The idea of making an entire movie about Lego toy building blocks seemed far-fetched and sort of a bald-faced marketing ploy. It didn’t appear to have much of a chance at success. It was a terrible idea. Who would watch it? After a movie about Legos, what was next? Maybe a movie about toothpaste (“The Colgate Movie”), or shopping carts, or toaster ovens?
With the expectation bar set pretty low, the reviews came in. On Rotten Tomatoes, a website with aggregated movie ratings, the reviews were reported to be 96% positive. For movie reviews, that is almost impossible. If there are only two reviews, it is possible to get a 100% positive rating since there are only two reviews. But with a larger number, there will always be enough curmudgeons to drive the percentages down. Maybe the fact that the movie’s premise was so profoundly unlikely, reviewers responded to anything positive on the screen. The result was that “The Lego Movie” was reported to be one of the best movies ever made. In the case of one review, it was reported to be The best movie ever made.
I am not exactly in the target demographic for “The Lego Movie”, being that I am older than 11. But I may be in a secondary target demographic. I like non-violent, happy movies where things tend not to blow up on screen. I also (still) like to play with blocks. Legos are blocks. But they are not as good as wood blocks, I think, because their form is too limiting. They lack the free form of imagination provided by a good set of traditional wood blocks.
Often, Legos come with complex instructions and specifications. But they’re still blocks, and you can still build bridges and things out of them. So between film’s the subject matter and the hyper-positive reviews, I was ready to go.
It may have been a case of low expectations in reverse. I thought the movie was OK, but not the blockbuster, best-movie-ever-at- 96%. The plot was bloated and repetitious, because, after all, it is tough to make a 90 minute movie about Legos. Also, there were constantly things blowing up on the screen, violating my criteria to avoid movies with things blowing up. It was the toy Legos that were blowing up as opposed to people or large cities. But it was still things blowing up.
The “Lego Movie” was not the best movie ever made. But it may be one of the best engineering movies ever made. Not since “Apollo 13”, with its square carbon dioxide scrubber peg in a round hole, have engineering themes played so prominently in the plot.
The movie is set in Lego-land, a place where walking, talking Lego people go about their lives surrounded by Lego buildings and bridges.
The main character is a Lego contractor/engineer who spends each day demolishing and rebuilding vast swaths of the Lego city. This character is meticulous about following instructions. Everything must be done in a particular order and in a particular way. Conflict arises when the Lego characters are challenged by creativity. What happens when you don’t precisely follow instructions and go off script?
In its way, the movie nicely captures the fundamental tug of war between engineering creativity and convention. Engineering and building is a process of following exact instructions. You can’t place the bridge deck before you build the piers. But at the same time, we constantly apply incremental changes: new approaches, new materials, new analysis. When is it decided how much to change? If the old way worked, why risk the new way?
So they made a movie about Legos with engineering themes. It may not be the best movie ever made, but it looks like it will be one of the most successful movies ever made based on box office. Everything is awesome!