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CGI…What is the problem with it?

As many of you know I do frequent a few science fiction related message baords. I have learned that there are many individuals who are not fans of CGI and often complain about its usage or over usage. I am a fan of CGI so I wonder what is exactly the criticism of this tool? I beleive that CGI has come a long way in looking realistic, it still has a way to go in looking exactly realistic. I have heard this complaint with the recent Man of Steel movie and some have lodged the same complaint about not only Peter Jackson’s recent Hobbit movie but also about his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. A Facebook friend and great musician Chris Bannister said this recently about CGI…

Watching The Hobbit I realised that I’m totally bored with huge, CGI set pieces and that these kind of movies look terrible in super high def, the makeup looked rubbish and the aforementioned special effects looked laughably unrealistic.

I do admit there are times when CGI loses some warmth that other special effects can deliver.

In 1993 Jurassic Park really raised the bar for CGI when some of the depictions of the dinosaurs in that movie were done solely on computer. It is ironic then that director Steven Spielberg has claimed that an audience can always tell the  difference between CGI and real-life action. He even went on to say that had he been directing Jaws today he would have done the Shark in CGI but says that the success of that film was due to the model fo the shark looking realistic.

I am reminded of what the late great Ray Harryhausen said about his own work. He said that when doing his creatures he felt there needed to be some degree of being unrealistic to let the audience know these movies are fantasies. I don’t think anyone ever accused Ray Harryhausen’s work looking fake! There is a concpet in literature called  verisimilitude which refers to the believability of a narrative—the extent to which a narrative appears realistic, likely, or plausible (regardless of whether it is actually fictional or non-fictional). In film verisimilitude refers to the believability  realism as reflected in the over all tone of the film. So lets take Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films (Lord of the Rings plus the Hobbit). These are fantasy films loaded with CGI. The creatures do look life-like yet the  verisimilitude of the film clearly is adapted to show that we are in a fantasy world.

Let me take another CGI laden film…Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the use of CGI. The movie, set in 1933, has the verisimilitude of a fantasy. We are not in the real world. In that sense the CGI works to create that sense of fantasy. I also think Kong looks spectacular in this film. In the previous incarnations of Kong he has been depicted using stop-motion animation and a guy in a suit. This is the very first depiction of Kong where he truly looks and acts like a giant gorilla. Let me contrast this with the 1976 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the special effects. The setting in this movie are real and look good for the most part. The wall on the island where Kong lives was done very well. The problem with the effects? Kong himself looks terrible! The man in a suit look just doesn’t work well for this movie. I much prefer the CGI kong.

Persoanlly I don’t have aproblem with CGI and there are times I really like the fantasy worlds they can create. Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films and Zack Snyder’s films are good examples of fantasy worlds come to life with CGI. Next year Godzilla comes to theaters once again I am looking forawd to how Double Negative, the special effects company that will render Godzilla, in a realistic and life-like manner! I also still like more conventional special effects and they work well.  

In conclusion I really do not have a problem with CGI. I think it goes a long way in setting the tone of a film and taking the viewer to another world, place and time. While I also recognize that there is different levels of quality in CGI there is nothing wrong with using it. If people could enjoy and accept some of the cheesy special effects from science-fiction fantasy films of the 50s-60s and beyond, I really do not understand why they object to the usage of CGI today.


Jurassic Park IV on Hold and other monster related news.

It was reported last week that Jurassic Park IV is on hold. Not permanently I hope. Bryce Dallas Howard and David Oyelowo were front-runners to join the cast. Colin Trevorrow has been tapped to direct the next film but Universal Studios has canceled the release date from June 13, 2014 but no other release date has been Set. Universal Studio said that the reason was to give the film more time for development in order to “bring audiences the best possible version.” Does this mean that JP4 will be stuck in development hell? I don’t think so. It doesn’t sound as if there is a major crisis with production. It just seems like, to me anyways, that the release date they set did not give them the time to produce the quality movie they want.

I was not upset by this news. First of all next year Legendary Pictures is releasing Godzilla and I am really looking forward to that. That may be enough dino-action for me. Godzilla is filming right now as production has moved to Hawaii and the release date for that movie is set for May 16, 2013. JP4, on the other hand, has not even started filming yet! So there was no way they were going to meet the June 13, 2014 release date. I would rather have them take their time than rush a movie onto the screens.

Speaking of Universal Studios…There was news last week that Legendary pictures (LP), who has been in partnership with Warner Brothers Pictures (WB) may be parting company. LP & WB have produced such recent hits as the Nolan Batman trilogy, the new Superman movie, Clash of the Titans, 300, Wrath of the Titans and others. They are also jointly producing Godzilla. If they do part ways I have been told it will not hamper anything related to the Godzilla movie.

However, there was a rumor that is the split does happen LP might team up with Universal Studios! Now, as a Godzilla fan that would be sweet music to my ears! I am pretty certain that if Godzilla is succesful then there will be a sequel. Universal Studio owns the rights to King Kong and many fans would love to see a remake of the 1964 classic King Kong vs Godzilla. A remake of that movie with state-of-the-art special effects would be a dream come true!! I doubt that this will happen but a Nerd like myself can dream!! 

85th Academy Awards

This Sunday the 85th Academy Awards will be broadcast. Also known as the Oscars it will award for the best in the motion picture industry. Today I will expand the focus of this blog and look at all the movies and actors for this years Oscars ceremony. All I will do is list the major categories and place in italics who I think will win. Next week I will see how close I was to being right!

Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy et al. who also is agreat musical talent and a man of a thousand voices will be hosting this years ceremony and that is one of the reasons I am really looking forward to this Sunday’s show.

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Amy Adams ~ The Master
  • Sally Field  ~ Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway ~ Les Misérables
  • Helen Hunt ~ The Sessions
  • Jacki Weaver ~ Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Alan Arkin ~ Argo
  • Robert De Niro ~ Silver Linings Playbook
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman ~ The Master
  • Tommy Lee Jones ~ Lincoln
  • Christoph Waltz ~ Django Unchained

Best Actress:

  • Jessica Chastain ~ Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence  ~Silver Linings Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva ~ Amour
  • Quvenzhané Wallis ~ Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts ~ The Impossible

Best Actor:

  • Bradley Cooper ~ Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis ~ Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman ~ Les Misérables
  • Joaquin Phoenix ~ The Master
  • Denzel Washington ~ Flight

Best Director:

  • Michael Haneke ~ Amour
  • Ang Lee ~ Life of Pi
  • David O. Russell  ~ Silver Linings Playbook
  • Steven Spielberg ~ Lincoln
  • Benh Zeitlin ~ Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Film:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

I base my choices on who I would like to see win these awards. Sometimes the choices are difficult. For example, I really like both supporting actors Tommy Lee Jones and Robert De Niro so I will be happy to see either of them win. I am a big fan of Steven Spielberg and Lincoln so I hope they win many awards. What is controversial is that Argo, which may win Best Picture, was directed by Ben Affleck who was completely snubbed this year and not even nominated as best director!! How can the Best made film not have its director nominated!!?? Then again Quentin Tarantino was not nominated for his movie, Django Unchained, either. Ah, Hollywood. It does seem like High Scool with money!!

The movies of Steven Spielberg: Part III

This will be my last look at the science-fiction fantasy movies of Steven Spielberg. Today I will examine the Indiana Jones franchise. I would call the Indiana Jones franchise fantasy films because of their dealing with both aliens and the supernatural.

This franchise was the coming together of two Über-Geeks, Steven Speilberg and George Lucas. The series stars Harrison Ford and with his appearance in the Star Wars saga along with this franchise he became certified superstar and his career took off. There are four films in the franchise and I own three of them.

Lucas said that these movies were an homage to the old serial films of the 30s and 40s. One of the things I really enjoy about them is that aspect of these movies. There is a lot of Errol Flynn in Indiana Jones. These movies are a lot of escapist fun and do not take themselves too seriously.

I think Spielberg really captured that sense of adventure in this franchise. Even though the last movie came out a couple of years ago, I can only imagine that if this franchise had been pitched to studios today we would find a much darker and grittier Indiana Jones. Hollywood is all about realism and the dark and gritty.

I know that many people did not like the newer movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Some complained about the addition of aliens, which I liked and some complained that some of the events were too far fetched…like the time when Jones hid in the refrigerator during a nuclear blast and then to have that fridge catapulted miles away with Jones walking out unscathed. I loved that scene! That scene has produced a new saying “nuked the fridge” which, along with “jump the shark” now signifies the moment when a franchise has declined beyond the point of no return.

I really do not think the movie was that bad. I found the second movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a prequel to the first movie, much worse. It just doesn’t work for me. With apologies to Mr. Spielberg the character played by his future wife, Kate Capshaw, was whinny and annoying. The addition of the kid, shortround, was not much better either. I do have to say though that the action scenes were very memorable and eating monkey brains never looked tastier!

My favorite of the franchise is the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I love European history so the fact that this touches upon the crusades and other aspects of European history are fascinating. My favorite though the casting of Sean Connery as Indy’s father. Casting brilliance in my opinion!

In conclusion to the works of Steven Spielberg I would have to say he is my favorite director working today. He has made very memorable timeless classics in the genre I enjoy so much. Long may he continue to do so and grace us all with his genius.

Here is an added bonus. I will include this link to some of the behind the scenes of the first Jurassic Park movie and how they animated and used suits for the Raptors. I think you will enjoy it.

The Films of Steven Spielberg: Part II

iiContinuing on my examination of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy films of Steven Spielberg I want to examine the Jurassic Park franchise. Although Spielberg only directed the first two he did serve as executive producer on Jurassic Park III. The series is based on a book by Michael Crichton. Universal Studios, with the help of Spielberg, bought the film rights to the book even before it was published. Many studios were also vying the the film rights. As I said in another blog I am not a novel reader. Even though I love the genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy I only watch those genres and do not read those types of books. When it comes to reading I am strictly non-fiction. Even though Michael Crichton was hired to write the screen play (for $500,000) many fans of the book complained that the first movie deviated too far from the book. Not having read the book I don’t have the problem of comparing the two works.

I know in the future I want to review these movies in their entirety so for the sake of this blog entry I will just hit the highlight of the three films.

1. Jurassic Park. 1993 I cannot believe that this movie is almost 20 years old!! I think the state-of-the-art special effects do not look dated today. The movie was not entirely done with CGI although this movie was the first to use CGI to such a large extent. Spielberg also used Animatronics and other models for the special effects. I have a good friend, George Cheatle, who came to get me one day in 1993 and took me to the movie saying I had to see this on the large screen. Boy was he ever so right! I felt such awe and wonder seeing the large Brachiosaurus on the big screen for the first time. It is so lifelike and real looking. Even nearly 20 years later it still looks lifelike and doesn’t cease to create a sense of wonder. I would love to go back in a time machine and show this film to Willis H. O’Brien the man who did the stop motion effects on the original 1933 version of King Kong. I think he too would have been amazed at how life like special effects would become 60 years later.

I also like the story. All the characters are likable and eccentric in their own way. I like Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant the best and was glad to see him return for the third movie. I also think the great Sir Richard Attenborough as John Hammond brings a great richness, pun intended, to his role as the eccentric billionaire. One last thing to say about the original movie is the brilliant score by John Williams. Sometimes I see film scores as the new classical music and the main Jurassic Park theme (linked below) is one of my all times pieces of instrumental music…I think it is just simply…brilliant! One pet peeve of mine: As a militant anti-smoking advocate I find the incessant smoking of Samuel L. Jackson’s character disgusting and unnecessary.

2. Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

I have to admit that I was let down with this movie. It isn’t bad, I do own it and I do watch it on DVD. It just loses a sense of wonder the first film had. While I like Jeff Goldblum as an actor, the portrayal of Dr. Ian Malcolm in this second offering is a bit annoying. He wails and complains almost the entire film. Also the scene when they are all hanging on over the cliff inside the truck as the two T-Rex are trying to pull them up just goes on too long. I love all the dinosaurs in this movie, some we did not see in the previous film. The plot is pretty good with two rival teams exploring the island only to have to work together just to survive.

3. Jurassic Park III

Although the first film will always have a special place in my heart…it was my first love. I have to admit I enjoy watching the third movie much more. It is just pure dino-action and adventure. This was not directed by Spielberg but Joe Johnston with Spielberg as executive producer. The movie features a new dinosaur, the Spinosaurus, which makes quick work of the T-Rex to let everyone know there is new big man on campus. I also liked the addition of William H. Macy another fine actor. I don’t have a lot to say about this movie. It has great special effects and a fun story that is a roller coaster ride.

Spielberg said that we can expect Jurassic Park IV within the next couple of years and the movie is in the script writing phase. I didn’t focus too much on Spielberg in this entry but for me there is a simple lesson. These movies appeal to the kid inside all of us…and as an adult I feel that it is vitally important to stay in touch with that inner child-like part of ourselves that keeps me in touch with a sense of creative, curiosity and sense of wonder about the world and the universe in which we live. Next week I will examine the Indiana Jones franchise.  

Halloween Movie Recomendations

Today I would like to recommend one Halloween movie. Over the weekend I watched the 1982 movie Poltergeist one of my favorite scary movies. Steven Spielberg was one of the writers and was an executive producers. There is also claims that he was actually the director of the movie, more about that later. The movie sure feels and looks like a Spielberg film and for years I had forgotten that Tobe Hooper is actually credited as the director.

I am sure everyone is familiar with the plot. A family in suburban California is terrorized by ghosts and abducts the youngest member of the family and the movie revolves around getting her back. Even after 30 years this movie is still pretty creepy. Although some of the special effects seem dated the majority of them still hold up real well. One of the things I like about the movie is how realistic it depicts the family. You actually feel as if this is all real and happening to them. The people seem real with real problems and personalities and that makes them more genuine. The movie is also not all dark and dreary and there is some humor mixed in which makes it all that much more enjoyable.

Controversy has followed this movies. Some say there is a curse on the film. One of the reasons for the said curse is the fact that during the swimming pool scenes near the end where skeletons and bodies are being washed out of their graves, the special effects crew decided to use real skeletons for that scene because they were cheaper to obtain and easier to work with that plastic skeletons.

Two of the deaths which fuel the curse mythos are related to actors from the fist film. Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest daughter Dana in the first movie, died a few months after the release of the film. Dominique died on November 4, 1982 at age 22 after being strangled by her abusive former boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney. The other death was that of Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne in all three Poltergeist movies. She died on February 1, 1988 at the age of 12 after what doctors initially described as an acute form of influenza but later changed to septic shock after bacterial toxins invaded her bloodstream. These deaths are tragic and are not evidence of a curse which I think is just silly superstitious nonsense.

Spielberg released ET exactly one week after Poltergeist was released to theaters and because he had a contract with Universal Studios saying he could not work on both films simultaneously he could only direct one of them, or at least take credit for only directing one of them. However according to many people on the set, including the actors and actresses, many claim that while Spielberg was present he was the de facto director and many decisions for the movie were finalized by Spielberg and not Hooper. From further reading it would be more accurate to say that Spielberg was more of a co-director on the film in that he was on the set almost as much as Hooper and the two worked together on many decisions regarding the film.

The film is a classic in the horror genre and it deserves to be. A great movies with a great cast that still delivers frights, laughs and chills no matter how many times I have seen it.



The Films of Steven Spielberg

I think I remember hearing about Steven Spielberg in 1982 when ET: The Extra Terrestrial came out in 1982. If my memory serves me, and this is an iffy statement, I seem to recall that back in the 70s it was the producers of the movie that got a lot of the publicity. I remember the remake of King Kong being advertised as by producer Dino De Laurentiis and the ship disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure from producer Irwin Allen. I think it was in the 80s when that trend was reversed to now where the director received a lot of then buzz and publicity for their movies. Indeed, today directors such as Spielberg, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Robert Zemeckis and on and on are as famous as their movies and the actors that play in them. It wasn’t until many years after the releases of such movies as Jaws and Close Encounter of the Third Kind did I know who Steven Spielberg was.

I always believed that Spielberg’s film were universally liked for the most part. However, I have come to realize that is not the case. He has some people out there that do not like his work at all. There are some who have mixed feelings for his work. I am one of those that greatly enjoys the vast majority of his work and think he is the best director working today. There are those, usually in the “I don’t like him” camp feel his best work is behind him. I strongly disagree with that position. As I sit at my computer typing away I am eagerly anticipating his bio-pic about Lincoln. I have been waiting with excitement and anticipation since this project was announced. Viewing the fist trailer, and haven seen pictures of Daniel Day-Lewis transformed into the 16th president of the US, my desire to see this picture has greatly increased.

One of the aspects of his films that I like is the ambiance or tone of his movies. This might be due to his cinematography but my overall point is when I see a Spielberg film I can tell it is by him just by the way that it looks. Even films not directed by him, where he has worn the hat of executive producer, such as Poltergeist in the 80s and the most recent JJ. Abrams movie, Super 8, all have that classic Spielberg look to them. It is hard to define or put my finger on just how to describe that look, but it is one that evokes a feeling of familiarity and connection that enables me to be absorbed into the movie. I worked with a guy, who wanted to be a director himself, and he didn’t care for Spielberg’s work calling it “too commercial.” I understood what he meant. Commercialism is viewed as something that is polished and appeals to the masses. There are some pretentious artistic types that come off as snobs feeling that gritty realism or abstract expression is far superior to works that are more appealing to the general movie goer. The older I get I find myself not having too much tolerance for snobs whether they be films snobs, art snobs, music snobs, or social snobs. I won’t go off on too much of a tangent on this and I will file my zeal away and discuss this in another blog post all together. For me his commercial appeal is part of the charm of his films.

Since this is a blog dedicated to science fiction and fantasy films and although Spielberg has done some great work outside of this genre, such as the classic Schindler’s List for example, but for the remained of this blog post I will concentrate on his science fiction and fantasy films. I have said that alien invasion movies are one of my favorite topics in this genre and Spielberg has three great movies that deal with this topic in different ways. The first alien invasion movie is Close Encounter of the Third Kind released in 1977 and reunited Spielberg with his Jaws actor, Richard Dryfuss. This movie effectively uses the backdrop of government cover up and mystery to the alien invasion. These aliens are friendly, a new concept for the movies after the cold war type films of the 50s, and the great focus is on the character development and the obsession Dryfuss’s character is experiencing amidst these strange phenomenon. The special effects are spectacular and have not aged a bit since the 70s. The moment we see the massive mother ship behind Devil’s Tower is still breathtaking. The final encounter with the aliens and the musical attempts to communicate with them are awe inspiring and still fills me with as sense of wonder.

His next alien invasion movie was ET: The Extra Terrestrial. This movie really is about childhood and I have always seen ET as a metaphor for the child within us all. The movie is told from a child’s perspective, which is why the faces governmental authorities are not initially shown, and the lesson is about keeping alive that child aspect of ourselves. For me that child like aspect of myself is what gives me joy and makes life meaningful. Sorry to get preacher here for a moment but we live in a fast passed stressful consumerist driven culture and those aspect of the inner child, joy and wonder and mystery are cut off for many adults. This movie reminds me not to let that happen. When ET touches Elliot’s forehead and says “I’ll be right here,” meaning that child like aspect of Elliot, which ET represented, will always be inside of him. I admit by the time those lines are spoken I am a puddle of tears.

The other alien invasion movie Spielberg tackled was the remake of the Sci-Fi classis The War of the Worlds. HG. Wells short story was set in the 19th century. Both George Pal’s and Spielberg’s version update the story to the current time period in which each was filmed. I have already reviewed this movie on this blog so I won’t go into too much detail. I will say I was glad to see Spielberg tackle an alien invasion movie where the aliens are not warm and friendly like his previous films. No, these aliens are coming to take over the planet and desire our extermination. Ah, good old fashioned angry alien invasion movie. I enjoy the aspect of a dead beat dad who really becomes a father amidst this tragedy. The story is gripping and the special effects are out of this world.

I have only scratched the surface of the Steven Spielberg movies that I like. So I will have part 2 ready for next Tuesday.

First look at Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

Here is the first official look at Daniel Days Lewis as Abraham Lincoln for the up coming bio-pic by Steven Spielberg. While it isn’t a science fiction or fantasy movie I love history and historical films that is why I am including it here. The film is scheduled for release on November 9, 2012.

What’s in the hopper?

It looks like Jurassic Park IV is moving ahead! After being in development hell for years Steven Spielberg announced last year that JP4 was going to be made. There really has not been much news about it until yesterday. It is being reported that writers  Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have been hired to write the script for the next installment.  Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver were the writers on last years very successful and well done reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an intelligent and thrilling reintroduction of the Apes movies. I am hopeful that they can write a very good script. The original Jurassic Park is still a classic and after almost 20 years the special effects still hold together and are not dated. The sequel, The Lost World, was a bit of a let down. I will still watch it from time to time. JP3 was an improvement and a lot of fun. Not a lot to the story but it was a good action and adventure flick with great dinosaur action. 

Director Paul Verhoeven is moving ahead with a movie about the life of Jesus. Scripted by Roger Avary (who wrote Pulp Fiction) this movie is aiming for controversy. In this movie Jesus will not have divine origins but will be the product of rape from a Roman soldier and it will focus on how Jesus’ politics are what lead him to his crucifixion. 

DVD releases for June 5, 2012

There are three DVD releases today that interest me, none of which I have seen but will be either buying or renting very soon.

Falling Skies: The Complete First Season

Falling Skies was created by Robert Rodat and produced by Steven Spielberg. The story is set six months into a world that has been devastated by an alien invasion. Noah Wyle stars as Tom Mason, a former Boston University history professor who becomes the second-in-command of the 2nd Massachusetts Militia Regiment, a group of civilians and fighters fleeing post-apocalyptic Boston.

John Carter

Based on a series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs about a Civil War era veteran who is transported to Mars to aid in the wars that are existing on that planet. The movie did poorly at the box office and received mixed reviews. Many of the people I have talked to that have seen it did say it is good.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

A sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth and also based on another Jules Verne novel and stars Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine. A movie with a lot of special effects that is lighthearted and family friendly.