I’m a little torn about this movie. I’ve spent many wasted hours writing reviews railing against technology and fake-ass CGI scenery. I think I may have even praised Michael Bay (gasp) for using real cars and stuntmen and explosions rather than depending on some geek with a fancy Mac to make his heroes look heroic. This movie was literally nothing but computer generated images. I mean, the only thing separating this and Shrek was a few actors and some plot points. Watching the DVD extras, they did cheat a little bit, building one set for an office scene, but otherwise every single thing in the movie (with the exception of those pesky actors) was created on a computer.
Said actors did their acting in front of green screens; flying imaginary planes, sitting at imaginary tables and holding imaginary guns. It’s a truly amazing feat, really. Despite this, the film manages to avoid that clean, computer generated sheen that something like the second Star Wars trilogy exuded. It came off more like a living World War II propaganda poster, or a dark comic book. That’s not to say it looked fake per se, but everything was super stylized. While watching the thing, one can only be amazed by the detail that appears despite the illustrated nature of it.
It turns out that kind detail doesn’t come easy, as there were (according to the DVD extras) a bunch of people working on the film for over two years non-stop. It’s honestly a pretty insane thing. They show whole rooms covered with hand drawn illustrations of scenes and robots and planes and laser guns. As art, this is a really cool movie. As a movie, it suffers from the same thing that makes it so unique. Like a lot of hyper-stylized period films (Hudsucker Proxy, for one), there seems to be a little heart missing.
The Paltrow and Jude Law characters are less real people than cookie cutter 1940s film noir fighting couple copies. Do they hate each other, or love each other? Maybe both. The difference is that Conran isn’t the writer that someone like Billy Wilder is. His snappy dialogue and character interaction feels more like an homage than the genuine article. It feels like he’s taking old lines from the movies and making them worse somehow. It ends up that Paltrow and Law and Ribisi are basically cartoon characters in a big, beautiful cartoon.
Now that I’m kind of going down this avenue, I think I’ll go back to my usual bitching and say that it’s almost impossible to make a film that is emotionally engaging completely on computers. There is something antiseptic about it–and nobody can get emotional about pixels. Acting in front a green screen may sap actors of their emotion as well, or maybe it’s just a crappy script, but there just didn’t seem to be anything behind this thing. How are you going to act scared of a giant robot when there’s nothing there but some grip on a ladder? I know that’s called “acting,” but I have a feeling the new mantra for the 00s is going to be to never act with kids, dogs or computers.