Posts Tagged ‘CGI’

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
An Active3D Movie Review

Movie: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rating:  **** (out of 5)

It’s no secret that Hollywood appears to be losing its ability to create new stories, and continues raiding the archives for old titles to “re-imagine”. Most of these efforts have been disappointing – if not utterly blasphemous – but, happily, the recent revisiting of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise has been quite rewarding. Of course, I’m not referring to Tim Burton’s widely cursed 2001 effort, but the 2011 entry [Rise of the Planet of the Apes], and now this sequel.

I’m still trying to figure out how the ‘Rise’ of said apes and their ‘Dawn’ are two different concepts, but I suppose that this isn’t a forum for semantics. The film (the first in the new series to be released in 3-D) begins with a résumé of the previous installment. San Francisco’s looking like the average downtown scene in South Africa (i.e. dilapidated). A relatively small group of surviving humans (a few hundred; maybe a thousand) lives in an encampment at what used to be the hub of San Fran’s Bay Area Rapid Transit underground rail system. Not far from there, in the wilds (possibly on Lake Merced?), there exists a thriving community of apes, near a now-disused hydroelectric dam – which the humans need in order to power their community. The humans are keen to kick-start the dam again, but the apes, however, have little reason to trust them, given this species’ track record of animal abuse, from which many members of the ape community still bear physical and emotional scars…

The film’s political and moral resonances are interesting, and it isn’t difficult to draw parallels with current human conflicts. In both the ape and human camps there are two factions; those whose decisions are driven by a moral, peace-loving imperative and those who are driven by a hostile tribal loyalty; i.e. supporting apes just because they’re apes, or humans, simply because they’re humans.

Playing the decent and empathetic human leader, Malcolm, is Jason Clarke, whilst Andy “Gollum” Serkis plays the voice of, and provides the body movements for, his ape counterpart, Caesar. Gary Oldman is the human bad guy, Dreyfus, while Koba the evil ape is voiced by Toby Kebbell. As in the 2011 film, the visual representation of the apes doesn’t entirely convince me, but fortunately the narrative does. This grippingly emotional drama plays itself out on an epic canvas, and it’s gratifying (for a change) to see that CGI is being put to the service of a proper story – unlike movies such as any of the Transformer series or most of the superhero franchise, where computer graphics are gratuitously employed to create seemingly endless, boring and noisy fight sequences.

At 130 minutes, ‘Dawn’ is possibly about 10 minutes too long, but that still compares favourably to the latest Transformers movie (last reviewed on these pages), which was two and three quarter hours of sheer, skull-bashing nothingness.

Those of us interested in matters political, will find much meat in this absorbing tale. As for the themes of unthinking group loyalty, it’s a mistake that South Africans have continued to make, and from which they’ve failed to learn, from one regime to the next…

 

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Transformers: Age of Extinction (We should be so lucky…)

June 27, 2014
Image

Capable of doing everything imaginable – except engage in intelligent conversation.

An Active3D Movie Review
Movie: Transformers: Age of Extinction
Rating: * (out of 5)

165 minutes? Are you kidding me? This is the fourth of a new-millennial series of films based upon the HASBRO action toys, in which giant robots beat the bejesus out of one another. Does this really warrant as many sequels – and a 165 minute running time? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. Unless you’re a 12 year-old boy, I suppose. Or a studio that’s aware that these franchises are critic-proof licenses to print money. Seldom in the history of human endeavour has so slender a plot been stretched over so long a movie. Each noisy battle sequence lasted far too long, and, when it would finally grind to a halt and I was hoping that the closing credits weren’t far off, I’d be shattered to discover that there were many more to follow. (Remember when movies had one climactic sequence? And we didn’t feel robbed?)

The plot, such as it is, centres around Mark Wahlberg as a largely failed inventor with a gorgeous teenaged daughter who – though she loves her pop – is starting to lose faith in him. He’s bought this old truck, which just happens to be a dormant Transformer, and … oh; who cares?

Here again I must take issue with the battle scenes. We *know* that the good guys will triumph, so can’t we just bing-bang-boom and get it over and done with? But no; the director and computer operators want to show off their CGI toy-boxes, so they gleefully string every element of the conflict out, as if they were producers of a daytime soap opera. I can just see them proudly strumming their bowties with each new explosion they create. And, to make matters worse, the hulking robots are forever mouthing inanities that could’ve been scripted by stoned teenagers playing video games in their parents’ basements.

What are the film’s virtues? The 3-D cinematography is spectacular – and is seen to gobsmacking advantage in IMAX theatres, if you have the opportunity to do so. Also, when the two villains (played by Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer) are on screen, one can feel the intelligence level of the experience rise – admittedly, not a huge feat.

Much has been made of the fact that the new Digital IMAX 3-D camera has been partially deployed in the making of this film. You will notice, if you’re watching the film in an IMAX theatre, that the regular shots, which have been up-converted from the digital cinema master, don’t fit the entire screen; they leave black strips over and under the picture. When the shots from the IMAX camera kick in, the picture fills the entire height of the screen. An irritation here, is that scenes in the film are often made up of shots from both cameras, so we keep switching rapidly between reduced screen and full screen, from shot to shot. It’s very irritating, and I don’t get why director Michael Bay went with that. Entire sequences, yes; they make sense. But this ongoing click-in-and-click-out? No.

If the film had been 95 minutes long, I might’ve possibly enjoyed it as a matinee distraction, but damn; Hollywood is taking these comic-book/action figure adventures far, far too seriously. It’s also a stupid move, commercially, to make these things so long, as the distributors would be able to fit in more shows per day if they were of a reasonable length.

 

Treading Water in the Deep End

August 22, 2013

“No, Horsie – I don’t want to hear any more songs from ‘Gypsy’…”


An Active3D Movie Review

Movie: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
Rating: *½ (out of 5)

Ethnic mythology and classical history seems to be enjoying a revival in Hollywood, although the stress is on CGI spectacle above than any kind of adherence to those time-honoured tales. Thor, with his ridiculous silver hammer, is about to resurface – again – in another Marvel movie, and there are discomforting rumblings that a sequel to the overrated 300 is on the table. This Percy Jackson sequel is an uneasy patchwork of Greek mythology, contemporary college flick and teen detective thriller; and it teeters uncertainly between these genres, like a drunk that’s forgotten his name and purpose.

I was furthermore not persuaded by the interaction between the film’s many CGI critters and its real-life protagonists. Picking up on the prevalent buzz, I understand that most everybody in the industry appears to be drawing parallels with the Harry Potter franchise, so let me address that directly. Apart from a scattered, episodic script (crammed with dei ex machina) that doesn’t provide him with any support, the bland Logan Lerman, as Percy, lacks that finely measured mix of vulnerability and heroism that made Daniel Radcliffe so popular in the Harry Potter movies. And, of course, Radcliffe also had a strong ally in those googly, Lennonesque specs of his.

The 3-D depth has been cranked up by the tech team, although it stops short of endlessly shoving swords and snakes up our nostrils (not that I mind a bit of show-off gimmickry once in a while!). Finally – and here’s the movie’s only perk – I’m prepared to bet that 3-D geeks will love the opening and closing credits, which serve up some tasty stereoscopy.

Slug Addicts

August 2, 2013

Pacific Rim
An Active3D movie review

Movie: Pacific Rim

Rating: *** (out of 5)

It’s the near future, and gigantic reptiles are attacking major cities around the world (because, as we know, aliens never bother with laying siege on boring rural towns, or even cities that don’t look pretty (Johannesburg, anyone?). The US military has deployed an army of similarly towering metal robots to fight back, each of which is piloted by two humans who have to undergo a coupling and synchronising of their minds before they can take on this demanding task.

Confession time: I was hesitant going in, but I girded my loins and braved the preview theatre. And I’m happy to say that the film exceeded my expectations; quite possibly because it was helmed by the Mexican fantasy filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who brings a measure of savvy to the affair. Whilst the script sported a few good laugh lines, I could’ve done with a measure more humour – after all, even Shakespeare, in his darkest tragedies, knew the importance of a hearty chortle amidst the swordplay.  But the cast is earnest, and takes their task diligently, without stretching to the point of being camp; it’s a delicate tightrope…

Three characteristics of modern fantasy films that have really started irritating me:
a) They take themselves too seriously, and are too sombre for what are after all, largely comic-book stories,
b) The CGI battle sequences take forever,
c) They’re played out in dark, bloodless hues.

I’m thrilled to declare, however, that:
a) del Toro clearly realises that this isn’t the sequel to ‘The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie’, and handles the affair as the Saturday matinee movie that it is,
b) the CGI battle sequences are mercifully short, by comparison with other films of this genre. They get in, have it out and call it a day; bim-bam-boom!
c) the film is a feast of exciting colours and, stereoscopically speaking, it’s out there with the front-runners.

And speaking of aesthetic delights, the gorgeous Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, looking as if she’s stepped out of an Anime comic, provides a pleasing counterpart to all the noisy machismo that surrounds her.

A bonus for the credit geeks who sit out the final roll, is a fade-out tribute paid by the filmmakers to the “monster masters”  Ray Harryhausen and Ishirô Honda.