Saturday, September 26, 2009

Poor film scripts which killed purpose of great VFX

I was searching a bit deeper into one of my favorite website (wired.com) checking for some random articles and I found these two articles very interesting, namely, 10 Sci-Fi Movies We’d Like to Throw Into a Black Hole and 10 Geeky Movies That Should Have Been Great, but Weren’t.

One of the thing which you can find similar in all these movies mentioned in above articles are they all had some good amount of visual effects being Sci-fi or geeky movies but still they fail to impress majority of the audience. This issue reminded me of a in-class presentation (presentation given during late 2006) I did during my degree class back in college.

I think this lists mentioned in the above two articles could be even longer including some of the recent movies but this issue is more serious than critics bashing VFX or VFX artists bashing poor scripts. After my research in college I had came to point of realization that this whole phenomena is effect of various trends and other factors which affected this dynamic industry and this is something which will continue to evolve.

As a VFX artist I love to bash at some of these high budget VFX movies which killed purpose of those great VFX shots and most importantly hard work of people behind it. So here goes my list of 5 bad movies which killed VFX (oh we all love to doing this, lol)

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

1.) Star Wars prequels
Seriously after watching these prequels it even downed my appreciation for the original trilogy. Tough I enjoyed those best of the best ILM eye candies after a while it was apparent that I was watching these movies just to enjoy the VFX shots not the movie as a whole.

2.) The Matrix sequels
The very first Matrix is my favorite movie both visual effects and story wise but both movies came after were fail to impress me like the way first one did. It would be better to quote from Weird's article for this one;

The Matrix is one of the best science fiction films ever made, period. The first 40 minutes of the original leaves you scratching your head, trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. During the rest of the film, the pacing, the action and the story are beautiful in their execution. The film ends with enough questions to keep the audience talking, speculating and watching again for new clues.
What we didn’t need, however, were answers. The answers are a letdown. They were full of quasi-mysticism about the nature of man and machine
The sequels also feel bloated by the special effects in a way the first film didn’t. At various points, the story just stops so we can see our protagonists fight the bad guys in various unbelievable ways. What began as a compelling story moves steadfastly into mind-numbing, summer-blockbuster territory.
3.) Daredevil
Though there mixed reactions to this movie, for me this movie was one of the first superhero movie which left me with some emptiness and this one represents trend of other superhero movies which followed the same suite like Electra, Fantastic four, Spiderman 3, Ghost Rider and most recently X- Men Origins.

4.) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Great cast, good visual effects but poor script, I think that was this movie was all about. It is interesting to note that there aren't much good Steampunk films made in Hollwywood, another one I could think of is Wild Wild West and I think both these movies didn't really exploit the depth of genre instead they just became like any other high budget Hollywood flicks.

5.) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
This is again one of those sequels which again fail to capture our expectations. Though Schwarzenegger was present in this movie it didn't really help the poor story in any manner. This one was suppose to be direct continuation of last movie but I felt through out the movie it was drifting away from the first two movies.

I think they continued this trend for some reason even in the latest movie T4. I felt the latest movie is not as bad as T3, maybe it because the only thing I could associate T4 with first two movies is the soundtrack and everything else seems like some other new movie. Oh yeah, I liked dramatic out of world and sudden appearance of CG Schwarzenegger at the climax.

There are other movies which I didn't mention but then this list won't have an ending. I only mentioned the movies which I personally had lot of expectations and in which I enjoyed the VFX but not the movie as a whole. So I would like to stress this whole post is more of a personal reflection than a general opinion.

I think the main reasons behind these failures are audience's high expectations and their increasing maturity to high end VFX or action/dramatic sequences. I am not blaming the audience and safe guarding the filmmakers but if you look at the industry as a whole , the audience plays a major role in creating and destroying the trends in industry.

Like I stated before my expectations were very low for the fourth installment of Terminator but due to failure of T3 I felt T4 was a much better film . And on audience's maturity, this is where it gets really interesting because according to an eassy at filmcritic.com,
One of the first films that shocked audiences was The Great Train Robbery, where audiences reportedly ran from the cinema in terror when the criminal pointed his prop gun straight at the camera. A film, which was described as ‘general slaughter’ by a New York Times film critic, was James Cagney’s 1931 Public Enemy. This included eight deaths, all of them off camera, used suggestive sound effects and actors reactions to notify the audience that a death occurred. If you compare this with Bruce Willis’s 1990 Die Hard 2 in which 264 people died, all on camera and all of them very brutally and bloody, this proves that audiences are becoming difficult to shock.
I think only way out of this phenomena is when audience really appreciate visual effects for its story telling qualities instead of it's awe-inspiring effects but then I really don't know when that is going to happen because currently it is very apparent that VFX is used as a marketing tool and not to mention the high end FX race between the top VFX studios.

The industry is always going through constant evolution mainly due to technological development and then due to social and cultural changes. I remember back in my college presentation I quoted Lucas on this issue as follows,
"The market forces that exist today make it unrealistic to spend $200 million on a movie. Those movies can't make their money back anymore."

"It's no accident that the 'small movies' outclassed the spectaculars in this year's Academy Awards. Is that good for the business? No—it's bad for the business. But moviemaking isn't about business. It's about art! In the future, almost everything that gets shown in theaters will be indie movies."

If you compare his statement with latest movie District 9, which had an overall budget of 30 million and which boasted top notch visual effects. It is apparent that there is strong trend for low budget film making and I think in future the budgets will continue to shrink. It doesn't mean the death of high end visual effects but I think it will be the birth of very niche class of films which will use visual effects more for its story telling qualities that can be comparable to films in 70s & 80s.

I think I don't have to stress again how important story is in the process of film making and to conclude this post I would like to quote VFX producer Rick Baumgartner from his blog
On one level, visual effects deals with the problems of human perception – finding ways to take advantage of the strengths and weakness in the human visual system. Cues such as scale, perspective, depth, color, pattern, texture, intensity, shadow, parallax each of us instinctively use to place ourselves in the world. Visual effects take advantage of these cues.
On still another level are the technical problems related to the tools and materials used to develop a visual effects solution. But no matter what the eventual technical hurdles, visual effects starts with the written representation of the story -- the script -- and very quickly moves into iterative visual representations of the story.
The bottom line always is the story: depictions of real or imagined events with characters, objects and environments illustrating some aspect of the human experience
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