Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why 3D Will Bring Down Movies

3D will be the death of movies, if left unchecked. You wouldn't know it by current trends, which show 3D accounting for larger and larger profit margins for blockbusters like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. Therein, however, lies the problem. The current obsession with 3D as a miracle cure-all for shoddy filmmaking and otherwise lackluster ticket sales will ultimately kill real craftsmanship and creativity in mainstream movies.

The Return of 3D
At the end of the summer of 2009, 3D was but a gag, a jokey throwback to 1950s campiness, never to be taken seriously again. The Polar Express, Spy Kids 3D, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Monsters vs. Aliens, and a host of other films used the technology as an added bonus for moviegoers with modest success but always as an accessory to the films.

Then Avatar happened.

James Cameron's tour de force destroyed all previously held stigma regarding 3D with the general public. Avatar's runaway success became 3D's success. Keep in mind, 3D accounted for less of the movie's gross revenues than most people think- IMAX revenues, all in 3D, accounted for roughly 8 percent of the total. But the co-branding of Avatar with next gen 3D tech was enough to blend the public perception of the two into one. Avatar came to herald a new day for 3D.

In actuality, the film succeeded because of undeniable craftsmanship and universal appeal. A whopping 73 percent ($1.98 B) of the film's sales came from foreign markets where 3D and IMAX were in shorter supply. International audiences latched onto it because of its gorgeous images and anti-imperialist, anti-corporate messaging.

Regardless, Hollywood failed to equate a timeless story and meticulous craftsmanship with the $2-billion success. "It must have been because of the digital 3D," they agreed sagely and promptly started slapping 3D onto every major title possible.

3D Overkill
Since the success of Avatar, 3D is ubiquitous. It is a marketing tagline in and of itself.

Disney released Alice in Wonderland, which broke records of its own, thanks to higher ticket sales from those blasted glasses (they encourage you to give them back after the movie so they can "recycle" them- it's actually so they can resell them to another sucker for $4).

Dreamworks released How To Train Your Dragon, probably the only worthy 3D successor to Avatar so far.

Interestingly enough, Warner Bros.' Clash of Titans remake, which added 3D in post-production to capitalize on the 3D craze, actually suffered because of the "improvement." Audiences complained that watching the 3D was like watching the movie through a Viewmaster.

Now, in case you've missed pretty much every movie promotion in the last month, here are some of the cases of 3D infatuation:

Toy Story 3 – first teaser trailer featured characters stepping out of the screen, gawking at the 3D effect

The Last Airbender – after the latest trailer unreels, all alone on the screen is a big 3D.

Despicable Me – on every poster, just under the title, is the phrase "in eye-popping Real3D."

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore – on every poster, just under the title, is the phrase "unleashed in 3D."

Step Up 3D – basically what they're saying is now you can see Channing Tatum get his groove on in three dimensions.

Pirahna 3-D – tagline: "This summer 3D shows its teeth."

Resident Evil: Afterlife – tagline: "Experience a new dimension of evil."

Legend of the Guardians – tagline: "Take flight in 3D"

Jackass 3D – 'nuff said

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – "The Worldwide Phenomenon… the Motion Picture Event of a Generation… Presented in Two Parts… in 3D"

Voyage of the Dawn Treader – just under the title on the posters: "in digital 3D"

Tron: Legacy – just below the title on the posters: "in 3D Dec 2010"

Gulliver's Travels – just below the title on the poster: "in digital 3D Christmas"

In some of these cases, 3D stands in for any detail about the movie itself. It's almost as if the studio marketing departments would have us believe that story, character, and actual quality are secondary to some nifty 3D effects. They are going to find out the hard way that movies will always sell on quality.

Sensory Over Substance
I can see some moviegoers responding to these points with a big "so what?" After all, what harm does it do to make every major release 3D? Isn't it just another bonus for the moviegoer? And the movie studios need to make their money, right?

I'll tell you what the problem is. 3D is a gimmick, nothing more or less. In more positive terms, it is merely a tool of the filmmaker- just like sound, color, Smell-o-vision, CGI, music, and any other component of film. I understand that studios need a way to recoup the large investments they put into films.

The problem here is the cart-before-the-horse mentality this all entails. Follow the logic, if you will: "A 3D movie (Avatar) made a ton of cash. It must have been because of the 3D. Therefore, if we just add 3D to every film, they will make a ton of cash, too." This kind of thinking can only hurt the components that actually affect a film's success and audience satisfaction.

Rather than considering how they can deliver a solid story and a satisfying character arc, studios will be preoccupied with amping up the sensory experience. "Who needs storytelling when you can blow audiences out of their seats with three-dimensional explosions and charge a premium for it?"

3D is just the beginning of this movement. Millions are being pumped into other ways to amp up the sensory experience- and charge more for it. A friend of mine recently participated in a field test of a new theater chair that rumbles, shakes, and swivels along with the action on screen. Theaters plan to charge $16 and up for these seats. Add 3D glasses to that and pushing into the twenties. And somewhere, studio execs are slobbering all over their martinis anticipating this.

I can just see the movie posters in a year: "One man will face the world… in digital 3D… in a shaking chair… and did we mention it's in 3D?"

The gimmicks that come and go are distractions from what really matters about movies- the things that really leave you satisfied when you leave the theater. True, some filmmakers will still deliver great stories. Others will have to fight the studios to get them to look beyond their newest toys. Needless to say, good movies will get harder to find.

Monday, June 28, 2010

10 Russian secret agents arrested in the U.S.
PHOTOS: Iconic stars pose int heir iconic roles
Hulu to start testing paid subscription service? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Batman 3 script is in the works
Warning: do not drive or operate heavy machinery while watching Amelia

Warning: Amelia may induce drowsiness

Note: Before sitting down to watch Amelia, starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, and Ewan McGregor, this blogger spent the entire afternoon trying to banish his farmers tan and taking his kids down the waterslide about 10,000 times. This reviewer is willing to acknowledge this as a contributing factor to his drowsiness while watching the aforementioned film.

The kids all in bed, the house quiet, my wife and I snuggled up on the couch to watch Amelia, which had been sitting untouched in its Netflix envelope for over a month. The movie started. Pretty pictures of planes began to slide across the screen.Some woman, whom I wouldn't care about if I didn't already know it was the famous Amelia Earhart, wants to to fly. No one expects much from her. She flies with two lazy-bum pilots across the Atlantic. There is turbulence and I wake up long enough to see one of the pilots and Hilary Swank almost fall out an open door during flight (you would think they would bolt those things shut)- I'm thinking this probably didn't really happen but was added in to keep test audiences awake. Well, they make it to Wales. Amelia becomes an overnight celebrity. Richard Gere sees her chatting with Ewan McGregor so naturally he proposes to her while heavily intoxicated. My eyes droop once. They droop twice. And, BAM, I am out.

I wake up two hours later to a darkened living room, my wife snoozing upstairs.

There is something to be said for trying to watch a movie- much less a biopic drama- after a long day in the sun. But I would also submit that the test of a great movie is its ability to hold your attention even after a long day in the sun.

When I think about, Amelia is a film of gorgeous images with little life, little pulse underneath the dressing. the principal actors literal walk through their parts, hit their marks, and move onto the next scene. But it's probably not their fault. What's on screen suggests that director and writers gave little thought on how to give these historical characters real life and depth. the movie plays like someone opened the Amelia Earhart section in the encyclopedia and crafted scenes to illustrate each notable event.

Sadly, although the title itself promises a certain degree of intimacy with the legendary woman aviator- something we've never seen before- , it never really delivers on that promise. I could have watched a History Channel documentary and gotten the same experience in half the time. Except the sleep. I probably could've stayed awake through a History Channel documentary.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Walking robot is scary and cool at the same time
Sam Raimi talks about World of Warcraft movie
Anyone out there commemorating the death of Michael Jackson today?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My DVD Review of Surrogates

DVD Review: Surrogates Gets Better As It Goes

Increasingly more movies start with a blast and end with a whisper. Modern filmmakers tend to be great starters but lackluster closers, cooking up more trouble than they have ingenuity to solve. Fortunately, Surrogates, helmed by Die Hard 4 director Jonathan Mostow, grows in drama and ingenuity as it plods along, building finally to a thought-provoking enough denouement.
The androids of the title, operated remotely by humans, have a distancing effect on the first third of the film. Surrogates are played with a distinct sense of alienation, all perfect skin, stiff stances, blank faces, and glazed over eyes. Granted, this decision works in the world of the movie- it is necessary. But it does make it hard to connect with any of the onscreen players.
Luckily, the film becomes progressively more interesting as the film delves into the juxtaposition between the surrogates and their operators. A tall black man, for example, turns out to actually be a nerdy, white lab tech. Bruce Willis’ character, Tom Greer, is a baby-faced pretty boy with a headful of Ken-doll hair as a surrogate. The real Tom is bald, unshaven, and scarred. This is where the fun starts, as well as the intriguing connections between the online social world we find in World of Warcraft, Facebook, or Twitter and the surrogates of the film. Ultimately, this film is a scathing commentary on the avatar-based culture we have built.
Once Tom destroys his surrogate and is forced to push ahead in his physical body, the audience can connect with him and his awakening to the ills of the surrogate movement. The film finds a solid rhythm in a chase between Tom and a female surrogate s she leaps and crashes through Boston traffic. When Tom plows over a sidewalk full of surrogates with his car like orange caution cones, you don’t know whether to chuckle or cringe. Regardless, you know you’ve entered a real film fun house.
Surrogates gets more entertaining and clever as it careens along. If at all, it suffers from pacing that feels a little off-beat and a script that discovers its legs a little too late. Production values are good enough but could have been slightly more convincing with a bigger budget.
Narnia lives! Voyage of the Dawn Treader trailer is out
Airbenders unite! 5 Other things that would be cool to bend

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Airbender fans! Other stuff that would be cool to bend

Other Things That Would Be Cool to Bend

The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shymalan, hits theaters on July 1 and the trailers have, thus far, exceeded my expectations. Needless to say, the date is circled on my calendar and my kids and I are already making plans to shave our heads and paint them with blue, phosphorescent paint.
In anticipation of the big release, I got thinking what other stuff would be cool to bend. Bending fire or air or rocks is cool, of course, but they just strike me as sort of old-world. Here's my list of five things that would be awesome to bend:

5. People – It would be like having a voodoo doll for every single person on the planet. Imagine the possibilities, especially against people like bullies, bosses, politicians, and criminals.

4. Stocks – Change the stock market from unreliable to your personal ATM machine. Why trust Goldman Sachs (and who does?) when you can order your favorite S&P 500 companies to perform? Retirement in the Caymans is closer than ever.

3. Radiation – One word: microwave. Bad guys knocking at your door? Fry them from the inside like last night's leftovers. Alien invasion imminent? Send E.T. home with a nuclear blast. Feeling humanitarian? Destroy malignant tumors with carefully controlled microwaves.

2. Light – With control over light comes all kinds of cool powers. First, you could turn yourself invisible by bending light waves around your body. Second, you turn any light waves into a focused laser beam. Third, you would have the ability to alter your appearance at any time.

1. Gravity – Why would this be the best bending power of all? Only because gravity can manipulate the very fabric of space-time. Open wormholes. Destroy your enemies with mini-blackholes. Travel across the expanse of space in seconds. Tear apart the solar system or create a planet. Gravity-bending is where it's at.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader trailer is out! Narnia lives!

Narnia Lives: Voyage of the Dawn Treader Trailer is Out!

When Prince Caspian failed to live up to expectations and Disney (in typical Disney money-grubbing fashion) sold the rights to Fox, I thought we had seen the last of the Narnia series. Much to my surprise, however, the trailer for Voyage of the Dawn Treader is out and, although not directed by Andrew Adamson, it does not appear to suck. It comes out this Christmas. Watch the trailer below:

Jerry Seinfeld hates Lady Gaga. Now I remember why I liked him.
Old movie review: Eragon

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Old Movie Review: Eragon Bites

I spent this weekend at home and somehow my kids talked me into watching Eragon (2006), the poorly executed film based on a novel by another 16-year-old too in love with Tolkien's dwarves, warriors, and sorcerers to come up with anything truly original. Can anyone else out there not fathom why fantasy writers and fans alike can't move beyond the elves and wizards and dwarves and dark riders? Anyway, moving on (which I hope the majority of fantasy writers will do), I vaguely remembered hating Eragon the first time around. Something about a crappy villain, stupid dialogue, and interior monologue stuff = a negative residue. Well, bless its heart, the movie still suffered from the same stuff the second time around.
Frankly, I take any story written by a sixteen-year-old with a huge grain of salt. It always has an air of "I-live-in-Connecticut-and-my-next-door-neighbor-is-a-literary-agent-and-owes-my-mom-a-favor-so-he-agreed-to-give-my-story-a-chance" to me. Anyway, the book really comes off that way. There is the nice but boring farm boy (no way,a farm boy who is propelled into the center of an epic war by no desire of his own? Never heard that one before!). There is the menacing magician guy (given a different title to distinguish him from all the other menacing magic guys out there). And can anyone explain why good guys always suck at magic compared to the bad guys?
And then there's Eragon's name. For one thing, it sounds like a straight ripoff of Aragorn from LOTR. Second, it is clear the kid was having trouble making up fantasy names so he took the word 'dragon' and replaced the first letter with the next letter in the alphabet. Very clever, Mister Paolini. You should name your next character Fragon. I mean, why ruin a good thing, right?
More than anything, this movie suffers from a terrible lead actor and poor production values. There's no brains to it. Just a lot of valor and good people getting killed so the hero has a motivation. I would have laughed harder the second time around if my wife hadn't been scolding me the whole way through for laughing at such a great movie.
Anyway, if you want to laugh for me, check out this video about the cuddly relationship between Eragon and his dragon:

The World's Most Popular Superpowers

Yes, I've been really into infographics lately. The challenge of consolidating a ton of information into a visual format really appeals to me. As a lifelong comic book fan, I had to make this infographic making sense of the more (and less) popular superpowers out there (superstretch abilities just can't get a break). Hope you like it:

Comic Superpowers
Source: Online Schools

Zombie Epidemic Map Infographic

Here's an infographic that I did for College Life. I had a lot of people complain about it starting in Latin America, like this was somehow tied to the immigration mess in Arizona. I assured them I am not anti-immigrant and that the darn thing had to start somewhere. It got a lot of love from Wired Science and Mythbusters. So enjoy the map. Hope it leads someone to safety when everything hits the fan:

zombie pandemic, zombie outbreak
Source: Online Classes

Monday, June 21, 2010

Infographic: Most Popular Superpowers
Infographic: Weird Facts About Lightning!
Star Trek Cologne is here! I'm guessing it smells like Cheetos, body odor, and Klingon mask latex
Everything you need to know about getting money for school
The Most Unnecessary Remakes of All Time

Friday, June 11, 2010

Superman vs. The Hulk: Who Would Win?
Transformers promise they can change

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bad Solar Storms Coming?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

9 Things We Should Do With the Guatemalan Sinkhole
Gender Gap: Fact or fiction?
OEDb's Top 10 Online Universities

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pics of upcoming Thundercats TV series
Quite possibly the worst site on the internet

Monday, June 7, 2010

I'm not sure what has fans so ticked about this leaked Green Lantern promo art
Christopher Nolan's Superman to hit theaters in 2012
Happy 25th birthday, Goonies!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Do Online Classes scare you?
Everything you need to know about scholarships classesncareers

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Peter Jackson may direct The Hobbit
Guillermo Del Toro drops out of The Hobbit
Grasshopper Outbreak in the Western US this Summer
For anyone who missed it, here's an awesome Zombie Epidemic Map
Top 250 Movies of All Time Map
World of Streetfighter Infographic
How to Watch Security Camera Feeds on the Internet
What really happened to the dinosaurs
Top 10 Movies Coming Out That Better Not Suck
Just rewatched Bourne Ultimatum. Matt Damon would've made a much better Batman that Christian Bale. Who's with me?
Mr. Tumnus is the Young Charles Xavier?! xmen
Hollywood by the Numbers Infographic
The 15 Best and Wost Series Finales in TV History