Sunday, July 29, 2012

Real Steel

Truly Great Films 
Edition #5
Real Steel did indeed wow audiences, but 
it wasn't the hit DreamWorks expected it to be

And I think I may know why...

First thing first. Any movie that earns 295 million really shouldn't be here, because it wasn't overlooked like the other movies in Truly Great Films. 

But Real Steel only earned 85 million - 25 million short of its budget - here in the states, the rest coming in from overseas. 

And any movie executive will tell you...that's a fail.

Why didn't Real Steel get the love it deserved? I have a theory about that. More in a moment.

As a director, Shawn Levy is extremely talented, and this shows in his box office numbers. Most of his movies are popcorn-munching family affairs, such as Cheaper By The Dozen or Big Fat Liar

Remember when Amanda Bynes was a nice girl?

In 2006, he hit one out of the park with Night At The Musuem - a big-budget family comedy starring Ben Stiller. 

Surprisingly, Ben Stiller is not uber-annoying in this film. Like James Cameron, a string of reliable hits opened the purse strings on studio money. Steven Spielberg wanted Real Steel to be made, and approached Levy while he was still filming Date Night

Real Steel was released October 7th, 2011 to mixed reviews and a lukewarm audience.

The results, after the box office receipts were tallied, were not encouraging. Night At The Museum earned four times as much as Real Steel in the U.S., on the exact same budget.

I think I may some insight on why this happened.

Levy and Jackman on the set of Real Steel

My daughter was eight when Night At The Museum was released in 2006. She really wanted to see the film, and we both enjoyed ourselves very much. I personally don't think NATM is very good, but I had a great day with my kid....and that's what counts.

Real Steel is not a movie a guy like me would take his daughter to. Period. Maybe a son, but I don't have one of those. It's also not a movie that you would take a date, girlfriend or wife to. 

Most women, I think, would have no interest whatsoever in Real Steel.

I also think that Real Steel is a little unsure of what it wants to be. A Transformers flick? An underdog-saves-the-day boxing movie? A father-son bonding movie?

It doesn't matter now. Real Steel made enough cash overseas and will probably get a sequel. 

So on to the film...

First, I'd like to discuss the awesome way Levy and his support team captured the performance of 1,500 lb. robots bashing away at each other in a boxing ring.

Well, wasn't that just CGI?

Umm...yes and no.

Real live boxers were placed in motion-capture suits, put in a ring, and ordered to literally beat the crap out of each other. This motion-capture information was made into a very basic video-game like representation of the starring robots. Good so far? 

Here is where it gets interesting. Levy then filmed the empty set ring, surrounded by cheering fans and the actors speaking their dialogue. 

But while this is going on, the video game robots can seen in his camera monitor, allowing Levy to pan and rig shots to make the action more exciting. 

The story....

The year is 2020, and the world has moved on from flesh and blood boxing as a sport, preferring to watch machines fight now.

Hugh Jackman is Charlie, a down-and-out ex-boxer that now travels around with a giant robot named Ambush. They hit the local fairs, hoping to score some cash on rinky-dink fights.

Charlie learns that his ex-girlfriend has died, leaving a kid behind...his kid. Charlie also has a girlfriend named Bailey that owns a boxing gym and keeps the home fires lit for him.

Charlie trades babysitting duties for new-found son, Max (played by Dakoto Goyo) for $50,000, which he promptly spends on a new robot to replace the wrecked Ambush.

Charlie and Max take their new robot, Noisy Boy, to a match where the machine is destroyed. While parts hunting in a junkyard, they discover an old sparring robot and take him home.


Atom turns out to be a very tough fighter, and wins a bunch of matches until Charlie and Max are invited to fight Atom in the big league - World Robot Boxing. 

They win the first match...but then go up against the robot shown below. 

Zeus, of course, and his owner (played by the gorgeous Olga Fonda) are the bad guys in this movie, but that doesn't matter. 

What matters is that Real Steel has heart...lots of it. 

And for the first time in recent history, a child actor isn't annoying. Dakota Goyo does a tremendous job as a boy reconnecting with his father. 

Jackman performs admirably as a man fighting against broken dreams and looking for that second chance in life. He finds it in his son. 


Real Steel isn't perfect. But it has superb pacing, excellent action sequences, great acting and tons of warmth. 

The dialogue is tight and funny, and the camera work is fantastic. I hate the fact that this movie never really found its audience, but that's how it works out sometimes.

I am sure, at some point in time, some idiot studio executive sat down in front of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em game, thought back to the money Transformers made - then smiled slyly and ordered a script.

No matter. Against all odds, Shawn Levy gave us a truly great movie. 

You may think I'm a complete moron for putting this movie on my Truly Great Films list. That's fine.

But remember, these are movies that I thought were very good. 

I felt that I got my money's worth, and most importantly - they made me feel something. I walked out of the theater with a lighter step and a smile on my face. How many films these days actually do that?

If you haven't seen Real Steel, then I highly recommend that you do.

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