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Special Effects: Why They Look Right When They Look Right

JAS001CA
The late, great Ray Harryhausen. (1920-2013)

When I was a little kid my grandpa showed me King Kong, the 1933 one.  King Kong doesn’t look real, but it looks good, because it looks right.  Looking ‘right’ is the key.

Special effects are perhaps film’s biggest point of separation from the other arts.  In literature, if you want a monster in your story, you just describe it.  But a movie has to convince you what you’re looking at is real, even when you’re looking at the most not real things humans can dream up.  This takes a perfect synthesis of human imagination, technology, and innovation.
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Gravity: A Lifetime Movie In Space

Sandra Bullock


Gravity (2013)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
90 min.

Mild spoilers ahead.

Wow. I guess the moon really is made out of cheese.

That was my immediate thought at the end of this movie, as a sea of applause erupted in the theater, or more accurately, an archipelago of applause. In its sparseness, I knew that I was not the only one who felt this way, which was a relief, because after the damn-near unanimous praise this thing had been receiving as of late, I fully expected the hive mind crowd to suddenly and collectively smell my distaste and crawl over the seats, and each other, to come rip me apart limb from limb. Instead, I merely had to endure the requisite long line to exit the theater, and then the long line down the countless escalators leading back to Earth, during which everyone seemed unusually quiet, stuck in their own minds, trying to process their feelings. Not in the way that occurs after a Haneke film or something; this was different. It seemed as though many, including myself, were wondering if they’d seen the same movie that the professional critics and faceless fanboys online had seen.
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Twisties: Why ‘Oblivion’ And Many Other Movies These Days Suck

oblivion


In my earliest Smug Film piece, I reviewed a movie called ATM and introduced this idea of ‘Roomies’—movies where the characters are trapped in some kind of room and the whole point is figuring out why they’re there and how to get out. Exam, The Breakfast Club, and Cube are some popular examples. Now I’m going to introduce you to Twisties, which have become quite prevalent lately.

I saw the Tom Cruise movie Oblivion in the theater by myself.  I like going to the movies by myself.  It’s cool.  There’s something about being by yourself in the grandeur of the theater that always reminds me how much I want to make movies.
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Pacific Rim Is The Dullest Movie You’ll Ever See About Giant Robots Fighting Sea Monsters

PACIFIC RIM
These characters are so. Fucking. Boring.

Pacific Rim (2013)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham & Guillermo Del Toro
131 min.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

2013 was supposed to be the year that saved big screen science fiction. When this summer’s lineup began filling out, I had more anticipation for this movie season than I’d had in years. Names were popping up like Blomkamp, del Toro, Shyamalan (fuck the haters), Abrams, Cuarón, Wright (and Pegg and Frost), and startlingly, there seemed to be more original properties on the horizon than sequels/adaptations: Elysium, After Earth, Gravity, Pacific Rim, Oblivion, Ender’s Game, Star Trek Into Darkness, The World’s End, etcetera. From what I saw of the trailers, these movies didn’t look like your typical disaster porn invasion movies, á la, Battle: Los Angeles or Transformers (except Pacific Rim, though its premise justifies, and even necessitates it) nor were they part of the insufferably relentless deluge of Marvel/DC sequels and spinoffs (except Into Darkness, whose trailers gave it the tone of a Dark Knight movie; y’all looking forward to Thor: The Dark World?). I loved the designs I saw in the Oblivion trailer, I liked the visual approaches of After Earth and Ender’s Game, and I love the idea of Sandra Bullock leading a stranded-in-space drama.
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