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Jeff's Review Corner

As a fantasy writer, I pride myself on my ability to critique other fantasy works with the utmost objectivity, using a very simple scale. My scale ranges from “Not as cool as me” to “Wow, I need to rip that off”! Of course, I’m kidding. Sort of. But I rarely mask my love of the fantastic creatures of olde (back when the norm was to place as many unnecessary vowels into a word as possible) so when my sister insisted she and I go see “How to Train Your Dragon”, I was all for it.

Today’s movie: How to Train Your Dragon

The movie starts with narration from our protagonist, Hiccup – voiced by Jay Baruchel – named because, as he quickly explains, having a fierce Viking name will help scare off goblins and ogres. However, he exposits, it’s not the goblins and lesser imps his village needs to worry itself over, but dragons. The village is routinely burned down and the sheep and other livestock stolen away by the flying, reptilian fiends, who have been at war with the Viking clan for seven generations. Hiccup, a lanky young boy, wishing to prove himself a man to his father and people, continuously attempts to help in the battle against the dragons but typically winds up doing more harm than good, in traditional kids-film fashion.

However, during one particular raid, he inadvertently takes a dragon down with a strange device he had made, based on the design of a crossbow. The dragon he hits happens to be a rare breed – the Night Fury – which no Viking has ever previously encountered and lived to tell the tale. He tracks down its location after no one believes he managed the shot and finds it, helpless and scared, bound by the ropes and weights of the device. For reasons he only admits later, he lets the dragon go free. Later, he finds it trapped in a valley, unable to fly out and begins to study the creature and, in so doing, befriends the creature thought to be man’s mortal enemy.

The movie is incredibly cinematic. Sometimes I forgot I was watching a CGI movie, particularly in the flying or horizon shots. The water was ridiculously detailed, and the stylized design of the characters really lent itself to the aesthetic’s credit. That’s saying something too, as I went to a theater that’s over 20 years old and doesn’t even have stadium seating, let alone 3D capability. The soundtrack was masterfully scored, though I must admit I know next to nothing about music. It was good, and I liked it. ‘Nuff said, right?

The script was really written exceedingly well and Hiccup’s dry, sardonic delivery added a lot of humor into what was already a well-written movie. The other actors are good too, but they don’t get the same screen time that Hiccup does. Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), for instance, becomes a major player from the second act on, but I really felt like she could’ve been around more and developed a bit better. I can’t shake the feeling that a lot of footage was cut to maintain the hour-forty mark, because it felt like an otherwise fantastic movie easily could’ve had another 20 minutes and been even better, and it’s not frequently that I say that. As a result, Hiccup is really the only character we see change and develop over time, though the movie does a great job with what it has, even if some of the supporting cast could’ve really done more.

The flying scenes and action/fight scenes were really some of the very best PG-rated action/fight scenes I had ever seen. They were clever, detailed, and really had a lot going on at once, especially at the movie’s climax. I didn’t even see the movie in 3D, like I said, and the flying scenes were breath-takingly beautiful and still managed to send shivers down my spine with the acrobatics and fantastic choreography.

Now, I know a lot of criticism towards the movie is aimed solely at the dragon physics. I’m going to pretty much address them in “Think. Harder. Critics.” It makes sense if you actually consider what makes dragons fly and breathe fire. Beyond that, I see no reason why every member of the family won’t love this picture. I cannot recommend this one highly enough and it’s sure to be a great ride for everyone. Check it out.

Written by: Jeff M.

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