Movie Review — “Gnomeo and Juliet” 3D

Ever wonder what those lawn ornaments (the ones that look like refugees from a fairy story) do in their spare time when you are not around?  “Gnomeo and Juliet,” a skilfully animated 3D romp, proposes that they may be reworking a classic Shakespeare plot into a story that contains no resemblance to the original Shakespeare dialog and language.   It does, however, retain the names and the bare-bones plot of the original story, but with a less tragic ending and lots of satirical and comical sub-plot diversions that, while amusing to us, probably would have caused Shakespeare to object.  Indeed, he does in one well-done 3D scene, where a statue of Shakespeare, voiced by Patrick Stewart, comes to life and discusses the story line with one of the Gnomes. I found this moment of self-examination to be innovative and diverting.

The various lawn ornament characters (mostly Gnomes), while retaining their lawn-ornament design, are appealing and varied enough in personality to make the story interesting for children and adults alike.  The ornamental culture is retained in the environment and by the means used by the Red hat Gnomes (Juliet’s family) and Blue hats (Gnomeo’s family) to express their rivalry, namely, lawn-mower racing!  Not all the dialog is directed to children — there are some gags that only adults can appreciate.  The action and humor gets wild and wooly at times — not a bad thing!  One of my favorite scenes. was an over-the-top parody of computer advertising, concerning a hot-rod lawn mower.

Eric Deren’s 3D direction was competent, and most of the time very pleasing, but still timid in its avoidance of using negative space — the space between the screen and the audience. The sad thing is that there were numerous lost opportunities to use negative space boldly, most notably with the marvelous pink flamingo lawn ornament character.  I was just waiting for the bird to lean forward on its spindly legs, poking its body,  long neck and head into the audience space, giving us an intimate experience that would be memorable, amusing, and totally justified by the character.  Unfortunately, I waited in vain, as I did waiting for any daring use of negative space that would increase our intimacy with the characters in the story.

C’mon, Hollywood!  Wake up and use 3D in a mature but bold  manner audiences are expecting for their premium dollars!  Just rendering 3D beyond the screen distance isn’t going to advance the state of the art for 3D any more than reproducing a stage show with a static camera in the audience advanced the state-of-the-art for early motion pictures. 3D’s strength is its ability to enhance the audience’s sensation of intimacy — let’s see more of it!

All this being said, I still enjoyed “Gnomeo and Juliet” and its conservative 3D enough to recommend it, not as a profound philosophical epic that will echo down the ages, but as an amusing and satisfying evening that will probably offend no one and will entertain most.

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