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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Hey! Guess what? I saw Delgo this weekend. That may not be a big deal to you, but I feel like it’s something to brag about now, after hearing that it is the biggest bomb in movie-making history. It makes me feel like I took a ride on the cinematic equivalent of The Hindenburg and survived intact. At least I’ve got bragging rights to something apparently nobody else in town can say they’ve done.

I actually felt sad when I read that the movie made only $511,920 in total grosses according Box Office Mojo. That’s roughly the same amount Doubt made in its very limited release, but the Meryl Streep starrer did it on just 15 screens while it took
Delgo 2,160 screens to get to that number. Somehow I don’t think it is going to make back its $40 million production costs at this rate.

I usually don’t get all wrapped up in the ‘business’ part of ‘show business’ because, let’s face it, there’s not much gossip in it unless it involves embezzlement or somebody undercutting someone else to get a great role because who doesn’t love a good ‘knife-in-the-back’ story? But when it comes to tales of production schedules and over-runs, striking animators in the Philippines, or battles with scriptwriters (
Delgo had SIX!), the backstage stuff is a pretty much a big yawn. Still, it is hard not to look up and go “Huh?” when you hear about losses like this. It’s enough to make you almost want to see the movie just to find out what makes it so bad. Almost.

Well don’t worry. You don’t have to because I’ve already taken the bullet for you.

You’re Welcome.

First, let me say that
Delgo is not that horrible a movie. It is just misguided; perhaps this is the result of being written by a committee of six first-time screenwriters who were actually jingle and ad copywriters for a computer animation and advertising agency in Atlanta which decided to take its graphics technology and make a full-length movie. Consensus filmmaking usually ends up with exactly what Delgo looks like ~ a potpourri of ideas, most of them suspiciously similar to plotlines or themes from other movies, stitched together into a peculiar quilt of a fantasy that is ultimately too familiar and yet too confusing at the same time to feel completely fulfilling.

The story opens in the royal palace of the winged Nohrin race with an assassination attempt by the evil villainess Sedessa (voiced by the magnificent Anne Bancroft, who died in 2005) upon her
brother, King Zahn (Louis Gossett Jr.; The Perfect Game) and his baby daughter, Princess Kyla. Fortunately, Sedessa fails and is tried for attempted murder and treason, the punishment under Nohrin law then requiring that her wings be axed off and she be taken to a barren part of the planet and tossed into a hell-hole with all of the rest of the miscreants who are amongst the world’s worst criminals.

Right here I found myself squirming and wondering why the previews to this movie seemed to be targeting a younger audience, like the under ten crowd, but this hardly seemed to be an opening salvo they were going to appreciate. Do children that age even grasp the idea of “treason” or “rights of succession”? Hmmm. I also found my mind wandering a bit and I wondered why, in movies like these, the characters’ names always sound like pharmaceuticals? “Take Sedessa for a good night’s sleep.” “Nohrin: the safest form of birth control since the condom.” Whatever.

Cut to fifteen years later, and we meet Delgo (given voice by Freddie Prinze, Jr.; Happily N'Ever After) himself, a full-blown reptilian replica of Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, a brash young member of the Lockni race, who was orphaned as a child during a war with the Nohrin. The Lockni are a group who look like refugees from The Planet of the Apes after they’ve all been dipped in depilatories from head-to-toe. Since being left without parents, Delgo has grown up under the guidance of Obi Wan, er, I mean Elder Marley (voiced with grave seriousness by Michael Clarke Duncan; Kung Fu Panda), a peace-loving monk who wants Delgo to concentrate on learning about his inner powers. Delgo, however, has other ideas. In the years since his parents died, the Nohrin have taken over the Lockni lands and Delgo is primed to lead a revolution against the King and his right-hand man, warmonger Raius (Malcolm McDowell; tv’s “Heroes”), to overthrow the system and reclaim democracy. Seriously. In a fantasy for kids with a race of Geico™ lizards and a race of pink-winged fairies at the core.

Just to add to the fun
Delgo meets up with the now-grown Princess Kyla (Jennifer Love Hewitt; tv’s “The Ghost Whisperer”) and you know the sworn enemies will be falling in love as soon as Delgo saves her life and saves the day, which he has to almost immediately, thanks to the resurgent return of Sedessa, who rallies her own troops from the wastelands and rain havoc down on everybody in a dramatic flourish of revenge.

Delgo is the type of movie that would play better amongst an older crowd, more appreciative of its themes: embracing unbridled ambition, treachery, the use of mysticism in one’s life, and even the acceptance of uncontrollable or mindless violence happening in one’s life and learning how to adapt to it. The problem is that not too many teen boys or young men, the obvious target audiences, are likely to be attracted to a movie that looks like it is populated with a world of Tinkerbell’s family members. At this age, fairies have way too many negative connotations so they aren’t going to come any closer than the poster in the lobby or seeing the preview while in a theater attending a different movie. To make up for this, the directors (also first timers, and probably last timers, Mark F. Adler and Jason Maurer) pack the second half of the movie with lots of battle action and gratuitous violence, but all this is going to do is piss off parents who bring their five and six year olds who are too young for this sort of thing.

The bomb that is
Delgo is a shame. It has an all-star voice cast. Anne Bancroft makes a stellar villainess that reminds me of Kathleen Turner’s voice in her prime Body Heat throatiness, and Freddie Prinze is bright and energetic, everything you could want in a hero. In addition the supporting cast includes celebs as diverse as Val Kilmer, Chris Kattan, Burt Reynolds, Eric Idle, Kelly Ripa, and Sally Kellerman, who, as the Narrator, makes the land of Jhamora sound as delicious as Hidden Valley. As soon as she started talking I wanted some ranch dressing, a craving that lasted throughout the film.

The animation is truly beautiful, with visuals as gorgeous as anything you might expect from a classic Disney or Pixar production. You’ve got to give kudos to Fathom Studios, the production company that sunk its entire future and five years of its time and energy into making
Delgo. It’s obviously a miss, but it was a good try. I’d rather sit through Delgo ten times than have to see Star Wars: The Clone Wars even once more, and that’s saying something.

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