Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Brief Before Bedtime...

I'm in the guest room/library at Neil's house, settling in for the night after an easy flight, pleasant car ride, grand day and fun evening -- day one of our interview session with Neil, with dressing. Neil is, of course, an ambulatory toast, having been up for 26 hours flying back from the UK, but by far the most affable and articulate toast of 2008 thus far. He's hopefully sleeping now.

The early afternoon walk with the dog was a wakeup for all, including a visit to Neil's hives (where Neil essentially "put them to bed" for the winter) and a jaunt around the grounds that were impassable woods and brush when I was last here over a decade ago.

As for Hank Wagner and my reason for this trip, our first interview session went well; we covered some fresh ground with Neil, I think, and laid the foundation for richer plowing tomorrow. Afterwards, Lorraine, Jenn, Hank and I made the pilgrimage to the nearest digital projection theater to catch Beowulf in 3D (not an option in my home area, and a real treat).

Beowulf is the new standard for non-Pixar CGI animated features, and a fascinating new wrinkle in the pepla revival (300, Pathfinder, etc.) -- I'll post a full review when time permits, after I'm back home. They haven't quite got a consistent sense of weight and, more importantly, the genuine spark of life in the eyes of the characters, who too rarely seem to make eye contact with one another. That said, Ray Winstone's Beowulf is a convincing presence throughout, and it's a quantum leap over Final Fantasy, Polar Express and similar CGI TV series efforts over the years. I must admit, though, that the 3D Coraline preview -- Neil's upcoming animated feature directed by Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) -- was an even tastier & oddly more tantalizing slice of eye candy, in part because its stylization wasn't evocative of either live-action simulcrums or video game imagery. Still, Beowulf's alternative reality suffered few lapses keeping this viewer from steeping and often losing himself in the hyper-real realm it explores.

The definite Beowulf highlight for me was Crispin Glover's Grendel (a fresh, imaginative take on this most venerable of all monsters), with a startling opening massacre that had one family fleeing the theater with an unhappy 11-or-12-year-old son in tow, clearly wishing to stay. Be warned, if you're planning on taking younger viewers. The film was the goriest PG-13 film in over 15 years, bar none. Sure, it's animated, but it's surprisingly explicit in the onscreen mayhem department, including a plethora of injury-to-the-eye (including one critter orb ruptured from within) imagery, spurting blood splashing down on the audience, dismemberment, a disembowelment and impromptu heart surgery of saurian proportions, and lots of bemusing male nudity teases with Beowulf and a dangerously-close-to-disrobing King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) to balance out the publicized virtual-Angelina Jolie nudity as Grendel's Momster. Had this been a live-action epic, it would have earned a hard 'R' -- curiouser and curioser, the MPAA.

The 3D was a complete surprise for me, and I'm glad Neil insisted upon our seeing it in this format with the option to do so in such easy reach. The illusion works marvelously and the film was grand fun, though my eyes began to feel literally peeled by the final 20 minutes -- an oddly physical reaction, sans the usual headache induced by the red/green lens 3D or Polaroid 3D of yore, and far more effective than anything I've seen outside of an Imax.

I always stay for credits, but we all sat through the scroll to applaud Lorraine (Garland)'s onscreen credit, which completely flummoxed the usher cleaning the theater.

OK, off to bed -- have a great weekend, one and all...

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Blogger Mike Dobbs said...

This ain't's the ultimate rotoscoping conceit. It has animation elements and is a CGI creation, but it's no more animation than Sky Captain and the World of Tomorror or Sin City were.

Animation is the product of artist who take the inaminate and give it the illustion of life. Motion capture takes live action and transfers it to an animation format.

There's a lot of folks in the animation community who see this as a cheapening of the art.

But yeah I'll see it.

Blogger Viv said...

Hi, I'm also into animation, I do the technical/algorithm/computation side of animation and I'm going to have to agree with what dobbs said. Rendering already existing people isn't 'that' difficult if you have the right equipment. Making people from scratch is.

I noticed you listed Final Fantasy, but I feel as if you haven't seen Final Fantasy: Advent Children, which I still think is better than Beowulf, animation-wise. At least the characters in that movie don't have moments where they look un-dead.

Anonymous Yvonne Navarro said...

Hi Steve! Off topic, just pick up your location from Neil's post at LJ. Haven't talked to you in years -- hope things are going grandly for you!



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