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Skyfall

I’ve caught up on the latest installment of the Bond franchise – Skyfall.

Short verdict: If you love formulaic Bond movies, this one’s not for you. If you are sick of orange-teal color grading, skip it as well. Skyfall fits well into our times, where it’s enough for a blockbuster action movie to be filmed well so it can get tagged as “gritty” by the marketing department. It has references to the Bond franchise here and there but overall the plot is ludicrous and far from original (chase across the roofs of Istanbul like in The International and Taken 2? Check.). But at least the movie really is well-made in terms of cinematography and stunts.

skyfall grading

orange/teal right down to the interior design and user interfaces

The movie has a particularly nice last act. No far-fetched showdown on a space station or a sinking building in Venice (although some might say that this is what made Bond movies Bond movies). It was slow-paced, it had nice cinematography and a refreshing lack of in-your-face CGI and gadgets.

On the other hand, most of the movie belongs into the fantasy genre. It starts right off with Bond surviving a 100 meter fall from a bridge and goes on with the numerous depictions of 90’s style computer hacking. You know, giant screens with lots of motion graphics and random numbers on it, technobabble and computers popping up animated “ha ha you’ve been hacked” messages. Computers are used as a lazy plot device that can do anything whenever the scriptwriters require it to. In other words: it’s magic, which makes me think of Skyfall as a high tech Harry Potter movie.

Oh no! An encryption algorithm that only 6 people in the world know about! Let’s just look for the letters that are not hex numbers and we’ve got the key.

6/10 (the “at least it wasn’t THAT bad” level)

The Hobbit – Yet Another Disappointment in 2012

I really would have wanted to end 2012 with a nice movie-going experience. I tried to ignore people lamenting about 48fps or stuff that wasn’t part of the book. I had never read the book.

Before the movie started there was a trailer for the new World of Warcraft update called “Mists of Pandaria”. And it had Kung-Fu-Pandas in it, fighting orcs. It was the most ridiculous thing I had seen in recent months. Little did I know that this was foreshadowing the movie I was about to watch.

‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’ is basically the same thing but roughly 3 hours longer. It’s an attempt to blow up a tiny story to not only 9 hours but to Lord of the Rings epic-ness while making it look like a video game cinematic. The term cinematic is actually quite ironic. While video games have tried to look more and more like movies (by their themes, camera angles, animated or life action cut scenes and the use of machinima) it seems like the future of blockbuster movies is to look more and more like video games:

Level 1 is the Shire. Go on a journey, battle some foes, meet some allies… until you reach Level 6 – The Goblin Cave! Press A to swing your sword and B for a special move to decapitate your enemies. The Level Boss is the Goblin King himself! Attack his vulnerable spot and when your energy level drops low, press Up-Down-Up-Down to make Gandalf appear and save your ass.

Sorry, Bilbo, the princess is in another castle. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 – available next year.

For a movie essentially geared at a young audience who might not even have seen LoTR the movie is an astonishing mix of childish themes, brutal (yet blood-less) hacking and slashing and dialog scenes that drag on for way too long.

The movie’s first 15 minutes are filled with shots of dwarfs eating cheese, juggling plates and two musical numbers.

After two thirds of the movie I had to accept that nobody’s going to get injured or die even after falling downhill for hundreds of meters. I accepted that one of the dwarfs and the goblin king looked like “Fat Bastard” from Austin Powers. I was no longer surprised when Gandalf just showed up and saved everybody at the last moment using his magic powers again and again – this happened at least three times during the movie.

And the HFR thing?

For a movie that is so intend on selling an experience and showcasing new technology (instead of, you know, making you feel sympathy for fictional characters on screen) “The Hobbit” actually tries hard to make you loathe it. The high frame rate irritated me every other minute with its “sped up” effect that you might have heard about. It’s an optical illusion and my fellow movie-goers didn’t notice it but to me it felt like watching a TV documentary about the movie, not the movie itself.

The 3D felt forced as well. I might be from a dying generation of movie-goers but it still irritates me when there are elements in front of the screen while being cropped at the edges. Fast-moving sparks, butterflies or gold coins still are a flickery mess to me even at 48fps. And landscape shots still have that miniature look to them because directors and DOPs insist on using an exaggerated interocular distance.

In a way it’s comforting to know that even huge productions like this suffer from that shit that James Cameron successfully avoided in Avatar. But that’s probably because one disappointed moron in the target audience of 16 year-olds (“omg the 3D was non-existing I could have left my glasses off”) weighs heavier to any producer than somebody who is pulled out of the movie by miniature landscapes.

All of this overshadows the fact that the VFX are of course top notch. Except for one or two scenes you never think about the fact that Gandalf and the dwarfs are composited together for their difference in size. Closeups of wargs and eagles are great and the level of detail in the dwarf city or goblin lair is breathtaking.

In hindsight I should have watched the 24fps 2D version to apprechiate all of this.

6/10

“Damn Damn Good:” Movie Bob’s positive review of “The Hobbit”

“I hope the worst is behind us”: Red Letter Media’s more negative review of “The Hobbit”