Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Pokemon the First Movie

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly rant about one of the movies I own.  It's time we touched upon one of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures, the Pokemon animation franchise.  We kick things off with Pokemon: The First Movie.  This is in my notes at September 3, 2016.

Pokemon.  I used to love Pokemon.  Not the video games, or the CCG, but the anime franchise.  I loved the anime franchise.  I was glued to it.  I never missed an episode.  All the way from when it premiered in my final year of college to about five years ago or so. 

I loved it for its simplicity.  It's just you, your two best friends, and you have no care in the world except for what adventure lay down the road...that never-ending road in the Pokemon world.  And each episode has exactly the same plot.  I would describe it for my friends thusly:

Ash, Pikachu, and companions are walking down the road towards the next town.  They soon encounter Person X, who has Pokemon Y in their possession.  Person X is getting ready to accomplish some personal goal, thanks to the help of Pokemon Y.  So, Ash and the gang decide to stick around and help Person X, learning all about Pokemon Y and its special skills.  Meanwhile, Team Rocket watches.  Things are going smoothly.  Just as Person X and Pokemon Y are about to accomplish things, Team Rocket busts in and attempts to capture Pokemon Y and Pikachu.  But, the combined might of Pokemon Y and Pikachu defeat Team Rocket, and they go blasting off again.  Person X fulfills their goal, and Ash, Pikachu, et al bid them well and continue heading down the road. 

And then you get to the movies, where Pokemon Y is one of those legendary Pokemon, and they stretch this out to 90 minutes. 

Forewarning my friends about Pokemon: The First Movie is where I first started feeling like a true movie geek.  There we were, standing in line for the premiere of Episode I.  I was leafing through the latest ToyFare magazine, and there was an article about Pokemon toys.  The interviewer asked about toys for the Pokemon movie, and my friends said, "Pokemon movie?"  So I clued them in with what I learned from the movie sites of the 1990s:  "Like many other animes, Pokemon has been popular enough to spawn several feature films.  The first one, entitled Mewtwo Strikes Back, is currently being dubbed for a release here in North America.  And if the Pokemon fad continues going the way it's going, it'll probably come out in theatres."  I actually told this to the founding president of Augustana's Anime Club, and he rolled a tear that a Pokemon movie was going to get a major theatrical release in North America, instead of, say, the works of Hayao Miyazaki. 

Pokemon: The First Movie -- Mewtwo Strikes Back hit theatres in November of 1999, and briefly held the record for highest-grossing opening for an animated film.  The record was broken two weeks later by Toy Story 2.  I did not see it that opening weekend.  I saw it in the spring of 2000, when it was playing in the loonie theatres.  My best friend, also a fan of the anime, and I paid our twonies (the price had gone up), and settled in to watch the film.  We had first bonded over a mutual love of cartoons of the 1980s, and as I looked around at all the kids in the theatre, I pointed at them, turned to my friend and said, 'Ya know, this is probably going to be their Transformers: The Movie.

DVD was just staring to gain its prominence as a home theatre format, and I remember home theatre message forums back in the day being right pissed off at the DVD release of Pokemon: The First Movie.  The DVD had everything they wanted in a special edition back then:  a director's running commentary, deleted scenes, a featurette on the making of the film.  But, like my friend, the president of the anime club, they looked at the heavens and screamed, "But why are they wasting this on Pokemon, when there are so many other better animes?" 

Pokemon: The First Movie was not the first DVD I bought.  It was, maybe, the fifth of sixth.  And I bought the second movie.  And I bought the third movie.  I bought them all...all the way up to #12.  As I write this in September of 2016, there are currently 19 Pokemon movies now.  #12 was when I finally stared growing kind of bored with the whole anime franchise, and stopped buying the DVDs.  Some of them are on Netflix now, so maybe I'll go and check them out.  And so I thought I was done with the Pokemon franchise.

Until this year.  2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the franchise.  And the first three movies were released on Blu-Ray for the first time, in a collectable SteelBook three-pack.  Now, when I bought Pokemon: The First Movie back in the day, I was kind of pissed.  Not because they wasted a whole bunch of good bonus features on a throwaway animated film, but because the DVD was not in widescreen.  It was in full screen.  And damn it, all DVDs were supposed to be in widescreen, because they catered to movie geeks.  So I yearned to have Pokemon: The First Movie in widescreen.  And for that reason, I snatched up the Blu-Ray...because it was finally in widescreen.

So imagine my disappointment when I get home, put in the Blu-Ray, and see that, even though it's in widescreen, it's still in the wrong damn aspect ratio.  Let me try to explain.  So you go see a movie, and the screen is in the shape of a rectangle.  When it's released on video or DVD, and it's "formatted to fit your screen," they crop that rectangle so it fits your square-shaped TV.  So for Pokemon: The First Movie on Blu-Ray, they took the DVD, with it's square-shaped picture, and cropped it a second time to make a new rectangle.  How do I know this?  The film opens with Pikachu and Togepi frolicking on a small hill.  Pikachu stumbles and falls off the hill.  In the theatre, with it's rectangle shaped picture, you can see Pikachu tumble to the bottom of the hill.  On video, with it's square-shaped picture, they cropped off the bottom of the hill, so Pikachu falls of screen.  And on the Blu-Ray, Pikachu still falls off screen. 

Now, I know, in the Venn diagram of film enthusiasts and Pokemon fans, I'm probably the only guy in the overlap.  But still, it bugs me.  And that's probably why my much-coveted, finally in widescreen Pokemon Blu-Rays sat un-watched on my coffee table for a few months now.  But tonight was finally the night to revisit the first movie!

Ash, Pikachu and companions are walking down the road to the next town.  When suddenly, they get an invitation from a Pokemon master to come to his hidden island for his own personal competition.  They brave the stormy weather, make it to the island, and find that this Pokemon master is a Pokemon...Mewtwo, a genetically enhanced clone of the legendary Pokemon Mew.  Tired of Pokemon being subjugated by humans and forced to fight, Mewtwo seeks to destroy the world so only him and his army of cloned Pokemon will survive.  It's up to our heroes to save the day, with the timely intervention of Mew. 

It's fun.  This movie is such a product of its time, with its awkwardly shoehorned-in CGI, and 90s boy band cover of the Pokemon theme for the opening credits.  And you know what?  That's OK.  It takes me back to those simpler times of college when I had nothing to do all day but sit around and watch Pokemon. 

And I do like the music.  Despite being a snapshot of the late-90s pop scene, the score is not too bad.  I have the score album.  I bought because when I saw it, I thought, "Holy crap, I can't believe they released this." 

Pokemon: The First Movie, well, as you can see with my ramblings above, I have more thoughts of the times around the movie, than of the movie itself. 

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