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A Christmas Carol (2009)

tn_christmascarolI guess I got a nuanced view on these Robert Zemeckis “mo-cap” movies. I think he’s kind of delusional if he really thinks this is the future of movies, and I was complaining about the creepiness of attempted realism in POLAR EXPRESS (and earlier in FINAL FANTASY) long before it was a common complaint with the name “uncanny valley.” When it comes to being creeped out by dead-eyed computer animation, I’m NWA and mainstream critics are Ja Rule or somebody.

On the other hand, I kind of love POLAR EXPRESS and BEOWULF and paid to see both of them twice in the theater. Never on DVD, but I’d gladly go back to see either if they were re-released in 3-D again. I love the strong atmosphere of these worlds that Zemeckis creates, and the way he moves the camera around them. I guess here he’s God and the only way He knows to show us things is through His perspective, so we can float through every crack or groove on a wall or hover high into the sky looking down on the settings and characters like they’re ants in our ant farm.

mp_christmascarolIn the case of POLAR EXPRESS some of its flaws actually added to my enjoyment – it’s got kind of a spooky WILLY WONKA vibe anyway so I got an unintended haunted house kick out of the creepy, glass-eyed look of some of the characters. That doesn’t make up for the cameo by the Steven Tyler elf or the horrible song the kids sing on the back of the train, but still. I gotta admit I enjoyed the movie. And BEOWULF, I realized the second time watching it, actually has a real smart script to take us through its bloody, morally ambiguous tale of rollicking 3-D monster-fighting, demon-fucking adventure. Plus I have a strong personal belief that any 3-D movie where the hero bursts through a man-sized sea serpent eyeball while puffing out his chest and shouting his own name is a worthwhile artistic endeavor. That more than makes up for his hair looking like a doll’s and some of his friends not seeming to know how to make eye contact.

So now I find myself in a weird place because I’m seeing reviews of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and wondering what these people are talking about – it seems like they never noticed the flaws of the motion capture before, just now figured it out and are trying to throw all the sins of those previous movies onto this new, improved one. I guess it’s just me and good old positive Roger Ebert here, but without reservations I would say this is a genuinely good movie. It has what I liked so much about those other two while mostly wiping out the problems. Zemeckis finally found a balance with his characters – they look more detailed than, say, Pixar’s elegant designs, but they exaggerate reality instead of trying to mimic it. Scrooge, for example, has an impossibly long nose and chin like a caricature, and a hunched back that tapers into an unhealthily slim waist. Then if you look closely you can also see the blemishes on his skin and the peach fuzz on his nose (with one hair a little longer than the rest). It’s fitting that this was released by Disney, because what these characters look like is animatronics at Disneyland. I don’t see you pricks going after the Pirates of the Caribbean calling them lifeless zombies (and if you do I better not catch you).

Jim Carrey plays Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man who hates Christmas. After the death of his long-time business partner Jacob Marley, Scrooge becomes nah I’m just fuckin with you obviously you know what this movie is about. There have been over ten thousand previous versions of this story on film, and a bunch of them are good. SCROOGE starring Alastair Sim is probly the best I’ve seen, although I think Bill Murray’s version in SCROOGED might have the most convincing transformation at the end (SPOILER). What makes Zemeckis’s version unique is that this weird ass mo-cap medium actually does bring you into the story in a way that hasn’t ever been done before – it embraces the satirical exaggeration of the story in a visual sense, but also makes it feel like a real place, like you’re really there.

Scrooge is such an icon that, like Mickey Mouse we get so used to him we forget to look at him sometimes. But when it comes down to it he’s not supposed to seem like a real guy you would know, he’s completely absurd (think of the scene where the guys come asking for donations for the poor and he talks about his love of prisons). So to exaggerate him visually is in a way more appropriate than a real guy.

But these cartoonified people are grounded in a reality. The way Zemeckis uses 3-D doesn’t so much shoot things out of the screen at you as pull you into the room with the characters. In the scene where Cratchit shivers at his desk trying to warm himself from a single candle I almost expected to see my cold breath in the air.

At the same time, I think A CHRISTMAS CAROL makes a stronger argument for this “performance capture” notion than the other two did. I got a laugh from BEOWULF’s Anthony Hopkins character, who just looked like an unnatural Anthony Hopkins. Why not just use live action for that? And with POLAR EXPRESS I don’t see why it couldn’t have been animated by animators. But in this case it’s a movie that follows the tradition of letting different actors (George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, Michael Caine, Mr. Magoo) perform their interpretation of the character, but with an actor who wouldn’t be able to do it when limited to the powers of his own flesh and bones. Carrey is real good as Scrooge, but I don’t think I’d buy him doing it under a bunch of makeup. And Gary Oldman’s Bob Cratchit is much shorter than he is in real life (is Tiny Tim’s problem genetic?) but not as short as he was in TIPPY TOES. The magic of mo-cap!

I’ve read some complaints that some of the scenes in the movie remind people of a theme park ride. I don’t get that one. To me that’s part of what makes the movie fun and unique and worth paying the two extra bucks for the 3-D glasses. The story involves ghosts flying Scrooge around to show him things, you’re telling me Zemeckis shouldn’t make those scenes thrilling and cool? I gotta disagree. And I can’t afford to go to Disneyland every year, I’m not gonna complain if they bring it to me. Some of the ghosts reminded me of The Haunted Mansion, and that’s a compliment.

I mean it’s not like this is SYRIANA or something. It’s a traditional Christmas Eve ghost story, it makes sense to be swooping around. Just because we’re used to versions based around the limitations of the stage doesn’t mean it’s wrong to present it a little differently to take advantage of a different medium.

Other than the medium, though, it’s a fairly traditional adaptation of the story. The ghosts are a little spookier than in some versions, especially Jacob Marley, whose jaw comes unhinged during the conversation (an embarrassing thing to happen to a ghost). It’s fair to say that they don’t have enough scenes with Tiny Tim to fully develop that part of the story, but I didn’t have a big problem with that since we already know what his deal is.

While some people criticize it for telling the story slightly different from usual, others are down on even telling the story at all, saying we don’t need another version of A Christmas Carol. Well, we don’t need to eat sweet potatoes either, but I’m still gonna do it. This reminds me of our recent discussion of the PSYCHO remake and the debate about re-telling stories. I think A Christmas Carol is an example of a story so good that I like to see it told in different ways by different people every year. In my opinion it holds up. I guess it’s different from a remake because it started as a story on paper, so we can pick and choose which actors and images to associate with it and which tellings of the story are our favorites. Personally, I think this is a good one to add to the library. I might start thinking of some of these images when I think of the story, other people might not, and the story will live on.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 16th, 2009 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Family, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

100 Responses to “A Christmas Carol (2009)”

  1. caruso_stalker217

    November 16th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Personally, as much as I love SCROOGED, I thought Murray’s transformation at the end was complete bullshit. So, he finds himself in a coffin and he’s about to be cremated and suddenly he decides to be a good person? Because he’s gonna die some day? That’s not the point. The whole point is that when he’s dead EVERYBODY’S HAPPY. They couldn’t wait for the son of a bitch to croak. But in the funeral scene or whatever his brother looks all somber and shit. Should’ve shown him tap-dancing on the coffin or something.

    I still think the Muppet’s did it the best.

  2. ” The whole point is that when he’s dead EVERYBODY’S HAPPY. ”

    Reminds me of that recent Cracked.com article where a guy fakes his death because he wants to see how many would come to funeral. And NOBODY comes. Opps.

    My favorite version might be the Scott one* because it kinda highlights that the original story was meant by Dickens as pure propaganda to show how bad the class inequalities were in Victorian England. Or basically, make wealthy people feel bad for being rich for you can’t take your money (i.e. your identity) to the grave.

    *=Though I never saw SCROOGE.

  3. I don’t know Vern, I can see what you’re saying about why the story holds up being told over and over again, but it still seems like a waste of the technology and actors. Zemeckis could be creating entire universes and landscapes unseen before, and instead he’s just cycling through a high school reading list.

  4. Brendan – you might say that about this, but BEOWULF was a very imaginative interpretation of the poem, not just a straight adaptation. It was actually written as a live action movie for Roger Avary to direct, but he never got it off the ground.

    Also I’m curious to see what the fuck Zemeckis does with YELLOW SUBMARINE.

  5. caruso_stalker217

    November 16th, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Ah, God. I put an apostrophe in “muppets.” I feel like such an asshole.

  6. If nothing else, I like the way that Zemeckis has used the motion capture format to untether his camera from reality. He can change the framing of the scenes/actors after the fact, can pull off all sorts of impossible shots, can move his camera with a precision impossible in real life. It’s clearly been very freeing to him creatively, and although I’d love to see him go back and shoot a live action movie some day soon, I’ve been pretty excited by his digital work so far.

  7. Vern — terrific review, man. I swear, there is not a more thoughtful and insightful reviewer out there than I’m aware of. I personally have no use whatsoever for motion-capture and couldn’t imagine how this version of CAROL, which from the previews looks empty, cartoonish and frantic was anything but a bad idea. But reading your review, I can honestly say that you make a compelling enough argument for me to give it a chance.

    Mostly my issue with mo-cap stuff is that it seems to occupy the worst world between animation and live action, offering neither the nuance of a human performance or the flexibility of a stylized animation. The uncanny valley business doesn’t really bug me all that much, but its just impossible to escape a sense of how unnecessary it is to do it this way. I can’t understand why Zemeckis likes this technology so much. You make a good argument about Carrey and Scrooge, but mostly I just don’t really get it. Your idea about the cartoony people in a more real world (than cartoons) is insightful and interesting but I’m just not sure how many stories you’d want to apply that principal to. In theory, doing that to BEOWULF kind of makes sense too, in wanting to exaggerate the larger-than-life nature of the characters… but in practice I felt it kind of diminished them, losing the physical prescence and sense of spontanaity and real interaction that a real human would bring. BEOWFUL was fun enough, but I have to admit I thought that despite a pretty sharp script it came off as kind of shallow and disposable, and I think this had a lot to do with look of the film and characters.

    So my question is, having seen this, do you now think this technology really is going to be the future, or is it just a curiosity? Can you think of other things which would benefit from being entirely mo-capped? Would you watch a DIE HARD with a digital Bruce or a new Seagal flick with Seagal digitally returned to his early-90s powers? Would it enhance these or merely offer another way of telling a story? What kinds of stories is it good for, what does it detract from?

  8. My complaints aren’t with making these stories into movies (OK, Christman Carol is kind of unnecessary but you covered it) but with him using the motion capture technique on stories that don’t need it, and doing it with a payoff that undermines the entire point of the technology. It’s an interesting idea to have Tom Hanks play all the different characters in the movie, but then he makes every single one of them LOOK like Tom Hanks. Same thing with Beowulf, where every character looked like the actor, except for Ray Winstone, who they turned into He-Man, at least until the movie jumped ahead a couple decades, at which point, yep, he went back to looking EXACTLY like Winstone.

    And the apparent trade-off (the 3D, whooshy camera moves) for me doesn’t seem so unobtainable with actual human beings. I mean, Peter Jackson did similar stuff with LOTR, Sam Raimi was doing it with the Spider-Man movies, zipping around buildings and around cars, shit, Gore Verbinski did it with that giant maelstorm in Pirates 3.

    I love the Beowulf screenplay. Neil Gaiman (aka British guy) is an absolute genius (Avary’s no slouch either) especially in the way they solved the fundamental screenplay flaw that stymied all the other film attempts. And I was also impressed by the way they wove in the themes of the emerging religions dividing the landscape, stuff that filled up the history around the poem, but that wasn’t actually in the poem itself. But for me, all that stuff is BURIED under the mo-cap. There’s no subtlety in anyone’s performance, and all that camera movement buries that cleverness and ingenuity.

    It’s especially annoying when you compare it to his other, earlier works. Movies like the Back to the Futures, and Who Framed Roger Rabbitt, he blended technical innovation with stories filled with heart and soul, with characters that you love and care about. For years now, he’s gotten better and better at the technical stuff, but his technique has so strangled the life out of the heart, only technique is left.

    I’m not angry with Zemeckis making the movies he’s made. I’m just disappointed.

  9. Alastair Sim.

    Best ever.

    For eternity.

    Also has best Marley.

    Do not question me.

  10. The best version of the Ebenezer Scrooge story was made in 1997 by David Fincher, and it was called THE GAME.

  11. I dunno Vern. I dig what you’re saying about thrilling rollercoasters and all, but this looks like an awful lot of Jim Carrey flying around hollering at the top of his lungs. It takes more than that to revive a chestnut as old as this one.

  12. Brendan,

    I have to disagree that the motion capture has killed the “heart and soul” in Zemeckis’s films. Zemeckis is one of the few filmmkaers capable of consistantly creating what I think of as movie magic, and although I didn’t think CHRISTMAS CAROL was amongst his best work, it along with POLAR EXPRESS has that kind of delight and wonder in spades. And I’m with Vern that BEOWULF has a far more clever and nuanced script that one intitally realizes. It’s also, coming from a very aggressively commercial-minded director, surprisingly dark and subversive.

    I agree that none of his motion capture films have been as great as BACK TO THE FUTURE (my all-time favorite movie) or ROGER RABBIT, but those are pretty high water marks right there. I’m not going to fault his newer films for failing to be all-time greats, because I still think they are excellent.

  13. Mr. S: Good questions. No, I don’t think mo-cap is the future at all, although it will most likely stick around as one way to do animated movies along with all the others. And in monster effects I’m sure, especially if AVATAR turns out good.

    No, I wouldn’t want to see Die Hard or Above the Law done in this way. I can’t off the top of my head think of a type of story I’d like to see done this way. I’ll have to think about it. I agree that the best thing to do is to think of specific stories where there’s a reason why this is a better way than animating or live action. The first time I ever thought mo-cap was a good idea was Michael Jackson’s GHOSTS, where he tears off his skin and dances as an animated skeleton. The rendering of the skeleton doesn’t hold up to today’s effects standards, but it’s still an incredible scene because you look at the way it dances, even the way it walks, and you know it’s MJ and not an animator imitating MJ. That’s the best use of the technology ever. (I wonder if they knew about that when they got Savion Glover to mo-cap the dancing scenes for HAPPY FEET?)

  14. I can only watch the Alastair Sim version. Tradition, don’t ya know. I used to stay up as a kid on Christmas Eve and watch it every year without fail. Good memories.

  15. I don’t quite like the idea of doing a whole film in mo-cap, yet. For certain aspects, sure – but, it needs to be meshed in with proper traditional keyframing, if only because we haven’t yet discovered how to motion capture faces or eyes correctly.

  16. My only real problem with mo-cap is that it’s just animation and I don’t really like animation, so that means that I don’t get to watch Robert Zemeckis movies anymore. I would have seen the shit out of Beowulf if it wasn’t a fucking cartoon. Sorry, guys, I know all that Pixar stuff makes you cry, but I’m just not interested in it.

  17. “Plus I have a strong personal belief that any 3-D movie where the hero bursts through a man-sized sea serpent eyeball while puffing out his chest and shouting his own name is a worthwhile artistic endeavor.”

    I’m right there with ya, man. Every time I think of Beowulf I pretty much just think of this one moment, and I smile.

  18. Dan Preswitch- see I totally disagree man. Polar Express took a lovely, simple picture book and crow-barred in needless, badly thought out messages, and tried to cover-up the obvious holes with ‘thrilling’ images and motion. But it’s completely hollow to me, a mildly amusing roller coaster that just keeps going, and going and going. Around the time he turned the fucking North Pole into a ride, I completely gave up.

    There’s so many scenes that are just completely wrong-headed and insane for me, I can’t believe they made it past the first draft. Who the hell writes a scene where a young boy has a pleasant conversation with a dirty, creepy hobo that lives on top of a train? Reminded me of that scene from IT where Eddie was chased by a hobo, a hobo that screamed “I’LL SUCK YOU DICK FOR A DIME!!” as he chased him. Then there’s the whole scene with Santa where Zemeckis uses imagery lifted directly from fucking Triumph of the Will to introduce SANTA CLAUS! And what’s with the scene with the puppets? I can’t remember it to well, but wasn’t there a scene where the kid goes into the back room and finds it full of creepy dangling puppets, whose apparent sole purpose was to be creepy dangling puppets in one scene and then never mentioned or seen again?

    To me, Polar Express isn’t a film filled with hear and soul, it’s a step or two above Jumanji or some shit like that. Both movies make the basic mistake of taking Van Allesburg’s rainy-day dream logic and trying to create some sort of ‘real world’ scenario for it. No thanks.

  19. Brendan,

    I haven’t seen POLAR EXPRESS since it first came out, and I’ve never read the children’s book. You may very well be right about everything you said in regards to the screenplay, I honestly can’t remember the story well enough to disagree with you.

    But I still have to come to the defense of the heart of the film. Speaking as a bitter, grinchy atheist who only celebrates Christmas because my girlfriend and family expects it, I have to admit to being delighted, maybe even getting a little misty, during the finale where the boy meets Santa Claus. For me, it was a truly magical moment, the kind you’re lucky to find maybe once every year or two in a new film. And overall, there was a palpable sense of joy, and of mystery, and sometimes of fear, in the film, so much more than the usual crass, cash-grab Christmas movies we get every year. I mean, to me it seems there are lightyears worth of difference between the sense of wonder that Zemeckis tries to convey in POLAR EXPRESS (and CHRISTMAS CAROL) and joyless, cynical, manufactured crap like FRED CLAUS or THE SANTA CLAUSE or whatever.

  20. I can understand why a filmmaker would prefer mo-cap after watching the Beowulf features. It seems similar to recording an album. Everyone is miced up, and they play their songs. When they go back to review in the recording booth, they’re able to pick and choose which take they like the best and trow it into the mix.

    It’s kind of the same premise here. If one actor (let’s say…John Malcovich) absolutely nails his performance but another actor (Anthony Hopkins) comes up a little flat in one take and in another Hopkins nails it but Malcovich’s isn’t as good as the first one it’s easier to take the best performances from each without having to re-shoot 800 times until both actors get it right.

    Also, since the body movements are being recorded by some infra-red type deal there’s not set “camera angle” which means once you add the characters movements into the environment you can then put the camera wherever the hell you want to.

    Needless to say this gives filmmakers an incredible amount of freedom. Unfortunately what they forget is that flaws are what sometimes give certain artistic endeavors character. Back to the music analogy – How many bands have you seen live (or a friend’s band that you’ve heard at their practice) that for reasons unexplained sound better than the CD?

    I would personally flip shit to be able to use mo-cap technology, but I couldn’t conceive forsaking live-action all together. The obstacles eliminated using mo-cap kind of takes the fun out of problem solving when making a movie. Plus when it’s live-action as oppsed to any sort of CGI, there’s a certain amount of pride that you get when a scene works knowing you just basically just did a sleight of hand trick.

    So…yeah…I guess I’m on the fence with this debate.

  21. great review Vern, I was very impressed with how good this movie turned out to be, I love the opening 3D shot of the illustration of Marley’s dead face

    I hate the overwhelming negative response this has gotten on Aint It Cool simply because it’s “mo-cap and CGI”

    my talkback name on there is The_Crimson_King in case anyone cares

  22. Dan Preswitch-Appreciated. For me though, it never for a second worked, because the theme of the whole movie is “Just Believe, Open Your Heart and Believe!” But that’s complete bullshit. The kid is just a dipshit, I mean c’mon, around the time you’re running through Santa’s factory, dodging death traps, maybe it’s time to say, “You know, maybe I was wrong to say he didn’t exist.” And it doesn’t really make sense for me, that the best way to inspire faith is to have it proven as scientific fact. If God started going door to door explaining His great plan to everyone, I feel like that would settle the debate pretty decisively. Anyway, that’s just me, I’m glad you really dug it.

  23. I’m with Caruso on this one. The Muppets did the definitive Christmas Carole for me too. Michael Caine was really great as Scrooge, and fuck, if you can give one of the best performances of your career opposite Kermit The Frog, that’s one hell of a movie. Gonzo did a really good job as Dickens keeping the thing moving.

    I actually haven’t seen a mo-cap Zemekis film yet. I saw the trailer for Beowulf and it gave me nightmares. Yet…….. I am also the one person who didn’t feel all that bothered by the couple of shots where they animated Neo in Matrix 2.

    So, I am a rock. I am an island.

  24. One Guy From Andromeda

    November 16th, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    i won’t see this as i have been bored by this story since the first time i saw it, for me it would be like suffering through a “maybe” fantastic version of a very old and tired joke. i liked beowolf well enough, even though i thought most of it looked terrible, but the story and action were engaging.
    but i just… can’t… resign myself to be okay with yellow submarine. the thought alone of seeing the reanimated corpse of john lennon walking around making puns in some fake liverpool accent after some wacky action sequence – it makes me vomit.

  25. “…for me it would be like suffering through a “maybe” fantastic version of a very old and tired joke.”

    Like, “Talk to the hand ’cause the face don’t understand”?

  26. Brendan- You better back off that anti-jumanji jive talkin right now.

  27. One Guy From Andromeda

    November 16th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    hamsline – no, not like that.

  28. I went in gunning to hate this one.

    I loathed Polar Express & thought Beowulf was one of the best examples of wasted potential in recent memory. Add to the fact that I visit a lot of animation websites, so the amount of anti-mocap propaganda was pretty high going in.

    But dammit I ended up really liking this one. I liked that he adapted a few scenes that many adaptations dodge. I also really liked that he made the ghosts/spirits scary.

    The dreaded mo-cap didn’t bother me even. It was the single reason I ended up hating Beowulf. It took a great script & great acting and imaginative directing and drained every ounce of emotion of them. That it was a constant distraction. But here, I guess because most of the characters don’t look like their actors, it didn’t bother me as much.

    The ‘pure’ animation for bits they couldn’t mo-cap were still horrendous though. But I guess not many ‘real’ animators would want to work on these things so instead they get guys who can’t animate worth shit. Since one of the goals of mo-cap animation is to get rid of animators.

    Still not as good as the Muppets version but a worthy adaptation of one of the greatest stories ever written.

    -best comment I heard on this was from a right-wing radio show host:
    “Not kid friendly at all! Each ghost has something scary about them!”

  29. Sorry man, I used to really love Jumanji, and I’m sure I could probably dredge up some nostalgia for it if I ever saw it again. But, no, I don’t think it really holds up all that well.

  30. Brendan

    No it doesn’t hold up well at all. One of the reasons is because it sucked then and it continues to do so.
    -that’s my trolling for today

    Back to Christmas Carol

    I also wanted to comment on a criticism I’ve seen/heard leveled against this movie.

    “This movie is irrelevant because Zemeckis didn’t update/modernize the story for today.”
    -paraphrase from a good number of negative reviews I’ve encountered.

    Why the fuck would you want to change anything from one of the most perfect stories ever written/told? I understand some hate it or are sick of it because of the number of adaptations and parodies or they were forced to read it in school or some shit but damn…

    Besides I think using the dreaded mo-cap is modernizing enough. Maybe if they added Miley Cyrus in it or the Jonas Brothers or some shit people would have been sufficed with it being told again. Hell why stop there, just go and adapt that Robot Chicken sketch were Hilary Duff was in a modern Disney-produced remake of Anne Frank

  31. I believe every working animator who actually says things like “the dreaded mo-cap” should be stripped of his credentials.

    So there.

  32. Brendan,

    I’ll have to watch it again, but you’re convincing me that the message of POLAR EXPRESS is muddled.

    In the spirit of brotherhood, I will also get behind your anti-JUMANJI sentiments. That movie fucking blows, it blew when I was a kid, it still blows now, and it will always blow, throughout eternity. (Sorry dieselboy)

  33. The Filmist

    I’m not an animator

  34. To be nice, I will say that I think they had their heart in the right place with the message and whatnot, they weren’t trying for some hollow cash-grab. It was a heartfelt cash-grab. At worst, I would say that if Zemeckis had been directing actual live people, he might have caught those problems, but he just got to bogged down in the technology. So as misguided as these movies are, and as infuriated as they make me, I can at least respect that he’s trying to make actual great movies, but for me at least he’s missing. I don’t begrudge anyone else for really enjoying any of these films, and I’m sure 99% of people couldn’t give a shit about the shit I care about.

  35. geoffreyjar

    Okay, animation enthusiast, if you’d prefer.

  36. “Also I’m curious to see what the fuck Zemeckis does with YELLOW SUBMARINE.”

    Vern – Oh god that’s just….why Bob why?

    With advanced technology and less narcotics around, whats the point?

    Outside of BEOWULF, everyone of Zemeckis’ total CGI pictures have been based off brand names. POLAR EXPRESS is a beloved children’s book. CHRISTMAS CAROL is well, CHRISTMAS CAROL.

    and YELLOW SUBMARINE, a remake of a pretty creative animated picture that stood out in the 1960s because without the Disney realistic-1000-cells-to-make-tail-wag method, some TV animators actually got inspired by the Beatles’ music and had adult-level sensibilities and fun with the animation format.

    At least with BEOWULF, Zemeckis did try to do something different. Didn’t work, but better to try than not fucking bother.

  37. >>a remake of a pretty creative animated picture that stood out in the 1960s because without the Disney realistic-1000-cells-to-make-tail-wag method

    I don’t know, man. By the mid-sixties, Disney was pretty heavily into the whole “let’s just trace over existing footage from a different film” thing.

  38. I was making a generalization.

  39. I think the whole Yellow Submarine ties into what I said at the very start. The guy could tell any story, create any world he wanted to, and he’d rather redo old ones. I know Moriarty writes ten or twelve columns a week about how the film industry is eating itself, and he’s got a point, but how about holding the FILMMAKERS responsible for this trend? Lucas, Spielberg, Zemeckis, these guys have arrived at a place where they have free reign over the best resources the town can possibly produce, and instead they’d rather take these new toys to chase the same shit they did twenty or thirty years ago (Spielberg being the [occasional] exception).

  40. -One last animation rant:

    Well Zemeckis says one of the reasons he is doing this is so animation can be better accepted by the mainstream and the mainstream is only interested in photo-realism.

    I always pointed at Pixar’s approval ratings and box office as proof that that is not the case. But I’ll be honest and say I was never too sure I believed that. Pixar movies have massive ad campaigns and the Disney logo… that attracts family audiences. So sure nerds & critics love them but I noticed whenever I tried to recommend say Up to a co-worker who foolishly asks what good movies I recently saw (by now they should know my taste does not align with their’s). They immediately give me the whole “I only watch mature movies for mature individuals such as myself” (aka “I’m not watching no cartoon!”)

    Yet those same people are talking about how much they want to see this.

    So maybe Zemeckis is right? What do you think?


    the “dreaded mo-cap” phrase is an inside joke with a friend and I. It’s a combination of us making fun of animation websites spelling doom and gloom for the industry because of it (it’s not) and the whole thing with us saying the motion capture technique ruined Beowulf for us.

    Bad joke is all. But it’s okay because I just now fount out I’m not a ‘real’ fan from you.
    -this is also a bad joke

    Well I guess I’m going to keep my feelings on animation to myself on these boards then. This is the second time I got into a silly spat with someone about it. Which tells me I’m doing something wrong here and should just shut the hell up.

  41. Brendan

    I agree. Peter Jackson said something very similar during the press junket for District 9. When asked about the state of the industry he said that yes the studio executives are to blame but the filmmakers are too.

    That’s why I’m glad Cameron is doing Avatar and not T5 or True Lies 2 or something.
    -Well if you want to be technical he’s chasing old shit since he wrote this script like 10 years ago…

    To show I’m not a complete defender, I’m going to hold Lucas as the prime offender. He’s self-financed and Star Wars is still making him money… so why not take (another) chance and do something new or do one of those experimental art house films he’s been talking about doing since like 1982 or something. Instead he’s given us more Star Wars & Indiana Jones.

    Moriarty wrote that wonderful piece about 10 years since Episode I and how we are no better for it because now studios are gearing more towards nerds. No matter how much nerds bitch about unoriginality all they really want is more of the same:
    typical AICN comments:
    “They need Cameron to make ”
    “Dammit Pixar we NEED an Incredible 2!”
    “Star Trek is the greatest movie ever made!”

    Moriarty has been writing wonderful pieces about world-building and the awesome tools we have today. Yet instead they are using it to make The Adventures of Tin Tin.

    -I just now wrote a whole lot words saying the same exact thing you just got through saying in a far more economical way

  42. geoffreyjar – Some people won’t bother with animation NO MATTER WHAT. Same with some folks on sci-fi, comedy, dramas, old movies*, etc.

    But overall, Pixar has from my observation a very strong brand name appeal to audiences outside of the fucking kids. Film/cinemaphile nerds, adults, and those kids who saw TOY STORY back in the day now are grown up and staying loyal.

    You know that dreaded term “Family Entertainment”? Well PIXAR actually made that term not cringe-worthy. Dreamworks Animation still does though. Because hey why bother with a story when we can have lame pop culture references? Its like FAMILY GUY but without the occassional random pseudo-offensive joke.

    *=That absolutely pisses me off.

  43. Vern and others — I mean, I don’t think anyone doubts that mo-cap is a useful technology for doing some things (MJ Skeleton dance, jawbone-challenged ghosts, stunts or characters that would be otherwise impossible, etc). What I don’t understand is using that useful bit of tech wizardry as the foundation for a whole film. If Zemeckis really wants to help mainstream audiences accept animation, why do it in a format that pretty much negates all the fun you can have with animation? The stylization, the surrealism, the exaggeration, the sense of heightened reality. Instead, its replaced by what looks to me like a kind of diminished reality; real-ish, but so obviously lacking in actual substance that its impossible to take seriously. Nothing really looks like it has weight or substance or atmosphere — its a hollow mimic of those things. Everything looks sort of real, but not really believable either.

    Maybe it’s because I’m an animation fan, but to me Zemeckis’ mo-capped trilogy don’t feel like animation, they feel like special effects. Its a whole movie of gee-wiz tech nonsense, rather than an artistic application of the tools of the trade. Vern’s review got me thinking, though, about the possibility that there’s a level of exaggeration you can put into characters and situations using this tool that you wouldn’t be able to in another medium (well, except traditional animation) and despite my extreme trepidation over this film (I despised POLAR EXPRESS, in its empty frantic banality — the exact opposite of the minimalist, surreal and poetic book) I may give it a chance just to see if I can change my mind about this medium. The way he describes it almost makes sense, and I like Zemeckis enough that I’d love to fall in love with one of his films again, or at least understand WHY he’s making these bizarre choices.

    But still — if you want to use animation to exaggerate, why not go all the way and just animate the damn thing? Draping someone else’s CG skin over a real actor seems to diminish both the performer and the animator, as far as I’ve ever seen. It looks painfully strange and labored, like you can feel Zemeckis sweating with the effort of trying to make you buy the reality of it. I appreciate the effort when someone’s leaping out a giant snakes eyeball. But when that scene is just a guy walking into a room… why bother? Just film it. Quit trying to make the CG shit photorealistic and embrace the flexible reality of animation. If you want photorealism, film on location with real actors. That’s why we have cameras. You can still woosh the camera around everywhere, through windows and walls etc if that’s your thing. It’s been easy to do for the last decade at least. It’s an effects shot — but I don’t see why the rest of the movie needs to be.

  44. And for the record, I too must admit that my heart will always be with the muppets, even if Alistair’ SCROOGE is probably the winner on technical grounds.

    The funny thing about the way Caine plays Scrooge is that right from the start, you can tell what a deeply sad man he is. He yells a little, but there’s just something about his performance that I feel like tells you right from the start that Scrooge’s bad temper is a direct result of the enormous personal pain and despair he’s carrying. When he sees the Marleys, he’s so desperate and vulnerable, like a child a few minutes away from tears. Look at his eyes, there’s a desperate panic there– but more at facing the past than looking at a ghost. When he tries to cover it up with gruff dismissal, it just makes it all the more obvious what an act he’s putting on most of the time. And as soon as he’s looking at his past, his face just instantly lights up with delight at revisiting a time before he’d ruined everything, again, in a very open, child-like way. It’s so obvious that this is the way Scrooge should have been – that good will actually comes for more naturally to him than avarice.

    Most performers as Scrooge play up his natural hostility, and play the spirits visits as a transformational experience. But Caine chooses to show us a frightened, sad little boy who pushes the world away because it’s too painful to let it come near. The spirits don’t change who he is, they remind him what he always was. I find that a very sweet and disarming way to take on the role, so here’s to you, Michael. Try and top that performance, pixels.

    Jim Henson had just died a year before filming started and I tend to imagine that Caine’s gentler take on Scrooge had something to do with Henson’s kindly subversive take on the world. Regardless, it makes it stand out of the pack to me (aside from the fact that Bob Cratchit is a puppet frog, etc). Having Gonzo in there using a lot of Dicken’s original text, insane a concept as it is, actually allows Dickens superlative grasp of language to add atmosphere and — bizarrely– class to the proceedings, which also helps it distinguish itself. Plus, a single mouse muppet has more soul than Zemecki’s armies of computer zombies. Hey, I calls em like I sees em.

    PS: Man, we’ve been talking about Muppets a lot lately on this site. Not complaining, just observing.

  45. You know what a real Muppet would say?

    “Why is that human’s hand still up my ass?”

  46. Well thanks to mo-cap that hand no longer needs to be there…

  47. some website, might have been Flick Filosopher or whatever shit…she made this crack:

    “At Zemeckis, there is this technology that creates realistic images of people and places. Its been around for awhile. Its called PHOTOGRAPHY.”

  48. Mo-cap I don’t think can really be considered animation in the traditional sense. The way it’s used is actually more akin to roto-scoping. There are artists, CGI or cartoonist that basically trace frame by frame over what has already been performed by the actors. So technically the “animation” is actual live performances.

    The unhinged jaw-bone would not have been done with motion capture technology. (Unless they found a guy that could unhinge his jaw and put little dots on it.) That would have been added in post with CGI. They use the information from the motion capture obviously but that effect I don’t believe is a direct result from mo-cap.

    With CGI movies like the Pixars and Dreamworks the models are made from scratch and the computerists actually have to animate the characters themselves. Again, with mo-cap they don’t have to animate anything, they basically just place a “skin” on the information that was captured by the infra-red thingies.

    I’m not bitching though, call it animation if you want. I’m just throwing out some F.Y.I.s.

  49. I think all of the mo-cap movies actually have animators go in and touch things up at least a little. But I could be wrong. I assumed all the falling and flipping and stuff was animation, but then I noticed a long list of stunt men on the credits. I wonder if they actually put a guy in the computer suit and then on a rig and flip him around?

  50. They do have actual animators. That’s what I was getting at with the unhinged jaw part. I was just trying to point out that the mo-cap itself isn’t animation (in the traditional sense)

    The utility of motion capture is to get realistic movements for the characters. The aesthetics of the characters (clothing, skin, facial features, etc.) is where the CGI comes in.

    As for the flipping around, I figure they could have put a stunt man on wires and added that or maybe they did completely animate that portion with CGI (which would defeat the purpose of using motion capture to begin with)

    Think of mo-cap like using an animatronic puppet in lieu of animating the puppet claymation style. There are animators that have to do stuff like water, snow, fire, and all sorts of other objects and elements that can’t be motion captured (just like Jim Henson studios couldn’t necessarily make animatronic water. Not to mention that in most cases computerist most likely have a cache of certain types of elemental animations ready to go (similar to stock footage)) but motion capturing the human movements relieves the animators of a huge workload, and for the most part it’s still the actors “full” performance.

  51. Mr. Subtlety, that was a great analysis of Caine’s portrayal of Scrooge. He really does do the best job of any actor I’ve seen in the role. And yeah, you see him get affected by everything right away. Seeing his past where he loses his love, being hurt by how people mock him in the present, it’s not just the death part at the end that finally changes him like a lot of Scrooges.

  52. My sentimental favorite take on the Dickens story is that episode of WKRP that culminates in a fully-automated radio station run by the sales department. If you have to have “another one of those Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol things” you could do worse than having Howard Hessman as a ghost. The dude didn’t even need make-up.

    I’m in no way qualified to comment on this motion capture stuff because I haven’t seen any of the films we’re discussing, but let me ask this: are we talkng about the same technology they used for Gollum in LORD OF THE RINGS? And that big fight scene with all the Agent Smiths in MATRIX RELOADED, was that all motion capture, or was it integrated in with filmed footage?

    And BEOWULF: is that like a whole film made up of the technology that made

    Mr. Majestyk: The only Pixar film I saw was WALL-E. I have to say, I thought it was surprisingly cliched. I guess the animation was fine, but I found the story a bit insulting.

  53. Jareth, it’s cool, I’m not asking anybody to slag Pixar or any other animation for me. I saw Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., a bunch of respectable anime, Final Fantasy, some of those Tim Burton claymation films, etc, and I’m not gonna say any of it sucks, because it doesn’t. It just doesn’t make much of an impact one me, so I stopped watching cartoon movies unless they star beloved television characters.

    I will fight anybody who wants to talk shit about the Disney Robin Hood, though. “Not In Nottingham” knocks me on my ass to this day.

  54. At the end of the day Pixar is doing as good a job as classic Disney cartoons, whatever that’s worth. In terms of quality of story, I don’t see much difference between WALL-E and THE RESCUERS, so the critical superlatives that accompany each release seem excessive to me. Obviously I’m not their target audience.

    I guess I’m in the same boat as you: this stuff stopped communicating to me years ago. The last cartoon that I really enjoyed was the SOUTH PARK movie. To this day it fascinates me that they wring more emotion out of the faces of those crude little SOUTH PARK faces than any of the computer stuff I’ve seen. But maybe that’s my lo-fi bias speaking.

  55. I will watch the South Park movie anytime, anywhere.

    Being a person of French descent (my government name could only be Frencher if it had “Pierre” in there somewhere), I obviously love the Mole. His death scene is surprisingly emotional. When I go, I hope I have the presence of mind to mutter, “Where is your god now?” I also say “Come, bitches” more than I probably should.

    I guess it’s just the flipside of the uncanny valley. As cartoon characters lean more and more toward the abstraction/iconographic side, the more I can project myself into them. The more they attempt to emulate realistic people, the more I disassociate myself from them.

    Obviously, this doesn’t count for the old GI Joe cartoon, since I can relate on multiple levels with every single realistically rendered character, from the thrill-seeking rogue Shipwreck to the lonely sniper Lowlight. Also, if you took a drink every time somebody yelled “Yo Joe!” and your buddy drank every time somebody yelled “Cobra!” you would both be fucking trashed in no time. This is all I ask from animation.

  56. You know that facial expression they do on SOUTH PARK when one of the kids (usually Stan) is expressing frustration at the idiotic behaviour of one of the adults (usually Randy), the expression where the animation approximates the eyes shut tightly and the hand pinching the bridge of the nose? I find that expression more convincing than anything I saw in the Zemeckis CHRISTMAS CAROL trailer.

    And the whole French resistance thing in the SOUTH PARK movie was a definite highlight. “Where is your God when you need him, huh? Where is your beautiful, merciful faggot now?”

    Major bonus points to the movie for being the only musical that I can sit through.

  57. I’m taking a comics class and in it they made us read this book, called “Understanding Comics” and in it this guy talked about that same thing, how the blanker and less detailed a face is, the easier it is for the audience to impose their own face, personality and qualities onto the character and what they are going through.

    “Be careful”
    “Careful? Was my mother careful when she stabbed me with a clotheshangar while I was still in the womb?”
    “Dude, that kid is pretty fucked up.”

  58. Ok I agree Jumanji doesn’t hold up so well. But Zathura, the Jon Favreau movie that basically is Jumanji in space, def does.

    I’m going to through the Beavis and Butthead Christmas Carol episode up there with The Muppets and, of course, Scrooged as my top 3 adaptations.

  59. Brendan, yeah, that’s where I got that theory from.

    And that right there is my favorite line from South Park, except for possibly, “Why? Because God hates me, that’s why. He turns my life to shit, so I call him a fucking cocksucking asshole. And I get grounded.”

  60. The South Park movie was great. I also loved Team America. I got a way bigger thrill out of seeing puppets being used than any cutting edge computer animation.

    Like I said earlier, I was one of the few people who could live with the odd CGI Neo shot in the fights in Matrix 2 because they snuck those shots in like they would with stuntmen. Same with G.I. Joe: Rise of The Cobra and its use of CGI stuntmen. Sure, it took the action down a notch, but it wasn’t unnerving.

    My problem with this stuff is what you guys are talking about: emotions. Looking at their faces when they talk is really uncomfortable for me. I haven’t seen a full mo-cap movie yet, but even the trailers just give me the heebie jeebies. Even in some of these Guitar Hero games where they have an almost photo-realistic Kurt Cobain corpse dancing around on stage it kinda scares me.

    I think the only exception I can think of is Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen. I actually really connected with that character. But that character is supposed to be otherworldly so maybe it doesn’t count.

  61. dieselboy- I saw Zathura a couple years ago and I really liked it, although I’m probably not the best judge of kid movies, as my track records in these talkbacks has kind of shown.

  62. Well Wolfgang what did you think of Gollum, King Kong or Davey Jones? Those are all complete mo-caps and they all emote beautifully.

  63. Actually, I forgot about a mo-cap film I did see. I did see Final Fantasy and it scared me.


    I guess because I live among humans and am so used to them and their faces that they represent the hardest thing to replicate using animation. Whereas aliens and monsters not so much. I consider Davey Jones and King Kong to be monsters, or at least “creatures”.

    For example: I prefer puppet Yoda, but did not feel uncomfortable looking at CGI Yoda in the Star Wars prequels. But if they had tried to animate Han Solo or something I would’ve gotten that creepy living wax museum vibe.

    I only saw the first Lord of The Rings and I don’t think this Gollum character was really in that one. I think I remember them mentioning him, but I don’t remember any big CGI characters in that one. I think I heard he was more in the sequels.

  64. Gollum only appeared in one scene in the first movie and he was mostly hidden by shadows. They really hadn’t figured out the design of the character or the technology to create him by that point (you can really see the learning curve in all the special effects as the movies go on) so he changes significantly in the second film when you finally get a good look at him.

  65. Oh, mo-cap people are absolute abominations and I’ve yet to see them in a movie where I wasn’t creeped the fuck out. But there are filmmakers who aren’t completely insane and use the technology wonderfully.

  66. Yeah, I bring up Doctor Manhattan because he’s one CGI character who is human, at least in form. They could’ve just had Billy Cruddup stand there and made him blue and glowing in postproduction, but I actually think CGIing him was one of the many good decisions Snyder made in that film. And I was able to connect to the character and not feel uncomfortable looking at him like I did seeing that CGI Angelina Jolie in the Beowulf trailer.

  67. Here’s what kills Beowulf for me: the Queen, played by Robin Wright Penn, has got to be the most repugnant female character I’ve ever seen in a movie…and not just because she’s a creepy puppet person…but because she’s an asshole: haughty, condescending, judgmental in the extreme, nagging, and sexually priggish; and she’s supposed to be the moral center of the film.

    Pixar – I always enjoy their movies the first time I see them. On second viewing they strike me as sterile, over-planned and manipulative. For example: the first time I saw “Wall E” I thought “This is really poetic.” The second time, I thought “This is really an incredible simulation of poetry.” I do think “Toy Story 2” and “UP” are genuinely good, but I’ll take “Happy Feet” (which is maniacal and fucked up and crazy passionate) over any Pixar movie.

    I can’t wait to watch “Muppet Christmas Carol”.

  68. I forgot to mention that Robin Wright Penn has a brief appearance in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, looking almost the same as her character in BEOWULF. I don’t know if it was supposed to be an in-joke or if they just felt it was appropriate to re-use the same look.

  69. Man, wouldnt it be weird if they used mo-cap realism to just give actors a new body which they kept from movie to movie? Like, if every animated movie with Robin Wright Penn from now just used the same model (with some tiny tweaks, perhaps). Might actually extend some actresses’ careers as their real body grows older. Indy could stay the same age forever. Weird. Creepy.Brave new world, huh?

  70. I fucking hated BEOWULF. It’s one of those very dumb movies that pretends to be smart. Zemeckis is making a carrer out of them, starting with that fucking joke that is Contact. Beowulf is a really dumb movie that pretends it’s smart because it has characters soliloquizing about “deep” stuff, only speaking in some Californian Dude Speak fashion. It’s californian new age dudes pretending to be 9th century dannish warriors! Give me a break! I can’t oput to words how fucking insulted i was with Beowulf.
    Zemeckis is mad. He really is. Completly out of his fucking mind. Fuck him.

  71. And mo-cap is a stupid folly. It’s a rich boy’s toy. Mo-cap can’t do anything that normal photography and/or video can, and do better. It’s a foly. It’s technological masturbation. And hopefully, a dead end. And the death of Zemeckis’ career. Good ridance, fool!

  72. I may have already said it earlier here, but really:

    I want old Zemeckis back. You know, the one that made good movies. And yeah, I might even include CAST AWAY as one of them.

    So can we blame ROGER RABBIT for his criminal technophile ways?

  73. Maybe I’m just too old to get the new technology, but so far the films with environments that are entirely made with motion capture and CGI have all failed to instill that feeling of jeopardy you get from practical effects, and I haven’t really connected with the CGI characters in stuff like LORD OF THE RINGS. I can appreciate the effect, but I’m not invested in anything that Gollum goes through.

    I just can’t see CGI leaving me gobsmacked like that water tank stunt in Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK JR. did. It’s just a different experience when you know it’s a human.

    But guys like Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who use the technology much more sparingly, are more palatable. It’s films like AMELIE that succeed in selling the technology to an old stuffed shirt like me.

    AVATAR will be an interesting test. I read an article that said 75 percent of the movie is virtual. That’s way more than I’ve been able to enjoy in any other movie. It’ll be interesting to see how the sensibility of a director with such strong fundamentals uses this stuff. Jackson’s Kong seemed like a step in the right direction to me, but I thought the dinosaurs were awful.

    I gotta say, though, the AVATAR trailers have left me totally cold.

  74. You may be correct, AsimovLives (except Beowulf was a goddamn riot and, as far as I could tell, knew it), but may I tenderly offer as a humble aside the suggestion that perhaps a quick proofread might be in order should such a situation arise wherein one finds need to denigrate the intellectual integrity of another.

    Just sayin, yo.

    CONTACT made me so mad I wanted to punch Carl Sagan.

    And that ain’t right.

    Carl’s a fucking sweetheart, man.

  75. I liked Contact, except for the “alien” and all that new age crap at the end – it was almost like if, during Close Encounters, the mothership landed, extended a ramp, and Deepak Chopra came walking out of it.

    Watched “A Christmas Carol” tonight and enjoyed it. Mocap does seem to be improving, although the characters still have that weird Thunderbirds feel to them. I could see the technologically being useful to tell certain stories (I think Stephen King’s IT would make a pretty sweet mocap movie actually…now excuse me while I run like hell.)

  76. Alfonse G. – Unless I’m mistaken, as IP Addresses aren’t always accurate, but I believe AsimovLives is in Portugal. And not everyone can be a CJ Holden in their mastery of the English tongue, spoken or typed.

  77. Alfonse G., our friend RRA is correct, i’m not american, i’m portuguese. Thus, english is my second language. My use of it is msotly based on hearing from the movies instead of daily use. As such, i’m not too bad at it. In a conversation i’d be slower then you natives, of course. But i would understand everything you would say.
    O mais dificil seria algum de voçés entender o que eu digo ou escrevo na minha lingua materna. Algum de voçés poderá poderá reparar que o que estou a escrever tem alguma semelhança com espanhol, mas apaneas muito superficialmente. Português é uma lingua própria com séculos de existencia indepedente do castelhano.
    Anyway… No, i’ll have to disagree with you on Beowulf. No, that movie is a typical “Dumb As Smart” movie that seems to populate Holylwood more and more: a movie that wants it’s cake and eat it to. It’s a movie that wants to show off that’s smart. Instead of just being smart. I can offer an example of this form even Zemeckis’ own filmography. His Back To The future is a smart movie. Not because it some show off of intellectual rowness, but because it’s smartly structured. Beowulf, however, is a show off of “look me intelectual and shit” mixed with the most needless over-the-top action shit that robs the movie of any sense of peril. When i see characters go through impossible situations one after the other, by the climax i can’t give a shit about them, i know it’s just one more imposible shit they will go through like a day in life job routine. Beowulf gets to ie in the fucking movie becaue, frankly, it would be just too much for Zemeckis to fuck that up from the old poem. But fuck it up he does.
    Avery in interviews hinted at something: that the movie as it is is not really a representation of his and Neil Gaiman’s script. It was heavily re-writen afterwards. By whom, i can only gues,s, but from the level of new age bulslhit found in it, i can guess pretty well the culprit: Zemeckis himself.
    I’m starting to believe that the shit Zemeckis we see this days IS THE REAL ZEMECKIS. The guy who once made good movies was the Zemeckis which had to answer to higher ups, who has controlled by other, more talented people like Spielberg. But Zemeckis will never understand this now, because he’s Mr Oscar.
    Well, fuck him. No, realy, fuck Robert Zemeckis. Fucking assclown!

  78. Asimov Lives – Thanks for your deep thoughts. Well taken. Use paragraph breaks next time so it’ll be easier to digest.

  79. Mr. Subtley;

    I think what you’re describing is probably not far off. We’ve seen it in video games a lot lately. They made that From Russia With Love game where the created a CGI young Sean Connery and got the real-life old Sean Connery to do the voice so that he could play James Bond again as a young man. Same goes for Chow Yun Phat in that John Woo video game. They were even working on a Dirty Harry game that got canned, but Clint had signed on to do the voice for a CGI replica of his younger self.

    We’ve had celebrities endorsing products made after their death. Whether it’s John Wayne in a Pepsi commercial, or a 1960s Audrey Hepburn selling a wristwatch made today.

    I’m sure somebody at some point in the very near future will make this happen in a feature film. Somebody will decide to cast CGI Bruce Lee in a new movie “based on a script idea he once showed interest in” or some lame excuse to justify it to fans. Or J.J. Abrams will decide he needs a CGI Ricardo Montalbahn to play Khan in one of his Star Trek movies or something. I can feel it. It’s so close. And sooooooo wrong.

  80. Good point. Mo-cap is good for games or for movie stunts in which it would involve the phsysical harm of a human to perform it. Or to give robot characters or monsters some personality. but for humans, mo-cap is stupid. It’s just stupid. There’s this technology invented around the time of the american civil War that does a much better job at capturing human performance then mo-cap, and that rtechnology is called PHOTOGRAPHY. If it aint broken, don’t fix it.

    Mo-cap is a fucking folly. And Robert Zemeckis is crazy.

  81. Is my english really that good?

  82. BTW, yesterday I had a really crazy idea for a performance capture movie: Something like Crank, but filmed as ( or at least looking like) one sequence and stuffed with all the incredible stunts and explosions that we only know from modern video games. In fact: I got the idea from watching some scenes of a video game. Don’t know which one it was.)

  83. CJ Holden: I was hoping you were going to say: MR BANANA GRABBER THE MOVIE.

  84. This is an issue that interests me a lot and which I have been following. Celebrities rights to their own image. I think it’s reasonable to make a James Bond video game featuring a CGI young Sean Connery, even if he hadn’t agreed to do the voice, it was still a character he actually played and merchandising is an assumed part of that role. Same goes for The Beatles Rock Band. I don’t see how anybody can be offended by animating a CGI John Lennon singing songs that he actually sung in venues where he sung them wearing clothes he actually wore.

    It’s more the issue of using some celebrity’s image in a way that is unreasonable and acting like it is. Like if somebody decides that if Steve McQueen were alive, he would want to be in Twilight 3 and so we’re just going to go ahead and animate him in there. The only instance of this I can really think of in a movie was casting Laurence Olivier in Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow. I just don’t like it. Taking somebody and making them be in movies they didn’t agree to be in and do things they didn’t agree to do and acting like they did.

    This is already an issue in video games. There have already been a couple lawsuits because music artists did not realize that when they allowed their image to be scanned into these games that the would be used to sing other people’s songs. Like how you can have Gwen Stefani’s voice coming out of Kurt Cobain’s mouth etc. I don’t think it’s any huge deal or anything, but I am on the celebrities’ side on this one.

  85. Well. I sure as shit can’t speak Portuguese, so there ya go.

    But this “new age” pablum in Beowulf–I don’t remember it. I remember naked fighting, and a bunch of ‘sins of the father’ stuff, Jolie ass, Glover insanity. And the only message I remember being hit over the head with is this: Tough guys turn pussy when their dicks get them in trouble.

    Which, as far as I can tell, is a smarter take on the human condition than can be found any other Zemeckis film.

  86. Alfonse G., i can’t explain why it’s so obvious for me to see the new age-y bullshit in Beowulf. But that it’s there, is. The movie is about 9th century dannish vikings, and they all speak like new ager californians. all this pseudo-deep talk bullshit in the movie made me both laugh and want to throw shit at the screen.

    It’s quite obvious that what’s onscreen is not what Avery and Gaiman wrote. Both wantedto make a new Excalubur, and Avery, when he was attatched as director, he wanted to emulate what John boorman did for that movie, in using a limited budget byt go gritty and historically accurate instead of major epic stravaganza. He had the right idea for the story. and then Zemeckis showed insterest and things got fucked. Zemeckis turned what would be a really serious historical drama based on a legend, like Excalibur, and made a fucking shallow ass action movie blockbuster. Only now Zemeckis is so full of himself that he thinks he’s some serious intelelctual, and shoves it in his movies. But what all his latest movies have shown is how superficial and dumb he really is.

    At least with Excalibur, they made an atempt to present the characters as if they belonged to the era. In fucking Beowulf, all they could had just came out of a LA spa or some fucking natural diet products store. This idiots of characters wouldn’t evne cut mustard as modern people, must less as ancient dannish from the early middle ages.

    And the majopr point that shallow ass ignoramus fucking Zemecks couldn’t even bother to know about the people of ancient times, the same way that thr stupid fucks that made that horrible piece of shit that if fuckign Troy, what fucking Zeemmckis is too lazy ass to even remember to try to research, is how would be the mentality of people of this era, of 9th century europe. and if he did, he would realise what a fuck up he did with those stupid characters that infestate his fucking pudrid movie.

    The people of this time, they ranked value not on what their personality was, their “inner” value, but on their achievements. What you did in life, it reflected you and your valour. This is why lying was the worst sin back then after being a bad host. By lying, you would be attrributing to you a value you didn’t had. And people only knew your worth and value, and thus your social standing, if you told your achievements. To lie about your achievements you could rightly get killed. To be called a liar and proved you weren’t, you could murder your accusator and nobody would bat a eyelid about it. There’s a sort of lip service to that in the movie, but it’s treated as a secondary issue. Thing is, it wouldn’t be a secondary issue. If Beowulf would lie in suich a society, he wouldn’t be a flawed man, he would be A VILLAIN OF THE WORST KIND!!! Soemthing that the fucking pussy ass of the fucking pudrid piec eof shit movie can’t fucking understand!!| Because it was made by a retarded stupid asshole who fcukign thinks he’s some big shit intelelctual but in truth is an idiot of the sworst kind, the kind that thinks he’s smart.

    There was a Tv show called ROME which they used the way the people acted back then, the way their culture was, the way they though and feel, and used to to build excelent drama. that’s what talented people do. Or at the very leas,t they dfo a good facsimile of that, as seen insuch movies as Gladiator and Kingdom Of Heaven: DC. But fucking Zemeckis, that retard, he was too cool for school!

    Fuck Robert Zemeckis. No, really, fuck him. Fuck that fucking fuck! God, i can’t stand him and the movies he makes! Sorry if my post sounds too agressive and vituperous, but the mere mention of the Z guy gives me gases! And i react even worst to Michael Bay and Jar Jar Abrams, if you can believe it.

  87. Does anybody remember Zemeckis’ promise of an NC-17 cut of Beowulf?

  88. Yeah, a NC-17 cut of Beowulf… right!!

  89. C.J. — your English is so good I just assumed you were an American living in Germany, like on an Army base or something. I would never in a thousand years have guessed you were a non-native English speaker. So good job. Ich bin ein Berliner!

    Wolfie — yeah, its weird that we can do this now. Obviously, its wrong and creepy and almost certainly makes baby Jesus cry. But the really stupid thing about it is that it assumes that the body was what made these people famous. Sure, you can put Brando’s face in your movie, any era, you can even put old Marlon’s head on young Marlon’s body if you want. But you’ll
    never get an actual Brando performance. Hopefully, some day we’ll get better performances
    from animators than we’re currently getting with this sort of thing, but even so, do you
    really think recreating Bruce Lee’s face is going to match the intensity and sheer jaw-dropping
    talent of the real deal? Forget it.

    Its a slightly more unique idea to do what Vern’s talking about (I think) in giving a voice actor a digital body which then they subsequently
    use in many films. It would be a different kind of star – sort of like that Pacino movie S1M0NE, only interesting. Maybe actors who could do different voices might have a whole stable of skins they could bring out for different movies. Creepy as I think the mo-cap pod people are, once the technology really gets there, there might be something mildly interesting to this concept, since it could allow great voice actors to team with animators in a less stylized way, and perhaps even give these two groups a kind of star power which has so far eluded them.

    As for dead celebrity shills, I find it very hard to imagine Cobain would have wanted himself OR his music to appear in a Guitar Hero (or any other) video game, but then again he probably wouldn’t have wanted his private journals published as a glossy coffee-table book, either. That’s what you get when you marry Courtney Love. I was a little more peeved when I saw my man Joe Strummer shilling for some damn shoes from beyond the grave, along with Cobain and I think Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone. Sid and Joey might have gone for that but you can bet Stummer and Cobain wouldn’t have been caught dead (zing!) selling some corportation’s shoes. That’s pretty messed up. I swear, the fear of this sort of thing is the only thing keeping Iggy Pop alive. On the other hand, I think the use of this technology in things like FORREST GUMP is fun as all hell. How cool would it be to have photorealistic recreations of historical figures for period films? When they make a James Madison mini-series or whatever, they could actually cast the real James Madison (all five foot 3 and 98 pounds of him), albeit with someone else’s voice. If done in good faith, I think this idea would be really cool. But its obviously a few generations away from anything close to what you would need to make
    that work.

  90. Three things occur to me having read through the thread:

    1.) The reason I (also) think so highly of “Scrooged” as a “Christmas Carol” adaptation, is for much the same reason that I’ve seen several people comment on why Michael Caine’s portrayal in the Muppet version is so good: Scrooge’s character is really humanized and the good still in him, that used to be far more evident, is brought out by the ghosts instead of simply transforming him.

    (Also, “Scrooged” is the “Roxanne” of “Christmas Carol” adaptations. But then, so is “Muppet CC”, I guess, in a way…)

    2.) How many people here think CGI Jolie was the most effective character of “Beowulf”; not only in characterization, but in how that characterization came through visually? (She still seems to me to have by far the most expressive face in the film.) And if so, how much of that was due to the fact that, unlike the other mo-cap actors, she was playing a ‘monster’ or non-human? (Ditto Crispin Glover’s performance, come to think of it…)

    (On the other hand, if so, how much of it was because the animators WERE UTTERLY DEDICATED ON SPENDING AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE working on her model? In detail?)

    3.) Mo-cap Khan for Star Trek II 2?! Horribly plausible. Yet perversely desirable, just to see what it would look like. (Rather like mo-cap CGI Jolie. {g} Though not for exactly the same reasons.) Maybe it could be provided as an extra for the Blu-Ray?

    4.) Muppet Wrath of Khan!!! >>> Mo-cap Khan for Star Trek II 2. Casting?

  91. Now I have a mental image of Kermit’s face scrunching up and shaking (which has actually happened a surprising number of times in other films) and then him belting out (in Jim Henson’s voice, or Henson Jr.’s), “KHAAAAAANNNN!!!”

    Also: MUPPET BEOWULF!! With Mrs. Piggy as Grendel’s Mother?

  92. (She married Kermit, as I recall, eventually, so “Mrs.” seems appropriate. But yes, that was accidental, actually.)

  93. Wouldn’t it be Mrs. Frog, then?

    Mrs. The Frog?

  94. Mr.S – CJ is a jelly doughnut? :)

    As to your point, remember that the Clash guys before Joe’s death were already licensing “London Calling” here and there. I even remember a Rolling Stone article in 1998 where a guy was bitching of how the Clash finally “sold out” by getting a check for that song to be used in a BMW commercial.

    And Strummer’s response was that those guys had ridiculously held out for a very long time and well, maybe they should enjoy the fruits of their labours once in a while.

    Of course I would consider that song being PLAYED IN A JAMES BOND MOVIE more offensive to that group’s sensibilities, but whatever.

    Sabreman – its Miss Piggy, not Mrs. Piggy. Kermit divorced her after he converted to judaism because he isn’t allowed to eat pork anymore. :)

  95. Zemekis is really busting open pandora’s box on this shit.

    Just like how he’s trying to use well-known stories and family holiday movies to get audiences to accept the general medium of mo-cap movies, he’s going to use Yellow Submarine to ease the public into digital post-mortum casting.

    Sure, I’m ethically fine with a new Yellow Submarine movie because John and George agreed to this while they were alive. When they made the first one The Beatles all agreed that their images could be used in this type of story without their direct participation. So it’s not like the remake is doing anything other than wringing out the last drops of that legal agreement.

    But Zemekis is getting us used to seeing dead people starring in new movies. He’s a sneaky fucker sneakily fuckering down a slippery slope and I’m after Yellow Submarine they’ll start pushing to dig up Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen etc.

  96. RRA- well, liscensing songs is a different thing than actually appearing in a commercial. Come on, its hard to imagine that ever happening prior to death.

  97. Mr. S – True. You remember Strummer’s quote on shoes?

    “A good shoe is good for running. And good for fighting.”

    Wolfgang – Yeah if YELLOW SUBMARINE goes forward, those dead estates* will sign off quicker than a rabbit breeds. Especially that one which shall not be named. You know that cynical term “ring the bell”? Well she rings the corpse if shes short of a few bucks.

    Then again, wasn’t it Harrison’s boy who was behind Beatles Rock Band? That was a good idea.

    *=Funny since it was Harrison who was very vocal when a Beatles song, a Lennon tune particulary, used for a fucking sneaker ad back in the 80s.

  98. Ow!–the “eat pork” joke… ow… {g}

    Though I can totally see Kermit with the beanie and the beard and a long black coat. Orthodox Kermit!

    (Works kinda with Eastern Orthodox Christianity, too.)

  99. I don’t usually ever see movies on Christmas, but this year I decided to see this movie again. I still liked it and I realized that the whole journey of Ebenezer Scrooge is pretty much summed up by the expressions on the faces of two minor characters. First, the look of horror on the face of the coroner in the opening (a scene not from the book) as Scrooge walks away having taken the coins from the eyes of Jacob Marley’s corpse. Then, at the end, the look of confusion and delight on the face of the charity guy, after being promised a large donation by Scrooge and then watching him surprise the carolers by singing along with them. He has this look of “holy shit I can’t believe this” combined with “man, I love Christmas.”

  100. Did you hear that Image Movers, Zemeckis’ Mo-Cap studio, has been shut down by Disney?


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