Friday, November 28, 2008

3D is no longer a gimmick

Last weekend we went to the premier of Bolt in 3D and have to say, this is a whole new era for animation. Unlike previous 3D movies such as the dreadful Chicken Little and the cheesy Journey to the Center of the Earth. Bolt doesn't stick the technology on as a gag or an after thought but instead is crafted entirely as an immersive world that plays an essential part in the storytelling. 
I was blown away by how realistic the settings were, especially a quiet scene between Bolt and his cat companion, Mittens, in the Nevada desert. Every blade of yellowing grass and dirt covered hill is perfectly rendered with depth and movement. I found myself fully immersed in this world like nothing before it. And the best part was that it wasn't distracting but enriching.
Unfortunately this fantastic, fun movie debuted opposite the teen sensation Twilight, so it missed its mark with audiences. But don't let a disappointing opening weekend keep you away from the theater, this is an experience worth having.
Bolt is essentially Toy Story with dogs. It's about a white German Shepherd puppy who grows up in Hollywood playing the part of a canine superhero until one day he escapes from the fantasy world and into reality where special effects and stunt men don't exist thus robbing him of his specialness. Half Buzz Lightyear and half Woody, Bolt's on a mission to get back to his "person" and does so with a cast of wacky sidekicks including a cynical cat and a very overstimulated hamster named Rhino (voiced brilliantly by animator Mark Walton). 
But comparison's aside, Bolt has a wonderful script, some exciting, hilarious and heart-wrenching scenes and some of the best dog vs cat jokes this side of Bloom County.
Perhaps the saddest part of the experience was that we went at 8pm on a Saturday night and the theater was maybe 30 percent full. Sure, Twilight was one factor but another clearly had to be the price - $13.50. Theaters are charging $2-3 more for the 3D film. 
Personally I'm having a hard time justifying $10.50 for most movies these days but I think this new immersive 3D experience is worth the price. It actually brings back a unique value of the theater - until this 3D experience comes to Blu-Ray, that is.  
Before the film were a string of previews for upcoming 3D animated films including the hilarious trailer for Pixar's latest coming next summer, called Up and the predictably black humorist Ice Age 3D. It's a short imaginative story - as we've come to expect from John Lasseter's crew (he had a hand in the writing of Bolt, too, BTW). The best part of the Up preview, is the joke at the end. I was laughing out loud.
Dreamworks has a 3D feature on its way too, called Monsters vs. Aliens. Judging by the preview it seems to lack the heart of Bolt or Up but the rendering appears to be equally as engaging.
Here's hoping for more 3D animated films in the future - and a home version.

The PAC-10 Needs to be 12

The Pac-10 needs to expand to twelve teams.
As an avid Trojan fan (and alumnus) I couldn't be happier with the team, our fabulous coach and our consistent and stellar recruiting. But I've had it with the Pac-10 conference. Thanks to the oh so accurate BCS process, strength of schedule plays a big factor in who ranks where and every season 'SC is saddled with a low rank here due to a weak conference.
I know a lot of people will argue with me that the Pac-10 is actually a very good conference and I will admit that it certainly has a storied history and has had lots of good teams over the years. You can also certainly make the case that the conference isn't close to weak in other sports but in the big money sports of football and basketball it lacks the caliber of play of the other major conferences.
But the bigger issue is actually the number of highly competitive teams and its lack of a conference championship game. 
Think about it. The Big 12, the ACC and SEC have enough teams with relatively consistent competitiveness to provide each team in the conference with the chance of playing 4-5 ranked opponents during their conference schedule. And when that isn't the case, they at least have a conference championship game providing another opportunity against a ranked opponent (most of the time).
The Pac-10 and Big-10 conferences end their seasons early and if only one team in the conference is ranked, that team suffers from weak strength of schedule. This year's big sufferer is Penn State who has already ended its season with very few ranked teams played and nothing ahead to keep them top of mind with the pollsters. It will be six weeks until we see them again and if Oregon State goes on to win the Pac-10, it will be a pretty weak game for Penn State (who already beat OSU, soundly). 
Thankfully, 'SC stretches out its schedule into the second week of December so it has a chance to show its stuff to the rest of the country all the way through the big conferences playoffs, but through tradition, plays a weak UCLA as its last hurrah. Oh yeah, and thanks Notre Dame for keeping up a tradition of excellence. 
The conference could put on a playoff with the existing format pitting OSU and USC in a rematch and giving both teams another ranked opponent but this wouldn't address the main problem - lack of enough competitive teams in the conference. 
To really address its problems, I suggest the Pac-10 expand to 12 teams. And do it by adding teams deserving of a BCS conference. 
Now doing this right means picking two teams that play west of the Rocky Mountains (sorry, Notre Dame), that consistently excel in multiple sports (sorry, Boise State and Gonzaga), have relatively large national followings and can bring a new rivalry to the conference. The best candidates: BYU and Utah. Both have consistently strong athletic programs, are consistently ranked in the top 25, are fierce rivals and at least for BYU have a very strong national following.
Sure, adding teams from Utah will increase the travel budgets for all Pac-10 teams but the caliber of play will increase and the pressure on the weaker schools to step up their game will be welcome.
I'd love to fix the BCS but given that the geniuses that run college football can't seem to get it through their heads that they would make more money with a full playoff system, Let's at least fix things for those of us on the west coast.

Some Kind of Great Opening Sequence

My TiVo recorded a classic 80s movie for me the other night that has one of the greatest opening sequences in movie history. It was Howard Deutch's Some Kind of Wonderful, one of the lesser regarded films written by John Hughes, the author who tapped into the teenage psyche of that era.  What's great about this opening is that with nothing more than the pulsating beat of Abuse by Propaganda the basic story is laid out. 

All the teen movie cliches are presented: The dirt-under-his-fingernails kid from the wrong side of the tracks (showing him literally cross the tracks) who walks forlornly past the home of the pretty girl romping in her bedroom with the spoiled rich kid who's rebelling in his own way with her because she's just barely on the right side of the tracks. All the while the rebel girl pounds away on her garage drum set keeping beat with the music. You hear her story purely in the visuals. You see her torn jeans, black Doc Martin boots, torn white t-shift and red bandanas wrapped around her hands. 
What a classic way to establish all the main characters and waste no time or dialogue setting up the story. 
It's not a great movie -- it's actually a gender bending remake of Hughes true classic, Pretty in Pink -- but the dialogue is vintage Hughes.