Monday, March 31, 2008

Beowulf: Cutting Edge Filmmaking

Last night I watched the new Robert Zemeckis movie, BEOWULF, on DVD. I found it absolutely fascinating.

First of all, I am an English major, so I'm no stranger to the original work. I believe I read it in high school as well as college - so I'm familiar with the themes. Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay, and he did a fantastic job of bringing out what I would call the "quiet themes" of the original epic poem. The tale is a simple one, "big hero slays monsters", and I remember learning in my classes that if Beowulf has a weakness, it is his greed and his pride. Gaiman's screenplay did a tremendous job of giving the original epic poem great depth of story, and the dialogue was amazing.

Also, the look of this film blew me away - it is truely cutting edge. The entire film is done with motion capture and CGI. I would have LOVED to see this film on Blu-Ray, but alas, I have not invested in that (glorious) piece of equipment yet. I understand it was also shown in 3-D at IMAX, but I missed it (Man, I suck! I miss all the good stuff.)

This film, as I understand, had sort of mixed reviews (69% on the TomatoMeter). I had no complaints about the story or, really, anything about the film - I thoroughly enjoyed it. The talent alone involved in the project was impressive. Zemeckis directing, screenplay by Gaiman, and the actors included Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Crispin Glover, and John Malkovich.

But let's talk about the highlight of the Beowulf DVD - the "making of" featurette. If you want to get a glimpse into astonishingly high-tech moviemaking, watch this DVD feature. The film, as I mentioned, was done entirely with motion capture of the actor's performances. So literally, they had Winstone, Hopkins, and the others in motion capture suits (which look like polka dot deep dive suits) and even motion capture dots on their face! And they would act out scenes in a bare bones set - remember the play "Our Town"? It's like that, only with fluorescent colors and dots. And Zemeckis comments that the efficiency of the process is staggering - what normally would be a 1 day shoot for a live action film, they were able to complete in 1 hour.

Also, here is a great snippet I pulled from the Beowulf Wikipedia article:

Animation supervisor Kenn MacDonald explained that Zemeckis used motion capture because “Even though it feels like live action, there were a lot of shots where Bob cut loose. Amazing shots. Impossible with live action actors. This method of filmmaking gives him freedom and complete control. He doesn’t have to worry about lighting. The actors don’t have to hit marks. They don’t have to know where the camera is. It’s pure performance." A 25 x 35-foot stage was built, and it used 244 Vicon MX40 cameras. Actors on set wore seventy-eight body markers, and transparent costumes. The cameras recorded realtime footage of the performances, shots which Zemeckis reviewed. The director then used a virtual camera to choose camera angles from the footage which was edited together.

I can't say enough about how fascinating I found this filmmaking process. This was easily one of the most enjoyable and interesting "Making Of" featurettes I've watched on DVD.

So rent this DVD if you haven't already, its definitely worth it - and in my opinion, the film is much better than what most people have given it credit for.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fanboy Confidential: What's up next, GDT?

I nice treat for GDT fans has just been posted online - Maurice at Fanboy Confidential invited me to guest host their latest episode, which includes an extended conversation on some of GDT's "rumored" projects. We cover a lot of ground, so be sure to give it a listen. Also, we spend some some time talking about the new INCREDIBLE HULK film, and compare it to Ang Lee's HULK.

Thank you, Maurice, for giving me this opportunity to participate, it was a lot of fun! I was filling in for Dave for this episode, but he will be back next month. These guys really know their stuff, I recommend their show highly to any movie/comic fans out there.

So leave a comment and let me know what you thought of the show, and let me know what you think GDT's next project should be!

Friday, March 21, 2008

What? No Giant Penguins?

This article on CNN this morning caught my eye: Giant sea creatures found in Antarctic search. Naturally, the first thing I thought of was AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. I half expected to hear that the scientists found some strange star-headed creatures on the ocean floor, or better yet, giant penguins.

But as it turned out, scientists surveying New Zealand's arctic waters just found some giant jellyfish, starfish, sea snails and a huge "meadow" of sea lillies. This is actually pretty cool stuff - its fun to think there are still new creatures on Earth to be discovered.

I just wish a studio head would "discover" the need for an ATMOM movie.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is It Time to Buy a Blu-Ray Player?

As a movie buff and an avid DVD collector, I've been asking myself this question ever since HD-DVD went the way of the Beta player. So I turned to an expert - Bill Hunt, Editor of Many thanks to Bill for being kind enough to answer my questions. Be sure to visit his site - it is great! (And they have contests!)

Now that HD-DVD has fallen, is now a good time to invest in a Blu-Ray player?
Yes, there’s never been a better time. And if you wait until summer, or later this year, the prices will drop significantly, and profile 2.0 (final profile) players will be available as well. If you just can’t wait, the Sony PS3 is a great player and it can be firmware updated to final profile later this year.

When do you think Blu-Ray disc prices and players might go down?
Summer and fall, as we head into the holiday shopping season. You’ll see lots of deals and sale prices. I expect there will be HDTV/Blu-ray player combo deals. Several models of Blu-ray player will be available for around $299. Samsung is preparing a player that could sell for as low as $250 this Christmas.

Do you see the PS3 Blu-Ray player as being the best on the market? What else would you recommend?
It’s definitely an excellent player, and as I said above, you can firmware update it all the way to profile 2.0, which means it’s future proof. The other model I can really recommend is Panasonic’s BD-30 and BD-50. I have the BD-30 right now and it’s great (it’s profile 1.1). The BD-50 (which is profile 2.0) will be out in May or June. Profile 1.1 means it does picture-in-picture. Profile 2.0 means it can connect to the Internet and can deliver online features.

Are the Blu-Ray discs just like the standard discs, only with better picture quality? Or do they have different content?
Same basic idea – the disc contains a movie and extras, simply with the highest possible quality video and audio. Extras are going to be potentially more interesting too – more advanced interactivity.

What do you think of the upconverter players?
They’re good, but not as good as Blu-ray players. They may be good enough for some people, who just don’t really need the highest quality. The good news is that all Blu-ray Disc players upconvert your existing DVD discs too, so your current movies not only won’t be obsolete, they’ll look better than ever on Blu-ray players.

What else is on the horizon for DVD or home entertainment? Have you seen what Netflix is doing now? Members of their "unlimited"plans have access to 7,000 movies for viewing online. It works great - instantaneous streaming, great picture. Could this be a sign of things to come?
Eventually, streaming or downloading will be a big thing, but not for a long time will it dominate. There are a lot of technical hurdles, like bandwith issues and compression. I expect that downloading will really make in-roads in the rental market, but collectors aren’t going to be interested in it. Downloading isn’t anywhere near the quality of Blu-ray.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Give Hellboy Some Love

In THE GOLDEN ARMY, Hellboy is in love....and cohabitating...with Liz.

A true Hellboy comics purist should be outraged. Hellboy showing a softer side? His time on film should be better spent clocking overgrown octapus monsters, right?

Nah. In the movies, giving Hellboy a love interest works for two reasons: character development and comedy.

The theme of the first film was Hellboy finding out what it takes to be a man. Finding love fits right into that theme. And it works for Liz's character as well - she is an outsider, she is alone, confused - she is an orphan. She needs someone to love her. In HELLBOY, the movie, the relationship fits. It ties up everything in a neat package at the end of a 2 hour film, and develops the characters nicely.

And GDT also has tapped into a treasure trove of comedic potential by having Big Red pine for a woman - it is a classic comedic formula: big tough guy can fight villains but is tongue tied and awkward around a girl. The scene where Hellboy is trying to pen a note to Liz is very funny, and makes him even more likeable as a character.

I would cast aside any arguments that GDT put in the love story to appease studio heads or to make this film more "accessible" to the masses (i.e. women). GDT fought too hard to get the film made his way. If he didn't see the love story from the beginning, it wouldn't be there.

So I'm looking forward to seeing how the relationship progresses in THE GOLDEN ARMY. From the things I've heard, there sounds like there will be some very funny moments. But I'm also interested to see how this grows Hellboy (and Liz) as a character.

Since they are co-workers, I wonder if they have to fill out one of those forms in HR?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TV Is Getting Better

Remember how bad television used to be? Seriously, there are shows that I used to watch when I was a kid, and when I watch them now on reruns I realize how truly bad the writing on those shows were . They are so bad they are almost nostalgic. Like some people like to watch old black and white movies just because it reminds them of a simpler, more romantic era. Now, watching old television programs like THREE'S COMPANY, KNIGHT RIDER, or THE A-TEAM reminds you of how far we have come. Right now, television has never been better.

Not that any of you AMERICAN IDOL/DANCING WITH THE STARS crazies would know it(Those are two highest rated shows of 2007 in the U.S.).

Still, there is a big difference in the production value of television shows these days. Shows cost more, stars are coming to television instead of leaving for movies, and some of the best writers and directors are showing an interest in the small screen. And the beautiful part of television is the duration. A great movie can last 2 hours. A great television show can last 13 or 14 years!! I think the first show I truly got addicted to was The X-Files. The production value was so high that it was hard to turn around a lot of episodes in a year, but the quality of the show was beyond anything that I had ever watched.

Below is a list of my favorite shows on television right now. I will post my 2008 preview soon.


Battlestar Galactica

The Skinny: The last race of humans flees from a race of killer robots that they created.

The Review: This show gets high marks for acting, writing, and special effects. It has the whole package. Each episode feels like a one hour movie. If my SURVIVOR-loving wife (reality show, not the band) can sit down and watch a show with spaceships and killer robots, it's gotta be good!


The Skinny: Two brothers chase down demons and ghosts, while facing their own destiny with evil.

The Review: What started as a ghost and monster show for twenty-somethings on the WB has grown into the best horror drama on television. It is well-written, owns a mythology that keeps you coming back every week, and Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester can play it cool and funny. He is one of the most entertaining actors on the tube these days.

Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia

The Skinny: A group of misfits own an Irish bar in Philadelphia and do bad things.

The Review: Hands down the funniest show on television. It is wrong, it is crude, and it is hilarious. The show titles say it all: "The Gang Gets Racist", "Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare", "Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody's Ass". Inspired.


The Skinny: Two plastic surgeons deal with their vices and their dysfunctional family.

The Review: Never has watching television been more of a guilty pleasure. Nip/Tuck puts Dallas, Falcon's Crest, and Dynasty all to shame. This is a true primetime soap opera that is not afraid to go where television has no business going.


The Skinny: A young Clark Kent deals with everyday life in Smallville, while slowly realizing his destiny as the greatest super hero of all time.

The Review: I have no business watching this show. Its made for teenagers. Still, when the writers stick with scripts on Kal El's destiny and Clark's teenage angst, it is at its best - both moving and inspirational. And that is the ultimate tribute to Superman

The Office

The Skinny: Everyday life in an office in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The Review: This show gets funnier with each episode. Steve Carrell (Michael) and Rain Wilson (Dwight K. Schrute) make for the funniest duo on television. The show features a bizarre cast of characters that are unique and hilariously predictable in their behaviors, much like old classics like CHEERS, NIGHT COURT, NEWHART, and BARNEY MILLER.

Favorite New Show: Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles
This show may pan out. It is building some interesting characters and staying faithful to the spirit of the original movies. The time travelling is getting awfully confusing, though. For its rookie season, I give it a big thumbs up. And anytime I can watch killer cyborgs on television, I'm happy.

Shows that I missed

Here is a list of shows that I missed, but I hear are really good. I will be looking to watch these on DVD:

My Name Is Earl

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Abe Sapien: The Drowning

I finally got around to reading my ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING comic last night. I thought it was pretty good. I was surprised how much I liked Jason Shawn Alexander's art. I especially liked the tone of the story - it fun. As if Mignola was smiling as he was writing it. In the past, when I read Hellboy or BPRD, it seems too serious at times. The beauty of the Hellboy character is that he cuts through the crap. As a villain is spouting off an evil monologue, he'll usually fire off a fiesty, blue collar remark (Aw, crap!). But one of my criticisms of Mignola's writing is he doesn't do enough of that. My initial impression with THE DROWNING is that it is going to be a little more fun. We'll see after I read #2.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Favorite Drew Struzan Movie Posters

As was reported by CHUD, Drew Struzan will be creating a movie poster for Hellboy II: The Golden Army. In honor of this, I thought it would be cool to post some of my favorite Struzan movie posters, so here you go:

The Classics - these posters are synonymous with the movies themselves

Back to the Future - 1985

Big Trouble in Little China - 1986

The Thing - 1982
Risky Business - 1983

My Favorite Struzan Horror Posters

Squirm - 1976

Tentacles - 1976

Other cool favorites...

Incubus - 1981

The Norseman - 1978

The Muppet Movie - 1980

And of course, here is the Struzan Hellboy poster (2004)!

To see more of these great posters, I recommend visiting the Drew Movie Poster Page.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Herzog and RESCUE DAWN

I just watched RESCUE DAWN this past weekend on DVD. I was fascinated.

Let me first say that it is a GOOD movie, not a great one. The film is about the escape of Vietnam war POW and American fighter pilot Dieter Dengler. Christian Bale stars as Dieter, and the film also stars (my man) Steve Zahn as fellow American POW Duane Martin.

It is a fascinating story - and I love cinematic "true stories" - but what really impressed me about the film was the direction by acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog. And I didn't realize it until I started watching the DVD special features.

In one of the featurettes, Herzog talks about his philosophy of keeping the "reality" of the actual events in the film. This was evident by Herzog having his actors walk through the jungle barefoot, eating maggots, attaching leeches to their bodies, and enduring hours of filming where they were handcuffed to the floor of a bamboo hut. The lengths that the director, actors, and crew went to create this film borders on insane - but it made for a compelling cinema.

As I started to read up on the film a bit, I found a quote from Herzog that caught my eye. Dengler lived through horrific torture while a POW, only some of which is shown in RESCUE DAWN:

In his real story, and it was partially filmed, there was real torture, very nasty torture. I never felt comfortable with number one filming it and keeping it in the film because I always when I make a film see it like a spectator. As a spectator, I do not want and do not like to see physical violence against the defenseless. I do not want to see the rape of a woman. I do not want to see torture of a man in handcuffs. A couple of these scenes were filmed because they happened to be in the screenplay. When you read it on paper, it looks different than when you really do it in physical life and you do it for the camera. Most of these scenes are deleted. I always had a feeling they should be deleted and I had a big confrontation with a producer one of these days and I predicted they would be out and they are out now. I’m very confident with the way it is.

I think this is a very different philosophy than what we've seen from GDT, who chose to show the torture of a human being in PAN'S LABYRINTH. GDT's intent was for the torture to be "off-putting" to the spectator, whereas Herzog chose to spare the spectator the emotion.

I highly recommend you peruse some of these interviews with Herzog that I am posting below, and also I hope you take the time to watch the film and ESPECIALLY the special features. To watch Herzog and these actors make this film and talk about their filmmaking philosophy was definitely an educational experience.