Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Director: David Lowery (2016) BBFC cert: PG

A soaringly sentimental adventure in the best Disney tradition, this fabulous family fable is a superior beast to the 1977 version.

This seamless combination of live action and state of the art CGI has sky high production values wrapped around its large loving heart and a story devoted to the values of family and friendship.

Kids will love the outdoorsy adventure and parents will have a surreptitious emotional moment behind their 3D glasses.

Oakes Fegley is wonderfully endearing as the eleven year old orphan Pete who lives in the forest with his best friend Elliot, a friendly dragon. The creature looks and acts like a giant green pet dog. Only with wings and the ability to breathe fire.

Elliot is Pete’s surrogate parent and protector, a King Kong sized Mary Poppins who has the power to turn invisible. Pete is a wild boy of the woods, a distant cousin of Mowgli from Disney’s Jungle Book (2016).

The immensely likeable Bryce Dallas Howard appears as Grace, a kindly Forest Ranger who doesn’t believe in dragons but does want to solve the mystery of Pete’s parents.

After starring in last year’s monster smash Jurassic World (2015) the actress is no stranger to working with enormous CGI beasts. They’re provided here by WETA Digital who won Oscars for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003).

Robert Redford’s craggy avuncular charm is put to good use as Grace’s father, a man who claims to have once encountered a flying lizard.

Though set in USA, the tale is filmed in the lush and mystical mountains of New Zealand.  Kiwi actor Karl Urban stars as not especially villainous lumber mill owner Gavin. Discovering dragons are real, he wants to capture Elliot. But in trying to save Elliot, Pete risks losing his best friend forever.

It’s essential to the films success we believe the legendary dragon exists and so the film-makers have created a sense of mythic timelessness.

Elliot has a broken tooth and a scar, suggesting a creature of maturity and personal history. Interior scenes captured in a semi-sepia tone are sympathetic to the lush brown and green exteriors evocative of the myths of King Arthur.

Contributing also is the 1980s setting which sidesteps the issue of google optimised smart-phones. A folksy soundtrack is an appropriate and sensitive choice as themes of grief and reconciliation are tackled head on.

The result is we’re wrapped up in this huge warm hug of a movie much like Pete is by Elliot’s shaggy coat of hair. Take a flight on the wings of  Pete’s Dragon and you will believe he exists.

@ChrisHunneysett

Star Trek Beyond

Director: Justin Lin (2016) BBFC 12A

Beam yourself aboard the starship Enterprise for a non stop rocket ride of outer space adventure.

This third film in the rebooted sci fi franchise is a solid improvement on the muddled second episode Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Lin has directed 4 of the Fast Furious films and he’s energised this series after JJ Abrams’ faltering tenure. There’s every suspicion Abrams’ head being turned by the opportunity to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2014) resulted in the mess that was Into Darkness.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Zaldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho and Simon Pegg slip easily into their natty new uniforms as Captain James T. Kirk, Mr Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scottie. Though it’s Karl Urban as the irascible Dr McCoy who is gifted the best lines.

Sofia Boutella enjoys herself in an aggressively  physical role as Jaylah, a non human. In the Federation, everyone is an alien. There’s no return for Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus and at no point are any women required to pose in their underwear, a gratuitous moment which embarrassed Into Darkness even more than the script did.

While on a rescue mission through an unchartered nebula, the Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of giant insect like steel spaceships.

Most of the crew are killed or kidnapped, the Enterprise is destroyed and the captain is stranded on a nearby planet. It’s home to a powerful warlord called Krall, played with muscular menace by Idris Elba.

There’s a jaw dropping action sequence on a beautifully designed space station, anti gravity combat and a mysterious ancient alien weapon. I can’t stress how fabulous the space station is. It’s fragile grace is one of the most remarkable pieces of design I’ve seen this cinema year.

As well as starring, uber Trekkie Pegg co-wrote. In his best work for years the script cleaves closely to the soaring spirit of joshing optimism and adventure of the original 1960’s TV show.

There’s a touching moment of remembrance for Leonard Nimoy who essayed the part of Spock for many years and the film is dedicated to Anton Yelchin who sadly died this year.

A fourth film has already been announced and on this form the series is set in the words of Mr Spock, ‘to live long and prosper’.

@ChrisHunneysett

Star Trek Into Darkness

Director: JJ Abrams (2013)

This spectacular looking but disappointing sequel to 2009’s brilliant franchise reboot is a bumpy retread of the best Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan (1982).

It’s shamefacedly self-referential, surprisingly violent and riddled with plot-holes.

The cosmic cast returns with Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Karl Urban as ‘Bones’ McCoy and Simon Pegg as Scotty.

After breaking Starfleet protocols on an alien planet, Kirk is recalled to Earth where former agent Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is conducting a terror campaign.

Harrison escapes to Qo’noS, the Klingon home world, and Kirk hunts him down only for the Enterprise to be stranded, powerless on the edge of the Neutral Zone.

Photon torpedoes, phaser fights, space battles and armour-suited Klingons zip past in a blur of CGI.

As Kirk and Spock’s bickering bromance continues, Cumberbatch’s purring villain brings much needed intelligence and depth.

Director JJ Abrams has difficulty juggling his large cast and some are wheeled on and off at warp speed to pay lip service to the character.

Alice Eve is particularly ill-served as a scientist required to get her kit off to defuse bombs.

Plus the irritating Pegg has far too much screen-time, his comic delivery is laboured and light on humour.

As it’s played at a breakneck speed throughout, it demonstrates Abrams has little time for, or possibly understanding of, dramatic relief.

Abrams is happy to fly at lightspeed past the emotional hub of the film in order to pursue a far less interesting – and over extended – fist fight.

Abrams may wish to be considered the new Spielberg but this appropriately, is more worthy of a latter-day George Lucas.