Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

Chasing dreams, because I can

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Posted by Oli on Thursday 7th August, 2008

This week, so far, I’ve seen 3 movies at the cinema, two of which provided the perfect lesson in contrast between special effects handled well and believably and, well, not.

First off, though, I feel obliged to encourage all of you to go check out Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging – or at least all those of you who can remember what it’s like to be a teenager.  I have to admit I didn’t have high hopes going into this one, but K wanted to see it and so we decided to take our niece along to check it out (having a nearly-teen niece is a great excuse for watching flicks you feel like you shouldn’t be seen at).  To my complete surprise, I absolutely loved it.

It’s incredibly honest and true, with just the right amount of whimsy without making itself over-the-top of unbelievable.  If you remember what life was like when you were struggling for the guts to ask out that girl you fancied, or struggling to make that gorgeous guy realise you existed, this is totally a movie for you.  But it goes beyond simple teen-dom to encompass the battles that parent’s fight, too.  Being stuck in a weird age-group that’s no longer teenager, but not yet a parent, I found myself more than able to sympathise with both sides of the arguments.

As opposed to the majority of teen movies where controlling, embarrassing parents are the clear-cut bad guys of Teen freedom, this paints a much more subtle picture, showing the adults as they really are – just people who used to be kids trying their hardest to do what they think is right and make sure that they bring their children up properly.  Yes, their embarrassing and occasionally misguided and hurtful, but you can see that it’s all with the best of parental intentions and never just to spite the kids.

It must be said that the film is helped massively by a fantastic cast.  Some of the girls can be a little drama-school-y, very well spoken and enunciating carefully all the time, but nonetheless convincing in the majority of what they do.  Alan Davies proves that he’s more than just a comedian who did Jonathan Creek and the rest of the adult cast round out the film nicely.

The two effects-heavy films of the week provided a stark contrast not just to Angus, Thongs, but also to each other.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a fantastic, fantastical sequel to the original Hellboy.  Directed again by Guillermo Del Toro, this time feels very different as, off the back of the inimitable and remarkable Spanish-language Pan’s Labyrinth, he’s been given a much more free-role to create the monsters and the world he wants to create.

The effects work in this film is stunning.  The majority of the creatures are created with a combination of practical (ie – man in suit or puppet) effects and the more common and oft-overused (see below) CGI effects.  What’s remarkable, especially to someone like me, for whom CGI and effects in general are often such a bug-bear they ruin the movie (see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), is that it is almost impossible to see the joins.

So photo-real are the CGI effects that, similarly to The Dark Knight, it is hardly possible to spot the when they are using practical on-set effects and when they’ve resorted to CGI.

On the other hand, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is very much the other end of the scale: stacked full of CGI which looks, funnily enough, just like CGI.  How the producers haven’t learned their lesson from the execrable effects at the end of The Mummy Returns is beyond me.  The first Mummy movie made a real effort towards photo-realism and although it looks slightly dated now, was something of a bench-mark and a wonder at it’s time.

This time round we have to contend with an almost 100% CGI Jet Li doing all kinds of craziness.  I understand that most of what they did they couldn’t do practically in terms of shape-shifting and such, but there are much simpler things they could have done to help sustain the audiences suspension of disbelief at least a little longer than the first shot of a sequence.

Practical make-up effects are undoubtedly making a come back as producers and studios realise that audiences are growing tired of the artificiality of CGI that is being churned out at speed in a lot of movies, but there are still a large amount of films using poor-quality CGI thanks to rushed post-production periods enforced upon them to hit their release dates, which are often set before the film even starts shooting.

What frustrates me about the current crop of CGI-heavy, story-poor movies is that the effects houses that are working on them are very, very good at what they do.  But the truth is that they can’t work miracles.  They are artists and you have to give them sufficient time to finesse their artwork before you put it on display.  Like all art, if it’s rushed, it shows.  While that may be fine for a Jackson Pollack, it doesn’t work when you’re dealing with supposedly photo-realistic bad guys who are supposed to be able to scare you by making you believe they exist.

And don’t even get me started on the Yetis…


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