The Secret Of Kells reveals yet another side to Irish Cinema, one rather different from the other films I've explored as part of this marathon. It is an animation, and a very beautiful one.
This is the first time I've attempted to review an animated film, and I will admit that I don't quite know how to go about it. But I'll do my best.
Brendan is a young apprentice monk in the seventh century, in the Abbey Of Kells. He lives during a time of great troubles, Viking raids terrorise the lands and he has been forbidden to leave the Abbey, which is in the process of being enclosed by a large wall.
Soon a fascinating new monk arrives at the Abbey, bearing with him The Book of Iona, which he managed to save from the ruins of Iona as it was sacked by the terrible Vikings.
Brendan becomes this man's apprentice and is soon taught the ways of an Illuminator, that is to say a master artist who illustrated and wrote the fabulous Books of that era.
Soon disaster strikes however as a Viking raiding party draws near, and Brendan is punished for his excursions beyond the wall, where he meets a nature spirit and a terrifying demon of old.
The Secret Of Kells is a beautiful film, but a very flawed one. The primary complaint I believe was the fact that it all felt a bit rushed, and I agree with that observation as it did feel like the film was trying to cover too much ground in too short a run time.
But this is a relatively minor complaint and did not bother me so much, however other aspects of the film did let me down. In particular the fact that it relied on so many cliches, of the kind I had hoped no to find in this film. It seemed like such a refreshingly original film, and in terms of animation it certainly is, but the basic story structure and the various events just felt extremely redundant.
It had nowhere near the same originality and unique attitude that made me love such animations as Persepolis and the work of Miyazaki, or even some of the celebrated Pixar studio's films.
Perhaps my hopes were set too high, I don't know, but in any case the film relied far too much on a familiar storyline which somewhat undercut it's amazing visuals for me.
The storyline starting with a child frustrated with his surroundings and feeling alienated from his family, only to meet a wise stranger who reveals to him many amazing things, which eventually lead him into trouble where he is saved by a mysterious character, with whom he strikes up a friendship, I could go on but I don't want to spoil it all. Of course the context in which this is applied is very interesting, but I would like to have seen a more imaginative script. The characters all felt like variations on ones I'd seen before, and I was left craving a bit of the originality promised by the extraordinary visuals.
Furthermore, another problem I had was that I felt it tried to hard to be educational, as if for little children, it did sound slightly patronising at times. Perhaps the film was just not made for my age group though, so this is a very minor complaint.
One aspect I did appreciate about the films story was the fact that it didn't necessarily assign modern attitudes to it's characters in an effort to appeal to audiences, these is something I dislike, especially when it comes to animated films. Furthermore the film might have been rather shallow, it seems to think it's beautiful imagery made up for it's fairly mundane scrip, I still found it enjoyable. It was nothing particularly ground-breaking in terms of writing, but it certainly wasn't an unpleasant viewing experience.
The visual aspects are where this film shines. It's animation is unique, strikingly colourful, complex and highly detailed. I greatly admired every second of it, with some sequences being far more impressive than others of course.
This is where the heart of the film lies, and was obviously developed with a great deal of love by the animators, it is by far the strongest and most appealing aspect of the film, so I can somewhat forgive the films underdeveloped storyline as the animation more than makes up for it.
For those who have not seen the film, I can assure you it is quite unlike any other animation you may have seen before.
It is obviously inspired from the very same drawings that the film focuses on, the work of the Illuminators, it is obviously strongly influenced by such traditional Celtic art and the work of the Christian monks. This makes for an animation style that is completely original, yet very engaging. It seems little consideration was given to realistic proportions and such things, as the bodies are all strangely presented as is the landscape, but this doesn't matter. Instead of concentrating of realism, the animation is more about capturing the themes and movements of the film. Thus everything flows very nicely, and changes brilliantly to adapt to each individual situation.
A wide range of colours is on display, as well as a myriad of wonderful visual tricks and techniques, many of which take you by surprise and always save the animation from becoming redundant.
I'd recommend watching the film to see this animation alone, it is fascinating and well worth the various awards and nominations it received.
Another good aspect of the film would be the voice acting, which was clearly very competent. It isn't something people always notice, but I find that good voice acting can make an animation great, whereas bad voice acting can ruin it. Here it was very good, from a talented cast with accents that should be decipherable to pretty much everyone, which is a good thing. Of course it isn't very realistic as the characters would have had thicker accents but I think softening the accents is a perfectly reasonable thing to do in order for those unfamiliar with it to understand.
Finally, I thought it was very interesting to see an Irish animation, it is not an art form they are particularly known for so I was glad to see it succeed. I'm also glad to see that they stuck to their roots in a way, by making a film about Irish traditions. For it is a very Irish film, it is made up of countless scraps from the tales of the Celts and the early Christians and this provides the film with a most interesting basis. This harkening back to he old days is something that is not very commonplace in animation, as more tend to look towards the future, or to just focus on talking animals.
However flawed this one may be, I still think it's a better animation than most of the ones I have seen recently, which proves that once again, real quality can be found in the more unlikely places, especially when it comes to Cinema.
The Secret Of The Kells may not be the most amazing animation to come around recently, but it's wonderful animation definitely makes it a worth checking out. I found the story to be rather weak on the whole, and slightly forgettable, but I realise that I'm in a minority as it was very well received by critics and audiences alike. As I said, I think my hopes were just to high.
I can easily recommend it to all, and hope you enjoy it even more than I did.
This puts an end to my Irish Film Marathon, I will soon expand upon this very theme by announcing a blogathon, but more information on that later.
To see all the previous posts in the series, click here!