The fifth entry in our series of Oscar-nominated short reviews centers on Prologue. Out of all the shorts in the Oscar race, it’s likely this is the one that’s been the longest time coming. However, within the first minute of watching, it’s obvious this short was worth the wait!
Prologue depicts a skirmish between four Greek soldiers, two Spartan and two Athenian. As they duel, they’re unaware that they’re being observed by a young girl. As the battle progresses, things become bloodier and more shocking. The gory events drive the little girl into the arms of her mother, who comforts her.
Prologue has been a dream project of the director (two-time Oscar winner Richard Williams) since he was 15 years old. That year, Williams went to his parents’ bookshelf and pulled down a copy of Aristophanes’ anti-war play Lysisrata. The story intrigued him, but he was especially fascinated with the illustrations by Norman Lindsay. Lindsay’s drawings proved inspiring enough that Williams decided, that when his animation skills were strong enough, he would make an animated version of Lysisrata. Now, that dream has become a reality.
Prologue begins with a live-action sequence in which Williams prepares to work. He sharpens his pencils, gets his paper ready, and sketches the title. I love this opening! It’s special for two reasons. First, it’s amazing to watch a master animator as he prepares to practice his craft. In a way, it’s almost like watching Jimmy Page tune his guitar or Frank Sinatra take voice exercises. There’s something magical about watching a master prepare to work, and Williams offers us that opportunity here.
More importantly, though, the opening drives home what’s really impressive about the film: it’s all done with pencils and paper. Nothing more. The sharpening of the pencils at the beginning really drives that point (no pun intended) home.
In an interview with Cartoon Brew, Williams compares pencil-and-paper animating to producing a radio show. Because of the limitations the medium sets, the creator must come up with unique ways to spark the audience’s imagination. Williams does this extremely well, using unique camera moves and drawing techniques to suggest depth of field and to lend a sense of kinetic energy.
I was drawn into Prologue almost instantly. The animated part of the short starts with a simple moment from nature: a bee gathering pollen. I found myself leaning closer to my laptop screen, trying to pick up on the tiny details that Williams put into each drawing. I was so involved in this serene moment, in fact, that I was jarred when the unsparing battle scene began. I also felt emotionally shocked when the tone shifted at the end of the short from a bloody duel to the quiet sadness of a crying girl in the embrace of her mother.
These shifts in tone are what give Prologue its power. People have been talking about the realistic violence and the nudity, and these elements are strong (this is most definitely NOT an animated short for kids). However, I personally think the shifts in emotion are the most shocking part of the short. The shift from the serenity of nature to the shock of battle to the sadness of the little girl are swift, and they can jerk the viewer around strongly. As a result, I left the short feeling a little dazed, and I applaud Richard Williams for that!
Prologue is the first part of a planned full-length film version of Lysisrata. If the film to come is anything like Prologue, we’re in for a real treat. Prologue is a masterpiece by a master animator. It’s most definitely worth watching!
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes