Every once in a while, I'll get sucked down a LEGO-centric YouTube wormhole. Watching time-lapse videos of geekoids assembling life-size U.S. presidents, or scaled models of the Titanic or the Death Star, or fully-functioning cars all out of LEGO bricks makes for pretty good entertainment.
But in A LEGO Brickumentary, out Friday at the Cedar Lee, an entire feature film is devoted to the contemporary LEGO-scape: its most ardent practitioners, its most balls-to-the-wall projects, and the company's mass commercialization and industry dominance, the prongs of which currently include, but are by no means limited to, last year's LEGO Movie and the blossoming of a Hollywood franchise, huge annual conferences, and the creative energies of a vast army of primarily adult fans.
The god's honest truth is it's a bit much.
Even the bantering voice-over of Jason Bateman, on screen as a LEGO man, couldn't budge me from the uncomfortable idea that I was watching a LEGO-financed promotional video, one big, long commercial, perhaps an attempt at outreach to adults who might not realize that playing with LEGOs can be cool and might even pay dividends for your career in architecture!
No stone appears to have been left unturned. The film touches on the company's existential crisis in the 1990s, when arrogance led to outrageous LEGO sets that required weird, unique pieces and not all that much assembly. The eureka moment, according to the jovial Danish execs interviewed in the film, came when they realized one afternoon the amount of excitement around experimentation with simple LEGO pieces, much of which energy mushroomed up in online chat rooms and meetup groups for AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO).
Among many other things, you'll get to see what "the coolest job in the world" (LEGO Master Builder) entails, plus all sorts of promotional mega-concepts to generate engagement and buzz among devotees. One of the film's main jabs at a storyline is the construction of a 1-to-1 model of a Star Wars X-wing fighter, which model was constructed with a steel frame in some sort of industrial hangar, weighed 45,000 pounds and was composed of 5 million-plus individual LEGO pieces. It was unveiled in Times Square to the joyous shrieks of the autistic children gathered to bear witness.
Because, as we're told, LEGO has worked wonders for autistic children. In one of the film's more brazenly self-congratulatory segments, we're taken to the playroom of a child psychologist or some such, who reports the magical effects of LEGO and its ability to stimulate cooperation among even the most hardened antisocial youngsters. And, I mean, that's great. Likewise great is the fact that all these self-identified weirdo LEGO-lovers have found a community of adult friends — the truth is that the evolution of the company and its fiendish adoption by adult superfans is a really interesting and worthwhile phenomenon to investigate, even if it's a stretch for a 90-minute doc.
Nonetheless, the impulse during and after the movie is indeed to drive to the nearest Toys R Us and pick up a few sets for oneself. And the sets aren't cheap. An X-Wing fighter set, for example, retails for about $60. I guess I just prefer documentaries that inspire me to do something, not buy something.
That said, the LEGO Rivendell is like nothing you've ever seen.
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