Tag Archives: special effects

With Eyes Unclouded – Deep Impact

30 Jan

[Previous With Eyes Unclouded: Into The Wild, Dangerous Minds]

Deep Impact

In 1998 there were two movies about an asteroid hitting the earth and causing massive special-effects. Armageddon is the one most people remember, but it was a silly movie about oil drillers being sent into space to save us all by drilling for oil on an asteroid and then blowing it up. It was more or less a comedy.

Deep Impact took a more serious approach to the idea of a gigantic asteroid ending all life on earth as we know it. It’s aged in a fascinating way. I wouldn’t call it a great movie, but it was highly engaging to watch it again more than a decade later.

Here we have a scenario where the first dark-skinned president of the United States (Morgan Freeman, obviously. Who else could it be?) informs the public that there’s a chance we’re all going to die when the asteroid hits in 2000. They’ve taken precautions of course, and collaborated with the Russians to send a spaceship out to blow up the asteroid, but until that mission succeeds or fails the President just tells us to go about life as usual. Pay our bills. We’re told that leaders of other countries are saying the same to their populace.

And everyone listens.

There is no looting. No riots. No panic. No conspiracy theories. No wars break out. Everyone listens to the president, trusts him, and goes about their daily living. It’s like some crazy alternate universe. Sometimes I hear it referred to as “the 90’s.” It’s as if the concept of a “terrorist” hadn’t been invented yet. People weren’t afraid of anything, and didn’t even become so when told that life as we know it might be wiped out. It’s fascinating.

But when the spaceship fails, instead breaking the asteroid into two pieces both still headed for earth, the President must again address the nation. This time he says that most of us will die. He says that we’re still prepared, because even though the government planned and hoped for the best it was smart and organized enough to prepare effectively for the worst (remember, it’s a crazy alternate universe). So while most of us are going to die, a few people will be selected by lottery to survive in a cave system they’ve secretly and securely built underground. We’re told that leaders of other countries are saying the same to their populace.

Now, the President with his Morgan Freeman Authority declares martial law, but there is still relative peace.

People listen to the lottery rules about how certain people are pre-selected for their necessary-for-human-race-advancement skills, and how nobody over 55 will otherwise be selected, and how the rest will be informed by phone, and there is still relative peace. People go home to their phones. There are no riots. No protests. No looting. In short there is nothing dramatic at all aside from people struggling with whether or not they are chosen for survival. It’s fascinating.

And then the special effects happen, and the martyrdom, and the human race goes on no more afraid than they were before. Crazy.

I do want to say a bit about the special effects though. First of all, they are very scarce, (if all you want to see is shots of massive destruction this movie will disappoint) and second of all they age pretty poorly. The computer animated tidal wave which destroys New York is quite clearly computer generated in the days before they knew how to computer generate water (before The Perfect Storm and before Titanic). There’s also a gorgeous shot where this massive wave destroys the World Trade Center towers. Crazy alternate universe.

All in all it’s a fascinating look at a potential apocalypse where we learn that the best chance for survival is to marry Elijah Wood before he plays Frodo, and that Vanessa Redgrave is too old to survive but she’s ok with it.

Juno’s Top Nine Movies of the Decade

20 Dec

Filmmaking has really turned a corner this decade. Special effects are truly at the point where absolutely anything is possible. The first movie on the list attests to this amazing fact. While being able to produce any imagined image can be freeing, the story is still king. Several new directions were explored in this arena as well, from Memento telling a story backwards, to Primer telling a story in, uh, whatever order Primer is (or isn’t) in.
Movies on this list are not just supreme examples of movie-craft, they are also entertaining and enjoyable narratives. Enjoyable, for this list at least, is a key word here. Many many movies came out this decade which are, technically speaking, brilliant. Many of them are, critically speaking, better than some of the movies on this list. Movies like Pan’s Labyrinth, Tsotsi, Babel, Brokeback Mountain, Traffic, or City of God are technically excellent movies, worthy of becoming classics. But they are not on this list because the stories they tell are not enjoyable. They’re told magnificently, yes, but I don’t anticipate revisiting them. I don’t long to sit through them again. All the movies on this list I enjoy watching, and enjoy re-watching (and with one obvious exception I have seen each one at least twice). I should also note here, in the interest of fairness, that I have not seen even half of the movies that were made this decade. Particularly recently, I’ve been very remiss in my movie watching. Many critically acclaimed movies are not on this list because I simply haven’t seen them. Movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Everything is Illuminated, or Monsoon Wedding (to throw out a few random ones) could very well be deserving, but I don’t know.

That out of the way, let’s get on with the list that I know you’ve all been waiting for (as well as a list of some runners-up).

9. Avatar (digital 3d version) – written and directed by James Cameron:
Avatar validates movie theaters. Seeing this movie in digital 3D is an experience like nothing else. Now, to be clear, this movie will not change the world. The story is as derivative as Star Wars with characters no thicker than stereotypical cut-outs. It’s Dances With Wolves. It’s Dune. It’s Pocahontas in space. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Yet you’ve never seen, or experienced, anything remotely like Avatar. I actually wonder how they pulled off some of the visual effects in this film (like Jake’s withered legs), and that’s rare. The action is clear and easy to follow and incredible. This movie, when seen in proper digital 3d, is a glimpse into the future of cinema where screens become not just moving pictures but true windows into vast (and in this case beautiful) new worlds. Also: dragons.

The rest of the list

Academy Awards

22 Feb

It’s come to my attention that tonight is the Academy Awards. In years past this would have been significant. In this year? Not so much. I haven’t been able to keep up with movies, so I don’t know if they nominated the right ones, and I haven’t seen the ones they did nominate. (Except for Wall-E, which they should have had the courage to nominate for Best Picture, and not just relegate it to Best Animated Picture.)

In fact, in a lot of ways it just feels like more of the same. They haven’t gotten Best Picture right since American Beauty, and even the Visual Effects category seems boring this year. Still, I’ll probably watch just to glimpse footage of the ones I haven’t seen yet.

Speaking of movies I haven’t seen yet, I’d really like to see Coraline in a 3D theater. I imagine the experience is something like being shrunken down and allowed to walk around in and explore a miniature hand-built world. Probably there’s a story too.

On blogging, Summer Movie Write-up 2007

16 Aug

     So, clearly I’m not very good at the whole keeping a regular blog thing. I was good for about a week or so there… and now not so much.
      If I stopped demanding so much quality of myself I’d be able to update more. Actually, I’d be able to create a lot more if I stopped demanding that everything I make be of a certain caliber. The problem with my high standards for art/movies/writing is that if I never meet them it means I never actually create anything.

I never even finished the summer movie write-up. Of course since it’s still summer, and I never set a deadline, I’m not late.

4.0

     Live Free or Die Hard was, surprisingly, pretty awesome. Obviously it’s better than the second one, but that’s faint praise. I’m not going to think too hard about the actual premise ’cause I’m pretty sure it’s mostly implausible, but… moving on! Kevin Smith’s character is in a different movie, and in that different movie he’d be really funny, but in Die Hard 4.0 he just feels sort of out of place. Perhaps that’s the point, but it still took me out of the movie when I watched it. Those two quibbles aside however, the movie is really quite fun.
     Once the hacker/terrorist’s plan is put into effect the sudden excitement from realizing that the world may actually be forced to change is pretty awesome. It feels like a big deal. It’s not confined to a tower or a plane like the first two, it’s more broad, so it feels like there’s more for Bruce Willis to overcome. There’s something to be said too for the way in which they made this feel like an action movie from the 80’s (like the originals) and not a new fancy one from today. There’s no hyper-fast editing, no fancy colorizing, no slick computer generated camera moves, and thus the action is really easy to follow. I don’t tend to walk around wishing that I could see someone launch a car into a helicopter, or fly an F16 into a freeway in an attempt to disable a big rig truck, but they’re still cool things to have seen.

Zeus

      If the ancients had made movies about Zeus and Mt. Olympus instead of telling stories and putting on plays, they would have made Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
      From what I gather I am among the minority in my liking of the third Pirates movie – but I’m also in the minority for my relative disliking of the first two. I mean, the Curse of the Black Pearl is ok, entertaining enough I suppose, and it does have two things going for it in Captain Jack Sparrow and the special effects/underwater skeletons. It’s really hard to impress me with special effects, and the Pirates movies are by far the best of modern day cinematic spectacle. But special effects do not a movie make. The second one is… well, more of the same. More mediocrity, more awesome special effects, and more Captain Jack Sparrow, but instead of underwater skeletons (who were obviously the coolest part of the first movie) there are gross looking half sea-creature half-corpse dudes. Oh, and Davy Jones. He’s a pretty cool looking marvel of special effects but he doesn’t do much other than play the organ. But just look at him! And there was a Kraken. That was cool too.
Davy Jones
      But the third movie had weight to it. If you want to ascribe meaning to At World’s End it will hold up to it where the first two don’t, but at the same time it doesn’t betray the fact that it’s the cinematic equivalent of a Disney theme park ride.
      In addition to the cool stuff from the first two, Pirates 3 had awesome extra weirdness (crabs, dead people in boats, islands made out of shipwrecks, ships falling off the edge of the world, up is down, more crabs, etc.) and, perhaps more significantly, it treated its storylines like an ancient myth. Of the trilogy it’s by far the most entertaining to watch.
      Will, Elizabeth, Jack, Barbosa, Davy Jones, Calypso et al turn out to be modern day Zeus, Aphrodite, Hades, Apollo, et al. Some have more power than others, and just like their ancient counterparts their foibles conflict with their virtues, so they’re basically pawns for the derivation of meaning. This aura of epic mythology didn’t exude from either of the first two movies, but At World’s End is clearly different right from the start when a song with Orpheus-like power serenades the murder of the young boy who started singing it. The whole intro is brilliant, by far the best opening of the three (and if you don’t believe me you can watch it right here on YouTube).
      Now I actually long for a sequel that follows Jack and Barbosa on their neverending (and never-succeeding) quests for immortality and Black Pearl captain-hood. It’s The Epic of Gilgamesh combined with a new Epic Cycle for a new generation.

     There. Now I finished the Summer Movie Write-up. Unless I see The Simpsons Movie (which I hear is actually really funny and good) and/or Stardust.