The Films of 2009

30-Dec-09 12:27 PM by
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As we prepare to kick 2009 to the curb, it seems an appropriate time to review the films that marked the year. Building off my list from two years ago, here's a rundown of my theatergoing habits over time:

Theatrical outings 1995 - 2009

My visits to the cinema have been fairly consistent this millennium at just over a dozen outings per year. In 2009, films taken in ranged from the independent documentary The Accidental Advocate to the classic American Graffiti to an original take on Plan 9 From Outer Space. Of the few mainstream films I saw, the best were Star Trek (which composed three of my sixteen theatrical outings) The Soloist, and Up; good but not great include Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Surrogates, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Night at the Museum 2; while the stinkers consisted of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Terminator Salvation. Also of all the mainstream films I saw this year, the only original IP was Up.

There were a lot more films released than these few — 342, by one person's count. This enterprising individual has tried to compile all the year's releases into one montage. I don't know if his sources were limited to theatrical trailers, but he references some films multiple times, which makes getting around to all of 2009's contestants even more challenging. Some of the transitions and juxtapositions are clever, though:

What were your cinematic highlights of the decade's final year?

Centennial Special Effects

31-Aug-09 2:39 PM by
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Relatively new to YouTube is this review of the evolution of special effects. Though I once interviewed ILM's John Knoll on this very topic, our discussion went back only as far as 1982 and the release of TRON. The following montage includes that film, but it more ambitiously covers not just the last quarter, but the entire century:

It's stupefying to consider the mechanics behind what accounted for "special effects" at the dawn of the cinematic medium. I was 24 when I first saw Claude Rains as The Invisible Man, which impressed me immensely. As I wrote in the Showbits of that era: "What baffles my young mind is, how did they do special effects like that before the advent of computers? There were scenes that showed uninhabited apparel moving about a room, beds making themselves, etc. A couple of theories involving dummies or strings played through my mind, but ultimately, none seemed feasible. What sort of 'tricks of the camera' existed back then?"

Eric Shepherd responded: "Back then, effects like that were done by retouching each frame of film by hand. Generally it would be done by painting over the stuff you're not supposed to see to blend into the background. These days, of course, it's done by painting the 'invisible' person blue or green, and/or putting them in a skintight body suit of those colors, and then replacing those colors using the background from a still or from video shot without the actor present in the frame."

Although technology has greatly redefined studios' workflows and options, I would say the greatest change that audiences can see in special effects is not in complexity, but in subtlety. It used to be easy and obvious to distinguish authentic from accentuated; now we can see entire sequences and characters without realizing any of it has been fabricated.

I won't debate whether or not such effects are a deception that precludes legitimate acting, but I do wonder about their limited application. Judging from the above video, it seems the genre that makes the most extensive use of special effects are science fiction and fantasy. That's not altogether surprising, but I wonder why we don't see it more often in, say, comedies. Is there something inherently unfunny about CGI?

40 Inspirational Speeches

15-Dec-08 9:00 AM by
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The world is not in a great state right now. With both our economy and our ecosystem collapsing around us, we need some inspiration to get us back on track. Though we can't rely on fictional characters like Superman to swoop in and save the day, we can still look to him and his cinematic cousins for encouragement:

Of course, if my life had a script and a soundtrack, I could probably be pretty motivational, too. Do you find the above montage to be missing any of your favorite silver screen speeches?

(Hat tip to Overthinking It)