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.