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Posts tagged “Traditional Effects

Jurassic World: a few thoughts amidst a sea of rumor

Jurassic Park, 1993

Jurassic Park, 1993

During the summer months in 1993, in the small village of Roanoke, Virginia, my father, mother, sister, and I had trekked 10 miles to Valley View Movie Theater to watch the latest Spielberg film, Jurassic Park. AND IT WAS AMAZING. Ever since, I’ve been in love with this movie and have dutifully watched its progression over the years (decades…ugh..). Jurassic Park is a true classic. How so? Sure, the film strays away from Michael Crichton’s novelization, but lets be honest here, who actually read the book before the movie? Not many, I’d wager. Despite its wandering from its predecessor, the movie has lasted the test of time in that its effects are not completely ridiculous….at least not yet. The movie was also well casted with amazing actors and actresses, such as: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Samuel mother-f***ing Jackson, Wayne Knight, BD Wong, and the Goldblum. Jurassic Park is also a true classic because it was the first movie to give audiences and dino-fanatics alike an actually well put together production without using traditional claymation (50’s-60’s era); instead, Jurassic Park used a combination of to-scale puppetry and CGI. And considering this is a 90’s movie and just about all 90’s movies with CGI look damn ridiculous by now, and Jurassic Park has yet to cross that threshold, also says a lot about the production value and how good sci-fi can be done with a golden ration between traditional effects and CGI.  If you’ve read a post or two here, you’ve no doubt heard me rant a time or two regarding the issue with CGI, so…i’ll take a step back from my soap box for now. Another thing that makes Jurassic Park even more amazing (if that’s possible!!) is that its a movie my wife and I both love!! This alone sales me on the classiness of Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park has enjoyed three films with its title over the years…..some not as good as the others, some not bad. Now a forth installment called Jurassic World has begun filming and the rumors have been spinning over what this new dino movie will be about. Here is what Geek Tyrant has discovered regarding the new Jurassic Park:

Some new SPOILER filled details from Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World have emerged thanks to our friends at JoBlo.com. I’m really looking forward to being reintroduced to this world that Steven Spielberg created in 1993. Not a lot has been officially revealed about this newest film, but there’s some really interesting and cool info for you that you should check out if you’re excited for the movie. Of course, the info may contain spoilers, but it’s not confirmed, so is it really a spoiler? I’m treating all of this as rumor for now, but I hope some of it turns out to be true. Here we go!

The Park:

Jurassic World will be a real running theme park that comes complete with a monorail that was teased in some previously released concept art. And no theme park would be complete without shops, rides, and shows. The report goes on to say that it’s the most popular family destination. People have to take a high speed shuttle boat from Florida to get there, and some of the activities include a dinosaur petting zoo (because that’s a good idea!), as well as a hologram info center where you can learn about the methods they are using to create dinosaurs. I’m sure it’s a much better version than the one made in ’93. The park also has a ride called the “Gyrosphere” that allows riders to travel through the park and get up close to some of the dinosaurs.

How Things Go Wrong:

All good things must come to an end at the successful park, and the executives start to come up with new ways to keep customers coming back. One of the ways they do that is by splicing Dino DNA with other dino species. This doesn’t turn out too well for them, especially when they splice together the DNA of a T-Rex, raptor, snake, and cuttlefish. This creates an insane new dino that ends up breaking free and terrorizing the park. One of the dinosaur consultants on the film, Jack Horner, teased the beast in a previous interview, saying that we’ll want to “keep the lights on” after seeing it.

Dino Fighting:

It should come as no surprise that we will see dinosaurs fighting each other in the film, but the site’s source explains that there will be “lots of dino on dino fighting, as some of the dinos are ‘good guys’ that are trained by Chris Pratt’s character.” The source goes on to say that the raptors and T-Rexes are among the “trained” good dinosaurs. As for the evil dino they created, it’s described as having “instant camouflage abilities, like the cuttlefish, so he blends into the background, is smart like the velociraptor, uses his jaw like a snake, and can terrorize like the T-Rex.” That sounds like a pretty hardcore beast.There’s some really great stuff here that the filmmakers have to play with if it’s true. I just can’t wait to see what this new breed of dinosaur will look like! It sounds like it will be pretty terrifying, though. As a long time fan of this franchise, I’ve been feeling really good about what I’m hearing about the movie so far. What do you think of the details that have been revealed here?

The movie is currently shooting with stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins, Judy Greer, and Nick Robinson. It’s set to be released in theaters on June 12th, 2015.

So…what do you think? Personally, I’m having a few concerns. However, having a fully functional theme park sounds pretty amazing, as we only got a test drive back in 1993 with the first installment. And having things go wrong…well…it wouldn’t be a “Jurassic Park” without something going wrong. Here is where it gets weird…the spliced Dino (at first) sounds iffy. But first, lets consider  the theme of Jurassic Park, especially in the first film, which is basically taking the then current pop science of mapping DNA and cloning and throwing in the inevitable human calamity to create the classic “science gone wrong” motif. Considering the classic science gone awry motif, splicing doesn’t sound that far off base in terms of what these movies and the books have always been about. In 2014, DNA mapping and cloning isn’t as mysterious as it once way, mutation and genetic splicing on the other hand, does (while also maintaining a classic story trope in itself, see Island of Doctor Moreau). Plus, do we really need another “rescue from the island” story? Heavens no! The last two films, Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 have beaten that horse into mash; its time for something new.

So…while some of the rumor regarding Jurassic World seems iffy and makes us Jurassic Park nerds a little nervous, lets reserve judgement until we actually get to watch this thing, or at least until a decent trailer comes out. Until then, my friends, I leave you with this little gem to take you back to 1993 and a very fond childhood memory:

 


The Thing (1982): 32 year review

The Thing, 1982.

The Thing, 1982.

When asked what my favorite scary movie is, the geek in me knows there are just too many gory and spooky films to choose from. There are bunches and bunches of awesome horror out there, but,for better or worse, John Carpenters The Thing is one of my all time favorite horror movies. There are few horror movies that I can watch over and over without ever getting bored. Some horror movies are seasonal, such as: Friday the 13th is typically reserved for Friday the 13th’s or anytime during the summer, Halloween is reserved for Halloween, Gremlins is during Christmas, and so on. There is something about The Thing that keeps me coming back. From the opening scene with the space craft crashing into the earths atmosphere, to the seemingly innocent snow dog running from a deranged Norge gunman, and the discovery of the still smoldering Norwegian base camp, the setup reels you in and doesn’t let go.  As we watch these scenes progress, we’re given little nibbles of foreshadowing (death, isolation, and an otherworldly discovery in the Arctic tundra) and the ever present somber tone, beautifully captured in the movies main musical score (some of Carpenters best musical scores), all this sets the pace and mood till the final conclusion.

 

Released during the summer of 1982, Carpenters take on John W Campbell’s novella, “Who goes there?” faced steep competition from other sci-fi releases, including: E.T. and Blade Runner. The Thing held the #8 spot during the summer blockbuster season and garnered some rather harsh criticism for being overtly graphic and agonizingly slow. The Thing presented a message that just was publicly receptive at the time. As George Romero has commented on the film, it was an era when we had little trust for those around us and ourselves; however, The Thing has since grown in popularity (mostly with horror geeks) and through the decades has established an impressive cult following. What Carpenter once called his “biggest regret” has now been named amongest the best in science fiction and one of the scariest movies in horror. This proves again how inconsequential box office rating are compared to how good a horror movie really is. In my eyes, The Thing could have eaten that nerd E.T. and assimilated Rick Deckard; however, apparently The Thing was a creature before its time.

Instead of going through the movie, giving away key plot develops that you could be discovering for yourself, i’ll go through the parts of the movie that impressed me the most. The Thing, as I see it, is one of the best science fiction horror films ever to grace cinema. The only other contender is Dead Space, a game which is fundamentally similar to The Thing, but hasn’t yet been made into a live action movie…not yet at least…and since we’re on the subject, who could pull off a Dead Space film other than John the master of horror Carpenter? (I know its just an internet rumor, but wouldn’t it be amazing for him to direct Dead Space?) Anyhow, this is all beside the point. Lets get back to the subject at hand. As we discussed in the opening of this review, The Thing comes at us with the perfect setup, the small little bits of information, drawing you in, forcing you to beg the question: What the heck is going on here?!? The best part is how isolated the characters are in the story are. Nothing tops old man winter to make one feel all alone!

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And isolation is a classic backdrop for any horror story. Separate you’re characters from the world and odd choices will ensue when conflict rises. The Arctic adds the feeling of  vulnerability; in contrast, a swampy humid location would typically coop stories about madness. However, The Thing isn’t so much a story about madness; its more about paranoia. Cut off from outside help characters become forced to take matters in their own hands, making isolation (or closed environments) the best way to heighten the feel of terror.

 

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As far as characters go, John Carpenter could not have picked a better actor to play anti-hero MacReady than Kurt Russel. Other than Escape from New York, Big Trouble in little China, and Star Gate, The Thing is one of my favorite movies with Kurt Russel at the helm. His portrayal as the ruffy, drunk camp pilot, with a keen leadership ability during a crises, was spot on and completely believable. The same could be said regarding the rest of the actors, including both Wilford Brimley and Keith David. Each and every character was perfectly portrayed without the cheesy need of explaining who does what. Unfortunately, many horror movies fail with simplicity. You do not need to explain every single detail; let the story explain who the characters are through their actions. Just a little something to consider whenever you write your next screenplay: less is more.

 

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Reading through some of the old reviews, the one thing that had turned most critics off in the 80’s was the very thing that made this movie a legend, the use of traditional special effects. Oh, and don’t worry, i’m not going to go on a rant here regarding CGI and traditional, but let me just say, comparing the original 1982 with the recent prequel, Carpenter’s will always be better because of his employment of hand crafted monsters, instead of computer simulations. For me, traditional effects are able to gross me out more than CGI; and its all because of the real factor, knowing somewhere out there in some back lot studio garage, these painstakingly crafted Things are still there, waiting to be rediscovered and sold in some Hollywood auction.  Call me a horror snob all you want, but can you honestly disagree that when the Norris-Thing’s head started spouting spider legs, the sound and image didn’t make you cringe? This memorable scene was an unforgettable moment in horror. Norris has a heart attack, or seems to, and poor doc Copper steps in to save his life, only to lose his…and his arms! The Norris-Thing’s transformation was the second best monster moment in the movie, topped only by the Blair-Thing at the end of the movie.

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Despite what others critics have said, the effects do not overpower the story, nor are they over done. The story, etched in paranoia, is still very potent. Well into the second day, folks at the United States National Science Institute Station 4 rapidly become suspicious of each other. The Thing, as they discover, can assimilate any biological life it comes into contact with… “It could be anyone of us…” is a phrase said once or twice around camp. Eyes dart between old friends and anyone acting or doing anything out of the ordinary is called into question.  Who is friend and who is foe? Who can I trust? As MacReady told Blair, “Trust is a hard thing to come by these days.”

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Not knowing who can be trusted magnificently adds to the feeling of isolation. Who’s got your back if the only person you can trust is yourself? In this respect, Carpenter brought out a lot from Campbell’s original novella, “Who Goes There?” Beside the Norris and Blair-Thing’s, the Bennings-Thing, with its thunderous scream, echoing out into the winter storm, was one of the creepiest moments in The Thing, and an excellent moment of paranoia. The effects were minimal here, there wasn’t much of the monster to see. The scary part was that Bennings was the first –known– member of station 4 to become absorbed by the alien. And as Garry so eloquently pointed out, “Bennings was my friend….I’ve known him for ten years.”

Though this review is without a doubt positive, that doesn’t necessarily mean the movie isn’t without its imperfections. There were a few bumps in the story that threw me off. The biggest one was when MacReady and company discover, or assume, the Things plan to go back into hibernation as it waits for the spring rescue crew to arrive. To this, MacReady plans to “heat things up around here,” which I wasn’t sure if he meant to burn the Thing or to heat up the camp so that it couldn’t go into hibernation…see where i’m going? Their in the antarctic, the fire will eventually extinguish and the Thing will still be able to hibernate. However, if you’ve been following our heroes development through the movie, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that MacReady isn’t really thinking straight, he’s sleep deprived and extremely paranoid. Endings can be the hardest part in a story to pull off without upsetting the audience. Everyone has an opinion. And though MacReady’s plan didn’t quite make sense to me, it was still an excellent and believable ending. They know their going to die, they just want to ensure the Thing dies with them.

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The bottom line: The Thing is obviously a favorite. My review is glowing. The Thing is a favorite not only because of my love for the 1980’s or John Carpenter flicks, but because of its sheer intensity as a horror movie in general. Every aspect of this movie screams horror: a movie thriving on classic macabre motifs (isolation and paranoia) to deliver something uniquely chilling, which is: Who can we trust? If you are a true horror fan, of any caliber, you really need to watch this movie. Some folks may argue and say Halloween or Prince of Darkness was Carpenter’s best work; however, it is my humble opinion that The Thing was Carpenter’s best. The only hiccup in the story, for me at least — other folks may spend countless hours trying figure out and make sense of every single thing said, which is pointless — was MacReady’s plan at the end of the movie. However, sometimes these imperfections can actually make the story more believable and besides, isn’t the point of horror for its characters to make dumb decisions that do not always work out in the end and they have to do something different to save the day or fail doing so because of said dumb decision? Sure, The Thing wasn’t a box office success, but who cares? Since the 80’s, The Thing has become enshrined as one of the most important horror-sci-fi films with one of the longest lasting shelf life any film can hope to accomplish, which is to say, timeless. And regardless of what some critics are saying, The Thing was not a remake of the 1951 classic film The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s take was actually more true to the original novella that spawned both movies. However, Carpenter being the classy guy that he is, payed tribute to Christian Nyby’s film with a few added easter eggs.

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So, however you can, either buying it, renting it, borrowing it, or streaming it, watch this movie! You will NOT be disappointed.


Why we secretly like CGI

You’ve no doubt heard me rant once or twice regarding the use of CGI (computer generated imagery), especially in horror films. Traditional, hand crafted effects are the things keeping me interested in watching these movies…well, that and the story. Why? Simply because the two are inseparable. You can have a golden globe worthy piece of fiction, but if you dilute the material with a thick pastry CGI topping, your film ain’t going to be worth much to audiences…..and i’m talking real people audiences, not Hollywood audiences. However, we have to face reality. Kids today have no clue what real handcrafted effects should look like. They haven’t been exposed to very much of it, unless they watch a bunch of old school movies from the 70’s and 80’s. There is a good chance my own daughter will be clueless to the awesome significance behind traditional special effects.

So here I am again, ranting about how much better old school is over CGI. There’s plenty of reason to rant. Consider the CGI effects of the 90’s. Look at Spawn!!! I can still remember going to the theaters and thinking how awesome all those computerized effects were, how cool Spawn looked, but taking another glance at the same film today and questions begin to surface as to my taste in movies, as in: “Do I have taste?” CGI technology does gets better with time, but this makes all the old CGI look like crap. And that’s the big difference with traditional methods. True, tech also improves for hand crafted gore, but those 70’s and 80’s effects, done right, looked amazing yesterday, look amazing today, and will still look amazing tomorrow. Consider, The Thing, zero CGI and 31 years down the road, the movie is still legendary.

But lets be honest. As a kid, this debate mattered little. We simply wanted to see junk up on screen kicking butt and looking awesome. As an adult and amateur horror critic,  I can nit-pick the details and be a little snobbish in my taste for visuals, but in reality, deep down, the kid in me is still there, watching the same movies adult me is watching, the difference is that the hidden child in me is only thinking about how cool it is to see crazy effects no hand crafted material could pull off. And that’s the secret. Consider, The Avengers. These mega superhero movies could not be done with traditional effects. And we can sit in front of our computers and tare these newer films apart for their overuse of CGI, but when the article is finished and we think no ones watching, we put in movies like the Avengers or Ironman or Man of Steel and hop up and down in our chairs all giddy for these amazing action sequences that blow our best action figure scenarios out of the water.

Yes, as an amateur horror critic and long time fan, i will forever plead for a return to traditional methods with effects.  But, with that being said, I cannot simply knock CGI off the table. The Matrix, for me at least, proved that what I had been imagining since I was a boy, sitting in my room creating these elaborate fight scenes with my action figures could be done on the big screen. Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity are the embodiment of countless hours of smashing He-Man into Skeletor, with Wolverine (in the brown uniform) sailing through the air in slow motion martial arts, bicycle kicking Shredder into oblivion. Are directors overusing CGI graphics? Heck yes. But we critics need to be a little honest with ourselves and admit that despite being overused, if done right, CGI can make our fanboy dreams come true. My last point: consider Pacific Rim….nuff said.

80's action toys


CGI Verses Traditional Special Effects

After talking with a co-worker regarding The Conjuring’s recent box office success, it left me pondering. How in the world did The Conjuring beat out the other contenders? The giant robot monster killers, the ghost cops (R.I.P.D.), zombie ants (yes-yes, they don’t run as fast in the actual movie), the has been comedians posing as suburban families, grumpy old men assassins, and the triple threat family friendly cartoons? Well, truthfully some of these above mentioned movies have been out for some time. Others, such as R.I.P.D., surprisingly fell face first opening weekend. While Pacific Rim, despite awesome reviews, has slowly eked out a decent profit of $68m (thus far), though one might expect more from such a monstrous film (forgive the pun). World War Z is still squeezing out green bills from latecomers with a grand total (again, thus far) of $186m domestically. I’m not even going to touch Grown Ups 2 or Red 2, it would take too much time and it would be too sad.

These above mentioned films must be measured against the budget in which they were made. Consider World War Z, again, and its $186m local. Sounds pretty nice, right? Well, it took about $190m to produce the film. Not really much profit there. And then The Conjuring comes in and blows every one of them out of the water with a $41m opening; working off a single million production budget! Booya baby! And just how did this micro-budget movie succeed? Well, for starters, in horror movies, traditional special effects trumps CGI any day of the week. As it should! And you know what? The Conjuring proves how old school  can put a whopping on any of those would be summer blockbusters.

Consider zombies. When it comes to zombie movies, you should never use CGI, and if you think you have to, use sparingly. George A. Romero, in his original “dead” trilogy, you’ll find the best examples for how to make a good zombie film. Low budget, high quality, simply by relying on excellent story telling and special effects artists, such as Tom Savini. Now, i’m going to mention some of Romero’s more recent additions…even though I really don’t want to. I want to remember the Romero of the 70’s and 80’s. However, in the best example why you should use traditional, we find the best example why not to. Land of the Dead (2005) was, in all intents and purposes, an awesome movie and should be considered as part of the Romero lexicon. However, with the good comes the bad: in Land of the Dead, George decided to go with more CGI than traditional effects for all those memorable zombie kills we’ve grown to love.

George A. Romero is still, in my humble opinion, an awesome director and remains forever as the godfather of modern zombies. His “dead” flicks were legendary because of what boils down to two things: 1. the story (sure, zombie movies have zombies, but the story is about the people) and 2. traditional special effects. George placed guys like Savini up on pedestals, as they so rightly deserved. Horror movies are about the story, mainly; while special effects help emphasize said story and nothing more, though they can be just as unforgettable. After Land of the Dead and then later, the even sadder, Survival of the Dead released and even more CGI was added, many long time fans became depressed and dejected. I love Romero films, it was honestly sad to see the guy who made Dawn of the Dead make something as terrible as Survival of the Dead. Thankfully, old George bounced back with the direct to DVD amazingness, Diary of the Dead.

CGI has its place. Both science fiction and fantasy benefit from the advancement of special effects. But keep your stinking programs away from my horror! Insidious, Evil Dead, Innkeepers, Saw, Mama, The Conjuring, and so many others are proving how audiences feel regarding how much better traditional special effects are in horror movies. And consider, as my last will and testament regarding this issue of CGI verses old school: John Carpenters, The Thing (1982). One of the reasons why The Thing is still one of my all time favorite horror movies is because of how Carpenter used old school special effects. The movie was terrifying because of its story and concept. The effects simply added to the fear, instead of dominating the entire film. If you’ve seen the film you’ll know how gruesome some of the scenes are, but the real joy is watching these guys go crazy with paranoia. The prequel that released a few years back, telling the story of the lost Norwegian crew couldn’t muster the hipe of Carpenters now 31 year old classic. Why? Well, for me at least, the story was solid, the acting was good…but the damn CGI threw it all off. If they had gone old school, the prequel The Thing would have been…almost…closer to being as good as Carpenters, marginally.

Then again, this could all be simply the rant of someone completely transfixed on nostalgic memories from the 70’s and 80’s of horror. Many of you may have strong counter-opinions. And you know what? I want to hear them. Comment below if you’ve got something to say regarding the battle between CGI and traditional effects. Lets hear you’re voice!