Toy soldiers battle toy monsters in this blend of animation and live-action. Stan Winston and Industrial Light & Magic (Jurassic Park, et al) provide the technical wizardry behind this Joe Dante... View more >
some menacing action/violence and brief drug references
Starring Gregory Smith, Jay Mohr, Kirsten Dunst... View more >
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First, please be warned that this movie will physically assault your eyes and ears. After two hours of impacts and explosions only barely rising above a score played with all the subtlety of one of its berserk robots as DJ, my first worry was whether its price of admission includes long-term hearing loss. Not that this threat is unusual anymore. Cinema managers have discovered that the simple act of cranking up the volume nearly to the threshold of pain cranks up receipts as well, and no one worth a second thought tries to stop them. It is now the responsibility of any who still fancy ears of flesh rather than tin to protect them by carrying their own plugs, not only to "concerts" and discotheques, but it seems, to all public places of amusement (and what aren't?). Even the occasional quiet film will surely be preceded by cacophonous previews. And this is not a quiet film.
Turning from its effect on sheer physical health, I left feeling mentally disoriented and morally nauseated, as though led through a cultural hall of mirrors ingenious, intriguing, yet disturbing in the self-images reflected. If "Small Soldiers" typifies what Americans now eat up for entertainment, and they do so with nary a twinge of disgust, then I am afraid that America is approaching the self-destructive condition of the crazed corps of creatures portrayed. Where do we go from here?
What happens is that a small toy manufacturer is acquired by Globaltech, a famous defense contractor diversifying into consumer products which can apply its accumulated R & D. The toymaker's new CEO, a shadowy character, promptly turns up the heat. Impressed with the possibilities of a line of toy soldiers being designed by one of two nerdly developers, he demands a new level of realism and technical wizardry, and especially something every fighting force needs: enemies-- suggesting that the whimsical monsters being created by the other developer would be just right for this role. Then he gives them carte blanche entree into the parent corporation's confidential inventory of product components, via accounts protected by secret passwords. "Mine's gizmo," chirps the second to the first-- consistent with the trusting and carefree approach to life which shows up in his ideas. His colleague, however, is an opportunist. He isn't evil, merely modern. He bends easily. Minor scruples do not interfere with career opportunities or the bottom line. For instance, although he is noted for having his act together, he forgets his own password. Unruffled, he uses that of his unsuspecting friendly rival to requisition, for their new line of toys, an advanced computer chip which he does not understand.
I shall spill few other details. Suffice it to say that the hardware enhances the software of the platoon of soldiers, the Elite Commandos, so that they take their task more seriously than the designers intended-- smashing out of their boxes and lining up for battle before they have even left the shop of a hapless teenage assistant manager. These toys are (1) supposed to be fun by being (2) very smart and (3) very violent. And so is the film.
Hence this reviewer's dilemma. The story soon becomes a melodrama of sorts in which the Elite Commandos, designed by the opportunist, are villains and the Gorgonites, the brainchild of the wacky naif, are heroes by default. If this were a stupid movie, I could stop now. But it isn't. Not only is there a dazzling, and delightful, array of special effects, but the dialogue and imagery are satirical, and self-referential on several levels. It is reasonable, then, to contemplate metaphors here. The violence and ugliness of these fun things is partly the accidental result of an excess of zeal, directly by their embedded computer chips, and indirectly by an uncomprehending underling. However, we never know the intentions of the man who gave the orders, who has all his life profited from division and enmity. He never apologizes. When things go wrong, he merely writes big enough checks that people stop asking questions.
Now we have a movie which satirizes smart, ugly, and violent playthings while being one. I know neither which message Joe Dante, the director, implied, or which one audiences, especially young audiences, will infer: Is it that violence is bad even if it is fun? Or is it, despite routine protestations, that fun is good even if it is violent?
And I wonder: with which of the toys' creators would Dante identify? I suppose he would like to be seen first as the capricious, carefree maker of grotesque but innocent creatures. If that is not plausible, then he might wish to take credit where credit is due, sitting on the throne of the enigmatic CEO. However, I suggest that in one respect he fits best in the role of the opportunist. For the American public is to a degree programmed, like the Commandos, by the media. The Zeitgeist calls the shots, and escalating violence has become part of it. Dante, just going along to get along, introduces dangerous elements heedless of the consequences.
The special effects where interesting, but not up to par with movies like "Toy Story" (to be fair, "Toy Story" was not composited with real-world settings either). I had a major problem with the film, however, which is that the characters in the film are in real danger at times, so much to the point that I think it could have deserved an "R" rating for violence.
The story was delightfully unique and honest, with just the right amount of story to keep it interesting throughout. A decent movie, but go prepared -- this is not a harmless Disney-like film.
All I have to say is that this movie sucked and that I suggest that you not see it. If you really want to see it, definitely wait to rent it so you don't waste all your money.
"Small Soliders" is one of most creative and most eye-popping movies so far this year. The film seamlessly blends computer generated effects and real action so wonderfully that if this film does not get a visual effects nomination by the Oscars, they don't know anything.
Not only that, the movie is so imaginative. Directed by Joe Dante (Innerspace, Gremlins, among others), the movie takes on another world when beautiful toys come to life.
How? A toy company is bought by Globaltech, a defense comapny. The owner (Denis Leary), wants toys made that live, breath and act, you know, what the TV commercials are like. The toys are built with munition chips (aka X-1000), which also serve as chips for bombs and military technology.
The main toy is Lt. Chip Hazard (wonderfully voiced by Tommy Lee Jones), a gorgeous looking toy that even I would buy. Hazard and his army (also gorgeous looking toys) are programmed to destroy the Gorgonites (the main voice is supplied by Frank Langella). However, since the toys are built with munition chips, they toys can wreak havoc, using any kind of weapons (flame thrower, nail gun) necessary to complete their mission. As promised, they talk, walk, they have emotions and can even feel pain; they are basically plastic with a heart.
The main story follows Alan (Gregory Smith) and him running a toy store. Enter the beautiful girl next door (Kirsten Dunst) who wants to get a toy for her brother. Her little brother sees Lt. Chip Hazard and the gorgonite and wants it. Alan also wants them too, so much so he takes the Gorgonite home. When they get there, the Gorgonite speaks to Alan about who they are and how they are the enemy to the Commando Elite.
The Commando Elite eventually find the Gorgonites and a war starts; yet since the soldiers are built with munition chips, it gets the humans evolved as well. (When Chip announces to the rest there are 16 in the house, one of the human replies "Seven Gorgonites, nine humans") This whole climax is one hell of a wild ride, just not for any kid under 10.
The movie is wild and original, yet extremely violent and awfully dark, and for a while that really downs the movie. "Toy Story" is a better achievement in the realm of computer animation, and at the same time it was such a light hearted and well written adventure movie. "Small Soldiers" goes one step further and blends it with real life, but I wish that the tone was a little more down. There are scenes that no doubt it will freak out smaller children.
But I don't care, the movie stands out for me because of its technical brilliance and amazing visual effects (there's a brilliant scene that uses Barbie Dolls with munition chips built in). I don't even think I ever blinked in this film, there was so much detail and creativity into these special effectsit was amazing. As well, the movie is loads of fun.
Picture: 5 The picture is outstanding, colors and contrast are all perfect, black level is excellent. A real treat for the eyes.
Sound: 5 The dts soundtrack and SDDS are the preferred soundtracks; (I saw the film in dts) the soundtrack projects wide and deep; there are so many split surround effects coming from all over the place (a guess would be at least 150) that a Sound Effects Editing and Sound nominee at oscar time is very worthy. The music score even excels, even into the surround channels. This is a remarkable achievement in sound.
Photography: 5 Mr. Dante's Super 35 composition is preferred to his earlier, 1.66:1 films. In 2.35:1, it opens up a lot of space and is wide and open. Dante should have been shooting in this from day one, the photography is amazing.
Length: 110 minutes. Dreamworks/Universal. Rated PG-13 for violence firstname.lastname@example.org ICQ-4339199
First impression after seeing one trailer: Toy Story with an attitude. And that’s exactly what I got. Plus a bunch of laughs. A fun film all the way around and the stuff that summer memories are made of. Good voice-overs for the soldiers and aliens is an added plus. Reminiscent (though not quite as good) as Gremlins, also by Joe Dante. I wasn’t wild about most of the human actors, though I’d have liked to see more of Phil Hartman (wouldn’t we all). I loved his home theatre system from Hell.
10-point scale rating: 7
A very funny comedy about war toys coming to life to battle monsters and turning this town into a battlezone, making Joe Dante's film into a statement on war. The GI war toys turns out to be the bad guys while the monsters are so funny, their harmless. The voices of the GI are the cast of the 1967 film "The Dirty Dozen" vs. the voices of the monsters from the 1984 film "This is Spinal Tap."
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