Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Visual Effects Nominations for 2014

Here are my comments on the visual effects nominees for this year's Academy Awards.

To recap, there were ten films on the longer list, and five films nominated for the award. The films which were nominated are Gravity, Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3.

The films that were not nominated are Oblivion, Elysium, Pacific Rim, Thor: The Dark World, and World War Z.

Many of these films had over 1,000 shots, in fact most of them did. That is an astounding amount of work, I am not sure it is a record for any one year, but it might be. However, quantity is not quality.

Of these, Gravity will win the academy award for visual effects. I have forseen it and so has everyone else. Yes, there could be an upset, but no one expects that so far as I know (I guess that is the definition of an upset...). Although there is some confusion about the various techniques being used, there is no doubt that Gravity is a filmmaking tour de force that uses visual effects brilliantly to bring off their story. Of the people I know who have seen the film, all but one of them declares that it is an amazing film. It deserves to be there. The fact that we will now be forced to endure nightmarish imitations is just a sad fact of life.

Hobbit/Smaug was interesting but did not overwhelm me. The 48 FPS was, again, interesting, but I have seen this all before (admittedly projected on film when I saw it before) and yes the same problems that Showscan had, Hobbit/Smaug had as well. Since no one seems to be the least bit interested in learning from the past, I won't bore you with this. There is nothing new under the sun. I had trouble seeing why people acclaimed the visual effects, though. Dragons are hard and this dragon is pretty good, but it never once convinced me it was really there, nor did many of the other visual effects convince me that we were there. If there was a category for visual effects in the service of a fantasy/animated film, it might qualify but in the pure visual effects genre I do not get it. However, obviously the subsection did get it and it was nominated. It was certainly a tremendous amount of hard work, whatever else we might say.

Star Trek Into Darkness was very good, but was it that much better than Elysium or Oblivion to have received the nomination over the other two? I don't really see it. The problem is that there is a very high level of effects across so many films. How can you choose ? I felt that Elysium and Oblivion had elements that were innovative and I did not feel that way about Star Trek. But whatever.

It is the final two films, The Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3 that I take some exception to.

The Lone Ranger reminded me a great deal of Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Lots of car chases, I mean train chases, lots of practical effects. Nothing new. Good solid quality work. Could it be that the more mature members of the subsection united behind the two films that used the most practical and traditional (scale models) effects? (Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3). I think that is very likely what happened.

Best part of the movie.  Could there be some subtle sexual imagery here?

Unbelievably stupid skydive rescue scene.  I don't care how hard it was to do if the idea was dumb.

Of all the films, Iron Man 3 was by far the worst. The classic visual - effects - means - exploding - shit film, par excellence. Loud, but stupid, with none of the charm of the first movie. Just a lot of exploding stuff and improbable physics, the parachute rescue was about as stupid as I have ever seen. How could this have been nominated over Elysium or Oblivion or Pacific Rim? Perhaps it is just nothing more than the factions uniting to support the traditional technology. I happen to like traditional technology, but not on stupid films, please.

For me, the best water was in Pacific Rim, the best monsters were in Pacific Rim, and the best use of scale was in Pacific Rim. Sure it was a silly "monsters eat Hong Kong" movie, but hey, so what else is new at the VFX bakeoff?

Which brings me to my final point. The problem with the bakeoff is that it is all about visual effects films, and that does get tiresome. Maybe we could slip in a little romantic comedy or something now and then just to liven things up ?

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