Review: Verbinski's 'Rango' is Visually Stunning, But Narratively Dry
by Jeremy Kirk
March 4, 2011
You can tell early on in Rango that it was put together by a live-action director. Or at the very least, the frames were passed by a live-action cinematographer. In fact, with Rango, both of these are the case. Gore Verbinski brings his sense of Pirates of the Caribbean adventure to every last frame of the animation, and famed cinematographer Roger Deakins gives depth and composition to each of those animated frames. This results in Rango having a texture about it, a tangibility to every aspect which, when combined with the stellar voice performances and an inventive way of actually executing every shot, gives the film some of the most incredible looking animation in recent memory. Maybe of all time.
Johnny Depp plays the titular character. Actually, at the beginning, he's not all that titular, but we'll just refer to him as Rango for brevity's sake. Rango is, in fact, a domesticated lizard with a penchant for the theater. He enacts Shakespeare in his glass domicile, rattling off lines of memorized dialogue and stage blocking to the plastic toys that keep him company, and generally acts as if he's out of his mind. That is until the vehicle he is being transported in swerves on a desert road sending Rango and his home out the back window. The box shatters, and Rango, perfectly satisfied with the domesticated lifestyle he has been living, finds himself in the middle of the barren desert.
In search of water, he comes across the town of Dirt where water is the ultimate form of currency. There's just one problem. The water in and around Dirt is disappearing. Rango, after a slight run-in with some local thugs, creates an elaborate back-story for himself - I did say he liked theatrics - and gives himself that titular name and also becomes the town sheriff thanks to the mayor of Dirt, voiced by Ned Beatty. As the new law in them there parts, Rango takes it upon himself to uncover the mystery surrounding this missing water.
It should be noted how Verbinski pulled off Rango's execution. He essentially shot the film live action with all of the actors acting out their parts on a sound stage. He then went in with his team of computer animators and crafted the film we see now. What this does is allow every character to have naturalistic movement, to provide a sense of realism to each of them that almost makes you forget you're even watching talking animals.
At the head, Depp engulfs his role. His voice fluidly comes from the lizard's mouth, and you can truly see the actor's facial movements being supplanted onto this animated creation. It's a spectacular feeling that is generally left seen in some of the better motion capture creations, but it comes from an animated creation in the middle of a fully animated environment. This immerses you even deeper in the world of Rango to the point when you see a sun setting or water flowing, you don't even question it. It truly is a remarkable feat how the enormity and complexity of this world has been executed so flawlessly.
Sadly, the same can't be said for every aspect found in Rango. There's a lightness to the story here. There has to be. It's a film about talking animals, and, unless your Orwell, you're pretty much required to turn on the kiddie charm when dealing with such things. The humor in Rango doesn't always work, and more often then not it's elicited from Rango (read: Johnny Depp) acting goofy. He screams. He makes odd faces. He generally throws in little punches at the end of each scene that is both unnecessary and almost eye-rolling in nature. At least Depp gives it his all and almost allows a bit of forgiveness for the screenplay trying too hard.
The influences in Rango sit tall and proud, for the most part. Vervinski and screenwriter John Logan have made an animated film for lovers of Westerns. Not just any one kind of Western, either. There are references from John Ford films and Sergio Leone films alike, a spectrum from sweeping to Spaghetti that makes any fan of the genre giddy. A cameo late in the film, both in terms of character and even voice, packs a true "wow" moment in and even gives you hope Verbinski might be on board for an animated continuation of the Man With No Name trilogy.
Hans Zimmer's score, though, isn't quite so palatable. In fact, it's pretty much on the nose with the Morricone scores it's referencing. There are scores from other films that almost seem copied and pasted into Rango almost distractingly so more often than not. It's a small problem in Rango, but one that doesn't go unnoticed.
The surrealism Verbinski injects into this film is quite welcome, though. The characters, though visually stunning to observe, don't exactly allow a connection to be made from the audience on any empathic level. You find yourself immersed into their world, gazing at the beauty and spectacle of the desert landscape, but as far as bonds go between audience and character, that well is about as dry as Dirt itself. It comes from the goofiness of its lead character, the obviousness of some of Logan's influences - Chinatown being a big one - and the feeling Verbinski was aiming for with the broad scope of Westerns more for environment than character development. It's only when the surrealism comes into play, when dream sequences pull the real strangeness out of Rango's story, that the balance between immersing characters and immersing settings seem to match up. It's just on the wrong end of it.
Maybe Rango is better suited watched as a silent film, with the volume turned down so the amazing visuals don't play into any story whatsoever. The characters here aren't out-and-out bad. Anything that looks this beautiful can't be passed by without a second glance. However, the belief that Rango could have been something better, something more elaborately crafted in regards to story, something narratively as well as visually captivating, can't be disregarded. Rango might be firing a six-shooter, but its chambers clearly aren't all loaded.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Reader Feedback - 11 Comments
Great review, nicely written.
Voice of Reason on Mar 4, 2011
This movie is fantastic! I'm shocked that you gave Drive Angry a higher score. It seems I misjudged you, Jeremy.
ZZZ on Mar 4, 2011
This was the best movie I have seen so far this year. If you turned the volume down it wouldn't be anywhere near as fun as it was. I really want to see it again.
Link1983 on Mar 4, 2011
FUCK YOU! THIS MOVIE ROCKED!
Commanderzmaster on Mar 4, 2011
so over johnny depp at this point, I dont even want to hear his voice!
crayton on Mar 4, 2011
Wait...so you enjoyed Drive Angry 3D, but not this? Moving on.
Jake on Mar 5, 2011
This movie was really great. I laughed a lot. I wasn't going into this thinking it was going to be a movie with deeply rooted characters and all. I was very surprised at how much it was geared towards a more older audience than what I first thought. I was blown away by the visuals and pretty much all the scenes and the characters were so weird looking that it made them lovable. I'd suggest everyone go see this movie and don't listen to this review. He'd rather it have have Nicholas Cage delivering terrible one liners while driving around in cars in 3D. This movie was great!
Dan W on Mar 5, 2011
Your review was... very accurate. I think a committee developed the story line. After watching this unique movie, I felt like I ate too much at a fast food restaurant, feeling full, but not nourished.
Mike B on Mar 6, 2011
There must be a conspiracy surrounding this movie. What are the movie reviewers thinking (ahem, rottentomatoes) giving this movie the score it's got?! I totally agree with you! Rango is pretty terrible. People who like forced slapstick humor will enjoy it probably. As for me, i think it should've went straight to... VHS. The only good thing i see is character design. In terms of depth/meaning, it fall flat. I've had enough of Depp's quirkiness... just like everyone's had enough of Lady Gaga.
King-Pui Leong on Mar 7, 2011
I saw the movie and I found it to be boring, poorly written, not funny at all. It was a complete waste of my time and money and I would not recommend it to anyone it all. This movie will go on my list of worst movies of all time and I would not even recommend waiting to rent this movie on Netflix as even at a discount rate it would be complete waste of your time (unless of course you need something to help you get to sleep).
flicklover on Mar 21, 2011
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