Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Widescreen Awards: Visual Effects

Now that Oscar has had his way with the wide world of cinema, it's my turn. For the next week or so, I'll be offering up what I viewed as the best performances in front, behind and inside the camera. Starting out, here are the best achievements in visual effects.

The striking visuals of Enter the Void play a very cunning game. When you're immersed within the film, all of it feels real. It's only after you think back — to the ghostly, wall-breaching camera and the soaring shots of the city — that you realize just how much trickery is involved. The real Tokyo beneath those glowing phosphorescent skies bears only passing resemblance to the one depicted here, but the film's purpose is not to present Tokyo as it really is. Nowhere seems normal when you're as detached — mentally, physically and metaphorically — as the drug-dealing protagonist Oscar is. BUF, the company behind the visual effects, has posted an impressive making-of gallery.

Inception, on the other hand, is playing a different game entirely. Dreams are fantastical shades of real life, complete with surreal, wondrous spectacles that can only be make-believe. The visual spectacles here — mirrored walls, an exploding fortress and a cascading city by the sea — are awe-inspiring. But, what separates them from other effects excesses (such as the Laws-of-Physics-defying ones in "Iron Man 2"), is that they all operate under their own strict rules of logic. It may all be a dream, but the effects here never feel like a put-on.

If anyone knows how to use CGI, it's David Fincher. All of his films have made extensive use of it, but he never goes too far. What's so impressive about a film like The Social Network (and "Zodiac," which came before it) is how transparent the effects are. Unless you've seen the FX reels or read about Fincher's exploits elsewhere, you would never know that one of the Winklevii is actually an otherworldly doppleganger, the face of one actor transposed onto the body of another. Sure, it's not as boldly impressive as the reverse aging of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but then again this flick has 10 times the heart of that syrupy confection.

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