Putting the Special Back in Effects

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There’s a fake “Star Wars VII location footage” video up on YouTube, which Jim Dalrymple praised as “really well done,” but I just can’t agree. It’s nothing more than Imperial ships and walkers flying and walking around the Frankfurt airport for a couple minutes. Once you get past the fact that amateur filmmakers can do digital animation like the pros, the thrill is gone. And we got past that fact years ago.


For a real treat, click on the video I posted above. It’s a Cops parody called “Troops,” set on Tatooine on the day Luke and C-3PO went looking for runaway R2-D2. There are just enough special effects to keep it grounded in the Star Wars universe — the joy is in the clever writing and the spot-on performances. Even more impressive, Kevin Rubio did all this with much more primitive computer equipment, way back in 1997. It’s only ten minutes long, but I remember waiting ages for each little clip to download from TheForce.net over a dialup connection. And it was worth the wait, too.

I bring this up for a couple reasons. The first is that I was just talking about this same issue — Hollywood’s reliance on special effects over quality storytelling — in a post from just a few weeks ago. But the second and more important reason is last week I got to see a rare instance in which a dazzling special effects sequence was used to delightful storytelling effect.

Melissa and I finally got ourselves out of the house long enough to see a movie, and we settled on X-Men: Days of Future Past. It wasn’t quite as good as its immediate predecessor, X-Men: First Class. The middle act needed some tightening, and how many times do we really need to see Magneto try and pass himself off as a good guy, only to revert to type at the end? For the next movie I hope they let Michael Fassbender go totally ape-stuff evil as Magneto, and drop the Conflicted Erik routine. That aside, the movie was still terrific entertainment.


I don’t want to spoil anything for readers who haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m going to be vague. For those of you who have, what was your reaction to the sequence in the Pentagon, where we got a detailed look at Quicksilver in action against all those guards? Let’s call it the “Time in a Bottle Sequence,” or TIABS, for the Jim Croce song used on the soundtrack.

TIABS was eye popping, inventive, entertaining, taught us much about the character, moved the story forward, and didn’t overstay its welcome. It left me grinning ear-to-ear long after it was over. For my money, TIABS might have been the most inventive and most revealing SFX sequence since Trinity’s fight-and-flight at the beginning of The Matrix.

So take note, Hollywood — that’s how you do it.



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