Welcome to Week 6 of the 52-Week Movie Challenge. This week’s challenge was to watch a movie with subtitles! I feel like I could’ve interpreted this week’s challenge as either a) watch any movie you want with subtitles enabled or, b) watch a movie that must be subtitled for comprehension (aka a foreign film). I’m not one to take the easy way out, and I wanted to stretch any of you who are embarking on this journey with me out of your comfort zone a bit. So, I chose a very interesting foreign film that has been on my personal watchlist for longer than I’d like to admit: Baahubali: The Beginning. Anyway, this movie challenge is old hat by now so I’ll spare you any additional rambling and get right it into it.
I think the newly-minted Oscar-juggernaut Bong Joon Ho said it best: “Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Like all Bong Joon Ho films, I believe this quote has a double meaning. The first, and perhaps most obvious, meaning is that there are loads of amazing foreign films that people simply will not consider all because of subtitles. Meanwhile, there is so much talk these days about quantity of content. Everyone wants as much content as possible as cheap as possible. Well, I am here to tell you that Netflix (which most everyone has access to) has many amazing foreign films, and you could probably increase your content options by a third (total shot in the dark) if you started adding subtitled movies to your evoked set.
The second and more implicit meaning in Bong Joon Ho’s quote is that subtitles open up a level of film comprehension that is otherwise buried with captions turned off. By simply flipping on the captions option, you can ensure that you a) don’t miss any crucial pieces of dialogue, background noise, etc. and, b) that you see the language exactly as it was intended by the screenwriter. Personally, when I realized how much of impact captions could make to overall film comprehension, it was so noticeable that I never looked back.
And, as if my perfectly structured and counter-point-proof case above wasn’t enough, captions improve literacy! It might shock you but studies have shown that children who watch shows and movies with captions are 2 times as likely to become literate. That is a massive lift and one that cannot be ignored. So, while I cannot force you to adopt captions into your regular viewing habits, please accept this as my formal endorsement and strong recommendation that you do exactly that. Alright, now to the film.
Directed by S.S Rajamouli, Baahubali: The Beginning (Bah-HOO-buh-LEE) is an 2015 Indian epic folk film inspired by family stories, mythology, and a few other sources of historical fiction. The story begins with an exiled queen who, with her dying breaths, saves a young boy from certain death. The film goes on to follow that boys life journey as he strives to fulfill his destiny. As you can probably guess, he is met with many perils and distractions that make his quest less straightforward than he intended.
The movie contains dialogue in the Telugu and Tamil languages but (and here’s the doozy) Netflix USA carries the Hindi dub. So, yeah. I definitely chose the expert difficulty level for this week. If you watch this movie you’ll be hearing Hindi, seeing Telugu and Tamil mouth movements, and reading English subtitles. Sometimes you have to walk before you can run.
For a movie whose subtitle is “The Beginning,” it is hard to know exactly where to begin. I guess I’ll start with what is immediately apparent in the film which is that this film is a visual accomplishment that is second to none. At a modest budget of around $25 million, this film looks like Michael Bay, Zack Snyder, and James Cameron took a vacation to India and came back with a movie. The film boasts gorgeous color arrays, unique styling, and shot after shot of slow-motion, action-packed eye candy shot at a 16:9 aspect ratio with 120 frames per second. Understandably, the film’s CGI looks unmistakably cheap at times, but the savvy camerawork and overall aesthetic of the film help those moments blend in with the rest of this surreal mythological tale. Not to mention the action sequences which are 300-esque including a final battle that rivals Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ Battle of Helms Deep in scale, duration, and epicness (if that is indeed a word). Regardless of your interest in foreign films, this film is a must-watch for any action fan.
Shifting gears to the story, Baahubali: The Beginning has plenty to enjoy! The creativity and world-building is reminiscent of some of Hollywood’s great fantasy franchises, most notably the aforementioned Lord of the Rings Trilogy. That said, it is worth keeping in mind, if the film title wasn’t a dead giveaway, that this movie is the first of a series. For the first sixty percent of the film, it really feels like the conflict is going to be tied up and resolved by the end. Then, the plot completely shifts for the final forty percent to focus on the story’s prologue (for lack of a better term). That dramatic shift is one that I probably wouldn’t recommend if I was a part of the creative process, as it sort of whiplashes the audience from focusing on one part of the story for an hour and a half to abruptly focusing on a completely different aspect for the final hour. It makes for a less fluid story-telling process that is sure to lose some viewers attention along the way. My hope is that the second film in the series makes up for this lapse in creative judgment. So, I’ll be sure to swing back with additional thoughts when I wrap up the full series.
Another friendly disclaimer, if you are not familiar with Bollywood as a genre, do some reading on the genre heading into this one. While Baahubali is not technically a Bollywood production, it does contain many of the genre hallmarks, including the multiple musical numbers. Additionally, the acting is over the top at times and the dialogue leaves something to be desired, though that could obviously be due to the language barrier
Baahubali: The Beginning has transcended its national borders for a reason. Its visual acumen and fantastical creativity are truly world-class and are reasons enough to check this film out on your next rainy day. Though the CGI is a bit bumpy and the acting is a cut below, Baahubali leaves you with plenty of motivation to jump into the second installment. A viewing I plan to schedule sooner rather than later.
Kernel Score: 7.1/10
Onto week 7 where we’ll take on a stop-motion film. And though I was tempted to pick one of my all-time favorites, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I decided instead to revisit a movie I haven’t seen since I was a child: Chicken Run. Now seems as good a time as any to rewatch the Aardman Animations classic as its sequel will be coming our way next year. So, check out Chicken Run (available to stream on Hulu) over the next week, then “run” back here for another addition of the 52-Week Movie Challenge Blog.
Thanks for reading!