Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mini-Review: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

“Even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders.” – Lotte Reiniger

Still in its infancy in 1926, animation took a leap forward when Lotte Reiniger revealed her latest creation to the world. The film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, was unlike anything audiences had seen before and, in many cases, since. Using thousands of cut-out silhouette figures, Reiniger created a beautiful world populated by fairy tale characters. This work holds a special distinction in the world of cinema as it represents what most historians consider the first feature-length animated film.

The story revolves around (you guessed it) Prince Achmed and his efforts to rescue a princess from an evil sorcerer. Along the way he visits strange lands, befriends a witch, and battles demons, among other things. The film essentially contains all the typical archetypes you would expect to find in a fairy tale; all of which are used to great effect.

While the style and storyline undoubtedly seem basic, the results are pretty fantastic. In fact, the most impressive thing about the film is its effectiveness. Although the film features subtitles, viewers really don’t even need them to follow what’s happening. Instead, they can simply read the character’s body language and actions to determine the progression of the story. It’s surprising how much detail comes from even the slightest of gestures. The film reminded me of an intricate ballet in this way.

I think the silhouette figures work on a level that no other animated film – or film in general – has accomplished. The blank figures allow the audience to envision their own imagery which allows for a unique experience to anyone watching. Of course, when looking at it this way, you get what you are willing to put into it.

The DVD I watched featured a documentary on Lotte Reiniger and her career that’s also worth watching. She managed to carve out a niche for herself and stuck with it her entire career. The doc illustrates just how much time and effort the process took and the patience and precision it required to complete a film like The Adventures of Prince Achmed. So, for any animation enthusiasts or film buffs out there, check this one out.

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