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Star Trek Into Darkness (#110 of 4)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

Although the conclusion is foregone, this year’s visual effects category reveals some hard truths about the current state of big-budget moviemaking, with a normative platoon of weightless, synthetic images pervading four of the five nominees. But the deadening effect of their digital artifice is not fully illuminated until watching the final and only real contender of the lot. With Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón channels the early days of CGI, when even flawed digital creations seemed to exist within the photographic world of a film. Gravity resonates powerfully in spite of its flaws (namely its transparent narrative mechanics) because Cuarón keeps the focus on his star and emotional anchor (an excellent Sandra Bullock), all the while orchestrating gorgeously sustained images of chaos and destruction, courtesy of cinema’s latest technologies. His seamless employment of visual effects is strictly a means of transmitting the film’s compact, immediate story of survival. Moreover, that the technical marvel is secondary to the overall experience is a testimony to the very tools that made it possible. Gravity not only sets a new high-water mark for visual effects, but also implicitly rebukes the hollow spectacle of modern mainstream cinema. Unlike the sensory blur that its fellow nominees conjure, there’s poetry in Gravity’s images.

Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn’t hit North American theaters until this Friday, it’s already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that’s existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it’s only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world’s motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Box Office Rap Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

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Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu
Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium topped the box office this past weekend, though its lead over the competition ended up being less than anticipated. However, if one were following The Hollywood Reporter’s coverage on Friday, that margin was said to be even less, as writer Pamela McClintock claimed that “strong matinee business” suggested Planes was headed for a $30 million weekend, which was set to match that of the Matt Damon actioner. The actual for Planes ended up in third place with $22.2 million, over 25% less than initially reported. More troubling than the inaccurate figures, which are understandable given the unpredictability of internal weekend multipliers and whatnot, is the article’s headline, which claims that Planes’s performance is “breaking [the] animation curse,” allegedly created from underwhelming box-office openings by Turbo and The Smurfs 2. An animation curse? It’s hard to argue for any curse, given the almost $640 million made worldwide by Monsters University and the $745 million made worldwide by Despicable Me 2, the latter of which is second to only Iron Man 3 as the highest-grossing domestic release of 2013.

Poster Lab: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Poster Lab: <em>The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug</em>

As Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) famously told Frodo (Elijah Wood) when he set out for Mount Doom, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” The greeting-card-ready, underdoggish sentiment is one to which Peter Jackson has hewn closely, and surely one that was paramount for J.R.R. Tolkien too. It was the philosophy that fueled The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s the one that now pilots The Hobbit saga, as freshly evidenced by the teaser poster for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Rarely do you see a protagonist appear so miniscule on a major movie poster, especially one that’s part of a mega-budget blockbuster franchise. The effect, however, is superbly achieved. Having set out from his homeland (or rather, finally left his home, as the last film’s poster illustrated), Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is now deep in the wilds of Middle-earth, surrounded by craggy danger and dwarfed (so to speak) by a mounting gloom. Like Frodo, he’s a mere speck when measured against the powers of this world, and this one-sheet elegantly succeeds in depicting lofty stakes, which many felt would never compare to those of the earlier films. Gone is the warm and welcoming sun that beckoned Bilbo out of his Hobbit hole, and in its place is the steam and ember-yellow glow of a dragon’s breath, which emanates from inside The Lonely Mountain.