by Malcolm Rowe

Shrek 3

I’ve just got back from seeing a preview of Shrek 3 at the Odeon West End with about 400 or so other Googlers and friends. Short review: I really liked it. If you liked Shrek, you’ll probably like Shrek 3 too (and if you didn’t like Shrek, you probably won’t like Shrek 3).

I’ve got more to say about the film that doesn’t involve using ‘like’ five times in a row, but first there was something else I noticed right from the start: I really enjoyed being in the cinema, particularly because of the lack of trailers at the start (it being a preview). I actually don’t mind straightforward product adverts, but I didn’t realise quite how wound up I was getting from the constant “You’re a criminal” anti-piracy adverts cinemas in the UK are showing these days (“Did you know you can download films from the internet? Yes? You must be a pirate! Piracy causes terrorists! Are you a terrorist too?”). Seriously, someone should do a study: those adverts alone are probably acting to reduce cinema intake. (Aha, I see their plan: 1. Drive everyone away from cinema. 2. No more pirates in cinema! 3. uh, profit?)

So, anyway, bereft of something to do our thinking for us, we made our own entertainment. In my immediate company, this revolved around a discussion of whether the rows at the bottom section of the cinema formed a catenary curve, a parabola, or something else, and whether we could infer a ‘perfect’ shape from the necessary properties. But then the film started, so we had to abandon that promising line of inquiry…

The plot in Shrek 3 is pretty simple, and that’s a good thing: in a 90-minute film, we can either have exposition or action, and thankfully, Shrek 3 chooses the latter. The setup is, in summary: Shrek doesn’t want to be King, so goes off to fetch the next-in-line, a kid called Arthur (voiced surprisingly well by Justin Timberlake). While he’s off, Rupert Everett as Prince Charming rounds up a band of fairytale baddies to usurp the throne. Hilarity ensues.

And the jokes are pretty good. In Shrek, quite a bit was made of how the jokes had ‘adult overtones’ that kids and adults would enjoy separately. I don’t remember a great deal of that this time, the comedy was just pretty consistently good throughout (ok, there was something along the lines of “well, you’re royally [foghorn]”, I’ll give you that). In terms of references to other films, I really didn’t see a great deal of those either. One explanation might be that I’m not very observant, and while that’s certainly true, I think another explanation is that they’ve exhausted the easy targets and started to develop within their milieu, which is much more satisfying (there’s a great exchange involving Pinocchio deliberately obfuscating his speech to avoid lying, for example).

Shrek 3 also just about avoids bashing us over the head with its moral message (which is, by the way, that ‘you can decide what kind of person to be rather than always being what other people think you are’. Yuck, indeed). And there’s some father-son bonding as well, which is done with slightly less cookie-cutter teen angst than you might otherwise fear, which was a nice surprise. But that’s fine: it is a film for kids, after all.

In terms of the visual look of the film, we’re far past Toy Story, where every review had to mention the quality of the CGI. Shrek looks, well, pretty damn good, but here that’s more a function of the direction and animation team than any particular breakthrough in animation technique (wet hair? Yawn. How fickle we viewers are!). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re approaching a visual ceiling for the Pixar/DreamWorks style of CGI animation: the technology is effectively ‘feature complete’ and making the visual much more realistic runs straight into the uncanny valley (q.v. The Polar Express). I doubt very much that we’re at the limit for CGI-generated films in general, but I do think they’ll have to switch to a different visual style.

The only real thing that let Shrek 3 down was the music, which is a shame, because it was quite distracting at times. Firstly, someone had a fetish for using short excerpts — less than a minute — of original vocal music as background during transitions. Maybe they’re planning to produce a bunch of cheap soundtrack CDs? Whatever. But while Toy Story and Toy Story 2 used exactly the same type of music to great effect (and received two Oscar nominations for that music as a result) — and where even Team America had their ‘Montage’ song — here, the music just seems thrown on without any regard for what’s happening on the screen, and as it’s over before we’ve got a handle on the lyrics, it stands out as really rather odd.

Secondly, I’m not sure if DreamWorks had licenses to a bunch of random songs lying around, but in the ‘action scene music’ category, there’s nothing remotely comparable in fun or intensity as the scenes that bracketed the first Shrek — Smash Mouth’s All Star and The Monkees’ I’m A Believer. For example, we get the intro to Live and Let Die… which cuts out just before the first orchestra sting. And just as well, because the scene it’s shown over isn’t an action scene: it’s a funeral. In other words, the songs aren’t bad songs at all, but again, the choice seems random.

The only other negative: I did catch one really egregious product placement (a shoe company of some sort, I assume from the brand), but luckily that was the only one.

So, is Shrek 3 worth watching? Yes, definitely. In the cinema? Depends how much you like being treated like a criminal…