Sunday, March 13, 2011

Red Riding Hood (in theaters now)

This review follows from another one you can read here. Red Riding Hood, while based on an old fairytale, is an original screenplay. Catherine Hardwicke, who also directed Twilight and The Nativity Story, directed this movie and offered the screenplay to a friend of hers to make into a book. So, in this case, the screenplay came first, but the book was out before the movie. If you'd like to hear more about the book, see the review mentioned above. However, I think you'll want to stick with the movie, especially since it's the original.

I didn't love the book, but the movie was really well-done. I'm afraid the book colored my view of the movie at first, but I tried to shove the book out of my mind, knowing it was an elaboration on the screenplay; when the movie really started to move, I was able to appreciate it, finally, for itself.

I really enjoyed it. From what I've seen of Hardwicke's films, she loves to create atmosphere. Whatever flaws you can find in Twilight, the movie has awesome music and really creates a feeling in you. The set of Twilight is darkened through special use of lenses, and the setting is beautiful. Hardwicke outdoes herself in Red Riding Hood. The setting is medieval, a little village in the middle of a great forest of thorny trees. It's beautiful and quaint. The beginning shots of the film remind you vividly of Twilight as you zoom over the trees, but then you see castles and villages and waterwheels, and you feel like you've entered another world. So, the setting is perfect.

The music did not disappoint either. There is a party scene in which the drumbeat and horns have a beautiful, eery effect, different from most things you usually hear in mood-setting music. While the music sets up the scenes in this movie, it doesn't just hide in the background. Sometimes you want music to hide, but in this case, it's like another character. I loved it.

Amanda Seyfried does a fine job playing the heroine, Valerie, whose grandmother gives her a red hooded cloak. A few other familiar faces make appearances among the villagers.

The basic plot is this: Valerie is the daughter of the town drunk, a woodcutter. She is engaged to be married to the blacksmith's son; his is the wealthiest family in their village. But she loves a woodcutter like her father, a boy named Peter. Valerie is set to run away with Peter when her sister is murdered by the local werewolf that demands sacrifices from the villagers every full moon. This time, the wolf wants more. The villagers band together to try to kill it, and the local priest calls in reinforcements from a renowned werewolf hunter. Soon, it's revealed that the werewolf lives among them, and the unrest and distrust begin.

In my book review, I compared the atmosphere to that of M. Night's The Village, and while there are minute similarities, Red Riding Hood is not as subtle and has a much richer fairytale feel to it. There's no subtle suspense here as in The Village. All the suspense is in seeing the wolf attack and knowing it will attack again and again.

I liked the end of the movie so much more than I did the end of the book. The book disappointed and didn't actually give any secrets away, but I'm glad it didn't. It allowed me to appreciate and enjoy the movie better without comparing. The movie doesn't leave as much guesswork as the book did. The answers are there, and they make a lot of sense. I won't spoil it for you; that would be cruel. You'll have to enjoy finding the answers for yourself.

Seeing this movie with my husband may have been a mistake. He thought it was well-done but didn't appreciate it as much as I did, trying to find holes in the logic. As we left the theater, I was silently trying to relive and pinpoint just what I liked about the movie while he was telling me the little parts that didn't work for him, things like pacing or logic jumps. We decided that because Hardwicke focuses so much on mood and atmosphere, she doesn't always care as much about minor logistics, which doesn't bother me. For instance, in The Nativity Story, a beam of starlight falls in just the right place to illuminate Mary and baby Jesus. That probably didn't happen in real life, but the movie is creating a scene and establishing a mood. We don't usually go to movies to see real life anyway.

I agree with Nick a little bit about the pacing, some odd jumps between scenes, particularly at the beginning of the movie, but I'm afraid my judgment was a little colored by the book at that point, too. Once the real action began, I didn't find problems with the pacing.

So, if you find yourself interested in this movie and plan on seeing it, here's a little piece of advice. If you have a Twilight hater in your family, don't go with that person unless they really love you and can back down and admit the movie was decent (thank you, Nick). Preferably go with a girlfriend of two. After all, we women tend to think emotionally, and I think Hardwicke has more to offer us than the guys.

I do have one moral disclaimer. There is a hot and steamy scene that looks like it is going to go too far, but it is interrupted just in time, so don't worry. Nothing to cover your eyes at.

Also be prepared for the Church to take a bad rap. I did like the local priest and thought that though he was naive, he was a good man and meant the best for the people.

A few last words on the movie as compared to the book. The book is somewhat boring and delves more than one really wants into the emotions and motivations of the characters. The movie, as movies should be, is must faster and not boring at all. Perhaps you don't get enough of the motivations of the characters, but you can read between the lines.

Finally, I mentioned in my book review that the end was morally ambiguous. I'll try not to be too spoilerish, so this may sound vague. Valerie makes a choice that I don't understand or appreciate in the book. Nothing to do with sex, more to do with throwing caution to the wind and living without caring about consequences. In the movie, the choice she makes is underscored by the answers the book leaves out. So, you understand her better in the movie, and it doesn't feel like she has such a devil-may-care attitude. The motivations are clear, and the choices make sense and feel right. I was very happy with the end.

This is a movie that will have you mesmerized from the beauty of the beginning to the very last dangers. I recommend you leave the book alone and enjoy the movie for what it is!

Four stars for entertainment value and awesome setting, atmosphere, and characters in Red Riding Hood!

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