A truly ambitious undertaking that took over two years to complete, the latest adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s classic short novel is the first animated feature shot on giant-screen 70mm Imax. While impressively graceful and fluid, Alexander Petrov’s impressionistic, finger-smudged style of animation (he painted each of the 29,000 images by applying slow-drying oil paint on glass with his fingertips) seems a bit too imprecise and static for a format that emphasizes clarity. Pic, which launched “Best of Imax: A Giant Screen Film Festival” in New York and New Jersey is preceded by “Hemingway: A Portrait,” a 10- minute live-action short that serves as a stiff, uneven but nonetheless visually inspired introduction to the writer for Generation Y-ers.
Like John Sturges’ 1958 version starring Spencer Tracy, pic stays faithful to the text of Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic. For two days, a once-strong old Cuban fisherman battles to bag a marlin several feet bigger than his tiny boat. This version’s 40-minute running time seems more suited to Hemingway’s brief, precise metaphor on the struggles of writing then did the previous adaptation, which clocked in at more than twice that length.
As he showed in his 1990 Academy Award-nommed short “The Cow,” Petrov’s impressionistic painting style works well when applied to the movement of animals and light. He seems less adept at capturing the immensity and ferocity of the sea, which is too often shown as nothing more than a stagnant block of sapphire blue. As in the book and the Tracy film, the character of the stubborn old man is the pic’s most compelling aspect.
(Perhaps appropriate for a film that will tour the globe and be translated into more than 10 languages, it seems as though there was little attempt to match the old man’s mouth movement to his dialogue.)
While Petrov and the film’s producers deserve admiration for undertaking such a painstaking and ambitious independent project, “Old Man” leaves one wondering what Hollywood animators could do with Imax’s seven-story screens.
Directed by Erik Canuel, “Hemingway: A Portrait” is structured like a bus-and-truck “Citizen Kane,” with three journalists trying to construct an accurate newsreel about Hemingway’s life. The film mixes live-action scenes, featuring acting right out of a suburban dinner theater, with scenes of breathtaking natural beauty.
While both thrilling and frightening, the short film’s in-the-trenches footage of a modern-day running of the bulls seems a bit violent and out of place for a film package that’s meant for young audiences.