National Blog Posting Month Day 19
I don’t do a lot of movie reviews here on Foma because not only am I not very good at it, there are a lot of people that do it very well. I saw Beowulf this weekend up in Pennsylvania and the Stephen Hunter review in the Washington Post is very good. There is no way I could match a line like "Ma is Angelina Jolie as interpreted by someone who apprenticed by doing airbrush portraits on custom Harley gas tanks." For a ordinary viewer’s opinion, Ivansmom at the Achenboodle sums up my opinions pretty well.
What I will discuss is the technical features of the movie. I had seen The Polar Express in 3D Imax a few years ago and was a little creeped out by the woodenness of technology. Part of my desire to see Beowulf had improved the state of the art. My other purely prurient reason was to see if it was possible to make Angelina Jolie look hotter than she does in real life.
I was tipped off to the movie over a year ago when Neil Gaiman discussed it while at Balticon. He mentioned that the motion capture software had been improved by at least two generations. In particular he mentioned the eyes. The eyes in Polar Express were cold and soulless and made all the characters look like zombies. In Beowulf, not only are the eyes much, much better, they actually do some extreme close-ups just to show off the verisimilitude.
Hair and skin
Hair and skin are the bane of CG movies. That is why Pixar tends to stick to things like toys and cars that are supposed to be shiny and smooth. In Beowulf, the male characters tend to be suitably craggy and hirsute. The female characters and the queen in particular still suffer from a botoxed Princess Fiona sheen.
The real irony of motion capture animation is that it tries to be realistic, but the point of animation is to do things that can’t be filmed in real life. In Spiderman 2, anytime Spidey had his hood on, I feared I was watching a cartoon instead of an actor. And it looked it. In Beowulf, the level of detail keeps shifting back and forth.
The alleged advantage of motion capture and rotoscoping is too add a level of realism pure animation can’t attain. Even with the finest actors lit up like a Christmas tree and Tron, they can’t capture everything. Every now and then a “character” will jerk around like an extra in a Thunderbirds puppet movie.
Three-D is and always will be a gimmick. The scriptwriters of anything 3D always think of as many was as possible of having things point or fly at the viewer. This always breaks the forth wall and disrupts the suspension of disbelief.
Depth of Field
A problem related to 3D imaging is that the “camera” seems to have an infinite depth of field. This ends up making the screen have a layered look that reminds me of prismatic books I used to read as a kid. When the background is as sharp as the spear pointing out over the audience, the emphasis becomes fuzzy instead of the scenery.
The Imax screen has its own issues. The screen is so huge, it’s hard to see everything going on at once. In particular, things in the foreground at the edge of the screen catch the eye. At times the glasses (especially, if like me, you have to wear them over regular glasses) don’t cover enough of the field of vision to avoid fuzzy artifacts at the edge of you field of vision.
I really liked Beowulf, especially the meta-epic subtext that questions the entire mythmaking process. The motion capture technology is really maturing fast. Animation lets directors tidy up even Angelina Jolie’s few flaws. Her fluid gold skin is really no more revealing than Mystique in the X-Men movies, which is to say she is easy on the eyes. And the eyes are the windows to the soul.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Will CGI ever get so good it will replace real actors?