In a world of puppets, the Emperor of the walled city of Hebulon makes the decision to end his life by severing his "headstring" so that his son Hal (voice of James McAvoy) can succeed to the throne. But his final testament is suppressed by Hal's uncle Nezo (voice of Derek Jacobi) who has his own ambitions to rule. As a result, the death is blamed on the Hebulonians' age-old enemies the Zeriths; with his friend and squire Erito (voice of David Harewood) Hal rides out of the city to seek revenge.
Review by Jake Wilson:
If the team behind The City of Lost Children had used puppets instead of digital effects, the results might look like Strings - a faintly nightmarish adult fantasy set in a shadowy underworld where rain is frequent, court intrigue is rife and the population consists of marionettes who dangle from black wires as if undergoing daily crucifixion.
Under the circumstances it's all a bit solemn for my taste, particularly once the sub-Tolkien plot gets going with its prophecies, battles and biblical echoes. Most of the genuinely imaginative touches come in the first half hour, which lays down the logically necessary laws of this unlikely universe: babies are carved rather than born, slaves are used for spare body parts, and, of course, the characters die when their visible ties to the cosmo are cut (or slashed, as happens often).
The marionettes themselves have the severe elegance of African masks; the film aims to make up for their expressive limitations with swooping camera movements and chiaroscuro lighting, but given the insistence on "baring the device" I wonder if it might have been better to keep to a starker, less literal style and have the puppeteers do the work. As it is, Strings is more an eccentric technical achievement than anything else, resembling a small-scale 3D model of a "real" movie - an effect foreign to most cartoons, but quite close to a claymation parody like Chicken Run.
Sadly, while whimsy comes easily to these filmmakers, humour does not. Equally sadly, on the level of spectacle the production can't match the studio resources of Team America: World Police - an inevitable if unfortunate reference point, particularly during the big scenes in which love and tragedy are greeted by the same blank wooden faces.
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VOICES: James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, Julian Glover, Derek Jacobi, Ian Hart, Claire Skinner, David Harewood, Samantha Bond
PRODUCER: Niels Bald, Mike Downey, Sam Taylor
DIRECTOR: Anders Rønnow-Klarlund
SCRIPT: Naja Marie Aidt, Anders Rønnow-Klarlund
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kim Hattesen, Jan Weincke
EDITOR: Leif Axel Kjeldsen
MUSIC: Jørgen Lauritsen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sven Wichmann
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Arkles
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 15, 2005 (Melbourne)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Force
VIDEO RELEASE: July 17, 2006
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.