Okay, well, I viewed the first stage of the VFX Oscar Bake-Off, which consists of 15 movies being considered for the Oscar nominee contenders for Best Visual Effects, the only category I ever pay attention to, because the people who nominate the films for Oscars know what they're talking about. However, the ones who determine the winners mainly consist of old studio execs and liberal politicians who make themselves seem more profound by rooting for the underdog. Needless to say, these people know very little of the technical innovations put into the movie.
Anyway, in the first phase, this year, there are 15 movies selected for consideration, with their respective special effects companies, they are:
- Beowulf (Sony Pictures Imageworks)
- The Bourne Ultimatum (Double Negative)
- Evan Almighty (Industrial Light & Magic, Rhythm & Hues, CafeFX, et al)
- The Golden Compass (Rhythm & Hues, Framestore-CFC, Cinesite, Digital Domain, et al)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (The Moving Picture Company, Double Negative, Industrial Light & Magic, Framestore-CFC, et al)
- I Am Legend (Sony Pictures Imageworks)
- Live Free or Die Hard (The Orphanage, Digital Dimension, et al)
- National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Asylum, Industrial Light & Magic)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Domain, et al)
- Ratatouille (Pixar Animation Studios)
- Spider-Man 3 (Sony Pictures Imageworks)
- Sunshine (The Moving Picture Company)
- 300 (Hybride Technologies, Animal Logic, Hydraulx, et al)
- Transformers (Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Domain)
- The Water Horse (Weta Digital Ltd.)
Interestingly, this is the first year where fully computer animated movies have been featured for consideration in this category, those films are Beowulf and Ratatouille. I feel a little iffy about this move, but I knew it was inevitable.
There is a certain magic when CGI is seamlessly intertwined with reality, and this is something full-length computer-animated movies do not have. Still, however, computer-animated movies such as Beowulf (this one can actually almost get away with being live action due to the technology it uses) and Ratatouille do have the same sorts of digital artists as any movie. So let's just say I'm having trouble making up my mind about my feelings of this change.
So there are 15 movies selected as of now, and the list will be narrowed down to 7 in the next Bake-Off which is on January 3, 2008, followed by a narrowing of 3 final nominees on January 16.
Now, I will go through each 15 movies and give my brief opinions. However, I have not seen some of them, namely National Treasure 2 and The Water Horse for obvious reasons. I also haven't seen Ratatouille or Sunshine, the latter due to its limited release. But anyway:
Beowulf -- All I can say is this Robert Zemeckis film was a major disappointment. I was not impressed with its visual animation and I felt the technology was used more strongly in The Polar Express, also directed by Zemeckis. The only redeeming quality of this film was Alan Silvestri's epic and superior musical score, which seamlessly marries the aura of Nordic pride.
The Bourne Ultimatum -- A strong conclusion to the Bourne trilogy has a lot of invisible effects work, such as digital stunt doubles, matte paintings, and subtle particle effects to enhance the action. However, this isn't really anything we haven't seen before.
Evan Almighty -- The follow-up to 2003's Bruce Almighty was horribly underrated despite Jim Carrey's absence. Industrial Light & Magic handled the task of creating a midday flood, complete with miniature work by Kerner Optical (a model shop made up of former ILM modelmakers). Rhythm & Hues handled digital and blue-screened animals, while CafeFX handled a seamless scene involving fish in an aquarium latching onto the title character. Lots of impressive work here. Evan Almighty gets my nod for best digital water of the year (last year, that honor was taken by Poseidon.)
The Golden Compass -- Yet another supposedly anti-Christian fantasy that will later be looked at as harmless fun like Harry Potter. Talking animals and fantastical cityscapes punctuate this film based on the first of three books by Phillip Pullman. While the fantastical cityscapes were highly imaginative feasts for the eyes, I can't say I was nearly as impressed by the talking animals, particularly the polar bears, who seemed too much like the Coca-Cola bears.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- The fifth installment of the seven-part series, Order was considerably underwhelming in terms of the awe and wonder characterizing the series. While the previous two films (Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire) shared the characteristics of being less gothic, Order had relatively little to be impressed by, period, aside from the battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort, which showcases impressive digital water and some amazing concepts. However, Double Negative's digital "Grawp" character was rather underwhelming, Framestore-CFC's digital "Kreacher" house elf character was underwhelming compared to "Dobby" in Chamber of Secrets, created by Industrial Light & Magic, who returned in this film to create the Dementors, the Thestrals, and the broomstick flight through London, none of which were anything special in today's world.
I Am Legend -- I saw this last night. While I commend Will Smith for not turning the film into a comedy like he did with I, Robot, I Am Legend was one of those films that needed Will Smith's "Hell no" one-liners, for it ended up being a silly idea that took itself too seriously. Effects-wise, the film is quite impressive and subtle...except for the mutants, which were quite mundane. However, there is a lot of invisible effects work of a deserted New York City. Still, I think the invisible effects work will be overlooked.
Live Free or Die Hard -- The fourth Die Hard movie is the best of the film series' sequels. Like Bourne, there is a lot of effects work that will go missed, but also like Bourne, it's nothing terribly mindblowing.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets -- Haven't seen the movie, but will tomorrow.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End -- Now after how amazed I was with the digital Davy Jones character in Pirates 2, created by Industrial Light & Magic, I couldn't help but be underwhelmed by the surprisingly unimaginative concepts of the third installment. Although the technical application of these concepts remains admirable. Still, nothing special.
Ratatouille -- Have not seen this movie and do not intend to.
Spider-Man 3 -- As a movie, Spider-Man 3 is a few steps below its predecessors, but as a special effects extravaganza, it is the most impressive. The digital creation of both heroes and villains alike look and move much more natural than ever. Thrilling digitized action scenes abroad, but the screenwriters of this film did not do their job nearly as well as the effects people.
Sunshine -- Have not seen this film due to its limited release.
300 -- Frank Miller's historical and stylistic bloodbath has a unique artistic style that, for some reason, did not attend to my own creative spark the way similar movies have done, such as Sin City and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, both of which also emphasized an entirely blue/green screen shoot. Computer intervention remains well-crafted, but 300 is not really anything new anymore.
Transformers -- Michael Bay haters should forget the fact this is a Michael Bay movie. Transformers has the most perfect blend of action and humor of any modern movie. For that, at least, this film really deserves to be treated as a masterpiece. Transformers is also the only movie of the year to impress me beyond words. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, et all are all the Davy Jones of 2007. The attention to detail put into all the CG characters is hypnotic. Anyone who claims Transformers was not an impressive technological feat should not be taken seriously and should also go to Hell.
The Water Horse -- Have not seen the movie, only the trailers. Based on the trailers, though, I am very underwhelmed. It seems like an afterthought to put the digital dragon model from Eragon to better use as the Loch Ness monster.