasy.  This is evident from the beginning, and the most part the film balances on that knife edge very well, especially with regard to the “set” design and visual effects.  The story is carefully crafted and finely plotted, and for the most part flows naturally.  On its own terms, Maleficent would be, I think, one of the better original movies made recently, and a worthy addition to the fantasy genre – which, despite the box office success of Jackson’s films of Middle Earth, has not quite made its own way yet.

This brings me to the flaw in the film: it consciously does not stand alone.  It is presented as a retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty.  The intelligent viewer might come to the theater expecting something like Wicked – where events are presented with hero and villain recast – or Lucas’ Star Wars prequels – a tragic backstory.  And the intelligent viewer would find himself partly correct, had he compared it to either.  Backstory yes, and tragedy.  Good and evil rearranged, and not neatly.  So far, so good – and for most the first two thirds of the film, so good – but there is a limit to how many events a story-teller can rearrange and still tell the same story.

As I mentioned, the last third or so of the film is not as neatly managed as the rest of it.  This leads me to suspect that the original plan was changed at some point.  Two potential scenarios occurred to me.  One possibility is that the script, originally intended as a simple “retelling” of the story, ran too far off the rails and – rather than rewrite it properly (deadline?) – the loose ends were just thrown together with the approximately correct pieces in approximately the right places.  Another is that the script was originally intended as an independent story – but someone with more marketing savvy than artistry decided it would work better as a tie-in to an established franchise.  A third possibility, I suppose, is that the ending of the film was simply mangled by bad editing to fit a time limit; yet another is that the ending really was just that weak and nobody changed it.  Ah, speculation.

Overall I would give the film a B-.  I enjoyed myself and would cheerfully re-watch it, but I suspect some of the problems might bug me more the second time around.

Further Comments on the Story

From here on, I am going to be describing the film in some detail.  If you have not seen it yet and are bothered by spoilers, I suggest you stop reading here, because the first thing I am going to do is describe the entire plot.  I am doing this in order to back up my charge – briefly described above – that this is no longer the same story.  Maleficent uses all the same names (as far as I can recall) as Disney’s original animated film Sleeping Beauty, and the same curse, but strip those out, and what is left?

Once upon a time, there were two kingdoms.  One was a land of Men – some good and some bad, mixed together in the way of the world.  The other was a country of the Fair Folk: good in their way: content and peaceful with their  but mischievous, and distrustful of others.  At this time their distrust was justified, for the king of the human country was an evil man, greedy and covetous, and he desired the riches of the fairy country.  He made war against the Fairies, but the ancient guardians of the forest encircling that land could not be defeated by mere men.

Now it happened that a boy, just beginning to be a man, found his way into this country of the Fair Folk in search of its riches: and he took a precious stone he found, but was caught by the guardians from the forest.  They intended to execute him for his theft; but a princess of the Fairies, hearing of the theft, came rushing, and by persuading the boy to give back the jewel, saved his life.  She led him then back to his country of Men: but he, grateful for his life and struck by her beauty, asked to see her again.  And she agreed; and as they grew older they met often: and she grew to love him, and the boy admired her greatly and perhaps thought he loved as well.

But his soul was impure, as might have been guessed from his theft, and as he came to manhood he went to serve at court, and so learned the evil ways of the king, and no longer came to see the Fairy princess, preferring to slave for Ambition.  As the king felt his death approaching, he led one last campaign against the Fair Folk: and was beaten as before, and this time the princess, grown greater in power than all her people, and grieving lost love, led the guardians and would have killed the king but for the touch of cold iron.

In his rage at his defeat the king promised his throne to whomever could defeat this great power among the Fair Folk.  While the rest of his ministers quailed, the young man, now grown wicked himself, went by night to the edge of the Fairyland, and called for his princess.  With sweet talk he gained her trust again, and gave her a drugged drink; when she was asleep, he raised his knife to strike her dead, but at the last moment, moved by some merciful remnant in his soul, cast away the blade.  But Ambition still ruled: he burned her wings off with an iron chain, and brought them to the king to gain the kingdom.

When the princess woke, she was tormented by pain, and found she could no longer fly.  In her pain and anger, she took to herself the rule of the land of the Fair Folk, becoming a cold queen, driven by distrust and revenge, and raising around her land a hedge of impenetrable thorn.  And since she could no longer fly, she found a spy for herself, saving a crow caught by men for stealing grain, and shifting his shape as needed – crow, man, or beast – he being bound to her by a life-debt.

So she learned when the queen bore a child to this new king; and she came unexpectedly to the christening.  Now others of the Fair Folk had come, wishing by their gifts to put an end to the strife between the kingdoms.  And they had wished for the child, a girl, all that parents could dream of: happiness and beauty and the favor of all she met.  But the self-appointed queen thought to exact a just revenge on the man – now king – who had deserted her: and she cursed the girl, declaring that on her sixteenth birthday she would be cast by an enchantment into a sleep like death.  The king, struck by guilt and fear, begged for mercy – but the Fairy queen, mocking him, only added a condition: that the king’s daughter might be awakened by the kiss of True Love – a thing she no longer believed in, and the king had never understood.

The king, in fear, thought that this Fairy whom he had betrayed would no doubt return to his castle at his daughter’s sixteenth year to bring home the curse: so when the Fairy queen had left, he asked the other Fairies to care for his daughter, far away; and he sent his army against the land of the Fair Folk, as his predecessor had done.  And as before, the human army was beaten back.  So, being more cunning than the old king, he decided instead to make his castle proof against any Fairy: and where that queen had raised a hedge of thorn around her country, he set ironworkers to fixing spikes of iron all around his castle, and making traps and chains of iron throughout its chambers.  And he grew in fear to the point of madness, refusing to leave his chambers even when his wife lay dying.

Meanwhile, the princess grew up, far away from the castle, tended by the Fairies as the king had asked.  As luck would have it, though, these Fair Folk were unaccustomed to human children, not knowing the food or care she needed – and careless, even when doing the right thing.  Bound by her own curse and desiring in any event to see it carried out fully, the queen was forced to provide much care herself: mainly using her servant the Crow to bring food to the girl, and amuse her.

Now the blessings of the other Fairies came to pass as well: all the animals the princess met adored her.  And so, wandering one day, the king’s daughter chanced to meet the Fairy queen, and was not afraid.  The queen hated her for her father; but the girl, knowing someone had cared for her, mistook the queen for a Fairy godmother, as she had heard of in stories from the other Fairies.  Her grace and beauty melted the heart of the queen: and they met and talked often as the princess grew.  The queen even warned the princess that an evil was coming against her – but did not explain why.  At last, she even tried to revoke her curse – but found she could not.  She had set it too firmly, hating the king.

On the eve of the princess’s sixteenth birthday, the princess found a man from a distant country, lost in the wood and seeking the castle of the king: he was a knight and a prince, and for all his fear and evil, the king was known as a great warrior.  She thought him handsome, and he found her lovely – and she sent him on his way, both promising to meet again.  Soon after, the queen met with the girl, offering to bring her to the Fairy country for good – thinking she could thus protect her, but still not telling her the reason.  But when the princess returned home, the other Fairies solemnly revealed to her the curse – and the princess in horror shunned the Fairy queen and made for the castle she now knew to be her home.

She arrived the next day – and the king, far from welcoming her, shut her in a tower room.  But the curse must have its way, and she found her way, seeking escape, to the dungeons: where, drawn by Fate to the cursed thing, she fell into the prophesied sleep.  When the servants found her again, the king had her laid in state in her tower – and in a rage retired to plot for the arrival of the Fairy queen, sure she would come to mock him.

And she did come, and in haste, knowing from her Crow what had happened.  On her way she had met with the prince, and bearing him with her in a trance, thought to use him to break the spell, the Crow also having told her of his meeting with the princess.  So great was her desire she found her way past the king’s traps, risking burns and scratches, and found the tower – but when she woke the prince and told him of the need, he at first resisted, knowing that he did not know his own true heart.  And so it proved when he at last gave in: his kiss accomplished nothing.  Finally defeated, the queen turned to leave the castle – but first kissed the forehead of the sleeping princess – and to her surprise, the girl woke.  The queen had rediscovered love for another person – not the love she lost, but a love all the same.

But by this point the castle was in an uproar: when she sought to leave, she blundered into a great array of warriors, and was caught in a mesh of iron.  Then using all her strength, she changed the shape of her Crow, this time to a dragon, who caught away the net and fought back the warriors: but the king himself came for the Fairy queen, and she was unable to match his strength.  The princess, trying to follow, found herself in the king’s chamber, where he had once hung the wings taken from the queen for a trophy.  With the curse broken and the Fairy queen nearby and in need, these wings had come to life and battered furiously at their own cage: the princess set them free; they flew to the queen and she, whole once again, cast herself from the castle window and threw the wicked king down to ruin.

The princess and the prince met again, and declared their love; they were married and took the rule of the kingdom.  And not just the human kingdom: all the Fair Folk loved the princess whom they had met walking with their queen: she, healed of her anger, set aside the kingdom she had usurped by force and broke down her hedge, and the princess ruled over both Men and Fairies.  As for the Crow – he still owed the life-debt, and flew far and wide with the Fairy princess.

This is a perfectly respectable fairy story, with many classical elements mixed with new ideas uncommon to the age that collected those stories and set them down.  It also has no particular connection to the story of the sleeping beauty in any of its incarnations.  (Some of the probable sources get very odd indeed to modern ears, but none of them resemble this story.)

Much like the film, however, the ending is a touch weak.  One thing particularly bothers me: the change of heart of the Fairy queen is a fascinating plot, but is overplayed by making it satisfy “True Love”.  Why?  Because in the context of the curse, the love specifically in mind is romantic – the love the queen had lost for herself, deceived by the man who would become another wicked king.  The effect is to weasel out of difficulties on a technicality, which while fine for lawyers is not a satisfactory ending for a heroic tale.  On the other hand, for the prince’s kiss to have no effect does seem correct – in this story, there is no prophecy, no hundred years, no grand quest set in motion.

The solution – I am tempted to say the obvious solution – would be for the princess to be woken by the Crow.  It would fit the build-up nicely: he has cared for the girl and amused her under command by the queen.  Throughout the film she describes him as “pretty bird” and has seen him – in human form – with the queen.  A nice nod to convention to have the farmboy declare True Love for the girl he has served so long.  It also does away with any need to have a prince show up out of nowhere, to do nothing except get the girl (for, might I add, no reason).

Leaving out the prince, of course, drags the plot even further from the story we call Sleeping Beauty: but the fact that it seems more obvious to leave him out is the primary reason I suspect this script did not start its life as the “retelling” it became.