Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hey, GREAT Special Effects ... but ..

Are special effects enough to carry along a film that's lacking in just about every other respect? I dunno ... I mean, they WERE really good special effects.

That's what I was thinking the other day, when Younger Son and I finally got around to watching "
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," courtesy of the folks at Netflix. Making up for missing the film while it was still in theaters, I at last had a chance to sit back in the comfort of my own home, and appreciate the cinematic artistry of Michael Bay ... so to speak ...

... or not. The film's special effects are nothing short of spectacular ... but for us, no other aspect of the film came close to being spectacular ... or even good ... the story, the characters, the lines they deliver - were all pretty lame. The pacing of the film suffered towards the end, with a climactic battle scene on the plains of Giza that seemed to stretch on forever. Hard to believe that such a battle scene could actually become protracted, then tedious - but dang if that isn't what we got. And I found the continuity - or lack thereof - to be especially distracting ... like a scene where someone bursts from a warehouse along the docks of New York City, then follows a road through the forest, and across a mountain meadow ... or a fight that starts in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, crashes through a museum wall, and tumbles outside into a large bomber storage base in the western U.S.

A lot of this, IMHO, can be laid at Bay's feet .. and I can't say I wasn't warned. A while back, Jim at serotoninrain expressed more than a little unease over the prospect of Bay helming the first Transformers movie.

You were right, Jim.


Rob said...

Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Roland Emmerich, et al are all tragically enamored with CGI just for the sake of eye candy, not to support or progress story. They only know fluff, not substance.

Sadly even the godfathers George Lucas & Steven Spielberg have fallen prey to this. (I'll never forgive those hucksters for the slipshod way that they desecrated Indiana Jones in the most recent "Crystal Skull" debacle.)

Perhaps even more sad is that today's Gen Y & Z audiences gladly accept the mindless movies that these "acclaimed" directors spew. Maybe I'm too jaded, but I'm firmly convinced that movies can be entertaining, popcorn-munching affairs yet still have some heart, soul, & smarts at their core.

When visual effects were costly and difficult, a director had to really justify the expense to include them. Now that mind-blowing visuals are relatively cheap and easy, directors hang entire movies on effects with little or no meaningful plot underneath.

I'm happy to say that James Cameron struck a pretty good balance with "Avatar." The visuals are jaw-dropping and immersive, but there's a story that makes them worthwhile. Could the story have been made a little more complex or unpredictable? Sure. Could the characters have been crafted with a bit more depth. Certainly. But the plot is a sufficient and effective framework to hang the wall-to-wall CGI upon.

Jeff said...

Rob, thanks for stopping-in, and thanks for the insights I think you're spot-on in suugesting that even our most gifted filmmaker/storytellers can be swept up by CGI magic.

My problem with it all, is when the fundamentals of filmmaking take a back seat to the special effetcs - or find no seat anywhere, and are left behind You mention Roland Emerich, one of the masters of special efects spectaculars .. yet he pays attention to the rest of the story, as well, giving us a story and characters with whom we can connect and cheer-for, and applying an artist's sense of timing in the pace and continuity of his film.

Rob said...

Jeff, I'd hafta respectfully disagree about Roland Emmerich - other than "The Patriot" (which was a very good film!), I've seen little story or character development in his recent movies to inspire or forge a lasting connection for me. Granted, he did a nice job with "Stargate," but nearly all of the movies since - "Godzilla," "Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow," etc. have been Bruckheimer-style disaster schlockfests with dizzying effects and mostly mindless or senseless plots.

Add J.J. Abrams to the list as well. He's great at setting up, but horrible with follow-thru.

And the list goes on... Lee Tamahori, McG, Dominic Sena, Rob Cohen. All directors who have real promise, but can't get past the wham-bam action sequences and eye candy CGI to see that their underlying plotlines are half-baked at best.

Jeff said...

Rob, good points ... with regards to RE, we'll soon have a chance to put them to the test - once again - when "2012" hits the theaters.

Rob said...

It's out, Jeff, and getting middling reviews:



Seems the consensus is that it's a dazzling but brainless popcorn-muncher.

Jeff said...

Rob, that's good ... that will give the film's producers plenty of time to show it in theaters worldwide, then put it out on PPV and DVD - raking in a TON of cash before 2012 comes along, and the world ends. :-)