Sunday, 15 June 2008

Kingdom of the Crystal Dull

Saw the latest Indiana Jones film today and it's been bothering me about what was wrong with it, until just now.

Sure, it has all the great one-liners and in-jokes you'd expect, and Harrison Ford still manages to pull off the character believably, but the whole thing seemed flat and lacked heart. Ray Winston was wasted and slept through his role as Indy's old wartime buddy (lots of allusions to the great work the bull-whip welding hero did for OSS). Cate Blanchett was also given a lifeless script co-written by George Lucas, who after the Star Wars debacle has become the anti-Tarantino for sharp dialogue. The Russians didn't really cut it as bad guys, in the way the Nazis did, and the whole affair was lack-luster.

But none of these niggles bothered me as much as the computer special effects. I never thought I'd say this, but I really think it's time Hollywood threw out 90% of the CGI work and got back to physical SFX. The reason the first two Indiana Jones films worked was that they were incredibly visceral. You really felt you were visiting strange and exotic lands, whereas the fourth "outing" barely feels like they left the green screen studio. The stunt fight sequences were also what made the films, yet now, you practically yawn at them, knowing full-well that the "actors" are just pixels flaying around.

I really wanted to enjoy this film, and I did, to a certain extent (not as much as my kids) - but it was predictable, soulless and lacked the energy of the earlier ones (with the notable exception of the third, where the rot had already set in).

Am I cynical and jaded, or are Spielberg and Lucas just becoming lazy and coasting on past glories, rather than pushing themselves? Sadly, it seems as if the Hollywood giants like the aforementioned, Coppola, and others, have just gotten soft and fat in LA LA Land. They need to get back into the real jungle for a real adventure, rather than conjuring it up on a Mac.


Peter Plantec said...

I have to both agree and disagree with you Tim. First, Hollywood seems to have decided that VFX is a good way to make films without putting effort into story and acting. I feel that the best VFX are those you simply don't notice. Castaway for example...with Tom Hanks. I saw it and I'm an expert on VFX and still I missed most of them. They were flat out invisible.

As soon as you know it's a visual effect, it's no longer useful. I also specialize in virtual human actors and If you hated Beowulf's did I. Zemeckis hasn't got a clue about how to make virtual actors believable. but they can be quite compelling. Don't fight it Tim, keep on commenting, but virtual worlds in moves are here to stay. Let's just hope that Hollywood doesn't entirely forget about story and acting to boot.
Peter Plantec

TimTrue said...

Hi Peter,

Good points, but the reliance on VFX has been steadily increasing to the point that I saw a clip from the new Hulk movie (where he fights a helicopter) and it looked just like an Xbox game. There was no reality to it whatsoever—from the helicopter, The Hulk (natch) and the entire environment (trees, grass, sky) were completely disengaging and boring. Maybe it's a generational thing.

I agree that VFX are here to stay, but like everything it's just a tool. And tools can be used well or badly. Sadly, at the moment Hollywood is wielding it like an elephant threading a needle.