Saturday, October 21, 2017

Extraordinary Tales (2013)

Edgar Allan Poe is one of those names everyone knows on some level.  For most people, it’s probably from having to read one of his stories in high school.  Works like The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart are known by enough people that references can be found in popular culture.  His is exactly the sort of work you could make a short film from.

Extraordinary Tales takes five of Poe’s works and makes them into animated shorts.  Their tied together by scenes of a raven, representing Poe, in a graveyard, which represents Death.  Before each segment, Poe and Death have a conversation which leads into the various stories.

The first is The Fall of the House of Usher, narrated by Christopher Lee.  Of the five stories, this is the only one I remember having to read in school.  From what I remember, the segment follows the story pretty closely.  The animation tended to be pretty angular, but was done well.

The second segment was Bela Lugosi reciting The Tell-Tale Heart.  Yes, this is the same Bela Lugosi that was almost featured in Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Given the quality of the audio and that Lugosi died years prior to the release of the film, I’d assume that it was simply a lucky coincidence that someone had him on tape.  The animation here is strictly black and white.

The Facts of the Case of M. Valtemar is narrated by Julian Sands.  This one was set up more like a comic book.  It’s also one of the more eerie ones, about a doctor who tries to study death with unintended consequences.   I think of the five stories, this might be the most scary to children, as it deals with someone on the verge of death.

Guillermo del Toro provides the narration for The Pit and the Pendulum, which is about a condemned prisoner.  This one was probably the most realistic of the five segments.  It looks almost like they shot actual actors and applied some sort of special effect to make it look like animation.

The last segment is The Mask of the Red Death and features one line of dialogue spoken by Roger Corman.  Other than that, it’s silent.  This one also might be too much for children, as it features people suddenly experiencing pain.  Then again, this is Edgar Allan Poe.  I don’t know that there’s any real expectation that any of them will be suitable for children.

Most of the names are ones that I recognize.  Julian Sands was the only one of the narrators I had to look up; he’s been in things like 24 and Stargate: The Ark of Truth.  (If you go to his IMDb page, you might recognize the face.)  Roger Corman is recognizable only in that he’s a prolific producer.  (I’ll be using his name as a tag.  It should be associated with a few other titles that I’ve reviewed.)  Similarly, I know Guillermo del Toro as a director.

Stephen Hughes voiced the Raven and Cornelia Funke voiced Death.  Neither is a name I recognized.  Hughes has other acting credits, but I don’t recognize any of the titles.  This is Funke’s only acting credit; most of her credits are for writing or as herself.  The interstitial segments weren’t great, but they didn’t really take away from the movie at all.  It was something to introduce the next segment.

I would say that the most recognizable name would belong to Edgar Allan Poe.  If you’re reading this review, that’s probably how you got here.  I would say that the movie is going for a more common audience.  It seems like it’s meant for people that aren’t part of the literary scene, but may know of his work.  It’s the kind of thing that a high-school teacher or college professor might show in class.  At 73 minutes, it’s just short enough that you could squeeze it into a single class period.

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