Director: Nick Park
Screenwriters: Mark Burton and James Higginson, from a story by Nick Park and Mark Burton
Runtime: 89 mins.
Australian release date: 12 April 2018
Previewed at: Paramount Pictures, Sydney, on 21 March 2018.
Set in the dawn of time, a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Man hid in caves… wait a minute, that never happened, until now that is, when for a brief period they both make a simultaneous appearance in Aardman Animation’s amusing new film, Early Man. Not for long though, the dinosaurs disappear pretty quickly, only to be replaced by giant ducks. Say what? Then, in the blink of an eye we’re in the Bronze Age. These are just a few examples of how ‘out there’ this charming production is. Of course, that’s no surprise, coming as it does from the creators of Wallace and Gromit and Sean the Sheep.
Nick Park directs this wacky story about a tribe of not-very-bright Stone Age cavemen content to live a quiet life hunting rabbits. One of the younger members, Dug (Eddie Redmayne), isn’t happy though and tries to convince their chief, Bobnar (Timothy Spall), that they should be tracking mammoths and going on adventures. Dug has a pet pig, Hobnob (voiced by Nick Park himself), that accompanies him everywhere and is smarter than any of the humans. One day their peaceful idyll is shattered by the arrival of strange creatures led by the greedy Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). They’ve found bronze in the cavemen’s hidden valley and set about mining it, driving the tribe out in the process. In the confusion, Dug is inadvertently swept up and taken to the Bronze Age town from whence the invaders came. Once there, he is fascinated by this strange new world and, in particular, a feisty girl called Goona (Maisie Williams) and a weird game called ‘football’. Sensing a chance to get his home back, Dug challenges Real Bronzio, the champion local team, to a football match as the ultimate clash of the ages, Stone Age versus Bronze Age. If his team loses, they face a life sentence working in the mines but if they win, Lord Nooth and his henchmen will withdraw from the valley. Now all he has to do is teach Bobnar and his fellow tribesmen how to play the game.
Mainly using their trademark stop-motion animation techniques but this time including CG elements as well, the Bristol-based Aardman created an entire miniature world. The statistics involved are overwhelming: the set was roughly the size of four Olympic swimming pools, 40 cameras were used, around 150 people were involved including 33 animators, there were 273 puppets made by 23 different model makers over a 30-month period, each puppet was created over a period of more than 10 weeks, with the team completing a total of 18 Dug puppets and eight of each member of the Stone Age tribe. An incredible total of 3,000 interchangeable mouths were crafted by hand for the film’s characters. This gives you some idea of the immensity of the task of bringing Early Man to the screen.
Was it worth it? Yes it was. It’s a good-natured, laugh-out-loud comedy with a very funny and silly script, full of puns and clever sight gags. You’d have to have a heart of stone (geddit?) not to come out of this light-hearted film with a smile on your face.