Thursday, November 11, 2010

Less is More

It's hard to advertise TVs. If you don't actually have the TV in front of you to look at, you can't see what the advertisers are claiming. They just use stand-in pictures of flowers or hot air balloons to imply what you cant see.

Also Peyton Manning.

Since I'm trying to write about these same TVs I'm going to try my best to describe what's going on without forcing you to go to store to see them in person.

First off, look carefully at these two clips from The Twilight Zone:

Don't feel the need to watch the whole thing, or pay attention to what's going on with the story. Just look at the quality of the image and the way things move.

You may not be able to describe it in words, but you can probably tell that there's something different between the way those two clips look.

The reason is the first clip is shot on film while the second is shot on video. The way the light bouncing off the actors and the surroundings is converted to a series of fixed images is different between the two methods, which is why they look different.

Okay, I lied. I really do want you see these TVs in person, so put on your shoes and grab your keys...

Go to Shopko or Walmart or some other big store that has a wall of TVs all playing the same movie. If you look closely, the movie will look different on some TVs (namely the big expensive ones) than others.

The difference is almost as stark as it is in those Twilight Zone clips. Two TVs playing the same thing, but one looks like a movie and one looks like basic cable. I was at Shopko the other day and saw Toy Story 3 playing on the TVs and it looked like a videogame cut-scene.

To really see this in action, go to a big electronics store like Best Buy where they have the fancy TVs playing a demo reel that over-emphasizes this effect, supposedly to impress you. What I saw was big budget live action features that looked like soap operas or behind-the-scenes footage and even bigger budget animated films that looked like the cheap educational shows on Nick Jr.

Only one of these cost $80 Million.

What makes these TVs look different is that they have a really high refresh rate of 240Hz, compared to the 60Hz of a regular TV. Every manufacturer has this and each have their own special-sounding name for it. Sony has FlowMotion, Toshiba has ClearFrame (or ClearScan; they call it both ways on their site) Samsung has it, but doesn't have a fancy name for it.

What it's actually doing is taking the frames from the movie and interpolating new inbetween frames to "smooth out" the motion, and in turn changing the picture's inherent visual qualities, just like the videotaped Twilight Zone episodes.

The stated purpose of this is to reduce blurring of images, which may look good watching sports, (which is all you may see on some TV demos) but disastrous for films where the blurring is specifically part of the look of the medium, or even worse CG animation where the blurring is consciously added to make the these wholly manufactured images look more "lifelike".

I don't know what this does to hand-drawn animation. I couldn't bring myself to ask the sales clerk to pop in a Blu-Ray of Princess and the Frog just so my blog post could be more thorough.

Plus blurriness is a normal part of human vision (both from depth of field and fast motion). So taking it away for the sake of technological one-ups-manship and "realism" actually makes it look more fake.

Skyline isn't as impressive as I thought it would be.

I'm already disillusioned about CG films on Blu-Ray in general because I think the added clarity just amplifies the "CG-ness"of it all and reminds me I'm watching a computer model rather than an actual character with a personality. These TVs just kick it further into the uncanny valley.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Marketing Matters

I've come to the conclusion that animated features are overexposed.

The amount of money studios spend on marketing and advertising for movies is truly insane. It can be almost as much as they spend on actually making the movie itself.

Pixar and Dreamworks tend to be the biggest offenders, routinely spending well over $100 million a film to convince you to buy your tickets. (UP cost $175 million to make and likely cost another $150 million to advertise) And from what I can tell, it's not worth it.

Animated films have become the"safe" movies to go to; the ones that you can easily assume will be funny without being confusing or disappointing; not just films for

When I went to see Megamind today the row in front of me had 3 adults in their mid-20's and the row behind me had 3 adult in their late-40's/early-50's; no kids at all.

Given the broad appeal this films have, they could save a lot of money by advertising less and I doubt it would hurt their box office numbers at all.

In the case of Megamind, it would do far better because the advertising effectively ruined the actual movie.

Here's the trailer you've been hammered with for the past several months.

Here's the problem: The whole "Metro Man is retired" thing is a plot twist. For the 50 minutes or so before that you're supposed to think that he's dead.

And note that I didn't call spoiler alert and such, because I don't have to. The movie spoiled itself with its trailers.

If you haven't seen it before (like I hadn't) here's the Comic-Con trailer:

I'd bet anything that after this trailer screened the marketing people freaked out at letting people think the protagonist of their $170 million movie killed somebody so they did theirest to sweep that under the rug even though the movie was probably 90% finished at the time.

I spent bulk of this movie unable to really care about what's going on because I already knew what was going to happen. It wasn't until the 75 minute mark (of this 95 minute movie) that I was able to actually be surprised at what was going on.

So this is a case where a movie would have been vastly better had it been advertised differently, but Megamind is also a laundry list of all the things I hate about Dreamworks films in general. Ugly designs, insincere trendiness, relying on popular songs to carry things, etc... Plus it's wall-to-wall talking. The first 8 minutes or so of this movie is Will Ferrell talking non-stop and it's all stuff you've already seen in the trailers.

Every time I've seen this poster I grunt out an audible UGH of involuntary disgust; even when I passed it as I was walking to my seat. That should've been a tipoff.

If you really love the sound of Will Ferrell's voice, go watch Megamind. And if you can find way to sneak into a screening that's already about 75 minutes in, do that; you've already seen that part anyway.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's a Plympton-mentary

Are you familiar with the work of animator Bill Plympton?

On top of his dozens of shorts Plympton has also released 5 feature-length animated films, all drawn entirely by him.

Filmmaker Alexis Anastasio is working on a documentary on this legend of animation, but she's got a lot of money left to raise and only about 12 days left to do it.

Check out her Kickstarter Page and see if you can't toss a couple bucks her way.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

OMG Owls!

How can you adapt 3 books spanning about 750 pages of epic fantasy into a single 90 minute movie?

If Legend of the Guardians is any indication, you can't.

In cramming as much of the books into this film as possible, little is setup well enough for you understand what's going on, and if you do understand what's going on, you won't be given the context to care.

Another problem is that a lot of what they're bringing in from the books just isn't conducive to film. Many of the names (ex. Ezylryb, Otulissa) are hard to hear and remember when they're just spoken. And so much of what these owls do throughout the film has to do with how the feel in their gizzard, which in this rushed pace and without the descriptive power of prose is just confusing.

The fact that this is directed by 300 director Zach Snyder is evident because he obviously has a patent on obnoxious and pointless slo-mo. The idea of the 3D fad turning movies into cut-rate theme park rides is only buoyed by film like this.

Snyder also loves big metal helmets

A major part of artmaking is composition; selecting and enhancing certain aspects while minimizing or eliminating others in order make what you want to say more clear. On the other hand the hyper-realistic style of Legend of the Guardians does themselves a lot of harm by piling on detail for its own sake while covering up parts that make things interesting, or at least understandable.

There are also many times when you can't tell two characters apart from one another, which is compounded even further when they're in a swooshing, fast-cut action scene.

This is either the undercover traitor or one of the 4 comic relief characters. They look the same.

I will give the production studio Animal Logic credit, Legend of the Guardians is far better than their previous film, Happy Feet. Being goofy and cartoony isn't well suited for this hyper-real style and that's restrained compared to Happy Feet, but when it does happen it still drags on the film. Also not hammering us with "celebrity voices" is an improvement. There are a few well-known actors in this such as Helen Mirren and Geoffrey Rush, but they don't stick out like sore thumb like Robin Williams assaulting your ears in not one, but two characters in Happy Feet.

And whatever the hell this is.

So if you're interested in watching Legend of the Guardians I highly suggest you either read the books or stay away.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Give me my ball. I'm going home.

Variety is reporting that Disney has decided to pull it's support for the annual Annie Awards, run by ASIFA Hollywood.

The contention is the judging for the awards, which are voted on by everyone with a paid-up ASIFA membership. But since Dreamworks buys memberships for all their employees that theoretically allows them to stuff the ballot box, even though Pixar has won top honors 6 of the last 10 years.

I can't claim to be a big follower of the Annie Awards, or any other film awards for that matter, but if Disney is so concerned about Dreamworks buying up memberships, why not buy memberships for its employees as well?

In doing so you're supporting a non-profit organization that aims to preserve and promote animation as an artform while preserving your chances to continuously win an award that no one outside the animation industry cares about.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I've been Incepted

I finally got around to watching Inception which I really enjoyed. Reading other people's opinions it seems to be both a pretty divisive film with a lot of respectable people either loving it or hating it, and also a film that's perfectly suited for over-analyzing. It takes about 10 seconds to find over a dozen theories and allegorical models as to what really happened and what it all means.

Damn you, toy top. Once again you've shattered my delicate grasp on reality.

All this cinematic navel gazing reminded of the Pop Culture and Philosophy Series, books featuring 15 or so essays that each explore philosophical ideas in the guise of a certain movie, TV show, etc....

This list has 40 of these books, but there are a good 10 or so more than that. I have the one on baseball and really liked it, though it's been about 5 years since I read it so I cite anything specific that I liked. Probably wouldn't kill me to read it again.

Some I can buy more than others. The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia seem far more fertile ground for philosophical introspection than say Family Guy or Harley-Davidson motorcycles. And judging by the review score people are far more accepting of waxing philosophical on Quentin Tarantino movies than Jimmy Buffet songs.

Not pictured: Immanuel Kant

I fully expect Inception to get one of these books in the next 6 months or so.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The 11 cartoon you can't show on television

Check out this article from The Root calling for a DVD release of the so-called Censored 11-a group of Looney Tunes shorts that have been kept under wraps for the past 40+ years because they contain black caricatures and stereotypes.

Run for cover! That rubber nose is loaded!

Much in the same way Disney balked on the idea on releasing Song of the South as part of the more collector and historian-oriented Disney Treasures DVDs, apparently some of the best animation the Golden Age has to offer is off limits because there are black characters in it.

I can see not wanting to air these cartoons for kids on mid-day television, (not that Looney Tunes get aired on TV anymore) which was the main idea of the Censored 11, but on DVD it can easily be marketed to the adults that want to see it.

As the article mentions, Charlie Chan grossly caricaturized Asians as much as (probably more than) these cartoons caricaturize African Americans. And there are dozens of DVD releases for those films.

Left: Completely offensive and should never see daylight. Right: A-Okay!

Plus, none of these cartoons were hateful or mean-spirited toward blacks, and compared to WWII cartoons aimed at lampooning the Japanese they're downright quaint.

I'm against outside censorship and believe all media should be readily accessible, even if it's the stuff giant media conglomerates would rather people forget.

Warners already has their Warner Archive site that sells print-on-demand DVDs of old and obscure movies from the Warner Bros. catalog. Why not dump those and any other unreleased Looney Tunes on there where you can make a buck off the cartoon nerds and the squares are none the wiser?

I'm sure the lure of profits can soften even the grip of decades of over-zealous censorship.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

20 Minutes into the Future is here

When I was in high school my favorite shows were often old reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel, (before they all 80's hair metal and started spelling their name wrong) and my favorite of them all was the cyberpunk drama Max Headroom.

It definitely says something about my teen years that my favorite show was one that had been canceled 10 years earlier.

With it's rather prescient take on the future of technology and media in society, it's amazing more hasn't been made of a show so ahead of it's time.

It's also amazing that the creators behind Max Headroom never really did any major after that.

Nothing you can mention in polite company, anyways.

However I never really expected Max Headroom would ever be released on DVD. Fortunately, I was wrong.

As for the show itself, the picture looks as good as mid-80's TV can be expected to look, which is actually pretty good.

Plus the episodes are the full cuts that ran on ABC and later on Bravo and I always went to great lengths to track down tapes of those instead of the cut-down ones that ran on the Sci-Fi Channel and the butchered ones on Tech TV.

The special features are more than thorough; more than 2 hours of interviews with writers and producers and actors. The big disappointment is that they couldn't get an interview with Matt Frewer, which casts rather gray shadow over the whole ordeal. You couldn't get Max Headroom for your Max Headroom DVD?

It's also too bad they couldn't have put the original British movie on this set as well. I doubt it'll get it's own release so I'd have gladly paid a few extra bucks to have tossed it in here.

If you've never seen Max Headroom, give it a rent. The future isn't as distant as you think.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ebay account OF THE BEAR!

I doubt this is of interest to many people, but if you're a fan of the 80's Filmation show Bravestarr, Christmas just came early:

There are literally over a thousand listings of cels, backgrounds and even entire folders of animation scenes. All ranging from 5-30 bucks!

I got mine:
Big Shot of Thirty-Thirty loking like a Spaz? Where's my wallet!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The lynx has been found

I got a pleasant surprise this morning to see that the Spanish animated feature The Missing Lynx which came out in Europe at the end of 2008 was released on DVD in North America today and is available on Netflix Watch Instantly.

I'm really only mentioning this for people like me who feel compelled to watch every animated film that comes along, (assuming there are such people) because it's such a skippable movie.

The only notable thing about this film is that Antonio Banderas was a producer on it. Literally the first thing you see in this movie is his name. And as far as I can tell he didn't do a voice in it, not even the Spanish version.

I also got word that WB is releasing a complete series set for Batman Beyond almost 3 years after their single season releases. I assume this is for milking out some more money rather than tying in to another property.