It Only Takes a Moment: An Ode to Stephanie Zacharek

Posted in Uncategorized by Meg on July 1, 2008

The format of writing a film review for a daily or weekly newspaper and magazine is a difficult format to tackle.  For such a short amount of space and time to write, the review is usually left to being a series of plot points and a set of opinions that must be simplified into “good” or “bad” piles, otherwise the rating of a man sleeping with his hat on his belly or a man flying off his chair clapping cannot be determined.  While the result is a slough of written articles that begin to feel like the same article, but with each new writer pressing shift+F7 on a few words within the text, there are a few writers out there that have been able to work within the film review format but add a little more depth in their understanding of the film.

Wall•E by Stephanie Zacharek

Though she has the reputation of purposely being a devil’s advocate to the dominant paradigm of opinions for any given film, Stephanie Zacharek of salon.com still manages to eloquently discuss the problems any given film may have.  Her review published for Wall•E is no exception.  Being one of the lonely splats on Rotten Tomatoes for the film (though I still do not know how the website decides which way to swing for mixed reviews), Zacharek is able to express the low points of the film with great precision and thought.  While some may judge her for being a Debbie Downer to King Disney/Pixar’s parade, her points are well spoken and honest.  That said, though my fellow Pixar kool aid drinkers focus on the negativity of the review and search for ways to discredit her opinion (i.e. “You can’t listen to her! She gave The Love Guru a glowing review!”), I focus on how her words of disappointment and critique reveals how the shortcomings she sees in the film can ultimately be interpreted as part of the narrative.

For Zacharek, it took only a few moments in the film for her to change her opinion from dazzling piece of art to disappointing Hollywood trash.  She writes:

Toward the end of “WALL-E,” Stanton tries to circle back and recapture some of the wistful magic of the movie’s early scenes, but the spell doesn’t take. “WALL-E” gives us a hero who, by culling through the masses of junk that we so casually throw away, becomes a repository for human memories, a living (though not breathing) creature who has more feeling than actual humans do. Then it shows us actual humans — lazy, fat, brainless ones who have squandered and abused their free will — and asks us to forgive their foibles. The gloss of preachiness that washes over “WALL-E” overwhelms the haunting, delicate spirit of its first 30 minutes. This clearly isn’t a movie made by a robot; the drag is that it ends up feeling so programmed.

What has become a staple in all of the reviews for Wall•E is the comparison of the first act in Trash Planet, with the second and third act in the Axiom and concluding back on Earth.  For viewers like Zacharek, Wall•E would have been a flawless film if the love story of Eve and Wall•E would have continued on the amazingly rendered sets of the abandoned Earth, never once having Flubber-y humans enter the scene.  The film would have been on par with Ratatouille’s critical success if it didn’t have gratuitous chase scenes inside a spaceship for the young boys or the “let us robots and humans pass this plant boot so we can go to Earth for the first time” scene of overt environmentalism.
While this is the sentiment Zacharek expresses in her concluding thoughts on the film, the play on words she decides to use within her critique opens itself for an interpretation that fits the film’s themes as well as reconstitutes the precise depth that she claims diminishes by the end.  Because of the glossy preachiness that is in line with Al Gore standard at the end of the film, Zacharek concludes that the film was clearly not made by a robot, and that the breaking point of the film was it’s feeling of being “programmed.” Using the future occurrences as told by Wall•E, civilization exists where robots are more human than the humans themselves.  If this film is to be a cautionary tale about the near future, then the clarity in the film’s second half not being “made by a robot” is evidence that the role reversal of robot and human has already begun.  The impending dependence of humans on machines to the point where they become programmed by the machine is shown in the narrative of the second half as well as the glossiness for which the film is being criticized.  While the story of humans on the Axiom may seem too polished/less like an art film at your local Landmark theatre than the Wall•E, Eve, and the cockroach as they traverse the dusty lands of Earth, the polarity that exists between the two halves of the film for which Wall•E has been criticized is precisely the contrast that points to the film’s call for a new order.

It Only Takes a Moment


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