Friday, September 5, 2008

Racer reduX

Except for the swipes at Speed Racer, John Scalzi's observations and comments in this AMC piece on the summer's sci-fi and fantasy movies makes sense to me. But about those swipes...

Speed Racer may not have been "smart" in the same way that Iron Man or The Dark Knight were (i.e., themes drawn out of contemporary poltical/social issues), but its themes and concerns (the place of the creative artist in a capitalist society) don't seem especially dumb to me. And if they come out a bit muddled, well, so does a lot of the political stuff in The Dark Knight.

But what makes Speed Racer's dismissal by the critics so annoying to me is that it was more ambitious formally than any other big-budget action movie of the summer, and that's the type of thing critics are supposed to notice. This wouldn't bother me, except that critics tend to give a pass to lazy, unambitious junk like Transformers, which seems to me to be the exact opposite of what they should be doing.

Anyway... Big budget movies tend to use CGI in these three ways:

(1) To make reality more "realistic". This is what I think of as "seamless"-CGI, in that we're not meant to register it as CGI: it's supposed to look real. This is how it is used in movies like Cast Away or Master and Commander. And this is also how it is used in many action movies - Mission: Impossible 3, for example.

(2) The way CGI is used in action movies blends into the second major way it is used: to make the unreal more "realistic". This is how it is used in the Lord of the Rings movies, lots of sci-fi movies, and lots of horror movies.

While methods (1) and (2) blend together, method (3) is more distinct: using CGI to create a stylized "non-reality". Examples include: Sin City and 300, the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix, Amelie and Kung Fu Hustle. These movies are moving closer to animation and farther away from any idea of using the camera to record "reality".

Speed Racer shows an extreme use of (3), but it goes beyond those movies in that it is self-referential in its use of CGI. Its effects call attention to themselves as being computer generated and there is no attempt to blend those effects seamlessly together. (If the guiding principle of, say, Sin City is "use CGI to bring Frank Miller's comics to 'life'", the guiding principle of Speed Racer is "use CGI to bring a world of computer-generated images to life".)

As I said in my earlier post, I don't think Speed Racer is a great movie. But I do think it is a good one and, in a lot of ways, more interesting than any of the other big budget spectacles that came out during the summer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speed Racer: