A total waste of time. It’s hardly worth mentioning how many ways this imbecilic movie goes wrong, but to name just a few … Will Smith is all wrong for this part. They seem to have started shooting without a viable script; I had the distinct impression that they were making it up as they went along. When does he have his superpowers, and when doesn’t he? No one seems to know. Bullshit explanations are made up, then discarded when inconvenient. It’s another technological marvel … but what isn’t, these days?
However, unless you work in the industry and know all about this stuff, I recommend you rent the DVD, because the extras are really worth watching this time. I’m always a sucker for behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s always funny to see just how narrow the focus is when you’re getting a shot. Put all your money on the screen is the adage, and the real pros do just that. If it’s an inch outside of camera range, it’s just not there. It’s all in the cutting, and these days, in the post-production SFX.
So I’m sure we all know about the flimsiness of sets, breakaway props, flying by wire now that computers can make wires vanish. All very fun to watch. But the mind-blower was something the SFX man, John Dykstra, had to say. Technology is moving so fast, according to him, that he now makes plans to use devices, software, and techniques that don’t exist now, but will probably be on line by the time the principle photography is finished. Imagine that! Sort of like setting out to drive to San Diego with no brakes, trusting that you’ll invent something to stop the car before you get there.
There are two things in these extras that blew me away. The first was what amounts to 3D animated storyboards. Storyboards have been used for a long time, not just in animated films, but in any action film. Now they’re not just pen and ink sketches, but very detailed action sequences. They showed the animated action side by side with the action as it appeared on the screen, camera moves, cuts, everything, and it was exactly the same.
The second thing was something I knew was being done, but I’d never seen it done this way before. I’m familiar with motion-capture suits and masks. They have reference points in the form of little buttons that a computer senses, and then constructs a simulation which can then be fleshed out to look real. A lot of stunts are done that way these days, with people performing before a green screen. I believe Gollum was done this way, and many other characters that can’t be played by a regular human being in make-up. But the method they used in this movie was stunning. They were going for photo-real, moving faces, and to do that they covered Will Smith’s and Charlie Theron’s faces with tiny little white specks, then sat them in the center of a geodesic framework that had maybe 40 or 50 strobe lights pointed at them, 360 degrees around, above, and below. They turned the device on and it was exactly like some mad scientist’s wacko machine from some B SF movie of, maybe, the ‘60s or ‘70s. It was more interesting than the actual movie, Hancock, by far!
It is already possible to dispense with sets. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Polar Express were filmed entirely against green screens, and there have been others. Combine these two technologies and you can see that we’re not far away from being able to dispense with actors, too. Once you get Will Smith’s or Tom Cruise’s or Angelina Jolie’s (who was motion-capture animated in Beowulf) face into the computer they can give up all that rough and tumble stunt work that actors have to train for these days. (Wire flying looks like fun, but you have to learn some acrobatic tricks of balance, and it can be hazardous, as Charlize Theron learned on the set of Aeon Flux.) Then the big-name stars would only have to show up for a couple of weeks of the quieter scenes, the non-SFX scenes (if they’re still making movies that have non-SFX scenes), which would probably still be cheaper to do on actual sets that don’t have to explode. Nicole Kidman or any other bankable star could make a dozen movies per year, like the major studios used to do with their biggest stars. Even better, they wouldn’t have to get old! It should be child’s play to turn, for instance, an 80-year-old Cate Blanchett into young Queen Elizabeth again. Harrison Ford could do a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, looking 20 years old. The possibilities are endless, and you’ll soon be seeing them in your Cineplex.