Thursday, 2 February 2012

Incoherent Oscar: Visual Effects

Incoherent ramblings as I take a category by category journey through the film categories of the Academy Award Nominations.
THE NOMINEES: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2; Hugo; Real Steel; Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Transformers: Dark of the Moon

For months now everyone has been saying that the race for visual effects has been up even before it began. I’ve been more reticent. As is my wont, I’ve been thinking, re-thinking, re-re-thinking and overthinking the equation and for some reason I just don’t see the pieces falling as easily into place for Rise of the Planet of the Apes like I keep being told.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
Not that I’m one for goodbye cumulative Oscar wins but if there’s an place that a tribute Oscar to the Harry Potter series makes sense, it’d be here. And, it wouldn’t just work as a tribute win because the film makes use of some inspired visual cues. And, if we were to consider the fact that as a something from the supernatural oeuvre and with the structure of this final instalment Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is essentially a series of battle sequences aided by the use of its special effects, beginning with the prelude to actual battle – the breakout of Gringotts, to little familiar things like the way the Pensieve works. David Vickery and Greg Butler are both new nominees. In addition to being nominated for the previous times the series showed up here for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Burke won for his work on Gladiator and John Richardson was nominated for Cliffhanger and Starship Trooper winning for Aliens

Hugo: Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning
Depending on whom you decide to listen to, Hugo will be heralded as the finest use of 3D in cinema. This is possibly true. Still, despite the plethora of nominations the film racked up (a number of the technical categories) it does not emerge as the conventional sort of visual spectacle that one would expect to traditionally be laurelled here. Thinking this, though, does a disservice to the film as well as the visual effects’ branch of the Academy. Hugo may not win (who the hell knows, right?) but it’s most certainly a contender, even if it’s tough to separate the straight visual effects from the cinematography form the production design (they’re all sooooo gorgeous). Curiously, the entire quarter of nominees are first time nominees. Good for them.

Real Steel: Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
BIG! BAD (I assume)! ROBOTS! I never saw Real Steel, and I’ve managed some (admittedly marginal) growth over the last few months s I don’t feel the incessant need to watch a film simply because it’s an Oscar nominated one; although, if I do see Real Steel showing in the future, I’ll probably bite just to see how the robots work. I don’t want to call it a surprise nomination, since I haven’t seen the film. But, look, I was surprised when it was nominated, I will be surprised if it manages to will, although from all indications the work seems to be more than credible. You guys, I’m stumped. Any of you saw Real Steel? Does it deserve its spot? Anyhow, Nash was nominated for his work on I, Robot, the other three are each enjoying their first nominations.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett
When summer came around, the hit that no one seemed to have seen coming (or one of them) was the clunkily titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There was even that somewhat dubious, but still somewhat successful in part, attempt to turn Andy Serkis’ work into an Oscar nominated performance. It’s more than the motion-capture work of the apes giving this a deserved place among these films, though. That first sequence where a female ape loses it and tears up a building is important, and a point to the later climatic sequence which moves from a building the streets culminating in a spectacle on the San Francisco Bridge that’s just a beauty. And, it’s all helmed by a proven man. Joe Letteri is a four time Oscar winner for the final two instalments of The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Avatar (and a nominee for I, Robot). The other three gents are first-time nominees.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier
Robots looking pretty. That is good use of visuals, no? Look, if you really want to go there and attack the paucity of legitimate storylines as proof that the Transformer series shouldn’t be a triple Oscar nominee, you’re preaching to the wrong audience. Because, really, it’s difficult – maybe, impossible – to indict them for half-sassing the technical aspect of their films. And, since this an award for the good use of visual everything on story or film quality if is peripheral. And, golly, does this thing look good. Will it take the prize? I wonder. Truth be told, the minor Oscar upset that was The Gold Compass winning the prize for Visual Effects was a favourite moment of mine. Not because I have anything against the Transformers, but I REALLY liked The Golden Compass. Now, the question is, if that win is something the AMPAS wants to make up for, or if it’s sign that they don’t want to award it a win. This is me overthinking, right? Scott Farrar has six nominations here, most recently for his work on the LAST Transformers (he won for Cocoon), Benza has two nominations, both for this series, Butler is celebrating his first and Frazier has a whopping ten nominations the last being in the same year for Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (oddly overlooked here). He won for Spiderman 2
Projected Winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (by a millimetre)
Alternate: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, perhaps a more logical winner?
What do you think? Is the visual category all wrapped up? Is there still a surprise waiting? What do you think?


Amir said...

I think you might be underestimating Hugo a little bit.
The whole thing with "will they want to honor Harry Potter goodbye" will depend on how much they like Hugo since, like yourself, I think this category (and art direction) are potter's best chances and Hugo might just win both.
I would bet my money on Apes at the end of the day though. But you're right on the money, we might be overestimating it a bit.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

amir incidentally, hugo was my choice in my last predictions, and then i thought i was overestimating it because i loved it so, so i went my head. if i'm wrong, i'd be elated.