Oscargnosticator: 2011’s Special Effects

The sad thing about the special effects category of 2011’s Academy Awards nominees is that it isn’t very different than 2010’s, or ’09s, and so forth. We know how these things are done now, so it is a lot more like appreciating a magician’s technique versus being dazzled by the trick.

I used to religiously read Don Shay’s effects journal Cinefex and be amazed by what the professionals did to achieve those visual marvels. The magazine still exists but I haven’t seen a copy over at Barnes and Noble for many a moon. I sincerely thought it had passed on to that great reading room in the sky. After all, there are only so many ways you can rephrase, “The computer did it.”

Alas, for all five nominees in this category, the computer did do it. It is then up to you, the reader, to decide if it did it gracefully, tastefully or wastefully.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One – I know there are still legions of die-hard Potter-backers out there, but as someone who only got into the series from the sidelines, my excitement has diminished with each movie. I know the filmmakers had to shoot the films while Daniel Radcliffe and company were young enough to play their parts, but what the series needed was time between the films to actually make interest bloom again.

The effects may well be stunning, but my ennui can’t be ignored. I’m thinking the voters are just as fatigued. Chances: Harry Potter and the Swag Bag With No Statue In It.

Iron Man 2 – I enjoyed Iron Man 2 when I saw it, but a funny thing happened after I left the theater. The farther I got from the film, the less I appreciated it. It’s supposed to work the other way around.

The effects were interesting and definitely serviceable, but nothing jumped out and me and smacked me in the face. What was left was the creaky spindles of a story where Willy, now free, had to be captured again in order to Free Willy 2. Rather, Tony Stark, having learned how to be less selfish in the first film, had to get selfish again and be a complete ass, just to find cinematic redemption once more. I just don’t find relapses very entertaining. Chances: It’s hard to vote for a movie when you could have sworn you saw it two years ago.

Hereafter – Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama had one major special effects scene in it, but probably gets the gladhand because it is Clint freaking Eastwood. Chances: You have more of a chance seeing The Bridges of Madison County 2: Attack of the Streeps than of seeing this win this award.

Alice In Wonderland – I could swallow ten jugs of acrylic day-glo paint, run around the block, get punched in the stomach seven times, throw up onto a canvas and still making something more aesthetically pleasing than this movie. This is a bad acid trip’s bad acid trip with Oedipal issues to boot. When Tim Burton told Helena Bonham-Carter he wanted big head from her, the world would have been grateful if he meant it in a sexual way. Instead we get… this. Chances: Bleagh. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did it better.

Inception – The only movie on this list that, even though you knew the computer did it, still gave the viewer a sense of awe about how well it was carried off. We knew the magician’s trick but he pulled the rabbit out of the hat so well, we forgot to ask those questions. Chances: If it doesn’t win, the fix is in.

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