Bill S. Preston, Esquire was wise beyond his years.
He knew just what Socrates (So-Crates) Johnson meant when he said:
“Like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

BillBut Bill was from a more innocent time – a time when talented animators like Kathleen Quaife animated complex water effects and the electricity generated by his (and Ted “Theodore” Logan’s) Excellent Adventures by hand.
Today, that sand is not like the days of our lives. It’s like those lives themselves.

WhoaMassive is a software package developed by Stephen Regelous. allowing Weta Digital to create incredibly detailed and complex battle sequences for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)The ability to quickly and easily create millions of individuals and enable every one to respond individually to its surroundings (including other fully rendered and “intelligent” beings) was important to finishing these epic films, and it was astonishing to see. Ranks of assembled armies, doing (with the help of massively Massive creatures) what massive armies always do ~ kill other massive armies.

It was a well-defined fantasy milieu that had, over 3 films, built to this rousing crescendo of all out War. It was mostly realistic (insofar as such a fantasy can be “realistic”), and it worked ~  Well, with the exception of the ghost army coming in like so many green scrubbing bubbles to save Minas Tirith anyway. That just looked silly.
The people of Weta had seen a need and they had met that need with cutting-edge digital aplomb, and they were amply rewarded.

I didn’t really give the issue a lot of thought thereafter.
But I should have. Heaven knows other filmmakers did.

I was in Winnipeg last week for Keycon, and before the convention started, the Con committee kindly took several of its American guests (including author Steven Barnes and actor/author Richard Hatch) to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. I’ve found that if I want to remain surprised by a film or other pop cultural event its always better to see it before spending a long weekend with passionate people who beat me to the punch….

Before that film started, we saw a couple trailers – one for World War Z and one for Ender’s Game. And then, Into Darkness – a film dedicated to post-9/11 veterans.
So, thematically, we were dealing with genocide, genocide and…. well, not quite genocide (despite the antagonist’s best efforts in San Francisco).

WorldWarZThe trailer for World War Z was a shock to me for several reasons:

First, I’ve never read it and had no idea what film was being advertised.
Secondly, because I had no notion that Brad Pitt was IN WWZ.
But lastly – and this is is really the main point – because it was probably the single most revolting thing I’ve ever seen.
It was a genocidal snuff film where bodies flew about like the sawdust in a lumber mill. It was chaos for its own sake – a swarming anthill of the grotesque that seemed to defy the laws of physics even as it defied good taste. By comparison, The Lord of the Rings films looks like light escapist fun – the sort of thing Miss Manners were heartily recommend.
Michael Bay films look like Arsenic and Old Lace by comparison (though without the wit or performances, natch).
Nyarlathotep – the “Crawling Chaos” of the Cthulhu Mythos – has got nothing on WWZ.

WWZFrom the top of a Ferris Wheel in postwar Vienna, Harry Lime once said “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.”

But even Harry would have stopped counting his money looking at the thousands of seemingly unaligned dots of WWZ.
“Massive profits are one thing, but like the fellow said, best to have a Swiss bank left to store them in. So long Hollywood.”

The stills above don’t convey the sheer numbing inhumanity of this trailer and I’m glad they can’t. I try not to be utterly inhumane – even if the zeitgeist is.

Until Hollywood comes to deal with its new money shot somehow, I’ll be joined Harry Lime in Switzerland, old man.


4 thoughts on “MASSIVE FAIL

  1. THANKYOU for this! One of the most beautiful things about movies like the Dark Crystal and Pan’s Labyrinth and Star Wars, is the human factor..the challenge for creating and going beyond what was known and possible…I had the same reaction…and a creeping sadness that the plastic veneer of the digital life we live is stealing the roughness and rawness that made all the great innovative films so incredible in the first place… I am also an FX artist and grew up with my grand father showing me his favorite monster movies including the zombie films of “his” day…its what inspired me to go into film…and also what keeps me going back to independent movies…it is not just the loss of humanity but the loss of HEART…Computers are amazing tools..I use them every day, but they will never replace the true craft of the human hand and what it is capable of. Sorry for the long message…your thought just absolutely connected with me.

    • Thank you Lyn.

      The palpable sadness in the air at Weta Workshops earlier this year was of a similar nature. And watching the massive digital effects that were chosen over the more traditional ones makes all the sorry sense in the world from the points of view of control, mutability, economy and cheap spectacle. But the film’s digital slapstick escape section was a mistake made possible only by these tools. And when the makers of the tools can’t use them to good effect, what are the chances anyone else will?

      • SO TRUE. My hope is that somewhere in this mess we (as artists) can inspire a Renaissance of sorts…much like what happened in comics a while ago, after everything became so “plastic”, suddenly there were those glimmers of hand painted works the people flocked to. Although it is discouraging, somewhere we as artists have to find a way to teach the audience the difference…not sure if that is possible but I am always up for “slaying a few windmills” in the quest for a better world.

  2. Do you know, what really mystifies me about the graphic war porn of WWZ on that massive scale is that Brad Pitt has actually said that he wanted to make this film for his kids to see, like some good old zombie fun. But every trailer I’ve seen for it made me feel ill. I can’t make all of the words work out. For his kids? WTF?

    “The actor planned to develop the project, in part, for his kids. “This whole thing started because I just wanted to do a film that my boys could see before they turned 18 — one that they would like, anyways,”

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