Movies & innovation – and _Diamond Age_ racting

One of the great parts of being a speculative fiction fan is watching reality catch up to and surpass one’s favorite authors’ imaginations — or just never take a step in that direction at all. As I’ve written before, I live in dread of the genetic-discrimination world of Gattaca, which I now fear may be here before today’s children are dead (though I’m still hoping it won’t be before I am dead).

On the other hand, I’m chomping at the bit for movie acting to become independent of the actors’ own physical attributes, as in The Diamond Age. Avatar was a great leap forward, but so was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, because that was the first time CGI tried to render human faces and skin in a way that might fool the audience, even for half-second intervals. (Remember how amazing that one-second teaser of a single eye blinking was at the time?) Avatar was not ambitious on that particular score: only the non-human characters are rendered.

But some day we’ll see a movie where all the actors are wearing suits like Andy Serkis‘s (LOTR and Planet of the Apes!), and I can barely wait, because then we’ll finally be able to have movie stars whose ability to use their faces matters more than their facial features. (My favorite part about this in The Diamond Age is the little bit about Miranda studying how to ract a character with “cat eyes,” since she in real life has “bunny eyes,” which are used differently.)

This is how my husband convinced me to see Les Misérables. I didn’t expect it to be impressive musically as compared to any stage production, and indeed I was pretty much not impressed on that score. But letting the actors sing on-camera and mixing in the orchestra afterwards is a new attempt. The actors were clearly and justifiably over the moon about the chance. So I went along promising to have an open mind in trying to evaluate whether this presages the future of movie musicals.

And does it? Well, of course, I haven’t a clue. Quite irrespective of impressiveness, Les Miserables is always overwhelming, and thus hard to evaluate. Yes, the sung sequences are obviously more immediate than in Singin’ in the Rain. But movies, movie stars, moviemaking, and movie audiences — to say nothing of acting styles — are so different now from then that it seems arbitrary to compare how the songs were recorded between the two.

What new innovations are you watching for (happily or no)?

2 thoughts on “Movies & innovation – and _Diamond Age_ racting

  1. I was talking to someone about the Final Fantasy eye clip just recently. I remember being blown away by it at the time, yeah; now, of course, it looks pretty obviously fake. (Ditto the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.) When Gollum appeared for the first time in The Two Towers, I was a bit disappointed, because his skin didn’t look as real as I’d been led to expect — but within five minutes, the real advance had shown itself, because I completely forgot to think about him as a CGI character. The movement and facial expressions were so real, they made the skin all but irrelevant. And then there’s the E3 trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which, if you showed it to somebody from back in the Spirits Within days, they would probably believe it’s live-action.

    But I’m not sure that divorcing an actor’s face from their performance is going to become a common thing any time soon, simply because of cost. That stuff is expensive; I think we’re a long way from the day when it’s going to be worth the cost, without extenuating circumstances (e.g. playing a non-human like Gollum, aging a character substantially as in Beowulf). Cheaper to just hire somebody who looks right in the first place.

    As for what I look forward to most, it’s already here, but not in the U.S.: toric ICLs, which can be used to permanently correct vision that’s too bad for lasik. Normal ICLs are approved, but I need the toric version (for astigmatism), and the FDA hasn’t given them the thumbs-up yet.

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