By Jonathon Sharp

There’s a lot that works on paper in Raul Garcia’s Extraordinary Tales. The project is a collection of famous stories from Edgar Allen Poe, adapted into animated shorts and narrated by the likes of the late Christopher Lee and celebrated filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. Yet despite how good Lee’s voice sounds in Poe’s lyrical prose, the shorts don’t come together into a compelling whole.

One stand-out problem is the meta-narrative that connects these various stories, which include “The House of Usher”, “A Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” This connective tissue features a talking raven (the spirit of Poe) that argues with grave statues in an origami cemetery. The raven’s interlocutor, which appears to be Death herself, talks about how the poet wrote “love letters” to her throughout his life, and it just feels so sophomoric and literary in the worst sense of the term. Moreover, when the shorts cut to these transitory bits, the film loses all momentum. But, at least, the pain passes quickly.

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Had this raven-and-Death aspect of Garcia’s film been handled better, the project could’ve been something. This is to say: The individual shorts here are varied and interesting, both in terms of art direction and narrative. In “A Tell-Tale Heart,” for instance, the look is hypnotic, with pulsing black-and-white 3D textures, which fortify the story’s theme of madness. A more colorful entry is “The Masque of the Red Death,” which looks like a painting, all medieval and decadent with doomed, wraith-like figures. It goes from a colorful romp to a crimson apocalypse, and it’s the only short with hardly any spoken words. As it happens, the shorts that rely less dialogue and narration generally play better.

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So, who is this movie for? Not for Poe aficionados, I imagine. It’s also not really that spooky or unnerving, so it doesn’t really work for the Halloween audience. Hell, even people who used to work at Hot Topic probably wouldn’t dig this, because it’s not stylized to the degree where you can just ride feel of macabre Romanticism. If anything, the film is probably best for those you don’t know much of the writer’s work and can watch it as an educational experience. Since it runs just over an hour, Extraordinary Tales is a neat little package. Just beware what the raven and the graveyard statues say.

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Extraordinary Tales is playing at the “http://www.stanthonymaintheatre.com/” target=”_blank”>St. Anthony Main Theater.

Jonathon Sharp