Monday, July 14, 2014

OVP: Visual Effects (2013)

OVP: Best Visual Effects (2013)

The Nominees Were...

Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, and Neil Corbould, Gravity
Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, and Eric Reynolds, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, and Dan Sudick, Iron Man 3
Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, and John Frazier, The Lone Ranger
Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, and Burt Dalton, Star Trek into Darkness

My Thoughts: Ahh, Visual Effects, aka the category where everyone actually saw all of the nominees (well, except The Lone Ranger).  In a year that was dominated by visual effects film (even by today's standards), this was a pretty high honor to get a nomination, but unfortunately for four of the films, it was nearly impossible to actually win the award, since Gravity sort of stole all of the thunder in a way few other films could.

It would be one thing if this juggernaut was one of those situations where you just had to roll your eyes and groan through its stampede (like many people did when Renee Zellweger won her Oscar), but Gravity is a different thing entirely when it comes to Visual Effects: it's a landmark.  The movie is almost animated it's so filled with visual effects shots, but the real marvel in its work is the subtletly that it brings to what is going on on-screen.  You barely can tell that this isn't real, and while Neil Degrasse Tyson can tweet hilariously about the errors in science, there's nothing more marvelous than the vastness that comes from each frame of the film.  Every object stands out wonderfully against the black hole of space, and the added beauty of the cinematography weaves marvelously with the visual effects on-display.  It's a wonderful sea of not only jaw-dropping special effects, but special effects that actually add levels and new elements to the film.  It's the perfect trifecta of technique, plot-assisting, and ground-breaking.  Nothing else can really compare.

That being said, The Hobbit is not resting on its laurels here.  Smaug is a beast that rivals almost anything else the series has done, and were it not for Gravity, I think this film may well has pulled a Dead Man's Chest and succeeded where its predecessor could not.  The film's greatest achievement is the giant dragon, which doesn't go too large but instead give details in his cragged nature and make him overbearing but not the "king of dragons" (it felt like they were scaling him down in just the right way).  The rest of the film is a sea of great visual effects (I loved the battles in Mirkwood and in the Misty Mountain), but it is the dragon that stands out in a way few other effects in 2013 did.

The Lone Ranger was what you would consider the surprise nomination of this bunch.  Many people assumed that the giant battling robots of Pacific Rim would be the final nominee, and not the critically and commercially-reviled western.  However, if you actually give The Lone Ranger a chance you find that the film is a really impressive visual treat, and has one giant, long visual effect that totally defines it in this race: the final train scene.  Jumping through a series of caverns, forests, desserts, and tunnels, the train scene is one of those great French Connection-style chases that you hold your breath through.  It also has the seamless sort of visual effects that you only marvel at how impressive they are after the sequence is done, never taking you out of the movie.  Since The Lone Ranger only received two nominations and they happen to be in the two categories I always run through first, I will point out once again that I don't get the hatred of this movie-it's not a Pirates of the Caribbean style excellent, but it's hardly worth the vitriol that it received, and the technical elements in particular are all top rate.

Does Benedict Cumberbatch count as a visual effect?  His face is so expressive and he somehow manages to be in every movie, so it's possible, and would explain this nomination.  While the 2009 Star Trek was a fine if occasionally bombastic movie, I just cannot get behind its sequel.  Even if you forget that the plot and the pacing are all wrong not just for Star Trek, but for any franchise where the plot is very predictable, the visual effects come across as rather blah.  In this era where everything is computer graphics and a sea of green screens, you need something more to stand out like Gravity or The Hobbit-there's nothing like that in Star Trek which is just a sea of computer-generated lights.  It's not above-the-norm, and while there's nothing standing out as bad about it, I think this was a waste of a nomination that could have gone to something more unique or technically stunning.

Finally we arrive at yet another Iron Man nomination.  This is a category that likes to continually nominate certain franchises (Stars Wars and Trek, as well as Lord of the Rings come to mind), and considering it was such a high-grossing picture, it was bound to be nominated here.  I just can't quite get excited about this work anymore, in the same way that I can't with Star Trek.  The zooming of the suits in the final battle sequence is impressive, but it's too busy and the plot is too crowded to make the visual effects really work in the film, and there's nothing particularly new or exciting happening here to warrant a fourth nomination for what is more of the same.  Unlike The Hobbit, there's nothing so grand and eye-popping that requires a nod other than the mountain of money the latest installment made the studios.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Visual Effects Society splits their nominations between Visual Effects driven and supporting Visual Effects films, so we have a plethora of movies cited here.  For the driven films, there was of course Gravity on top, with The Hobbit, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, and Star Trek into Darkness playing runners-up.  The Lone Ranger won supporting effects (perhaps we should have seen the nomination coming?) with The Great Gatsby, Rush, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, White House Dawn, and The Wolf of Wall Street (yeah, I'm not sure about that last one either). For the BAFTA Awards, Gravity once again took the cake, and all but The Lone Ranger were copied over from the Oscars (with the Brits going for Pacific Rim).  And like Best Makeup, Visual Effects also releases a list of the bake-off contenders, so just missing the cut were Elysium, Oblivion, Thor: the Dark World, Pacific Rim, and World War Z.

As far as sixth place is concerned, it's kind of a hard game to guess-when you see something like The Lone Ranger nominated (most people considered it a surprise this even made the bake-off, much less landed a nomination), you become aware that picking sixth place is a fool's errand (who's to say that something like World War Z or Thor didn't make it in that position), but I have to guess that Pacific Rim, one of the more stunning misses of the year, was probably in sixth.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I definitely would have cut at least two in favor of the giant robots of Pacific Rim (the plot was idiotic, but the effects were mind-bending) and Man of Steel, which had an elegance to its effects that was sorely lacking in Star Trek.
Oscar’s Choice: Like everyone else under the sun, Oscar fell under the spell of Gravity.  It's hard to say whether or not The Hobbit or Iron Man was in second place, but when a film is getting 80-90% of the vote, it certainly doesn't matter.
My Choice: I'm not an idiot: Gravity clearly earned this.  I'd follow it with The Hobbit, The Lone Ranger, Iron Man, and finally Star Trek.

And those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Is there anyone out there who wants to make the case against Gravity?  In the land of the many nominated sequels, who was the best?  How did Pacific Rim miss the cut (and Man of Steel the bake-off)?  And what film had the best visual effects of 2013?  Sound off in the comments!

Also in 2013: Makeup, Previously in 2013

Past Best Visual Effects Contests: 2009, 201020112012

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