Rapid-Fire Reviews | Starship Troopers: Invasion

Info:

Genre: Science-fiction, animation

Director/s: Shinji Aramaki

Running Time: 88 mins

Budget: Unknown

Released: 21 July 2012 (Japan)

Okay, first thing’s first.  I feel that I need to clear up the first bit of bullshit about Starship Troopers: Invasion.  Claiming that this film is – “A fast-paced thrill ride that tops the original”, as it says on the cover is a ridiculously stupid statement, clearly designed to manipulate people into buying the film, as it is simply not so.  The original Starship Troopers (1997) was (and still is) an amazing film, filled with space marines, giant bugs and gratuitous violence, placing it among my all-time favourite sci-fi flicks.  Filmmakers attempted to replicate the awesomeness of the original with two sequels – Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004) and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008), but they turned out to be such a load of crap that needless to say, when Invasion came along, I completely overlooked it until I realized it was animated.  While Starship Troopers: Invasion has all the aforementioned ingredients that made the first film so great, it definitely lacks the energy and originality that gives a film everlasting re-playability.  The animation is great, seemingly photo-realistic at times, in a similar style to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and everything from the bugs to the space-cruisers have been faithfully recreated in CGI.  A notable difference is the mechanized power-armour that the troopers wear (resembling Master Chief somewhat) as opposed to the regular uniforms of the infantrymen as seen in the first film.  The characters in Invasion are relatively one-dimensional, expendable and utterly forgettable, lacking any modicum of soul that made their predecessors so interesting.  Even though some of the characters return in this sequel, including – Carmen Ibanez, Carl Jenkins and Johnny Rico (resembling Big Boss), they are a far cry from their former, charismatic selves.  My only other gripe with this film is the ‘Invasion’ title.  The bugs only get to Earth in the last twenty minutes, and there’s no actual invasion as the troopers manage to contain the bugs within the confines of the ship that brought them to the planet, so not exactly the all out mankind vs. giant alien bug brawl it should’ve been.

Conclusion

Starship Troopers: Invasion isn’t without its good points – there is plenty of action and gore present in the film and the animation is pretty damn good.  A few new bugs keep things interesting and though Invasion pales in comparison to the original film, it proves to be vastly superior to the last couple of sequels.

Grade: C

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Wallpapers – Brave

Resolution – 1920 x 1200 | Aspect Ratio – 16:10

CGI; it’s not all good m’kay?

I’ve been watching Japanese anime and American ‘toons’ since I was a kid, and now years later I’ve really developed an appreciation for meticulously crafted hand drawn animation.  As a child of the ’80s, I spent vast amounts of time watching such shows as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Starzinger, Robotech, Moomin, BraveStarr, Bionic Six, The Real Ghostbusters and so many more.  The ’90s were no different with Freakazoid, Biker Mice from Mars, Darkwing Duck and Ghost in the Shell topping my list.

Are you old enough to remember BraveStarr?

For decades, Disney animation has been bringing joy to children and adults alike with their hand-drawn marvels such as Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book and the AristoCats but eventually Disney started to integrate CGI into their films such as with Rescuers Down Under, the first Disney film to use the (then) new computerized CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) process.  CAPS was used for digital inking and paint as well as compositing, as a result Rescuers Down Under was the first film to be fully assembled within a digital environment.  CAPS allowed artists to create more sophisticated animations and this paid tribute to the film’s wonderful visuals.  In 1992 Disney released Aladdin, which integrated CGI amongst the traditional hand-drawn cell animation, as did the 1994 production The lion King.  At the time, the CGI segments in the aforementioned films were quite awe-inspiring as CGI was still in its infancy and people had never really seen such things.  It was James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) that kick started the CGI revolution, it proved that CGI did indeed have a place in cinema, for this reason Steven Spielberg abandoned the go-motion technique he had intended on using for Jurassic Park (1993) and opted for CGI.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day kick started the CGI revolution.

In 1995, a small animation studio named Pixar released the first full length CGI animated film entitled Toy Story.  Since then Pixar has continued to release one successful film after the next, with A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and the Incredibles to name but a few.  Their most recent film, Up, is a sight to behold with wonderfully fluid and detailed animation.  What sets Pixar apart is that the quality of the storylines mirror that of the animation.

Pixar's Up is a work of CGI genius.

As CGI became more prevalent in film, Disney basically abandoned the traditional hand-drawn cell animation in favour of more cost-effective CGI.  As hard as it is to believe, the advanced computer generated techniques are actually far more cost-effective in most cases, than their hand-drawn counterparts as production time is greatly decreased since computers are capable of halving the workload.  Not only does Disney have Pixar under its belt, but all of the studio’s own films are now created using CGI as well, such as Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons and Bolt.

Fully CGI animated films are not the exclusive domain of Disney or Pixar, other studios like Dreamworks, have released films like;  Kung Fu Panda, Shrek and Monsters vs Aliens which have been hugely successful, though in my opinion Dreamworks studios aren’t on the same level as Pixar.  The problem I have with CGI is that because it has become (relatively) inexpensive, other small companies are abandoning hand-drawn animation and while CGI may be more cost-effective, it’s still expensive nonetheless and since the indy companies don’t have huge budgets, the productions they release like; Donkey Xote, Impy’s Island and Farm Kids look shockingly bad.

I love animation in all forms and believe that the CGI animated films can be just as good as the traditional hand-drawn counterparts but it saddens me to see how cell animation is slowly dying.  Just because you can use CGI doesn’t always mean you should.

For a time I thought that Japanese anime was a refuge as most animation studios in the country are relatively poor and as such they stick to traditional hand-drawn animation (due to the fact that the studios dont have millions of dollars to purchase the render farms they’d need for the animation), and most of the studios in Japan still do to this day however, I’ve noticed that even anime isn’t safe as more and more CGI is starting to intrude.  In 1995, Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell, was a true sight to behold as it integrated many new computer generated techniques that looked absolutely fantastic.  Ghost in the Shell was one of the key inspirations for The Matrix (1999), a film that revolutionized modern cinema with the advent of its ‘bullet time’ special effects.  Sadly in 2008, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 was released and had ‘improved’ CGI segments.  Not only was the CGI of poor quality, but it was also few and far between and rather than render scenes like the tank battle in CGI (which might have been pretty awesome), the creators decided to redo scenes like; Motoko scuba diving.  The animation looked completely out-of-place and they ruined a perfect film with invasive CGI.  Steamboy followed a similar path as Rescuers Down Under, whereby the traditional-looking animation was all done on computers.  I don’t really have a problem with CGI being used to emulate cell animation, If I can be tricked into thinking it’s hand-drawn that’s fine, but when they try integrate a 2D character into a 3D background, specially if there’s rotation involved, oftentimes it looks pretty bad.

The animation in the original version (as seen left) fits in with the rest of the film but the new 'improved' CGI additions (right) look out of place.

Can someone please explain to me how replacing the signature green hue and replacing it with orange makes Ghost in the Shell somehow better?

A new anime entitled Blassreiter, has been released and its overuse of CGI (horribly bad CGI to boot) is completely off-putting, so much so that I couldn’t even get through the first five minutes of the show.  Other popular franchises that have been given the CGI treatment include Appleseed, which uses a cell-shaded (2D-looking polygons) technique to emulate traditional animation, unfortunately the characters look like cardboard cutouts and the ‘realistic’ movement can look quite jerky and stiff at times.  Even the more traditional anime companies, like Studio Ghibli, have integrated CGI into their films.

Cell animation isn’t the only endangered technique; stop-motion animation, as seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas, is pretty much dead as computers are able to easily and more cost effectively replicate the technique.  Flushed Away, created by the people who did the Wallace and Gromit stop-motion animations, was a CGI film that deliberately copied the stop-motion style, down to the jerky speech movements.  Since water plays a large role in Flushed Away, it was deemed too complicated and expensive to animate water using stop motion techniques so the studios opted for CGI.  Even the latest ’stop-motion’ film, Coraline was basically entirely done using computers.

Even stop-motion films aren't immune to CGI takeover, such is the case with Coraline, a film that used many computer-based techniques.

It will only be a matter of time before CGI replaces Hollywood actors, or at the very least, reduces all of them to voice-actors.  As CGI becomes more sophisticated, the realism will increase to the point where the animation is indistinguishable from their real-life counterparts.  It’s already happening in the industry, Square-Enix have proven that realistic 3D models can be used with their CGI films; Final Fantasy – Spirits Within & Final Flight of the Osiris and while most live-action films contain some form of computer generated imagery, films like; The Matrix Reloaded (2003) employed techniques that enabled a hundred copies of Hugo Weaving to be on-screen at once, and while certain scenes do look a bit dated and artificial now, other films like Spider-Man 2 (2004), though CGI heavy, used CGI models where you’d least expect it, including the final scene where Doctor Octopus descends to the depths of the harbour; a completely computer generated Alfred Molina was used for that scene and when I found out I couldn’t believe it.

How long will it be until human actors are replaced by CGI?

On the plus side, when CGI does finally replace all cell animation, it’s nice to know that there’s still a stockpile of traditionally animated anime that would literally take a life-time to get through.  I believe that CGI is essential for modern live-action cinema, and that fully CGI animated films should be able to co-exist with cell animation, rather than replace it because once it’s gone, future generations will miss out on something truly extraordinary although luckily we have plenty of digital storage methods to preserve the classics.

AVATAR

Info:

Genre:  Science-fiction, adventure

Director/s:  James Cameron

Writer/s:  James Cameron

Running Time:  161 mins

Budget:  $237 million

Released:  18 December 2009 (South Africa)

Plot:

A paraplegic marine dispatched to the planet Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home – imdb

Review:

After almost twelve years, James Cameron has finally returned to the cinematic scene (I’m excluding the various documentaries that he has directed after Titanic was released way back in 1997) with the much-anticipated film; Avatar.

I must confess that up until this year I had no knowledge of his latest cinematic entry only having seen a teaser trailer a couple months back.  James Cameron has got to be one of the most prestigious film directors of all time, with industry-defining films such as Terminator 2, a film that used never-before-seen CGI technologies to bring the awesome shape shifting T-1000 to life.  Terminator 2 also proved that CGI represented the future of film, as well as convincing Steven Spielberg to employ CGI in his 1993 film Jurassic Park instead of the go-motion technique he had previously intended on using.

The one thing I really try to avoid is hype because the film invariably falls short of the mark and your impossibly high expectations are met with disappointment as the film fails to match up to what the majority of people are saying, with the exception of 2008’s Dark Knight, a film that far exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds.  To paraphrase a good friend of mine – you can’t be disappointed if you don’t have expectations.

So after reading the myriad of write-ups on Avatar, I walked in the cinema with high expectations, only to leave feeling somewhat disappointed, people have made it sound like Cameron has released the cure for cancer or something, while it is a good film, it isn’t the genre-defining masterpiece that all the critics are saying it is.

The CGI character models are incredible, with movements and facial mannerisms indistinguishable from their real world counterparts.

Let’s get the most obvious aspect of the film out-of-the-way first – the visuals.  The CGI in Avatar is breathtaking, Cameron’s lush Earth-like moon, Pandora is a sight to behold, filled with bizarre creatures, lush forests and painstaking attention to detail.  Avatar has some of the best CGI I’ve ever seen, everything looks fantastic, from the forests and animals to the war machines of the humans.  The Na’vi, 9 foot tall humanoid aliens with bioluminescent blue skin, consist of some of the best CGI ever, with movement and facial expressionism indistinguishable from their live-action counterparts, I can see that a lot of time and effort was spent in making the Na’vi realistic and believable and the same goes for the rest of the creatures that occupy Pandora.  The other thing about this film is the epic scope, the myriad of wide-angle shots are quite awe-inspiring and it takes a lot of processing to fully take in the beauty of it all.  It’s reached the point where the CGI looks more gorgeous than reality, with environments consisting of impossible beauty.  However, calling Avatar ‘the movie to end all movies’ is nothing but baseless trash.  Already the media are saying that there are two types of films, referred to as ‘Before Avatar & After Avatar – or simply BA and AA.  The aforementioned statements are quite ridiculous.  With Avatar, James Cameron wanted to break the ‘Matrix-mould’ of science-fiction cinema with a film that could redefine the genre but I really don’t see how that’s possible, Avatar doesn’t bring anything new to the table, nothing that future films will be able to take from, unlike The Matrix whose bullet-time special effects redefined modern cinema for the last decade and continue to do so to this very day.  The Matrix is the film to end all films, not Avatar.  Which leads me to my next point – the plot.

The film is populated with all kinds of futuristic hardware ranging from aircraft to mecha.

It’s the year 2154 and a human corporation has set up a mining operation on an alien moon named Pandora in order to obtain a precious resource called unobtanium, which is worth $20 million per kilogram. Unfortunately, Pandora is what the Warhammer 40k universe would refer to as a Death World, Pandora is pretty much uninhabitable as the air isn’t breathable to humans and almost every resident of the moon is lethal and so the human corporation employ the services of a private security force consisting of former marines and soldiers (emphasis on former – I’ll come back to this point) to safeguard the site that they occupy from the many hostilities including the Na’vi.  The Na’vi live in the Hometree, a place which predictably contains the richest concentration of unobtanium, which the humans obviously intend on harvesting.  The Na’vi are a rural Native Indian/African tribe-like race that the humans view as primitive and worthless.

Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) creates the Avatar program which allows a human being to control a Na’vi-human hybrid while their own body ‘sleeps’, it is used to integrate and interact with the Na’vi tribe.  The human protagonist; Jake Sully, an ex-marine (Sam Worthington) who is crippled from the waist down is assigned to the Avatar program when his twin brother is killed, Jake is chosen as he is compatible with his brother’s Avatar.  At the same time Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a hardened ex-marine makes a deal with Jake promising to restore the use of his legs if he gains the trust of the Na’vi and learns their secrets.  As Jake stumbles into the Na’vi tribe, he meets a female Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña) and begins to question himself as well as where his loyalties lie as he gets pulled into the wondrous world of the Na’vi.  Sure enough the love story angle comes into play, it’s one of the predictable plot devices used in the film which makes me wonder why everyone is saying the storyline is so original.  If you strip away the flashy visuals, you’re left with a movie about industrious humans invading a foreign land with the protagonist falling in love with a native girl and eventually turning on his own people, much like The New World or Pocahontas.  Now one could argue that The Matrix (I’m aware that I keep referring back to the film but The Matrix is the finest example of genre-defining cinema) would be nothing without its effects but beneath the effects-heavy exterior, the Wachowski Brothers had created an original, intriguing and thought-provoking story unlike Cameron who had basically taken Pocahontas and retrofitted it with a sci-fi overlay.  And in case you were wondering, Avatar is not the most expensive film ever made, Pirates of the Caribbean – At World’s End still holds that title at around $300 million.

Sam Worthington stars as the human protagonist Jake Sully, pictured behind him is his avatar in stasis.

Now I’m going to address some of the major criticisms of Avatar;

Why don’t the marines just nuke the Na’vi, or use orbital bombardment on the Hometree?

At first I wondered the same until it dawned on me that the human defenders weren’t an army, they’re a military-like security force (albeit an extremely bad-ass one) put in place to safeguard the mining operation.  Just like any normal security force they do not have the authority to possess or even use nuclear weapons or orbital cannons.

Avatar is a racist film about a white man desperately trying to lose his identity.

Why, why, why are people so stupid?? I’m so sick and tired of people trying to find any sort of excuse to cause a controversy. Yes the four main Na’vi are voiced by African-Americans and yes, the humans are voiced by Caucasians, but who gives a shit? The best-suited actors are chosen for specific roles, not because of race and as for Jake Sully trying to lose his identity, who the fuck comes up with such garbage, why not just watch the film and enjoy it for what it is? Jake goes through a transition as he gets pulled deeper and deeper into the Na’vi world eventually preferring their way of live over the destructive, industrialist human existence, which is an accurate representation of human beings and proof of that exists all around us.

To conclude, Avatar is a good, well-rounded film, I just feel that it isn’t the genre defining, cinematic messiah that everyone has said it is.  If you’re watching it for the visuals you won’t be disappointed, as I stated before Avatar is a beautiful looking film.  However, if you watch this film expecting some intricately constructed storyline with twists and turns you will be disappointed.  Avatar is just a rehash of an older tale that we’ve all seen before and in my opinion the Wachowski brothers’ cyberpunk trilogy is still the greatest example of science-fiction cinema.