a theatre, film & pop culture review
Best Visual Effects used to be synonymous with Big Summer Blockbuster, but not as much anymore. These days, it’s not so strange to see a Best Picture nominee pick up this award. Just look at the past fifteen years: nine visual effects winners, including Life of Pi, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, were also up for the night’s biggest award. Gravity is the only nominee present in both categories this year — not that it needs any help here.
The entire conflict of The Lone Ranger centers, rather boringly, around the creation of the U.S. railroad, which is the source of the major visual effect in the film. An extended train crash sequence involved what the visual FX team declares their “50% rule,” in which they tried to capture at least half the shot on camera so that there was a base in reality (rather than just CG). The result was definitely the most fun — and action-packed — sequence of the film, but The Lone Ranger doesn’t have a shot at this award (but it does have a lot of racism and a pretty sweet spirit horse).
Star Trek Into Darkness has the expected fantasy-visual goodies like Planet Nibiru’s red forest and a super-active volcano, as well as a very destructive attack on Starfleet HQ, in addition to all those spaceships-in-space images — but another nominee’s got that last bit on lock.
Iron Man 3 boasts its usual Transformers-like Iron Man suits and gesture technology (introduced in Minority Report in 2002, mind you), as well as some new demon-eyed baddies, but it’s best bit is the full-on attack of Tony Stark’s cliffside home. This last sequence is 95% digitally created, though you probably can’t tell. It’s nice work, but just nice isn’t good enough this year.
You’re constantly aware, on the other hand, that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is largely a digital creation, and it does look pretty damn good: There’s the sequences with the 12 dwarves tumbling down a fast-moving waterfall in barrels and the super-sized spiders with fangs. But the pièce de résistance is Smaug itself, the sinuous, majestic-like dragon whose entrance in the film is an eye peeking through billions of gold coins as they shiver and fall from its muscular, scaly form. It’s a beaut.
But Gravity is one big, beautiful, spectacular visual-effects feast that doesn’t read as such once you’ve given yourself over to it. It’s just a movie about space, set in space — that looks exactly, terrifyingly, astoundingly like space. It is one of the most visually innovative films in cinematic history, and there’s no doubt it’s going to take home this prize, and a boatload more.