Friday, January 30, 2015

Visual Effects

Despite all the films I've watched in the past couple weeks, I'm still behind schedule, and the Quest seems so interminable. I honestly don't know if I have the energy and critical words to write the gamut this year. I suppose we'll find out in just over three weeks. For now, I'm sitting on an excercise ball listening to dance music, and I feel pretty invigorated. And distracted.

I had the good fortune of starting small with Makeup and Hairstyling, but now I dive into the categories of five with Visual Effects:

  • Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick for Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould for Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher for Interstellar
  • Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer for X-Men: Days of Future Past

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has the good fortune of living under the Marvel umbrella with access to their ridiculous talent for visual effects which is great for the film as it is tasked with making you believe the helicarrier in the above image is actually rising out of a massive, subterranian engineering complex located underneath a river. Having that talent is both a curse and a blessing as the pieces all start to feel a little stale and replicated. No, we haven't seen a helicarrier before, but so much of the art almost feels recycled throughout the Marvel universe. A fantastic effort, but do we reward execution without originality?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, too, found itself as the latest film in a franchise only three years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Despite that proximity, things felt fresh in a way I hadn't expected. The apes are imbued with such distinguishable individuality and believability, that the characters were lent a very serious credibility. Some scenes looked a little off and pulled you out of the movie's stark realism, but for the most part the fantastic work shown in every face overcame any environmental shortcomings.

Guarians of the Galaxy like Captain America had the chore of fitting into the Marvel cinematic universe but had the privilege of being in non-Earthly parts of that universe. The work on Groot (the treekin) and Rocket (the anthropomorphic raccoon) was very nice - real enough to not be distracting and cartoonish enough to fit in with the rest of the films aesthetic. Unfortunately, though, so much of this film felt visually derivative. It really pains me to say that, and it's really unfortunate that with all of the open-endedness there wasnt something more unique to come out of this film. I know I'm going to get lambasted for this, but I just didn't think Guradians was very good in any regard.

Interstellar, more than any other film on this list, is really hard to exhibit graphically in static form, so please, take a couple minutes to look at this. I'm not going to say Interstellar is what Guardians of the Galaxy should have been because they clearly have different tones, but here we see what can be done when you really forge new ground in a medium like visual effects. And, yet, even with such grand set pieces, the film rarely lets them steal more than their own scenes. There's a ton going on here, but it is almost muted it's so well grounded in reality.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh film in the X-Men franchise which is mildly astounding in its own right. While X-Men is a Marvel comic, it's not in the Marvel cinematic universe like Captain America or Guardians of the Galaxy as Marvel, during less well-to-do years, sold the filming rights to 20th Century Fox. Honestly, I think that distance has, in some ways, been a service to the films presentation. I'm honestly having a hard time finding a good screencap of the film to showcase the visuals, which is really too bad. While we've seen so much from the X-Men films already, there are indeed some really nicely done scenes throughout as well as a number of impressive set pieces. Again, though, is redoing something extremely well going to be enough of an effort?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a strong entrant due to the thouroughness of its creations and stands a very expressive head and shoulders over all the other franchise films here. It's still impressive to me any time you can anthropomophize any creature and make it really feel like a true and believable character, especially in the realism of the Planet of the Apes mythos. While it might be head and shoulders above the comic book films, Interstellar shot for the stars and got there. I was advised by more than one person that I simply must see it theatrically in IMAX, but I decided against it when I heard a lot of complaints about the script. I thoroughly regret that decision. If it's being rescreened near you, don't make my mistake.

Will win: Interstellar
Should win: Interstellar

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