Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween

Hey, I'm almost done with the new Deus Ex game!  That's good news for Chrontendo viewers.  Though there are quite a few other big name titles that have come out recently, or will be released soon - so hopefully my attention won't be derailed again.

The other night I was checking out the Netflix and noticed that Ruggero Deodato's 1976 cop movie, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, was available in streaming format.  Fans of European sleaze cinema will know Deodato for such gems as Cannibal Holocaust (the pinnacle of the late 70s Italian cannibal movie genre,)  but Live Like a Cop is a straight-up action movie, albeit a very bloody and violent one.  It concerns a pair of buddy cops who break up a ring of gangsters using arson, torture and murder.  Unlike the grim-faced rogue cops found in American movies such as Dirty Harry, these guys exude an amicable, goofy charm even as they cut a bloody swath through a gang of bank robbers and shady real-estate dealers.  When not doing that, they are busy sexually harassing every woman they encounter.  In the 70s it was apparently acceptable to openly engage your female coworkers in small talk such as, "Hey, when are you finally going to give in and let me have sex with you?"


Anyway... the point of all this is that the movie opens with a super-exciting motorcycle chase scene.  We see the cyclists weave in an out of traffic on crowded Italian streets, drive down stairs, drive over cars, drive into shops and through crowds of people, and pop a couple of wheelies that can only be described as "totally bad ass."  It's the kind of stuff you used to see in the movies all the time back in the 70s and 80s.  I began to wonder why action scenes in many of today's movies are so damned boring.  Think of any car chase in a contemporary mainstream action film -- it's probably just tons of lame CGI effects and extraneous slow-motion. Even in "intelligent" action movies, such as the Bourne films, it's all about rapid cutting and constant shaky camera.  These effects don't get your heart pumping so much as they lull you into a trance.

How did this happen?  I'm not sure, but the first movie that I personally recall as suffering from CGI overload was the second Matrix film, from 2003.  I barely remember anything about that movie, but the part that sticks in my mind was an overlong fight scene set on a busy freeway.  It seemed to involve Keanu Reeves jumping around on cars while fighting a pair of albino robot ninja twins, or something.  The use of CGI was so over-the-top that it overwhelmed any sense of danger or drama in the scene.  All the cars flipping over in mid-air and people flying around in slow-mo made the entire thing feel very fake.  At that moment you knew you were no longer watching a movie featuring real live people, but instead were watching a very expensive cartoon. (Matrix 2 also suffered from having bumped up the slow motion usage to hilariously high levels.)*

Perhaps having played countless video games over the years has lead me to associate computer generated graphics with fakeness.  We know the characters in video games are not real, and today's movies contain many scenes that resemble nothing so much as video game cut scenes.  Action scenes in older movies have an inherent physicality to them: we see a real man driving a real motorcycle.  A scene of Sam Raimi's Spiderman swinging through the air is flat and weightless by comparison.  We know Spiderman is just a bunch of pixels created on someone's workstation.  If his web breaks and he falls... it's no big deal.  He is just a bunch of pixels and can't be hurt.

Concept art? Frame from the movie? Frame from the video game? Who can tell?

Maybe this doesn't bother younger movie goers.  Those who have grown up in the CGI era of filmaking might not experience any sort of disconnect between footage of solid objects and computer created objects.  Maybe they think movies like Transformers or Smurfs or Green Lantern look cool, instead of looking like piles of tacky shit.

As for Chrontendo, the new episode mostly hinges on completing the Clash at Demonhead segment.  For a game that's now considered to be a cult classic, I sure find playing it to be a chore.  I'm also a bit busy in the near future - I went to a Halloween party tonight, have another one tomorrow, and have a few things to go to next week.  I'll keep you posted on the new episode's progress.

*I disliked Matrix 2 even more than the first one, especially since I was dragged into seeing it on opening night by some Matrix-lovin' friends.  I remember thinking that only one thing could make that movie bearable -- and that would be a scene where Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne are getting ready to go out and fight some robots or something. Then Fishburne, says "Excuse me for a minute," and ducks into his room.  A few moments later he comes out again, but dressed as Cowboy Curtis. "Okay, Keanu, I'm now ready to kick some robot ass."  Sadly, this scene never happened and the entire movie was ruined.


qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

I personally like the Matrix movies, but I can understand why people are feeling disconnected from them. I still think they are made much better than many other examples, like the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie (which sucked on so many levels) or that abyssmal Battlefield Earth (which should have had much more budget behind it when you think about its context...). And when you watch movies like Jurassic Park, which uses most of its CGI very good (except that dino running sequence on the green) and mixed it with animatronic, or the Lord of the Rings movies, which have some obvious CGI (which didn't age well), but much more CGI you only realise in the making off features (like statues in the background). After all, there are things that can be done very well with CGI, but it is so much overused, you get oversaturated.

Badoor said...

If this is footage of what you've been doing for the last month, I approve::

But seriously, I totally understand that. Deus Ex: HR is a pretty cool game.

xerxes said...

So there are TWO people on this planet who cannot "appreciate" Demonhead. Jumping is floaty and imprecise. Your bullets seem slower than most enemies. I mean, yes, the game is weird and different. So is Dr. Chaos.

Kamiboy said...

Nothing ages faster than CG, that is a thing most modern filmmakers do not seem to have much concern for. Or perhaps they do know it and timelessness is a distant concern for someone who is mainly looking to entertain this time sliced portion of the zeitgeist.

But it is funny that while Lucas seems to be in a hurry to disown the original Star Wars movies in favour of the newer trilogy, as well as the CG souped up remakes he seems to be missing the point that the late 90's CG in either makes them seem more dated today than the untouched stuff straight out of the 80's.

The 80's special effects stuff might look dated, but it does not look bad because it looks dated in a quaint manner.

There is something timeless about the 80's era special effects, where things were still being done using techniques with a modicum of tangibility. I've always wondered why the special effects in works like Blade Runner has aged so well where in contrast CG looks tacky when it is new and given a vintage of 5-10 years it is unbearable to watch, to be point of being comical even.

I think part of it is that given the complete artificiality of CG there is a sort of uncanny valley situation going on. Sure, the ships in Star Wars were just miniatures, but they were after all real object at the end of the day. With CG there is not a single tangible atom to be found, furthermore since it costs a lot of money and the purpose of its existence is to create a flashy extravaganza the animators responsible for making it always seem to push all subtlety to the wayside and go all out, which only helps to make the end result appear more uncanny.

As for action scenes there certainly is a strong point to be made for a 30 second nearly fatal stunt scene from an 80's era Jackie Chan film carrying a lot more heft, excitement and weight than a sterile 10-15 minute long roller coaster all CG spectacle as found in most modern movies.

Anyway, as washed up as Hollywood is since their post 70's fall from grace they do need the benefit of the most expensive CG flash that only their sky high production values can afford in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

How else would they contrive to stay on top of the game when it is decades since world cinema raced passed them in terms of artistry?

matt.mcneely said...

@Kamiboy: Well put. The majority of modern American films do feel anodyne compared to the ones made during the creative renaissance that was the film-school generation of the 70's.

Dr. S, I couldn't agree with you more. I chafe at people's marveling over the visuals in Avatar. I just think the whole thing looks like a cartoon and/or a video game. I don't mean to belittle video games with this statement; I adore video games. I just don't think that the film medium has anything to gain by aping the aesthetic (or otherwise) lexicon of the other. I'm not sure I'll ever understand the thought process of the mainstream. I don't mean to sound willfully counterculture, elitist, or worst of all, like a hipster, but I do find the tastes and behaviors of most people unsettling.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised at just how damned good Drive was. It was easily the best "action" film from recent years and, to my memory, featured little CG. Come to think of it, I really loved Deathproof as well. Here's one modern film that actually uses dangerous and exciting stunt-work in favor of sterile CG. At least we have a handful of directors such as Quentin Tarantino to keep the nearly extinguished torch of practical effects lit.

Schide said...

Wait, what's wrong with cartoons? I like cartoons!

But yeah, I went back to play Clash at Demonhead last year or thereabouts, and it really isn't a lot of fun to actually play. The level and character designs are pretty interesting, but the gameplay was just really awkward.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

If you're interested on real car crashes an explosions in series I highly recommend the series Burn Notice. It is kinda modern McGyver, but in Miami, with Bruce Campbell in a great support role. The producer went out of his way to ensure real car stunts and explosions, though in the fifth season they used some computer explosions, which looked unbelievable fake (I believe theyre Budget ran out, and blasting a nice boat wasn't an option anymore...). Watch it, you won't regret it.

matt.mcneely said...

@Schide: There's nothing wrong with cartoons. I just think a film that's touted as having the the most realistic CG ever ought to look, well...real. I just thought that the thing looked like any other Pixar/Dreamworks animated film.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with some of that stuff. I mean, practical effects when they aren't limited by things like the safety of the actor. The CG in Spiderman - while clearly fake - is excellent because it LOOKS like how Spidey would move. It's an animation thing; the fact that you think it's weightless is something you're imparting on it; that animation is flawless. But doing it in real-life, having to keep your actors harnessed to tons of safety equipment, looks awkward, clunky and slow. Just read reviews (or look up youtube videos) of that Spider-Man Broadway plays. You CAN'T do physical effects for everything. And I'd like to think that the superior animation afforded to films by CG is an equal trade off for characters looking shiny and the visual quality becoming outdated in a few years. A ton of movies "adapted" from graphic novels, cartoons and comics these days should just be 100% animated if you ask me. Trying to blend it with live action is what gets you in trouble (I kinda agree with your criticisms regarding the Matrix films because of that).

But NO ONE says the CG Spider-Man from Sam Raimi's films looks "weightless" in front of me. NO ONE! :)

Doctor Sparkle said...

I can't help but wonder if contemporary CGI movies will age well when they eventually develop a cheesy, nostalgic charm. Maybe someday we'll view Transformers 2 or Alvin and the Chipmunks as dumb, harmless fun as we laugh at the dated effects. We'll have forgiven Michael Bay by then.

I liked the Spiderman movies, myself, at least the first two. But I'm not sure why super hero movies need to be made (other than $$$). They usually depict things that don't make much sense in physical reality, such swinging around on skyscrapers using a spiderweb. It works fine on ink and paper, but in film, the obvious unreality takes me out of the moment.