Driver's EDitorial #06: What’s the deal with Robert Zemeckis?
Our Driver’s EDitorial is a weekly column designed to express our opinion on something going on in Hollywood today. Sometimes we whine and complain about something we wish was different, other times we heap praise on the system for getting it right.
Robert Zemeckis has great vision and imagination. And in the past, he has used those attributes to delight movie-going audiences with subjects as diverse as time travel, messages from space, live actors living in a cartoon world, and even just following the life of a character that’s a little on the slow side. He has visualized these concepts and brought them to the screen with actors he has directed to use the source material to genuinely entertain through the fully fleshed out characters they represent. So can somebody please tell me why oh why has he relegated himself to this ridiculous performance capture technique for his last two movies, with a third one coming out for the holidays?! Did he lose a bet or something?
From Marty McFly to Chuck Noland, Zemeckis has dealt with characters that used not only their words to express emotions, but rather used every tool in an actor’s arsenal to convey the necessary sentiment. For crying out loud, CAST AWAY had an entire 17 minutes where Tom Hanks didn’t speak a word, and still enthralled audiences to the tune of $429 million dollars. So when I saw the poster for the new Robert Zemeckis film THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004) I was initially excited at the prospect of Hanks and Zemeckis together again, then perplexed by the look of the boy in the poster. He looked a little off to me. And then of course the movie turns out to be some freakish hybrid of a live action/animated movie in this new technology coined as performance capture, a second cousin to motion capture, now used to create an entire movie of human characters, instead of just individual non-human characters (which it did very well) like Gollum from LORD OF THE RINGS or KING KONG – both “acted” by Andy Serkis.
Zemeckis then followed EXPRESS with BEOWULF, a story many had wanted done right since being forced to read it in English classes of yesteryear. And the story was done well, but most of the tension and gravity was given by the voices of the actors rather than the odd-looking cartoons speaking the words onscreen. This film actually showcased the benefits of the technology by allowing fantastic action sequences with Grendel and the dragon, but also added an uncomfortable element Angelina Jolie’s character as the tempting demon of the cave. Of course Angelina Jolie is sexy, but this is not her, this is some manufactured doppelganger, and that’s unnerving. At least when we were attracted to Jessica Rabbit back in 1988, we didn’t feel weird about it.
And now Robert Zemeckis has enlisted the help of Jim Carrey in his latest performance capture film, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, due out in November. If you managed to make Tom Hanks as Santa Claus look creepy in POLAR EXPRESS, how much therapy do you think the kids will need after seeing Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley in this freakish form of filmmaking? Don’t get me wrong, the story is great – three ghosts, Tiny Tim and what not – but we’ve already had enough of it, with Scrooge portrayed by far greater actors than Mr. Carrey (Patrick Stewart, Michael Caine, Scrooge McDuck). Now Zemeckis wants to make the yuletide gay with his vision of Dickens which looks like something out of The Twilight Zone? Call me crazy, I ain’t feelin’ it.
Pixar does animation right, which made me so happy that THE INCREDIBLES killed THE POLAR EXPRESS at the box office. And I won’t even get into the process of how they made this happen because I don’t particularly care how the sausage is made, especially when I don’t like sausage.