Performance capture can be an amazing tool in the right hands. Thanks to this incredible technology, actors are no longer limited by physical restrictions. Anybody can play anyone or anything, and that must be incredibly liberating for an actor. However, for every Golllum, Davy Jones or Neytiri, there’s going to be a few Milos.
37-year old Seth Green stars as Milo, the 11-year old at the center of one of Disney’s biggest financial disappointments, Mars Needs Moms. Like most kids his age, all Milo wants is for his mom to stop telling him what to do. First he has to take out the trash, and then she has the nerve to make him eat all his vegetables! Of course, Milo only focuses on these negatives, and fails to appreciate all the wonderful things she does for him as well. That is until she’s kidnapped by Martians trying to harvest her motherly essence in order to power their Martian mom robots. Yes, that is the plot.
I understand that not every movie can be filled with depth and complexity, but this is just ridiculous. True, this is a kid’s film, but it has less subtlety than an episode of Leave it to Beaver. The lessons are telegraphed from the very beginning, and the characters are nothing but stock-types designed to push the story to it’s inevitable heart-felt conclusion. Green is a very funny and talented performer, but he just mugs his way through this role, bouncing around the virtual set doing an impersonation of a child rather than playing an actual character.
Like Milo, the Mom is played without any subtlety by another versatile actor, Joan Cusack. The fact that these two extremely capable performers turned in such phony performances really indicate that the fundamental flaws lie with the directing and writing. The only other human of note is Gribble, played by Dan Fogler. Fogler gets to play the closest to a real character that the film has, that of a child who was forced to grow into adulthood alone on Mars. This basic concept had a lot of potential, and while it never really played out as well as I would have liked, I appreciated the attempt.
As for the Martians, this is where the Motion Capture should have really led to something special. Unfortunately, all the Martian designs are just ugly and devoid of any nuance whatsoever. Like the name says, performance capture exists to capture performances, but these could just as easily have been Computer Animated characters, and nobody would have known the difference. As for the individual characters, they too are just types, including a “flower child” influenced by Earth sitcoms from the sixties. This just seems lazy, creating an excuse to not have to create a real character.
Even the world itself is garish. One of the great things about modern film is the opportunities we have to be taken to worlds we have never seen before. This is especially true in Science-Fictoin, and it’s truly disheartening to see a world so ugly in service of a story so poorly thought out with characters so bland. There is nothing imaginative about this film, and it just feels like such a wasted opportunity.
Despite my disappointment in the film itself, the newly released Blu-Ray is a pretty terrific package. Coming with four discs, the set includes a 3D Blu-Ray, a standard Blu-Ray, a DVD and a digital copy. They’ve pretty much covered all of the potential viewing methods (that aren’t online) in one box. The standard Blu-Ray and 3D Version have phenomenal picture quality. Modern animated films on Blu-Ray almost always tend to look fantastic, and this is no exception.
As for the extras, the best is a feature in which you can listen to an audio commentary while watching the Motion Capture being performed picture-in-picture. It’s particularly fascinating to see the way they create what looks like an obstacle course in order to replicate the landscapes that the characters are moving through. Other extras include almost 30 minutes of deleted scenes in various stages of production, a two minute vido of Seth Green goofing off on set, and a very short but interesting feature on the development of the Martian language. While nowhere near as complex as other languages created for film, the creating of a language is an interesting process and I wish they had devoted a little more time to this.
Even though I love science-fiction and Disney, I’m not sure I’m the target audience for this one. I can’t help but think that even an actual 11-year old would feel talked down to with this film. However, Disney did a great job putting this set together. There’s a lot of material here, and the picture-in-picture is fascinating. It just seems like a lot of work went into something with very little payoff.