Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie” has already become one of 2015’s more interesting film stories in that after weeks of blitz marketing, the producers and studio can legitimately boast that it’s a “#1 Film!” However, that claim should probably come with an asterisk, as this weekend at U.S. theaters was a dismal one. It was the worst total box office of 2015 to date (as Vince Vaughn’s “Unfinished Business” tanked in glorious fashion, opening in 10th place) and “Chappie” only mustered $13.3 million, the worst total for a #1 film since Halloween, and notably less than Neill Blomkamp’s last film, “Elysium,” which opened with almost $30 million. And critics and viewers have been less than positive. The film only mustered a very soft B Cinemascore, 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and dismal 40 on Metacritic. Notable critics have skewered the movie, and yet the growing comments on our review hint that there may be an undercurrent of fans building for it. And whatever one can say about the film’s flaws, and they appear to be many, there’s no denying the craft and effort that went into it. Blomkamp and his team, as they were in the also-flawed “Elysium,” are dedicated to detail, which has been elaborately captured in the latest coffee table book from the awesome Titan Books, “Chappie: The Art of the Movie.” Here’s a quick look.
Author Peter E. Aperlo has crafted similar coffee table tomes for “300,” “300: Rise of an Empire,” and “Watchmen.” This one isn’t quite as extensive as some other Titan film companions, although it’s well-organized with a Foreword by Concept Artists Greg Broadmore, Doug Williams and Christian Pearce and an Introduction by the author, followed by sections on the production called “The Meat,” “The Metal,” “Locations,” and “Vehicles & Gear.” “The Meat” focuses on the characters in the film, including Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), and Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), along with the “Criminals” played by Die Antwoord. The next two sections—“The Metal” and “Locations”—are the real heart of the book, filled with production stills, behind-the-scenes details, concept art, storyboards, etc. It’s hard to believe that there’s any piece of information about the production of “Chappie” that isn’t included here, even if the large font and relatively straightforward arrangement of the material could be called a bit uninspired. Still, there are pages and pages of concept art related to the robots of “Chappie,” showing fans and aspiring filmmakers how a production like this goes from a drawing to a reality.
And that brings us to the question regarding “Chappie: The Art of the Movie”—can it still be valuable and relevant even though the movie has failed for most audiences? Of course. This is a product for fans and those who love the behind-the-scenes details of filmmaking. Yes, one wishes the art of production would be learned through a process that led to a great film, but Neill Blomkamp’s perceived errors in filmmaking have little to do with Aperlo’s efforts in producing the companion tie-in. In fact, one could argue that’s there’s something remarkable about putting this much love and care into chronicling a process that didn’t work. Perhaps if one reads between the lines of it, they can see what went wrong, and use it as a cautionary volume, lest they make a “Chappie” of their own.
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