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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)

Hansel & Gretel: Wife Beaters has a humorous script of Hansel & Gretel which I watched recently as well. After being slightly enthusiastic about the trailer’s vfx and steam punk-y flair I gotta say that Hansel & Gretel is an even bigger piece of crap than I had feared.

I can recommend it for people who enjoy watching women being hit into the guts and faces with blunt objects.

Hansel & Gretel Screenshot 1

“Believe me, honey, this hurts me more than it hurts you.”

Hansel & Gretel Screenshot 2

“Hello, I’d like to apply for the position of screenwriter. I have recently divorced my wife and am willing to weave my sick revenge fantasies into the plot…”

I applaud the movie for using make-up effects for witches and trolls, some aerial shots looked like well-done miniatures and a lot of splatter stuff felt like practical SFX as well. I don’t need this to be VFX all the time. Had they been consistent with it, the movie might have been a little gem in an era of CGI.

But towards the end – or rather mere seconds before the credits start rolling – we are treated with some top-notch bullet-time Krakatoa particles full-CG expensive eyecandy which feels awkwardly out of place. After all, the first 99% of the movie’s effects were not much better than what TV shows like Buffy or Grimm are doing. For example, not a single witch-flying-away-on-broom effect looked good.

I don’t really accuse it of weirdly budgeted effects or even plot inconsistencies. Come on, it’s a popcorn fantasy movie. I accuse it of being boring boring boring. That feeling creeps in after just a couple of minutes of watching dialog scenes that consist mostly of awkward silence. It’s like the actors are thinking “I’ve delivered my line, why doesn’t anybody yell “CUT” already?!” and it shows on their faces.

That, and the misogyny.

Hansel & Gretel Screenshot 3

rating: 3/10 (the “way below expectations” level where it’s in the company of Uwe Boll productions like “BloodRayne” or “Alone in the Dark”)

Trailer Shot

The fruits of my labor (and Jan’s plus of a bunch of other hard-working colleagues in lighting, animation and fx simulation of course).
WHD Trailer Shot

Pacific Rim

Wow, this looks like a well-made life action version of Neon Genesis Evangelion!

And maybe it’s actually enjoyable because apparently it doesn’t go the Transformers route of US military porn with a douchebag teenager and a tits and ass girlfriend. But after having suffered through Transformers with people around me drooling everytime they saw Megan Fox on screen… I’m kinda worried that today’s audiences actually expect a giant robot movie to have these things 🙂

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.


“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”

Hänsel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

HO – LY – SHIT. That one looks like it’s gonna be fun 🙂

Or… it could suck like all the other movies of that genre that try to re-invent fairy tale characters in a world tainted by the Twilight saga (“Red Riding Hood” comes to mind but also “Van Helsing” although it predated this decade’s vampire craze). But at least “Hansel & Gretel” looks like it’s going to be honest: no hollow claims of answering questions about the origin of life (“Prometheus”) or re-inventing time travel (“Looper”).

Just “this is what Hansel & Gretel would look like in a steam-punk movie for teenage boys. Hell yeah!” *

Who knows if it’s gonna be good. Maybe it’s witty like “Brothers Grimm”, maybe it’s trashy like “Underworld” or “Resident Evil”. But with stills like these, it’s definitely on my watchlist even though this mentality has led to disappointment most of the time 🙂

The VFX look much much better than in Resident Evil though. That hero shot at the bottom looks really well done. Light is engulfing the actors quite nicely and although a real explosion would be even brighter the actors are underexposed enough to sell the shot.

Compare this to a shot from the Resident Evil trailer I’ve criticized in the past where the integration of explosion and environment is abysmal.

For people who are not so much aware of what constitutes effects shots nowadays (and why movies get more expensive all the time…): I’m pretty sure the fog in the topmost screenshot was added later on in postproduction. Even if there was such a forest with the right kind of humidity at the right time of day to produce a suitable fog, no sane producer would allow a shot of the main actors to be restricted by such unreliable weather conditions. Doing the fog in post also allows the director creative freedom to add details like those godrays. All it takes is a matchmoving artist, a bunch of roto slaves and a 4-digit amount of dollars. If the director requests half a dozen versions until he’s satisfied with the color and density of the fog, the VFX company probably won’t break even. That’s the state of the industry.

*) yeah, I’m using the term “steam-punk” loosely. But any movie that mixes gatling guns with 18th century German timber-frame construction qualifies as steam-punk to me.

Cloud Atlas For The Win!

I’ve recently watched Cloud Atlas. Man, that movie makes up for all the shitty blockbusters I’ve endured this year.

You know that phrase that is usually attached to novels adapted for the big screen?

“Yeah, the movie’s OK but the novel of course goes deeper, they had to leave out lots of stuff for the adaptation”.

Well, without having read the novel, “Cloud Atlas” felt to me like what an adaptation of a plot which spans centuries needs to look like but almost never can. And it’s rich enough to watch it a second time to take note of the finer details and motives of each character. On the other hand, the movie’s central theme isn’t hidden or complicated at all so there’s no “why… what the f…?” feeling like in Prometheus.

I’m aware that any movie-going experience is highly subjective. So I’m just glad that the movie totally worked for me in keeping me entertained, emotionally involved and impressed by its ideas. In my opinion, “Cloud Atlas” demonstrates what the movie medium can achieve in storytelling and editing when most blockbusters are just pushing the envelope in VFX photorealism. Nevertheless, “Cloud Atlas” is chock full of VFX.

A bunch of German VFX houses have worked on it, including RiseFX (Berlin) as well as Trixter and Scanline (Munich). Although I’m sure none of them could have shouldered the amount of shots that the main vendor (Method) did, I think it shows that there’s a great amount of talent on the old continent 🙂

10/10 (the “this is one of those few movies I’ll never forget” level)