Tuesday, November 28, 2006

CGI - Is the Free Ride Over?

There is an AP story going around that CGI movies are no longer as popular as they were (Sorry - no link, I read it in dead tree format.). It points out that none of this year's CGI releases earned as much as Shrek 2 or the Incredibles. It goes on to say that the novelty of CGI is gone.

There are two problems with this and they both relate back to the fact that you cannot force people to go to a bad movie.

First, with the exception of Pirates II, no movie released so far this year has made as much as Shrek 2 or The Incredibles. It has been an off year for movies. Of the movies that have been released, 16 count as CGI. Of those, three are in the top ten for the year and five are in the year's top 20. Further, with $100 million earned in its first two weekends, Happy Feet is likely to join the top 10.

Cars is the solid number two movie for the year so Pixar is still doing quite well.

What about the other 13 CGI movies released this year? Some of them did well, some did not. Too many seem to be recycling the same furry animal plot. The CGI releases that did well tended to be original. Either they featured animals in a different plot (Ice Age 2, Happy Feet, Over the Hedge) or they did a better job with a tired plot (Open Season).

The rest of this year's CGI movies prove what John Lassiter of Pixar always maintained - It's not enough to be CGI, you have to make a good movie.

Yes, Toy Story benefited from the novelty of being the first CGI movie. It's also a good movie, worth watching several times. I watched the Incredibles again last Summer and was struck by how good it is.

Even Antz which is usually forgotten when talking about early CGI movies was entertaining.

On the other hand, the Ant Bully looks like a retread of Antz.

CGI does have one thing going for it. Adults, especially teenagers, stay away from hand-animated cartoons. There was a period in the late 1980s through the early 1990s when Disney escaped this stigma but a lack of creativity ended this phase and it never really spread past Disney.

Pixar could have settled into this rut and taken all of CGI with it. Prior to the Incredibles, their movies tended to be oriented more to kids. Dreamworks saved them from this. Shrek was aimed at adults and established the genre as adult-friendly. Ice Age also deals with rather adult themes.

But, CGI movies do stand out. People are unlikely to go to two in one weekend so a glut can hurt even well-produced ones like Monster House (which also suffers from a slow start).

So studios that rushed into CGI expecting a guaranteed return will be disappointed but the good ones will continue to do well.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Happy Feet

From the ads, you would think that the new CGI movie Happy Feet was nothing but dancing penguins. The reviews give the impression that it is mainly plot. The actual movie is half-way in between. It has plenty of song and dance routines but there is also a lot of plot.

The plot itself is pretty familiar. It's pretty much the same as Rudolph - a character is dorn different, his father is ashamed and encourages him to hide his differences. When he reaches adolescence he is excluded and finally expelled. Eventually he returns to save the day with his special talent.

That said, Happy Feet is a much more satisfying version of the plot. The setup is that Emperor penguins find a mate by signing their "soul song". The trouble is that Mumble, the main character, can't sing. In fact, he's so bad he disrupts everyone else.

What Mumble does do, is dance. He was born with "happy feet". But he is the only penguin to do the soft shoe (claw?). The elders are wary.

Then there are the aliens who abduct animals, probe them, and release them with strange things attached to them.

The movie does graft in an ecological message but it's pretty weak (don't fish).

Where the movie really stands out is the quality of the CGI. The animals look photo-realistic. Even the few humans seem to be on the right side of the uncanny valley.

All told, this should be a good contender for best animated movie of the year.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lost by the Network

After tonight, Lost will vanish from ABC for three months, appearing in February and running for an uninterrupted 17 weeks. If you add together the six episodes from the Fall (including tonight's) and the 17 in the spring, you see part of why the show seemed to be in reruns so often. With 23 episodes total trying to fill 52 weeks, something has to give. If you also figure in that they only ran the last few episodes once, you see why fans grew upset with ABC over the number of reruns.

ABC heard the complaints but got the wrong message. They now have an policy that says that only new episodes of Lost will be played. If you missed it or there are details you forgot, tough. You can buy the DVD or download it and play it on your PC.

This is not my ideal way of handling Lost. With heavy continuity and foreshadowing, some episodes gain from being shown more than once. The complaint comes when they show more reruns than new episodes or show an episode for the third time.

I am aware that Lost reruns do not have the same ratings as new episodes but they were never handled right.

My ideal season would be to run new episodes from late September or early October through mid-December with a possible break at Thanksgiving. After some preemptions for holiday specials, bowl games, etc. they would start up again in mid-January and show the rest of the season. Then they would play the season again, in order with the season-ending cliff-hanger playing just before the new season starts.

NBC gets it - at least so far. They have run Heroes unbroken since September. This is important with shows featuring heavy continuity like Lost and Heroes. If you play a half dozen episodes followed by eight reruns, people lose track of what is going on. It hurts the show.

On the other hand, if you have huge gaps between episodes then people lose interest.

I hope that ABC doesn't end up hurting Lost.

Something else that may hurt Lost is the focus on Kate, Sawyer, and Jack. Kate was edgy in the first season as the sweet-faced fugitive. That went nowhere in the second season. Sawyer is best as a supporting character. he is too annoying to be a lead, week after week.

So far we have not learned much about the Others. we learned more about them before the opening credits in the first episode of the season than we have learned since. In the meantime, the more interesting characters have gone starved for screen time.

Then there is the clumsy introduction of the new castaways. They were just suddenly there. We are supposed to think that they were always there, we just overlooked. them. This would be fine if they had emerged from some crowd scenes. Instead, they are hanging around with a small group of regulars. The producers could have spent less time on Sawyer and more time introducing the new folks.

Tonight's episode is supposed to change everything. We will see.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who Conned Who?

The finale to the mini-season of Lost wasn't what we could have hoped for. Nothing was resolved and most of it concentrated on the love-triangle of Jack, Kate, and Sawyer.

Even though it was a Kate episode (she got the flash-back), Jack's plotline was the important one.

Previously Ben had explained that he had a plan to make Jack want to help him. That plan went out the widow when Jack saw someone's X-rays and got Ben to admit that they were his. The question is, how much of what happened next was planned by Jack?

Ben and the Others showed that they could out-con Sawyer, but Jack has conned Sawyer, also.

First, Jack needled Ben, telling him how he would die, and letting him know that there was not enough time for Ben's clever plan to work anyway since Ben's tumor would be inoperable within a week.

If Jack was thinking ahead, he knew that the next step would be to bring Kate. This didn't go as planned since it was obvious that she was attached to Sawyer. Ben tried to take advantage of this by letting Jack "accidentally" see Kate and Sawyer together on a monitor. With no ties to the island, Jack was more likely to do the operation. Jack seemed to take the bait and agreed.

As we found out, Jack had his own plans and had not given up on Kate.

Then there are the unknowns. Jack does not know that they are on a smaller island. Ben didn't know that Pickett would decide to kill Sawyer as soon as Ben was unconscious.

There are also some knowns and almost-knowns. Kate knows that Alex managed to get to the smaller island. She may be able to use this. Jack knows that some of the Others want Ben dead.

And Locke got a message from above in the form of Eko's Jesus stick being dropped on his head and then seeing what appears to be a relevant passage written on it.

It's going to be a long 13 weeks.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Goodbye Mr. Eko

The monster in the forest has been in Lost since the pilot but we don't know much about it. When we first saw it, it killed the last survivor of the flight crew. Later it blew trees out of the ground and nearly pulled Locke into a hole. Somewhere along the line we saw it as a tendril of smoke.

We still don't know what it is but we got a much better look at in in the last episode of Lost. Mr. Eko appeared to be delirious, seeing his dead brother and other figures from his past. This has happened before. In the very second episode, Jack followed the ghost of his father to the water supply in the caves. Hurley was visited by an imaginary friend. Kate saw a horse. Locke not only saw the dead Boone as his spirit guide, he also saw Eko's brother in an earlier episode. There are probably more examples I am forgetting (not counting the backwards-speaking Walt).

We have been writing these off as visions or hallucinations but what if there is more to them? What if they are caused by the smoke monster? There are indications that there were more to these apparitions than seemed. Kate's horse was seen by Sawyer. Locke and Eko shared a vision. In Locke's vision, Boone seemed to know more about what was going on than Locke possibly could.

Then there was the fire. How could a vision set Eko's shelter on fire?

Of course the tip-off came when "Yemi" said that he was not Eko's brother. Then the smoke monster appeared and smashed Eko against a tree.

So far we have seen the smoke monster in three forms - a small, quick swirl of black dust, a tendril of thick black smoke, and now a huge, monstrous cloud.

During the first season we assumed that the cloud was related to the others. That no longer seems true.

As for Eko, the episode was about his refusal to confess his sins and his insistence that doing was was needed was no sin. The implication was that the monster killed him for not confessing.  It could as easily be that the monster was planning to kill him regardless and was offering him a chance at last rites.

We know that Eko will confess and do penance when he thinks that he has done wrong. After killing three others, he was silent for 30 days (10 each) as penance and he confessed to Henry Gale (Ben) in the vault.

With Eko dead and Jack on a different island, Locke is now the undisputed leader. He seems to be better at it than Jack was. Jack didn't keep anyone in the loop and everyone was complaining during the second season. Not long after they discovered the bunker, Jack refused to tell Charlie  about it but Locke willingly told him everything.

People seem happy about the changes, at least the new couple does.

Also, Locke has his island mojo going again. He is a man with a purpose.

At the end of the second season Jack worried about a "Locke problem". If he makes it back with the others he will find that it is now a Locke regime.