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Last Mimzy, The (2007) Print E-mail
Friday, 23 March 2007
“The Last Mimzy” is a silly, schmaltzy adaptation of the outstanding short story “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett (pseudonym of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore), first published in Astounding (February, 1943), and anthologized many times since. “The Last Mimzy” does the story no justice.

I do not insist that adaptations be faithful to the original source; fidelity in itself is not really a virtue. The adaptation should be no worse than the original—but that’s certainly not the case here. The credits attribute the screen story to James V. Hart and Carol Skilken, and the screenplay to Bruce Joel Rubin and Toby Emmerich. Someplace along the line, the ball wasn’t just dropped, it was kicked into the next yard.

The short story was about a box of toys accidentally sent by a scientist of the future into the present. The toy box is found by a seven-year-old boy who recognizes the unusual contents as toys, and shares them with his two-year-old sister. The toys were designed to train, instruct and even change the children who play with them—but to change them into mature citizens of that future world, not of our time. One of the main points of the story is that children, particularly infants, do not think like adults, and there is discussion of mathematics and their role in the toys. At the end of the story, we learn that a second box landed in late Victorian England, where a child named Alice Liddell found them. She was too old for the toys to have a complete effect, but they did lead her to compose a poem beginning “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves….” She told it to an adult friend, Charles Dodgson, who included in one of the books about Alice (of Wonderland) he wrote as Lewis Carroll.

The movie tosses out all but the faintest whiff of a connection to Carroll, and with it any possible reason for the use of the word “mimsy”—or as the movie title dismayingly has it, “Mimzy.” Here “Mimzy” is the name little Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) gives the stuffed rabbit doll she finds in the box her older brother Noah (Chris O’Neil) finds on the beach near their family’s vacation home. The toys are radically different from those in the story, and don’t have the same effects on the kids. Here, by playing with what he and Emma see as a green glass device with sliding polygons (but which adults see as an inert black object), he finds he can hear the twittering of bugs and spiders. There’s also something about a bridge, perhaps reaching from Earth to another planet, but this has utterly nothing to do with the story.

Which is a major fault of the screenplay: almost nothing the children learn to do by playing with the futuristic toys has anything to do with the story. Here, the toys aren’t sent back accidentally, but deliberately by a benign future scientist hoping to prevent the dreadful conditions of his time by changing the past. However, there’s no clear reason why he uses toys and children to try to make this change instead of sending a message directly to a responsible adult of the past. Why toys? Why kids?
And while we’re at it, why, oh why, drag in Eastern mysticism in the form of elaborate mandalas which Noah can now draw freehand? And of all ludicrous, mystical elements, why bring up palmistry? Naomi (Kathryn Hahn), the girlfriend of Noah’s teacher Larry White (Rainn Wilson, as annoying as ever), sees something amazing in the children’s hands. But what? We’re never told; palmistry is just tossed in because, you know, it’s like weird and mystical and stuff.

But the movie is utterly shameless in this area, working very hard to “enchant” audiences, but substituting mere groundless earnestness for conviction and persuasive ideas. Including mandalas and palmistry, and not having sound plot reasons for the talking (or something) bugs and a bridge to the stars is the equivalent of sprinkling the story with fairy dust. It’s just glitter and gilt, baseless and false. The movie wants to be the new “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” but director Bob Shaye (the head of New Line Cinema) lacks Spielberg’s seemingly casual skill and strong sense of conviction.

The cast is bland. The children, Rhiannon Leigh Wryn and Chris O’Neil, are mostly charmless, though O’Neil is a competent enough young actor. Their parents are played by Timothy Hutton and Joely Richardson, but they don’t do anything very interesting. Michael Clarke Duncan thunders in as a representative of—here’s the timely element, folks—the Patriot Act, and takes the entire family into custody upon very little evidence. Rainn Wilson and Kathryn Hahn feel shoehorned into the plot; the actors are left twisting in the wind.

The story is set in Seattle but, hardly surprisingly, was shot in Vancouver B.C. (Have any recent movies set in Seattle—and there are several of them—actually been filmed there?) It’s a handsome production, photographed by J. Michael Muro, with production design by Barry Chusid. The central family is evidently quite wealthy; they have an expensive-looking house with a great view of Seattle and a large vacation home on the shore of the Pacific. But we know virtually nothing about any of them, except that the parents love their kids.

The movie goes for the “awwww” reaction whenever possible—Emma’s tears are a plot device—but it’s subverted by the ordinariness of the children. The filmmakers strenuously try to make the film loveable and significant, but the unanswered questions, the recourse to the sheer fantasy of mysticism (which no doubt comes from Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote one good movie, “Ghost,” and several bad ones), invoking environmental issues and the Patriot Act, all seem acts of desperation. They try to impose meaning and sweetness on a storyline that doesn’t support them. The original short story would have made a good, cold-blooded episode of, say, “The Twilight Zone” (and indeed was filmed for a French TV anthology). Reading the story, it’s clear that a lot of changes would have to be made in order to turn this anecdote into a feature film, but the changes made in “The Last Mimzy” are clumsy, unproductive and confusing. Henry Kuttner and his wife would have given this mistake the horselaugh it deserves.

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