Friday, June 03, 2016

OVP: Visual Effects (2007)

OVP: Best Visual Effects (2007)

The Nominees Were...

Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, and Trevor Wood, The Golden Compass
John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson, and John Frazier, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl, and John Frazier, Transformers

My Thoughts: Pity poor John Frazier.  Yes, the man has eleven Oscar nominations, a trophy (for a film we haven't quite hit yet in the OVP, but we're not so far off considering the electric pace we're currently on for some reason), and perhaps most impressively, two Scientific and Technical Awards, but it has to suck to lose to the only film in a category that you didn't have a hand in crafting.  Seriously-he joined the Pirates franchise just in time for it to randomly lose a little steam, and then signs on for a surefire franchise win that somehow gets bucked for a franchise that never actually happened.

It's weird to look at a movie like The Golden Compass, which at the time felt like it was going to be the next big thing in terms of cinema, and think of what might have been.  After all, it was based on the wildly successful series of books His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and we had practically been promised adaptations of the two followup films, but like Lemony Snicket a few years earlier, the next set of movies were not to be.  At the very least, this is preferable because Golden Compass wasn't very good (Lemony, which we'll oddly get to the same year John Frazier wins his Oscar, was very good so it's a more pitiable circumstance).  The one truly distinguishing factor of the film was its gargantuan special effects.  The visual effects are mesmerizing and occasionally a bit overwhelming, if we're being honest.  The polar bear effect is surely fantastic, particularly the epic fight sequence, but the film suffers slightly from appearing too animated in some parts.  It isn't helped that this is during Nicole Kidman's, most, err, porcelain period as an actress (that was as delicate as I could get), and the child actor was an unknown and feels wooden enough in her performance to be two-dimensional.  The effects are surely a case of the "most" being nominated (and again, the polar bears are a triumph), but I didn't love what was going on here.

Transformers is hardly in the same league as Golden Compass in terms of either ambition visually or in storytelling (the Catholic Church isn't going to be picketing a Michael Bay picture), but that doesn't mean that this isn't worthy in this specific category.  This is the last of the nominated Transformers movies for our OVP, and if you've been paying along (links below), I've actually been relatively kind to the movies in terms of their Oscar nominations.  With one big exception (Sound for Transformers 2), so far I've been really impressed-the technical elements are strong, and that's particularly clear here, where characters like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee pushed themselves into the lexicon of a new generation of fans with a wild whir of effects and eye-popping color.  It might occasionally be a similar trick toward the end, and the actual movie is dreadful, but the visual effects here are excellent, and inspired a lot of copycats.

Rounding out the list is At World's End, the final Pirates movie anyone remembers seeing (though Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides made over $1 billion worldwide so at least some of you saw it).  The film was, at the time, the most expensive film ever made (it would be succeeded by the fourth Pirates movie), and the effects surely show it.  Of particular note to me is the maelstrom, caused by Calypso in one of the most staggering sequences I've seen in a film in terms of visual effects.  I also loved the extended sequence in the middle of the movie where Captain Jack is randomly wandering around his ship in multiple different iterations, and Davy Jones and his men continually amaze, though it's worth noting the effect was even more impressive in Dead Man's Chest.  All-in-all, while the film gets a little bit convoluted (word to the wise: one villain per film, period, no matter how far into the sequels you are), the effects are still electric and well worth our initial public investment in the franchise.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Visual Effects Society splits its nominations between effects-driven films (the ones that actually get nominated at the Oscars) and the ones with supporting effects.  Supporting effects nominees included an eclectic bunch of Ratatouille (even though there is an animated category-and the Pixar film won here, but lost in animation!), Zodiac, Blades of Glory, We Own the Night, and The Kite Runner.  The VFX-driven nominees were Transformers (the winner), The Golden Compass, I Am Legend, Pirates, and Spider-Man 3.  The BAFTA Awards sided with Oscar and gave it to the far more British Golden Compass over The Bourne Ultimatum, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Spider-Man 3 (I'd say snobbery and good taste kept them from calling Transformers BAFTA-nominated, but Spider-Man 3 is somehow an even worse movie so they shouldn't be too proud).  This is also a category with a bake-off, so close behind this trio were Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I Am Legend, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Spider-Man 3.  Considering that it was the first film in twenty years to top the domestic box office and still not land an Oscar nomination part of me is guessing that Spider-Man 3 was the movie that just missed and was in fourth, but Bourne ended up doing so well I wouldn't discount it being included.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Looking at some of these contenders, I honestly think AMPAS could have done a lot worse.  I might have made room for Order of the Phoenix as the centaur work in particular in the film is very impressive, but it's a tight race for bronze there.  It's weird to think how few effects-driven films really dominated the landscape even less than a decade ago since it's all we seem to see in theaters now.
Oscar’s Choice: In one of the biggest upsets of 2007, the Academy turned down the massively successful Transformers in favor of the flop Golden Compass, in a case of overall taste triumphing the almighty dollar.
My Choice: I actually genuinely debated for a minute there going with Pirates, as it really is good but just gets dwarfed in favor of its older and more successful brother.  However, Transformers really is game-changing here and I think deserves the Oscar.  Golden Compass and its polar bears comes in last, a rare case where I give an Oscar tech category winner the bottom of the heap.

And those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Are you with me that Transformers (whatever you may think of the rest of the movie) deserved this trophy, or are you holding out hope for Golden Compass?  Honestly-given there were only three nominees back then, is this the right three overall (I kind of think it might be), or should Harry Potter or Spider-Man have made the cut?  And what is your favorite John Frazier nomination?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

Also in 2007: Makeup, Previously in 2007

Past Best Visual Effects Contests: 20082009, 2010201120122013, 2014

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