This file was generated 2002-10-20 15:36 GMT. This movie's information hasn't changed since 2002-10-15.

Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> September 2002 >> Waking Life

Waking Life

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
4 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
September 2002
IMDB Name:
Waking Life (2001)
Richard Linklater
MPAA Rating:
R for language and some violent images.


On visual merit alone, Waking Life is a worthwhile experience. The movies are capable of transporting us to different realms, and we should be thankful when this happens. I don't mean to downplay the accomplishments of transporting us to emotional places, but there is something truly magical about being given an entirely new way to see the world. I'm already a big fan of animation, sometimes for the boundless opportunities, sometimes because the effort involved makes it more natural for the producers to go for a thorough examination of what's possible in the early, conceptual phases of production.

Waking Life uses rotoscoping, animation on top of live action footage. The precise nature of their process, influenced heavily by the excellent software of art director Bob Sabiston, gives an unusual amount of realism to the animation. Traditional animators often shoot for their own stylized take on the physical world, like the circular heads of "South Park" or the ultra-angular design of some of Genndy Tartakovsky's characters. Waking Life's animators start with video of the scene somewhat as the director wants it, and they often keep the overall shapes intact. Having real, human movement underneath their drawings imbues the motion with a physical credibility lacking in so many other styles. Beyond that motion, though, the animators often go wild, giving us other-worldly sights like the wavy parallax of the light fixtures as the protagonist walks down a hallway.

The producers had the benefit of knowing they didn't have to shoot for any specific visual consistency during the shooting, making it possible to travel lightly, often with handheld digital video cameras. What would count as a time-consuming special effect in other movies, like levitation, can be done on the cheap because the final image is only descended from the filming, not built from it. Most importantly, the flexibility of the primary photography meant a better shot at spontaneous and exciting performances from the cast, many of whom are not actors by profession.

All of this visual magic, fortunately, is not wasted on a bad story. Writer/director Richard Linklater has called this a "kitchen sink" movie, in which he has the freedom to combine disparate scenes that didn't quite fit into his earlier movies. The movie is more a collection of monologues and dialogues with varying content. Overwhelmingly, the characters are just talking, but the animation elevates their discussions well beyond a boring slog through philosophy classes, coffee shop conversations, and amateur pontificators playing pinball. Most of the ideas are accessible, even if they don't register right away. Whenever they don't register, at least there are pretty pictures to enjoy. This is definitely art-house fare, but it's a far cry from the dreary feel this material would typically call for.

DVD Comments

Waking Life is definitely the kind of movie that cries out for bonus material on the DVD. The disc delivers, with demonstrations of rotoscoping, a moderately detailed look at Sabiston's software in use, and the live action versions of selected bits of the movie. This last item would've been an excellent use of the multiple angle feature so rarely used. It's my guess that this would've been a very easy thing to add, since the film was edited to its final form as live action before the animators went to work. The ability to switch back and forth between live action and animation at the viewer's discretion would be a perfect application. Maybe next time. There are three items billed as commentaries, one of which is a subtitle track providing tidbits on the thinking behind the scene. The next is a reasonably good audio commentary with Linklater, Sabiston, and others. The final one features every animator talking over their own work.

See the IMDB information on Waking Life's DVD or compare prices at DVD Price Search.

Other Opinions

Copyright 2002 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.