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Here's an adventure story about a heroic young prince who's betrayed by an evil uncle who covered up the king's suicide and made it look like an assassination by a group of rebels, thereby spurring the aforementioned prince to begin a journey of revenge against the also-aforementioned rebels, while the evil uncle (and his devious henchman) kidnaps the willowy princess, the loyal sergeant plans to betray the prince, and the leader of the rebels hopes to untangle all this confusion before civil war breaks out.
Oh, and it's all done by puppets.
Yep, puppets. Or marionettes, if you prefer. Basically, combine the plot of Conan the Barbarian with the cast of Team America, and you're halfway to visualizing what Strings looks like. And as for what it sounds like ... well, let's just say it's yet another dusting off of the old Joseph Campbell Hero Epic, complete with overbaked exposition, patently familiar adventure flick concepts, and (considering that we are, after all, looking at a bunch of puppets) a somewhat self-serious delivery that threatens to get more than a little silly.
But still ... there's a lot of artistry, craftsmanship, and heart that goes into a project like Strings, so I'm not about to take the easy road and mock the thing for being a little bit weird. Plus it's just too easy to say "Bah. Puppet adventure movie. Silly." So while Strings has its fair share of genre-similarity and borderline goofiness, I still kinda liked this bizarre little experiment.
Co-written and directed by Danish filmmaker Anders Rønnow-Klarlund, Strings might not have amounted to anything interesting were it not for the puppetry "gimmick" -- but while I don't think the film is anywhere near brilliant, I do appreciate the massive effort and dedication it must have taken to put Strings together. I mean, whoa. Imagine your standard adventure movie (a la Dragonslayer or The Dark Crystal) -- only with all puppets. Strings (obviously) and all. After hearing how ridiculously difficult it was for the directors of Team America, I can only imagine that the Strings-pullers had it even worse.
Of course I realize that "puppetry in cinema" is not nearly a new concept, but it's easy to admire the filmmakers who'll tackle this kind of project. On a visual scale, much of what Strings has to offer is quite lovely; The marionettes are quite brilliantly crafted, from the lovely little princess to the dark, twisted villains. Even if the figures never really seem like real characters (the eyes are glassy and the mouths never move), the filmmakers were clever enough to bring some pretty cool ideas to the table: The characters seem perfectly well aware that they are "puppets" of a larger force; that their lives end when that final string has been (literally) snipped; and that (as corny as it may sound) all the characters are truly connected to each other.
Some would call it simplistic and silly; I think it's fairly clever and actually a little bit sweet. But hey, I've always had a soft spot for a good puppet show.
Video: The movie is presented in a rather beautiful Widescreen Anamorphic format, which is a good thing indeed -- because even if you can't stand the story and/or the dialogue, there's little denying that Strings is a very cool-looking film.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which offers a perfectly fine aural presentation. Music, dialogue, and effects levels seem to be all on the same page, but if you crank the volume you'll get a solid earful.
Extras: There's a way-too-short 2.5-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that offers some random on-set footage of the puppeteers preparing to do their thing. I'd hoped for something a bit more in-depth, but a tiny peek is better than nothing. There's also a collection of filmographies for director Anders Rønnow-Klarlund and voice actors Derek Jacobi, James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, and Julian Glover, and a healthy array of trailers for various Wellspring releases: Strings, Funny Ha Ha, Palindromes, Nina's Tragedies, Dear Wendy, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and Kings & Queen.
It's a novelty item, to be sure, but if you're a hardcore adventure buff, and you don't mind a little Shakespeare and silliness combined with non-stop puppetry, then you might want to add Strings to your rental queue. You may think it's brilliant or you might find it ridiculous, but you'll certainly have to admit that it's ... different.