Friday, April 21, 2017

Scott Pilgrim and the Perils of Judging a Film from its VFX Reel

The Academy Award (tm) for visual effects is not given for the film that has the splashiest visual effects, or the most innovative, or the most expensive, or even the one with the most visual effects in some quantitative sense. According to the rules of the game, the film that wins this prestigious award and confers on its recipients a competitive lustre, is the film where the visual effects best serves the film.

Sadly it is not the film with the most computer generated robots beating the heck out of other computer generated robots, but rather that film where the robots who are beating the heck out of each other appear to be doing so in a way that contributes to the film's higher purpose.

Of course no award process is perfect and compromises need to be made. One of those compromises is that only films that make use of visual effects are considered for the award in visual effects. Who knew? This is a logical limitation that can have the most unfortunate effect, so to speak, depending on how dreadful the year's visual effects films are. Another issue that must be faced is that the side-by-screening of the different films in competition must necessarily restrict that screening to an edited compilation of the visual effects for each film. Whether that “effects reel” is 10 minutes long, or 12 minutes, or 15 it is by definition an abbreviated version of the larger creative project.

Trust me, when seeing these effects reels back to back, even 10 minutes per film can seem like forever.

It happens though that an effects reel for a creative project may not actually communicate the real value of those effects in context. This is why it is often the case that the selected films (those films that go past the bakeoff and are actually nominated for an award) may seem to go to those films with the largest budget, or the greatest number of giant robots exploding, or even, heaven forbid, the films that generated the most money at the box office.

So, years ago I attended the bakeoff and one of the films in competition was Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010). Although it was nice to see a film that did not depend on explosions or giant robots per se to communicate its higher vision, I was bored with it. Many of my friends thought it was very original, but I didnt. To me it seemed nothing more than a rip off of the classic genre of the 1 or 2 person fighter games from the world of coinop video games.

What the VFX reel did not communicate, and which I only discovered later, was that this film was actually a pretty good low budget film with visual effects. It wasnt totally successful, it fell apart near the end but the first 2/3rds or so of the film is actually very, very funny. The premise is that a very young man, maybe 23 or so, falls in love with a woman who has moved to Toronto from NYC to escape her previous life. But if our hero wants to date her, he must first defeat in battle her evil former lovers.

It is also a good example of regional filmmaking, being based in Toronto as Toronto, not as Toronto as a film location trying to be some other city.

So if you get a chance to see this film, or the first 2/3rds or so, and if you appreciate regional, low-budget filmmaking, this is a pretty entertaining example.

And I never would have guessed this from just seeing its VFX reel out of context.

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