Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2013: Best Visual Effects

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.







The Dark Knight Rises

My friend Aaron and I just watched The Avengers and we marveled (get it? marveled? eh?) at its nomination here. Forget how terrible of a film it is in general — Joss Whedon directs it like an episode of Buffy the Vampire, all cuts to and from various character arcs without ever building a cohesive cinematic story — it also looks terrible. The effects — Loki’s gold armor that magically materializes and then dissolves, Mark Ruffalo’s shirt-ripping turn as The Hulk — look incredibly cheap. And this amazes because if you take a gander at its IMDB page, there are about a trillion people listed under Special Effects. What exactly were these folks — including supervisor Janek Sirrs, Oscar winner for The Matrix — doing? And how did they get the nom over the visually superior The Dark Knight Rises?

One of the biggest disappointments of the year, the exposition-burdened and meandering The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, at least looks pretty good — if you forget about that 48-frames-per-second nonsense. That being said, some of the effects which are ultimately a tag-team effort between actor and CGI, are absolutely stunning, such as the 9-minute riddle sequence between Bilbo and Gollum. The level of physical detail created for Gollum is astounding: his huge, expressive eyes and twitchy facial structure are enhanced by Andy Serkis’s genius movement of course, but the designers here also cleverly created their own imprint on the creature’s movement: whenever he quavers back to his alter-ego Sméagol, his pupils dilate and there’s an added spasm to his skin and muscular movements. The creation of Gollum alone is remarkable enough to earn this prize.

Prometheus — possibly THE biggest cinematic disappointment of 2012 (Ridley Scott… wtf?) — looks exactly how The Avengers wishes it looked. This plotless pseudo-alien flick is one beautifully gloomy sci-fi shot after another. Take that opening sequence — yes, it represents no less than the Creation of Life (dear lord) — when the Engineer’s fish-spine-like, milky-colored DNA is infected with disease that melts into a pitchy, war-like spread throughout his body. Or the landing of the Prometheus with its four giant thrusters that pivot into blue-light pulsing, arm-like appendages. It’s like a Transformer, only about 100-times cooler-looking (and those Transformers are pretty damn cool). This is a visually gorgeous, bleak film that has no chance against the bright vitality of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

How pretty is Life of Pi? The film is preternaturally vibrant: each of the ten million hairs on Richard Parker bristles a bright orange, the waves crashing against Pi’s vessel are the bluest of blue, the sky floats with cotton-ball clouds and then crackles and darkens with thunder. The cutting between real animals and CGI creations is seamless. Embedded with new 3D technology and shot almost entirely in a tank and in front of a green (or blue) screen, this film is one giant visual effect. The visual wonder of it all is off-putting at first, but then, suddenly, you fully accept the vibrantly detailed world as reality, and it becomes a truly magical experience.

Everyone’s probably at least a little surprised that Snow White and the Huntsman got some Oscar love, but this film actually looks spectacular. There’s an army made of glass that, in battle, dramatically shatters in into black shards of glass; rhino-skinned trolls that erupt from the earth’s rocky surface; a talking mirror that builds from a metallic pool into a faceless Terminator-like figure; tiny Gollum-like faeries; and a woman who ages 100 years in the span of just a few seconds with a combination of old-age makeup and digital enhancement. The fact that about 90% of this Snow White was filmed naturally with very little green screen is quite a feat and results in a truly breathtaking look when layered with the CGI trolls and talking trees. It’s just too bad that K-Stew had to ruin all the campy fun with her sour mug.


3 comments on “Oscars 2013: Best Visual Effects

  1. Aaron
    January 22, 2013

    All of this is true.


  2. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss
    and would love to have you share some stories/information.

    I know my readers would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.


    • Julie
      June 16, 2013

      Can you send me the link to your blog? Thanks.


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This entry was posted on January 22, 2013 by in Award Predictions, Oscar-Nominated, Visual Effects.



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