Here’s more from that hush-hush Portland, Oregon, test screening of the hush-hush The Simpsons movie which is still a work-in-progress with only partial animation and in need of tweaks like Hans Zimmer’s score. Naturally, the attendees were forced to sign a multi-page nondisclosure agreement. Given all the secrecy, what does Fox think they have buried there: gold? Why, yes, box office gold! Who’s not gonna see this pic. And what summer blockbuster would be without a big sickening summer promotion. Right now, 7-11 and Fox are working on a deal to transform 11 of 4,700 stores across the U.S. to resemble the front of the Kwik-E-Marts selling some of Homer Simpson’s favorite snacks. Inside every 7-11 will be a bonanza of Simpsons characters hawking the food. And all 7-11 customers will be able to buy products inspired by the show, including KrustyO’s cereal, Buzz Cola, and iced Squishees (the cup will say Squishee, but the contents will be Slurpee). But back to the test screening. My immense thanks to Shawn Levy of The Oregonian, whose source adds nice detail to the already posted brief write-up by a contributor to Ain’t It Cool News:
“A reliable informant sends the following: ‘I, too, attended the first public test screening last Tuesday night at the Lloyd. Matt Groening sat four seats away from us, James L. Brooks and a plethora of writers sat behind us in two rows. It was good but very rough. Lots of animatics, both pencil drawings, and CG match moves and storyboards. Pretty enjoyable all around though and a pretty amazing screening experience, perhaps one of the best of my life thus far. It’s in the top five at least. Here are a few more details:
The film was about 90 minutes + some more.
It was very rough in places with CG animatics and match move models of characters and then pencil sketches. Some were just story boards.
The plot of the film is like a big episode, but kept pretty straightforward and linear. Not a ton of wacky digressions, but the focus is on the family first and foremost.
The first 45-50 minutes are pretty tightly written and cut, with a lot of well structured ‘A’ jokes followed up very quickly by the smaller ‘B’ joke.
At this point, the film is pretty well mapped out and plotted, but still very very malleable.
I would say the most work needs to be done near the last third of the film. It just feels a bit fast in how it wraps up, otherwise, it’s a solid piece of entertainment.
There were more than a few points where I had to remind myself that I was watching a movie, not just an episode and they even make a few jokes about this too.
The film is in Scope/2.35:1 and makes a joke about this in the first 3-4 minutes.’”
Ain’t It Cool News contributor Biker-Boy wrote earlier about the test screening:
The film in its current form is massively unfinished; with, I would guess, around 30% of the film in the final hi-def, super sharp animation. The rest was divided between hand drawn storyboards, and low res, choppy colour animation.
The voice soundtrack was complete, but the musical score wasn’t.
All this probably means that, even if unchanged, the final print will maintain its pacing, excitement and charm a little better than the version we saw, as 2 or 3 hand-drawn storyboards don’t quite manage to convey all of the things which makes The Simpsons so special.
We did get a pretty good idea of what to expect though, and where the film makers are going with this big screen version. So what did I, a Simpsons appreciator of long standing, think of the movie? It’s excellent. Is it mind blowingly awesome? No, not quite. Almost, but not quite. At least not in it’s current form.
The first thing to say is, it’s too short. I didn’t time it exactly, but the movie is something like an hour and a quarter in length. It’s over in a heartbeat.
Because (I would guess) of this short running time we come up against the first of the films little problems… Not nearly enough screen time is given to any one of the multitude of surrounding characters. Not one of them. We have the main Simpsons family taking centre stage, and a couple of new characters to be introduced to, but aside from that any of the other people who populate Springfield are reduced to one line (or at least sub-5 second) cameos. I feel they have wasted their best resource by simply omitting them. The trailer’s assertion that ‘the gangs all here’ is pretty misleading, since with a couple of exceptions (who get a few short minutes each) we don’t get to spend any time with any of the surrounding cast. It’s a crying shame.
The easiest way to describe the film is by way of it’s three acts. They roughly split up into; the first half hour, the second half hour, and the final quarter hour-ish of climax.
The first half hour of the Simpsons movie is hysterical genius. It’s classic. It’s old school. It’s violent. It’s slapstick. It’s clever. It’s everything you could ever want it to be. There’s a gag every couple of seconds (sometimes several going on in the background), and pretty much all of them hit the mark with confidence and accuracy. I haven’t laughed so hard in ages (definitely not since Hot Fuzz). Seriously. My head almost fell off.
It’s here we see scenes like Homer fixing his roof with Bart from the most recent trailer. It’s day-to-day life stuff, and is The Simpsons at it’s best.
The ‘plot’ of this first act reflects back to several classic episodes, and puts the family in situations that are familiar to all of us. Here we do, of course, meet all our favourite characters (albeit, as I said, too briefly), and get some marvellously funny set pieces. You might even say that the first act of The Simpsons movie is the Best. Episode. Ever. (sorry).
The second half hour is a problem. Here we are attempting to further the plot, and add some conflict and exposition. It’s not that it’s bad, just that it isn’t really as good. The gag rate drops right off, and (shockingly for such a short movie) it feels a little slow. There’s some good moments in there of course, but it just seems to lose it’s zap and it’s zing.
Here we could have done with branching off from the main story line and returning to perhaps some of the supporting characters for some laughs, some fun-poking, and some humour for humour’s sake. Padding if you will.
There is one stand out scene in this middle section which is utterly inspired, and where you get to see Bart at his comedy best.
The final short act, where the climax is played out, and everyone learns a valuable lesson, is exciting, clever and extremely satisfying. It definitely ends well, if a little abruptly. It all wraps up pretty neatly, and the animation here is superb, mixing high quality 2D and 3D to outstanding effect.
To ensure they get a brief mention, the voice acting is typically faultless, and the music was adequate – even though unfinished.
People keep asking me: “so is it any good, or is it just like a longer episode?”. I say, if you pick some of the truly classic episodes, then a longer version is exactly what we wanted. What we got feels like they weren’t quite sure how to create a 90-minute episode, so they did one episode for comedy, one for plot, and one for the ending. I say we got three episodes back to back, and they all feel slightly different.
None of this of course means that the movie is bad. It isn’t. It’s The Simpsons. It’s funny, charming, exciting, familiar and is peppered with delightfully loving references to all our favourite events in the Simpsons family history (one in particular will have you whooping with joy in your seat if you’re a Simpsons fan).
I’d recommend the movie, yes – in its current state, to anyone who enjoys watching the show, and anyone who enjoys a laugh in general. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am looking forward to seeing it again.
I just hope, somewhere in the back of my mind, that they read and pay attention to my comment card, and fill out the middle section with some more snap, crackle and pop. If they do, they could have an all time classic on their hands, which sadly the version I saw falls ever so slightly short of.”
Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.