A Dreamer Walking

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 30, 2011

In The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Steven Spielberg finally has the ability to do whatever he wants. He can visit any location the mind can imagine. He can create huge ships, vast deserts, and magnificent cities. He has complete control over all the elements. He places the sun where he wants it to be. He makes it rain, fog, or blow depending on what he thinks best fits the scene. There are many scenes in Tintin where Spielberg takes advantage of his limitless camera abilities. The camera can fit through all the small cracks. There are action shots that hold for minutes at a time. And the framing of the picture is often perfect because Spielberg can capture the acting separately from the framing.

With all the cool things that came with the limitless abilities of animation and the vast imagination of Steven Spielberg and collaborator Peter Jackson, I felt astonishingly unsatisfied with the final result. Unlike most motion capture movies I was not bugged by the photo realistic characters and locations for the most part. It was the story and character chemistry that ruined my day.

Evidently we were supposed to just love the main character Tintin right from the start. He is a journalist who apparently is always in search of a good story. However, he hardly needs to do any work to get involved with the story in this film. He happens to buy a ship at the very beginning of the movie that holds a clue to a long forgotten mystery. Everything in the film seems to fall to simply into Tintin’s hands. He gets himself into sticky situations for sure, but we never feel like Tintin is in any real danger. He is always confident and usually knows exactly what to do, which makes the thrills of the picture less suspenseful and entertaining. We have no idea to why Tintin likes adventure. We are given no time to care for Tintin as a character before we are thrown into his adventure. The movie starts out running and never slows down.

Through investigating Tintin is captured and taken to a ship where he meets captain Haddock; a drunker who has lost all confidence in his ability to command his crew. There are hints of life in the story when Tintin meets Haddock. Haddock is a big clumsy drunk who is easy to like. However, it feels like the plot gets in the way of us really getting to know Haddock. Captain Haddock is directly connected to the mystery of the Secret of the Unicorn. The story has more to do with Haddock trying to live up to his old family name, then it does with us getting to know Haddock as an individual. A huge amount of the success of the story lies in us buying into the chemistry between Haddock and Tintin. I however had a hard time liking them as a duo. Tintin is just too one dimensional and Haddock too insecure and delusional.

Steven Spielberg is a live action director and it shows in this film. First off it did not seem like Spielberg was confident in his animation collaborators. In interviews he has said he did about one month of work and then left the movie for the most part to the animation crew for about two years. In the film Spielberg has the control of the camera, but he never seems to hold on anything long enough for us truly to appreciate it. The characters are too busy fulfilling the plot and going from one action scene to another for us to really have time to appreciate them or their relationships to one another. The locations looked beautiful but we never really were given much time to explore. Spielberg also acted like these were cartoons rather then living and breathing human beings. They could survive almost anything, like plane crashes, building collapses, and huge ship fights. With animation shorts like Looney Toons one can get away with a character walking off a three hundred foot ledge and surviving or getting blown up by a TNT with only some hair burnt off. However, if you want to create a narrative that lasts more then ten minutes you need to create characters who the audience sees as alive and vulnerable to the same kind of consequences as we are in real life. All I am asking for is someone to break a limb, have a few bruises, or just be a bit out of breath after a fight or huge chase scene. Because of the huge lack of reality in Spielberg’s imagined world everything felt to convenient and fake for most to really care.

I am sure the younger audience will find The Adventures of Tintin entertaining. Every once in a while I did feel the magic that so often comes with Spielberg’s movies. There are several magnificent transitions in the film.  I felt like John Williams score was just right for the world and story material. I liked the little bit I did see of the Tintin world and am interested in exploring it more. I don’t know if the animation was mediocre because I wasn’t given enough time to appreciate it or because of the limits that come with motion capture. There still was this weightless feeling I felt with some of the animation which bothered me and is typical of motion capture. In some crowd scenes I felt like everyone blended into each other. One of motion captures greatest flaws is the inability to hit extreme poses that help express information more clearly and make each character feel unique. Motion capture is a tool yet to be perfected. However, it seemed to have taken a few steps forward in this film. The eyes never felt dead and the character designs felt more expressionistic and pleasing then in past motion capture films. Spielberg was also given a way to use many of his traditional live action techniques and apply them to the world of animation because of motion capture.

With animation there are limitless possibilities with what a filmmaker can do. However, the artist is required to create everything which means every step of production takes more time. It seems like Spielberg wanted the benefits of animation without putting in the time needed to perfect the art form. Because of this we often get a busy mess of a film. It’s a shame we get a mediocre piece of entertainment from two of the greatest entertainers of this generation, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Spielberg has said this movie was his only real experience collaborating creativity with a producer. I am interested in seeing the roles reversed when Spielberg is the cheerleader producer and Jackson is in the directors chair. The Tintin series has potential but has a long way to go if they want to make any kind of lasting effect like those of the Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings series’.

The Responsiblity of the Filmmaker

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 16, 2011

I watched something the other day that pissed me off. It was a “Christmas Special” video created by the Christian youth group I used to attend.  In the video we see a group of college students acting as cliche secret agents whose mission is to hunt down Santa Claus. Watching the video it is obvious these guys are inspired by games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and movies like Man on Fire and the Transformers franchise. In the video we see these guys load up on their share of guns and follow a lead to where Santa might be hiding. They find Santa Claus and like we often see in violent video games and movies, they murder him. There is absolutely no explanation as to why Santa Claus is dangerous and why he needs to be murdered. The guy portraying Santa acts like a stupid monkey. He is nothing like the character we associate with Christmas except he is wearing a similar suit. The driving force behind the film is a bunch of loud music taken from the soundtracks of many big budget movies and a bunch of college kids who don’t look like they know the first thing on how to actually handle a gun. They play around with objects that can KILL people like it’s the “cool” thing to do. They seem completely unaware of the example they are making for the mostly younger audience watching the video at the youth group. What boggles me is that the video was able to be played in an actual youth group (you know, the kind that claims they want to follow God). The youth group is filled with a bunch of middle schoolers and high schoolers, including my younger sister. Leadership didn’t even seem to think twice about it. One of my friends, and one time mentor in film, who works at IHOP (International House Of Prayer) called the filmmakers who created the film “cinematic geniuses”.

I wonder why movies with any kind of sexually explicit material are condemned by the church while movies with mindless violence are  not only accepted but produced by the Church. We all know what words like “frick” and “fricken” are substitutes for, yet for this “Christmas Special” it was perfectly fine to use them. I guess in this instance it was okay to break the spirit of the law as long as they kept to the letter. I stopped really caring about building based Christianity a long time ago.  However, the video I saw the other day is not okay whether you do or do not go to Church or are or are not a Christian.

I am probably not going to get many people who agree with me in this post but I need to express my opinion on this kind of ignorance in filmmaking. Film is a huge source of entertainment, but it is also something else. It’s influential. It is a powerful medium that influences the direction of nations. There are many talented filmmakers out there who create some really crappy stuff. One of the reasons I have not chosen to do a study on a talented filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino is because I so morally disagree with the glamorization of violence in his films. I have heard interviews of Tarantino saying he thinks violence is just a way to entertain. He does not think he is actually harming anyone in his films by “entertaining” people through showing  someone slashing up another mans face or carving a swastika in someones forehead. In my opinion that is like saying children who watch their fathers abuse their mothers every night are not getting harmed because the violence is not being taken out on them. What we see has an impact on us. The sexual stuff we see on television and in the movies has an impact on what the public thinks about sex. The language we hear used in the media influences the way we talk. The same goes for violence.

I have been truly impacted by the violence I have seen in film. Movies like Schindler’s List and Blood Diamond were extremely sobering for me. They allowed me to understand true evils going on in this world and they pushed me to do something about them. However games like Modern Warfare and movies like Transformers and Inglorious Bastards have done the opposite for me. Their purpose is to entertain through showing graphic violence. They have numbed me. They have stopped me from understanding the true consequences of abuse and murder. Abortion is at a all time high, there are millions of people dying from starvation each year, and we still have tens of thousands of people in our own nation committing suicide. Why? Because we have not been taught responsibility, we don’t care about death, and we are not given enough of a reason to live. Film can help change this. Film has the power to teach people about responsibility, to let them understand what it means to kill, and give them a reason to live. Yet with  every Schindler’s List caliber film, there are ten times as many Inglorious Bastard‘s. The new Modern Warfare game just past Avatar as the fastest game/movie to get to the one billion dollar mark, only taking sixteen days.  At least in movies we are just observers of the killing going on, in the game Modern Warfare we are the ones doing the killing.

It is much easier to be ignorant of what violence, vulgar language, and sexually explicit material does to our psyche. This is not a blog telling you never to use that kind of material in film. In film we see all kinds of characters. Many of the characters I see and many I create I don’t agree with. However, my motivation for filmmaking is to make this world a better place. Film can do wondrous things. Film is the art form of the 21st century. The medium gives us understanding of the past and vision for the future. So, my question is what will our future be? As filmmakers will we contribute to the kind of entertainment that numbs us to the evils of this world? Or will we take on responsibility as filmmakers and give our audiences an entertainment that gives them a vision for a better tomorrow?

It breaks my heart when I see media used in such destructive ways from people who claim to be following the same God as I am. The vision and responsibility I have as a filmmaker comes from my Creator. I along with those who made this “Christmas Special” can give the rest of this world vision and hope. We can show others how great our God is. Instead too much of Christian media seems to be full of condemnation, double standards, and lack of vision. It’s time to change. It’s time to take our role as people who claim to know the “truth”, seriously. We can be open to the world while not being a product of it. Let us be the light on top of the hill and give this world visions that reflect the heart of our Creator.

Hugo- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 9, 2011

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. It uses all the masterful filming techniques we have come to expect from a legend like Scorsese and also involves several elements we have never seen from this veteran filmmaker who is  completely new to the family genre. The film is a tribute to film itself. Reminding the new generation about the importance of the filmmakers who have come before us while also pushing the medium forward. Hugo represents Scorsese’s first theatrical film shot in 3D. He uses this new element as if he had been using it all along, bringing us into his story like never before. It is hard to compare the 3D aspect of Hugo to a movie like Avatar, but I found the 3D use to be as good if not better then the groundbreaking 3D use we see in Avatar.

Just as the 3D in Avatar transferred us into the vast and open environment of the Pandora forest, Hugo‘s use of 3D takes us deep into the secret tunnels of the Paris train station. The 3D gives the story an extra layer. There is a greater complexity to the framing. I felt as though I could measure distances more clearly. Often I felt like I was right there in the tunnels with Hugo, dust particles and the steam from the pipes drifting all around me. Scorsese uses complex tunnel systems and towering staircases to highlight the 3D effect to an even greater extent. It feels as though we are shown a painting where we are actually allowed to walk inside and explore.

The movie was not intended to be a literal representation of real life. Although the story takes place in Paris, it is an impressionistic representation. One of the common mistakes filmmakers make when creating a enchanted type feel for their story, is getting rid of all the dirt and grit that reminds us of real life. As a result most impressionistic stories feel artificial, the environments look like sets rather then something that has just jumped out of the imagination. Scorsese embraces the murky and grimy aspects of the train station. He is not afraid to explore some of the darker parts of the imagination, taking the boy Hugo into places we are not quite comfortable with. The worlds we see in film do not need to look real, only feel real. The filmmakers make it a point to physically show the strain and hardship the boy Hugo goes through. Because we see the sweat and labor it takes Hugo to survive and because he looks so accustomed to the secret tunnels of the train station where he lives, we buy into the impressionistic world the movie projects.

The subject matter directly calls for the impressionistic storytelling we see in the film. The main characters of the story are Hugo Cabret, played by upcoming child star Asa Butterfield, and Georges Melies played by veteran actor Ben Kingsley. Although the character of Hugo is fictional Georges Melies is based on a real man. At the time the story takes place in Melies is a old forgotten filmmaker who has a small toyshop in the Paris train station where Hugo lives. Hugo is a orphan who keeps the stations clocks working. The movie revolves around an old broken automaton- a mechanical puppet that was made to draw pictures. The automaton is the only thing Hugo has left reminding him of his deceased father. Through out the film Hugo works on fixing this automaton while avoiding the eye of the authorities.

Hugo gets involved with Melies by accident. However, the farther we get into the story the more we find out the automaton is directly related to Melies. Hugo runs into a girl named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of Melies. Together they go on a adventure exploring the ghosts of Melies’ past while also discovering the magic of Melies’ old art form; filmmaking.

Melies has long abandoned filmmaking. He forbid his goddaughter Isabelle from going to the movies. Hugo is the one to introduce to Isabelle the magic of the movies. Slowly Scorsese takes us deep into the origins of film, before computer effects, color, and even sound. We explore some of the very first visionaries of the medium of film. Through several marvelous montages we discover what interested the great Georges Melies in film, what he contributed to the new art form, how he was so quickly forgotten by the public, and how his contribution was so ignorantly neglected.

The film is Scorsese’s tribute to silent cinema and his plead for us to preserve the great films of the past. It is not a tribute in subject matter only, Scorsese shoots much of the movie like the old silent films. We go long periods of time with hardly any duologue. The film has a classic pace which actually enhances the 3D experience. We are allowed to cherish the whole of the environments with brilliant master shots and Scorsese connects locations through several long tracking shots. We are allowed behind the scenes of silent cinema and see how Melies created some of the first groundbreaking effects in cinema.

In Hugo Scorsese shows us the magic of filmmaking. He shows the filmmaker for who he truly is- a magician. A magician who uses flickering images projected on a screen to entertain and revolutionize the world. In this story Hugo is a magical character. It is hard not to fall in love with him. His purpose is to fix things. He thinks fixing an old despairing man like Melies will help fulfill his life. In the film Scorsese creates his own little world inside the train station. A world where Hugo is king. As mistreated and misunderstood as he is, Hugo is the character who keeps everything moving along. He is the only one who knows of the secret tunnels within the train station. He is the only one who can see all that goes on in the train station.

This film seems to be so different from Scorsese’s usual subject matter, yet so close to what I have found his heart to be. It doesn’t take long listening to someone like Scorsese to understand his deep love for the film medium. As many have already said, this is Scorsese’s love letter to silent cinema. The film represents Scorsese at his greatest. It will inspire filmmakers young and old for decades to come. In Hugo we see where dreams are made and the importance dreamers are to the world we live in.

Charlie Chaplin- An Observation- Devotion to Perfection

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 2, 2011

How could  a man with a fourth grade education, who was raised in the slums, with a father who deserted him, and a mother who went mad, become one of the greatest stars in the history of cinema? Might those hardships be why he became such a great star? Charlie Chaplin was one who demanded an audience. His insecurities drove him to perfect his art form. He wanted the audience to feel for him, to love him. Every movement he made in his films was calculated. Chaplin wanted to control everything on screen. He obsessed on small things like the art of lifting a flower and the exact way the Tramp needed to have his hat tilted. He shot scenes hundreds of times- until the actions in his films flowed like water on smooth rock. Perfection is what Chaplin wanted and it is what he got. Movies like The Gold Rush, Modern Times, and City Lights represent film at  it’s height. They got there because the artist behind them would have nothing less.

Chaplin did not go to film school. He needed to learn on the job. You can see Chaplin learning the techniques of filmmaking through his shorts and early full length features. Slowly Chaplin began to understand the value of a long shot verses a close up. The value of camera movement and invisible cuts. Every day he arrived on set he was in search of a way to tell his story better. Chaplin never knew exactly what he was going to do. He wanted his films to have an organic flow. No matter how funny the gag might be it would be cut if it didn’t make sense to Chaplin and contribute to the story. I have said before, Chaplin’s crew all agreed that if he could Chaplin would cast himself for every character in his films. His crew needed to deal with a relentless amount of scrutiny. He acted out exactly what he wanted his actors to do. If you didn’t do it perfectly you would be in for a long day. Back in the 1910’s through the 1930’s Chaplin would consistently do twenty plus takes when the common Hollywood filmmaker would do three to five.

Chaplin’s classic The Circus was originated from an idea Chaplin had of a man on a tightrope running into several unforeseen obstacles in the middle of his act. The whole rest of the movie was developed from this idea. Chaplin spent months training on the tightrope so he could be prepared for the scene. When it came to actually shooting the scene he shot over seven hundred takes trying to perfect the act. The scene now is a classic in cinema. Chaplin keeps topping himself in it. First he loses his safety harness. Then he has a bunch of monkey’s attack him. He holds us in suspense while he weaves back and forth barely managing to stop himself from falling with his balancing stick. Then his pants fall off, yet still he somehow maintains control. All the while Chaplin gives us some extremely dynamic shots- showing the distance he is from the ground and the frightening perspective the audience has watching him at such a great height. Finally Chaplin tops it all with the greatest banana gag in the history of film when he trips on a peel that one of the monkey’s threw on the rope. It took months to perfect but the result was a flawless performance.

Ideas didn’t come easily to Chaplin. When asked how one gets ideas Chaplin said, “By sheer perseverance to the point of madness”. Chaplin’s unbelievable drive is what created classic scenes like the Tramp on the tightrope in The Circus, the Tramp seeing the blind woman for the first time in City Lights, and Chaplin making his great speech at the end of The Great Dictator. All these scenes have lasted and will continue to last through the ages. Why? Because every movement made in the The Circus and City Lights scenes were pure entertainment leading to a perfect climax, and every word said in The Great Dictator speech rang true to the heart of humanity. Chaplin’s perseverance to the point of madness is what allowed him to retake, refine, and rework his films in his quest for perfection.

Chaplin spent close to two years on most of his full length productions. This compared to the average Hollywood production, which was forty to fifty days, seems quite obsessive. Yet, Chaplin has just as many classics as anyone in film History. Three of his films, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Gold Rush, made it to AFI’s (America Film Institute) top 100 American films of all time. Chaplin was a man with many insecurities and many imperfections. His personal life for most of his filmmaking career was a mess. Yet, this imperfect man created several magnificent films. He told most of his stories with no duologue and hardly any sound. It was mainly through the visuals that he needed to communicate to his audience. So he dedicated himself to perfecting the visuals. And in many cases he did. He has brought a tear to my eye more then once. He created a character who started out as just a clown meant to make us laugh and slowly turned into a character who represented the essence of humanity. Chaplin wanted to speak to the yearning of the human heart. He always felt the need to do more. He had a grand vision for the art of storytelling and he would not settle for anything less then perfection.