Sunday, March 6, 2011



If you've kept up with movies for the last decade, chances are you've seen or heard of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. These movies were directed by Gore Verbinski, who you also might know as the director of the classic MouseHunt and the American remake of The Ring. If you've seen the Pirates series, you also probably remember Johnny Depp, who played the memorable Captain Jack Sparrow. This year, these two work together again to deliver Verbinski's latest outing, Rango.

The film centers on a pet chameleon, played by Johnny Depp, who spends his time performing to inanimate objects in his cage. After this brief view into his personality, the car he is riding on the back of hits a bump and causes his cage to crash onto the road. It is then he finds the bump was an armadillo, who was trying to reach the other side while seeking the "Spirit of the West," and advises the chameleon to search for his purpose in life. While crossing the desert, and narrowly escaping a hawk, he meets a female lizard named Beans, who takes him to a western town named Dirt, populated by other desert animals. Soon after getting there, the chameleon enters a saloon, where he adopts the name "Rango" while telling a story about himself; he took the name from part of the name of a bottle he drank from. What follows is a story revolving around a murder, linking to a massive water shortage in the town.

This movie was overall better than I expected, as I wasn't sure what to make of it from the trailers. The story was actually well thought-out and easy to follow, if a little slow at times. I should mention, however, that the majority of the plot is similar to the 1974 movie, Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski. While I haven't seen it yet, I don't think that's neccessarily a bad thing, since this film stands out on its own rather well. Some parts of the movie also include subtle references to other classic movies, as well as one to another Johnny Depp film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A notable reference is the appearance of Clint Eastwood as the aforementioned "Spirit of the West," though it was disappointing that the actual Clint Eastwood didn't voice him. These references didn't take away from the story either, rather serving as easter eggs for those who get them.

The effects of this movie were also rather superb, portraying the animals in a realistic fashion while also being very fluid in movement. While this does cause it to nearly dip into uncanny valley, it doesn't really distract from the story, and actually serves the movie well. On the acting side of things, Johnny Depp's performance as Rango is done fantastically, making the character more believeable. The other characters' voices match their appearances quite well, with excellent delivery, making their interactions with the titular character much better.

One thing about Rango that deserves special mention is the sound design. Everything in this movie is given the sounds of its real-life counterpart, from the animals to the environments, and even objects, making for one of the most realistically-sounding movies out there. This aspect helped to enhance the experience further, helping to make one believe its desert setting. One example of this design would a scene at the beginning of the movie, where the chameleon hero's cage shatters on the highway. You can hear every sound from the glass breaking to the shards scattering about and sliding against the asphalt.

But as with every good movie, there are a couple small issues with it. While the plot was straight-forward, there were some important things I could see coming from a distance, which would be better not to spoil. The only real issue I had with this movie, however, was the use of bats. There are scenes where characters are flying bats for transport in broad daylight, even though bats are nocturnal. While (at the time of this writing) there may be a species of bat that can fly in daylight that I don't know about, I decided to take it as willing suspension of disbelief.

The final verdict of Rango is that it's an enjoyable movie. The plot is a little slow, but easy to follow, backed up by great acting and realistic sound design. While this is a family picture, I would more recommend it to Gore Verbinski/Johnny Depp fans. Younger movie-goers should be accompanied by an adult tough, as this movie has some dark moments and really stretches its PG rating as far as it can. Aside from that, Rango is a must-see and delivers a memorable visual experience.

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