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Treasure Planet

Seen: 2002.11.20   ¶   Reviewed: 2003.01.12

I’m not sure anyone not in the employ of Michael Eisner can explain the purpose of Treasure Planet, a warmed-over collage of tropes. Pirates and pirate ships with double-crossing villains. Put-upon but dazzlingly-NAMBLArrific teenage boys (unconscious homoeroticism pervades the Disney œuvre) who, inevitably, spend the entire movie showing the world or the universe just how strong and resilient they really are.

Disney is too damned classy to produce a movie that exists purely to blow shit up, for example, but they’re not too good to produce one that exists purely to showcase the Lion King–homologated union of cel and computer animation. Actually, I read recently that there is no such thing as cel animation anymore anywhere at Disney. The point is nonetheless taken, because we get a whole lot of shots using blatantly obvious motion control. I have a lot of complaints about motion control dating all the way back to The Empire Strikes Back, since the movements follow mathematically perfect curves and use Vulcan-style logic. (You, a human being, might take a wobbly path to look up and to the right, but a computer-generated character will either look up and then right like an android or traverse the shortest possible spline between points A and B.)

Unlike, say, in Zentropa, where the extravagantly fake rear projections were flat-out stunning, Treasure Planet merely looks gratuitous – computer modelling deployed like product placement. And yes, I am in fact comparing Disney animation to Lars Von Trier, and Disney loses.

They’re trying, trying mightily, to camouflage what they’re really doing. Why else hire frumpess Emma Thompson to voice the captain? Isn’t a female captain a diversionary tactic? They’re doing what, updating a classic story by setting it in space and drawing exactly one powerful female character?

We’re gonna buy that, right?

I knew they didn’t mean it when the nerdy-professor type (the nerdy-professor trope) and the captain inevitably fall in love. He’s a nebbish and she’s independent. In other words, the perfect Minnelli/Gest cover marriage.

And you realize it’s another of those Disney in-jokes when the captain falls injured and the nerdy professor disappears downward out of frame to tend to her? Where’s Focus on the Family when we need them?

In the audience with Mr. X, Mr. Y, and me? Nine other people.

Fortunately, I had ample reason not to pay attention to the entire movie.

Caption quality

(inhales effortfully) is a bit recherché, but correct. Trying slightly too hard is better than the alternative.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Just write the fucking number and don’t give us narrow phonetic transcription.

Now, guess what happened? At 20:20 hours, captions stopped completely, replaced by the placeholder message. I jump at the chance to get the hell out of the room and report it. The manager seemed familiar with the complaint, as though he’d heard this before. He claimed that they’d have to wait until the next showing to fix it. I told him to reboot the DTS box. He said nothing would sync up after that. I told him it would.

So back I went. We had a 2001 moment when the captions for a press conference concerning DTS appeared on the display for about half a minute. (Dave unplugs HAL’s brain and, coincidentally, a preordained message concerning the true nature of the mission plays. Remember?)

Then captions resumed. I was doomed to watch the rest of the movie.

Oh, but there was another problem!

You may recall that the emitters used for description don’t have to be centrally located. They can be placed almost anywhere in the auditorium. In the preceding year, I have specifically noted the intelligent positioning of the emitter alongside the caption display. Well, lately I’ve been finding emitters (plural in some cases) installed so that a corner or other part overlaps the caption display.

Now, caption text defaults to the top of the three-line display. Three-line captions are unusual. In tonight's display blockage, an emitter of some kind was located dead centre below the display and overlapping the bottom line slightly (by about a third). So three or four central characters in a three-line caption were partially obscured.

I had a devil of a time explaining this to the staff, and as of December 31, it not only remains unfixed, it's worse, because a second emitter overlaps the top right corner (hence top left corner in caption reading).

They were installing these things correctly for a full year. What’s going on here?

Description quality

Gaille Heidemann is the narratrix.

“Looks back at the burning inn as flames engulf it”: You don’t say.

An artificial eye is referred to as a “bionic” eye at one point. The word is pretty generic now, isn’t it? A sword is referred to as a cutlass repeatedly, presumably le mot juste.

“The ship turns to face us as it falls into the black hole”: No, it turns away!

Descriptions crashed somewhat later than the captions crashed, but crash they did nonetheless. Everything flipped back into position after the manager rebooted the DTS box.

“And robot officers step inside for Jim”: No, they step aside.

Over closing credits, there’s a very long delay before descriptions start, presumably to pay respect to the closing theme song. A few liberties taken with actual wording of credits.


The system was almost perfectly consistent: Both captions and descriptions broke down.

Exit interview

I had another damned conversation about the broken system and the manager forked over movie passes.

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