Sherlock Holmes 3D

I am, as far as I know, the only person to have ever made a Sherlock Holmes film in 3D.

This is no mean feat, as the great detective has appeared in over 211 films since 1900, being portrayed by more than 75 actors and is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records the most portrayed movie character ever.

My 3D film of Sherlock Holmes is a 4D attraction film aimed at visitor attractions such as theme parks and museums.  With several high profile Sherlock Holmes projects in the media at the moment I thought it might be interesting to look at what informed our film and compare it to other screen versions of the character.

I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was in my early teens when I heard the BBC’s radio versions of Conan Doyle’s original stories starring Clive Merrison and Michael Williams. I subsequently read all the original stories and have been fascinated ever since by the character; and his relationship with his friend and chronicler Doctor John H. Watson.  I even know the “H” stands for Hamish.

Currently in the multiplexes you can see Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows, the second film to star Robert Downey Jr. in the title role.  The first installment in 2009 was a surprise hit; and I myself was very pleasantly surprised with it.  I went in expecting it to be a bastardised Hollywood rehash exploiting the character for brand power only and using it as a springing board to deliver a standard-issue action/adventure flick.  However after about 10 minutes I realized that this really is Sherlock Holmes – the setting is right, there are references to trivia from the stories and most important of all – the relationship between Holmes and Watson is lovingly rendered.  In this version they’re portrayed as a kind of bickering married couple, constantly at each other’s throats but bound together by their mutual dependency on the other’s qualities. Having seen the second installment last night I can report it tops its predecessor on almost all levels.

Last year we also saw Sherlock, a BBC series cunningly updating the character to the present day. Quite why no one had done this before defeats me, because it was quite simply a brilliant idea: transposing the familiar scenario to the modern world; and once again Steven Moffatt (of Dr. Who infamy) made sure this really was Sherlock Holmes. All the details were spot on and the casting (Martin Freeman especially) is perfect.  Personally I found the construction of the mysteries a little too outlandish to really work well – it seemed to devalue Holmes’ powers of deduction that he could apply them successfully to cases that seem quite illogical and the resolution of which didn’t make a lot of sense; to me at least.

In our 3D Sherlock Holmes however we decided that it wasn’t really worth trying to reinvent the character within a ten minute film; not least of all since these other recent projects had done that so well. Instead we decided to deliver the clichéd, standard-issue Holmes we remember from the Basil Rathbone movies of the 1940s with his pipe, deerstalker and magnifying glass: but to try and revel in these clichés and make them fun and entertaining.  I saw the props as being part of Holmes identity; tokens he would need to activate his powers of deduction and solve the mystery.  At the core of the story however we put the relationship with Doctor Watson; on whom Holmes relies for the common sense and human touch he cannot perceive despite his incredible skills of reasoning.  Holmes needs Watson and Watson needs Holmes and around this central truth all versions of Sherlock Holmes revolve, and it is this that has kept audiences fascinated by the character for over 100 years and will ensure he is popular even 100 years from now.

You can watch the trailer for Sherlock Holmes 4D here: www.sherlockholmes4D.com

Now, don’t get me started on who owns the rights to Sherlock Holmes however. That’s a mystery even the great detective himself couldn’t get to the bottom of.

Why Kung Fu Panda 2 isn’t Fully Awesome

The Red Star posse went to see Kung Fu Panda 2 recently.  We all really enjoyed it; and some of us declared it pretty awesome; but for me it was disappointing. Why? Because the story was rubbish.

Let’s deal with something up front: Kung Fu Panda 2 is a fantastically produced animated film.  Visually, every single aspect of it is superb; from the art direction to the design of the characters and sets, the animated performances, lighting, visual effects, staging, camerawork and editing.  I don’t doubt hundreds of fantastically talented artists sweated for years to refine and polish every aspect of this movie, burning through a production budget of a reported $150 million.  At the end of the movie there was a credit for about 20 people as “story artists” but for the love of heaven I don’t know what they all did, as the story could have been sketched on the back of a napkin in about 20 minutes.

Why didn’t the story work for me? Because the central character Po’s journey seemed forced, with no real change occurring to him.  The film set up a bunch of issues he needed to resolve: his relationship with his adoptive father and to “find inner peace” but these seem to really affect him that much (the latter is used just as a phrase, he doesn’t really have a problem) and are totally unconnected to the plot that presently emerges: that baddie Lord Shen is kicking off and trying to take over China. Po eventually defeats Shen, but you don’t really get that he’s changed at all.  Jim Hull has a much better analysis over on his site at Story Fanatic.

The question emerges: do we care? Most of Red Star came out of the movie and declared it amazing and, as I’ve elaborated above in terms of its production it’s truly dazzling.  It’s already made a ton of money and will doubtless spawn a couple more sequels.  But compare it with 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon, which delivers the same level of action and comedy but really engages with the emotional arc of its central character. The upshot: at the end of King Fu Panda 2 I felt like I’d been strapped to some kind of intensely pretty and exciting roller coaster for 90 minutes; at the end of How To Train Your Dragon I had the exact same feeling but I also felt I’d had an emotional experience that really moved me.

If someone had just spent a bit of time working out the script of King Fu Panda 2 it could have been fantastic, and the ending which was kind of neat could have been amazing; maybe then it would have truly been Fully Awesome.

The Best LEGO Set Ever Made

Hands-down, the best LEGO set ever made is 497 Galaxy Explorer.  I had one of these as a kid and must have played the crap out of it, along with its smaller brother 918 Space Transport. About 5 years ago I re-discovered it in my Mum’s house when I found the instructions and enough bits to cobble it together in the attic (albeit a lot of the bits must be from the Space Transport; and I didn’t have enough bits to make the landing pad and little tower thing).

In the video on this page you can see a glimpse of the LEGO vault in Billund where they keep pristine copies of every set ever made. There’s a bit in the video where they get out the Galaxy Explorer and flip open the lid to reveal all the bits inside in the plastic tray.  This nearly reduced me to tears the first time I saw it.

How Long is Enough?

I watched Unstoppable recently, a fantastic action thriller from Tony Scott.  It ain’t Shakespeare, but sometimes all you want to watch is two guys trying to stop a bloody great runaway train.  It is also mercifully short at 98 minutes; which is a good thing as I think the simplicity of the premise and characters would have worn a bit thin if it had gone on much longer.  This is something I’ve considered before about films – why are so many of them so damn long?

Surely making a movie that’s shorter is cheaper than making than one that’s longer. You need to make less footage and so can spend less time shooting, pay the actors less, do less editing etc etc.  Witness that films that are made on really low budgets are always really short; usually about as short as they can get away without people complain.  A friend of mine made a horror movie titled F last year which clocks in atabout 75 minutes.  But think about this: you charge the same to watch a short movie as a long one.

Take the example of Kill Bill. Originally Quentin Tarantino wanted this to be one massive four hour revenge-a-thon, but then some bright spark (I think it was one of the Weinstiens)  came up with the idea of splitting the film the film into two “parts” releasing them one after the other.  Think about it: now you could show two screenings of Kill Bill Part 1 in an evening and hence make twice as much money AND you then had Kill Bill Part 2 to release later – you make FOUR TIMES as much money.

So the question has to be asked: why make a long movie at all? Surely the Hollywood studios should wise up to this and make movies as short as they possibly can, thus cutting their costs down as much as possible and squeezing as many screenings into an evening.  Clearly, they don’t do this and we can only assume they have their reasons; but more to the point they frequently make movies that are REALLY long – Titanic anyone?

The best theory I came up with was that there’s kind of less risk in developing a long(er) movie than a short one. If you make a 90 minute movie you’ve got to be careful with what you include and discard; whereas if you aim for 2 hours plus you can afford to have crowd pleasing scenes that don’t necessarily move the plot forward.  You just get more movie and therefore more chance of pleasing people.  I asked a producer friend of mine and his response however was that this was simply director’s perogative: if Christopher Nolan wants to make The Dark Knight Returns 3½ hours long he bloody well will and there’s nothing Warner Brothers can really do to stop him.

Something else that really weirds me out is the placement of actors names on posters. Refer to the Unstoppable poster above: Denzel Washington’s name is on the left, Chris Pine’s name is on the right – yet the picture of Chris Pine is on the left and Denzel Washington’s face is on the right.  Why not swap the name round so it makes sense?  Or swap the faces if you can’t swap the names.  It’s madness!

Rango

I’ve just been to see Rango, the animated feature film directed by Gore Verbinski and produced at ILM.

I really enjoyed this movie, although it seems to have enjoyed a relatively minor release; at least here in the UK.  However, several things about it seemed a little strange [and please note this includes some very minor spoilers]…

Firstly, and I’ll mention this first because this is a 3D blog after all, it wasn’t in 3D.  This seems a little odd for an animated feature film these days, least of all when it’s cost $135m to make!  I can’t find any reference to this online or any good reason why this should have been so.

I also found the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie strangely unengaging.  The way it was marketed gave me the impression this was a kind of off-the-wall movie, with Depp playing a Hunter S. Thompson-esque character – the Hawaiian shirt, the kooky eyes etc.  However as soon as Rango arrives in the town of Dirt the movie seems to suddenly decide it’s really a Western and from thereon in it worked much better. But check out the poster – it doesn’t really scream Western to you, does it?

The main thing however was the quality and nature of the animation and the incredible visual style brought to it by ILM.  There were many images in this film that seemed totally plausible and believable, as if it had been filmed for real in the desert somewhere.

However, that created some weird problems with scale.  The opening establishes that Rango is a real lizard in a real world populated with cars, roads and presumably people; and therefore he’s about 8 or 10 inches tall.  However once he reaches Dirt the scale seems a little odd – the textures and detail of the town look like it’s normal-size; not at all like it’s a miniature town full of lizards and rats etc.  This wouldn’t be so noticeable if the visual style of the film wasn’t SO incredibly real – water that innundates the town at the end looks so insanely plausibly real but then overwhelmingly not the right scale for the characters.

This that’s what felt strange to me.  It wouldn’t have mattered if this was an animals-take-the-roles-of-humans movie like Disney’s Robin Hood or An American Tail; but this was a world where people could pop up any moment; which then became quite important toward the end of the movie.

This subject of realism in CG animation and why it is a good thing, but also a bad thing will form the subject of a later post.