tiistai 29. marraskuuta 2011

Sensation: The Statue of Liberty Can Gibberish!

Cabinets of curiosities - they came into my mind while I read about restored version of Ski Patrol (1940) in Suomen Kuvalehti 47/2011. The connection between these two subjects is perhaps an odd one, so let me explain it a bit.

A cabinet of curiosity was a place where - if anywhere - people could see for example a stuffed corpse of a two headed cow, or even a stuffed unicorn. Yes, some of these curiosities were so exotic that they had never really existed. That's probably why cabinets of curiosities became rare curiosities themselves: people just didn't want to be fooled with fake sensations anymore.

Some films could be seen as curiosity items. While film makers are creating artificial representations of real cultures, races and places, some of their ideas turn into preserved fantasy specimens in "liquid". I must admit I haven't (yet) had a chance to see Ski Patrol but according to movie journalist Lauri Lehtinen's introduction in Suomen Kuvalehti - it seems just like a perfect example of curiosity item. Ski Patrol is an American movie (made by Universal Studios). It tells about war between Finland and Russia in the winter 1939. So, is it a historical movie? Not quite, as you can find out from Lehtinen's transcription:

"[Ski Patrol is] a melodramatic adventure made right after the winter war. Instead of historical facts it offers us substitute Finland which is created in terms of Hollywood. There's some links to the reality. Finnish flags and heroine Julia Engel's (Luli Deste) Lotta Svärd symbol looks like real.
But perhaps you shouldn't be seeking anything else authentic in this movie, where Finns live in small towns which looks like villages on the Alps. Also men's pointy hats and long pipes are like from some country in the Alps."

According to Lehtinen, Universal was trying to save in costs and used materials from their earlier movie, The Doomed Battalion (1932). This movie took place on the border of Austria and Italy during the WWI. Okay, Austria, Italy, Finland, world wars - who cares about details, at least the film shows some war in Europe... ;)

Far outside
Whether there has to be budget cuts in a film production or not, there doesn't seem to be a need for a respected auteur with an extraordinary vision to make the film strange. Sometimes it seems like Hollywood would be a cabinet of curiosities: Its big production companies follow always the same good old pattern, where they stitch together impossible dreams. There Alexandre Astruc's caméra-stylo is almost like a curse word. If the movie takes place outside of USA, it typically has

A) foreigner characters speaking only gibberish or broken English (the Siamese king of King and I, 1956)
B) famous landmark(s) "stalking" the characters in pretty much every scene (a classic: Eiffel Tower is everywhere in Paris)
C) stereotypes of foreigners (Arabs in Sex and the City 2, 2010)
D) foreign names pronounced/ spelled wrong (Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973)

An American in Abu Dabi (Sex and the City 2, Warner Bros. 2010)

But let's not blame only Hollywood, since the same ugly mistakes are made (copied from Hollywood?) all around the world. Many times the results are just as bad as in those infamous Hollywood movies. It's not too hard to find examples. Astérix et Obelix contre César (1999) is a French-German-Italian production but just as in the Astérix comic books, even the Italian characters speak only French. In a beautiful and beloved Studio Ghibli animation Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004) different European landscapes are mixed so well that it reveals nothing from the story's origin. The animation is Japanese but writer Diana Wynne Jones was English.

Watch if you dare: Finnish made Brazilian heat from Rion yö
What becomes to stereotypical foreigners, there are everywhere. If you can't speak Finnish or haven't ever seen Rion yö (1951), don't worry. From its Carmen Conchita to Don José every character is a comic book version of people in Brazil. Of course they also speak perfect Finnish for some reason, just like the characters of Der Tiger von Eschnapur (1959) can perfect German, although they're Indian. Somehow you can almost believe that the German main character can always find an Indian, who has studied German. However, it's very hard to believe there would be Finnish speaking people all around in Brazil.

Case Wallander

I'm a Swedish detective, because I'm in Sweden! (BBC)

The abuse of foreign names is terrible in BBC movie series of Swedish detective Kurt Wallander (2008). The poor man can't even say his own name right. That gives an odd feeling to everyone, who can speak Swedish. This oddity can be so disturbing that you'll forget everything else in these movies and can't even follow the plot line. That happened to me; I forced myself to watch 2.5 of these Wallander movies before I just had to give up.

It's curious why British wanted to shoot Wallander stories in English with English actors in Sweden. The language is a huge part of the culture, which you can hear from idioms and phrases. You can call red juice as tiger blood and bottle it in tiger-shaped flasks but that won't turn it to be real tiger blood. Nope, more likely it's going to look like something quite kitsch and silly. Just like all fake things from dragon teeth to Pegasus feathers. Of course there are people who enjoy oddities and wish to find those. But if you aimed to gain other kind of success, can you really enjoy the moment when you'll realize that your sensational masterpiece is not a griffin but an artificial combination of domestic cat and chicken?

True griffin

maanantai 14. marraskuuta 2011

3 Times 3 Dimensions

Easy, that's what everybody desires. But easy there hardly ever is. In the past few months I've been reading many comments saying: 3D is giving nothing extra to this movie, except...
A) a headache from hell/ a pain in my neck/ a hurt on my nose/ all these
B) darkened image (Real3D and Imax cinemas use polarized glasses)
C) unnatural/ pixelized shots

Is it really that difficult to make a good, entertaining 3D movie? It's been tried many times in the history of movies (the earliest attempts were before talkies) but not since the past few years Hollywood has tried this hard to succeed with it. James Cameron's Avatar (2009) was the beginning of this new attempt, boom or whatever you wish to call it. In think Avatar is still on of the few good 3D movies. Why?

The creators of Avatar focused on 3D. They had to make also a 2D version of the movie, which is still made of every upcoming 3D movie. But since Avatar was marketed as an experience in 3D, its creators could put all their knowledge and power behind this technique. In other words, they didn't have to compromise so much, they could think what actually works in 3D. The film became visually very beautiful. You can actually sense how would it feel to be in the forests of Pandora, a distant moon where the story takes place.

FS-Film Oy

Nevertheless Avatar is said to be a poor or just mediocre movie, at least if it's seen in 2D. I can't prove this myself, because I refuse to view Avatar in 2D. My reason for that is simple. Every hardcore film fanatic knows, what a poor picture quality, terribly trasmitted sound, hideous pan & scan etc. can do for any movie. Let's just say that you want to watch Gone With the Wind or Blade Runner on 2.5" screen with half-working headphones. That is possible and you can probably follow the plot somehow even in that way but... When you view the same film in cinema, your experiece will be totally different. The whole picture becomes clearer in many ways. ;)

It took this long before I had a chance to find as powerful 3D experience as Avatar was. Wim Wenders' Pina (2011), a documentary of a German choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch, is another 3D movie that I wish never to see in a flat 2D format. When you have a chance to see performance arts in all three dimensions, and you've given an ability to choose, where to focus in the act, that's something 2D can't beat. Pina actually swallowed me and the others into the story every time when Bausch's dance group was telling about Pina Bausch and their feelings through dance. Unfortunately Wenders had cut talking heads and dialogue in the middle of dance sequences. To me it felt like he had no trust or courage to let these people speak through the only international language: dance. This kind of cutting interrupted this otherwise cunning and powerful movie in an ugly way at times. Still, I wish a lot of success to this flick. It's a ground-breaking documentary which also remembers Pina in a truly warm way via movements and gestures.

Bio Rex Distr.

What these two movies, Avatar and Pina, can teach us about good 3D is:
A) the movie has to be written, directed and shot for this format especially
B) the technique must still be developed

Yes, development we need, would Yoda say. Too many different techniques in different cinemas, clumsy glasses and poor seats can spoil even a movie which is written, directed and shot well. On the same day when I saw Pina, I went to see Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin (2011). It captured nicely the spirit of Hergé's comic books, although in the end it wasn't like them at all. Before I'll go deeper with this issue, a few words of the 3D glasses.

Buena Vista International

I don't use glasses regularly, but I can imagine what an agony it must be if you'll have to view a movie with double glasses. Even with one pair of glasses it can be disturbing; the one-size-for-all 3D goggles sink deep into your skin in about 45 minutes. In bright scenes you may lose your focus on the film, when you'll spot the face of the person behind you from the surface of your glasses. If your seat is not from the middle of everybody else, but too far or too close to the screen, you'll probably miss the best of the pop-out effects. (A good 3D movie should of course offer more than a weapon or a monster that pops out of the screen every now and then. I'll come to this subject later back...) A glasses free 3D technology is in development, which is a very pleasing thing. The sooner it will be ready, the better. Many 3D glasses use batteries, so this new technologue could probably save us from pain but also from spending both money and environment.

As I said, a good 3D movie is more than things popping out from the screen. In The Adventures of Tintin Spielberg and co. had chosen to use motion capture technique. It was used to make animated characters more live-like. It's probably a difficult method for actors, who'll find their role characters from masks, clothes and other things they can sense around them. While Lars von Trier was making his Dogville (2003), I recall some actors mentioning how strange it was to act in a set that was mereley some lines on the floor. In theatres, if a director wants so, it's more common to put actors (and audiences) to imagine things rather showing them in the most realistic way. For example, a scene may have only a seat and an actor but you don't need more than his words and gestures to understand that he's a king and that space around him is his court.

Motion capture doesn't need huge theatre acting gestures but if the actor and the other movie making crew understands the world of theatre, it might help their working. Also, if they're making a 3D movie, they could learn something from the world of theatre. The Adventures of Tintin is good on the level of acting. Especially Andy Serkis as captain Haddock is hilarious. He pushes the limits of the character as the animators have pushed its limits in the transformation from a comic book drawing to 3D animated anti-hero. You know that is Haddock there, he breaths and you can imagine how hairy his beard feels, but most importantly he acts like Haddock by Hergé.

The Adventures of Tintin is not that perfect on the level of 3D. Its plot is interesting, not in a way as it would be with a Kieslowski drama, but in a way of an entertaining adventure movie. There's always something happening and although Tintin is just as unsexual, super good and nice (read: boring) as in the cominc books, something makes you to keep your attention in the story. But on the level of 3D it's bit of a compromise movie. When the production company wants to sell the movie also in 2D, you'll have to think what works in this (still more popular) format. However, The Adventures of Tintin has also at least one interesting 3D idea. It actually makes the film worth of seeing in 3D.

It's not usual to shoot the story like the movie-goer were one of the characters. Julian Schnabel put the audience to see the world through the eye of a paralyzed man in Le scaphandre et le papillon (2007), and in film noir Lady in the Lake (1947) the main character is also seen only as a reflection in mirrors and windows. In The Adventures of Tintin there's several scenes, where the character's point of view helps you to "sink into the movie". When you're seeing in 3D the same as the character, you feel like being part of the adventure.

In general, 3D needs imagination. If there's a reason to shoot something in black and white instead of colour, there should be also reason/ reasons to shoot something in 3D instead of 2D. In the film's narrative has to be something that uses the given tools well and makes the exprience worth of remembering (in positive way). Perhaps film makers should go back to basics, back to theatre, and start to build the imaginated worlds from very simple pieces. If you'll begin with a fuss, with compromises between 2D and 3D and cheap "let's just throw some stuff on the audience" ideas, you could as well just burn those film making dollars.