Bill Desowitz provides a sneak peek of the visual effects films on display in 2011.
It's pretty much back to basics this year with lots of superheroes, sequels, remakes, origin stories, kid's fare and assorted action/adventures -- and plenty of 3-D, of course. Plus a few originals and potential surprises. Not covered but worth mentioning are: Thor, X-Men First Class, Rise of the Apes (with Weta doing some fancy new hair grooming and performance capture for CG apes), Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol (with Brad Bird making his live-action debut), Steven Spielberg's War Horse, Sherlock Holmes 2, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Priest, Super 8, The Thing, Conan the Barbarian, Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Smurfs, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World, Hop, The Muppets and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.
Sucker Punch (Warner Bros., March 25)
Zack Snyder's Alice in Wonderland-inspired mind-bender could be this year's Inception or Shutter Island. Babydoll (Emily Browning) tries to escape from an asylum through her imagination with an elite fighting force of inmates and a virtual arsenal. The director of 300 and Watchmen goes for a stylized mash-up of World War I, samurai and serpents in his first original work. John DJ Desjardin (Watchmen) serves as overall visual effects supervisor, with production design by Rick Carter (Avatar). VFX is provided by MPC, Prime Focus, Animal Logic, Pixomondo, among others.
Source Code (Summit, April 1)Duncan Jones follows up his intriguing Moon with a Groundhog Day-like techno-thriller, in which soldier Jake Gyllenhaal is sent into the body of a civilian to continuously relive the last eight minutes of his life until he discovers who was responsible for a train bombing and to prevent the next terrorist attack. VFX by MPC Vancouver, Modus FX, Mr. X, Rodeo FX and others.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Buena Vista, May 20, 3-D)Rob Marshall (Chicago) takes over for Gore Verbinski in helming the fourth sequel to Disney's popular Pirates franchise -- and the first in 3-D from Cinesite. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) go after the fountain of youth only to discover that Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and an old flame (Penelope Cruz) are after it too. Can't wait to see how ILM raises its game (this time under the supervision of Ben Snow) along with support from MPC, and PLF.
The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight, May 27)Every Terrence Malick film is an event and this one appears to be a summary statement about the mystical relationship between humanity and nature: the loss of innocence for a young boy growing up in Texas in the '50s becomes an existential journey into the labyrinth of life in adulthood (played by Sean Penn) and the discovery of the miraculous. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain co-star. VFX is overseen by Dan Glass with assistance by the legendary Doug Trumbull, and vendors include Double Negative, Prime Focus, Method Studios and others.
Green Lantern (Warner Bros., June 17, 3-D)Ryan Reynolds plays the DC superhero imbued with otherworldly powers thanks to a mystical ring and entrusted with policing the universe with an intergalactic squadron. Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) directs; Karen Goulekas and Kent Houston are the overall supervisors, with Sony Pictures Imageworks leading the vfx charge (spearheaded by Jim Berney) and support from Rising Sun Pictures and others.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount/DreamWorks, July 1)Michael Bay's third go-around takes inspiration from Pink Floyd, as the Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the moon and try to beat the Decepticons in learning its secrets and gaining advantage in their final battle. ILM is back with new tweaks under Scott Farrar's leadership and Digital Domain lends support as well with others.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Warner Bros., July 15, 3-D)David Yates helms the thrilling conclusion to Harry's battle with Lord Voldermort for control of the wizarding world and closure for our conflicted hero. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts to seek and destroy the final horcruxes. London's VFX industry in Soho has come of age with Potter, and it will be a treat to witness the final achievements of Double Negative, MPC, Framestore and Cinesite along with great support by Baseblack and Rising Sun (under Tim Burke's overall supervision once again).
Captain America: The First Avenger (Paramount, July 22)Another Marvel superhero comes to the big screen under the direction of Joe Johnston (The Wolfman, Jurassic Park III): Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, who turns into Captain America, the country's defender, after volunteering for a secret research project that goes awry. Samuel Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury and Hugo Weaving co-stars as The Red Skull. Christopher Townsend is the overall supervisor with Double Negative as the lead vendor and Matte World Digital providing additional contributions, among others.
Cowboys & Aliens (Universal/DreamWorks, July 29)Jon Favreau (Iron Man) tackles a supernatural western with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell: Craig lands in Absolution, Arizona, in 1873 with a loss of memory and a mysterious shackle around one wrist, who teams up with hard-nosed Ford in combating marauders from the sky bent on taking over the planet. ILM, Legacy Effects and others provide the vfx mayhem.
Hugo Cabret (Sony, Dec. 9, 3-D)
Martin Scorsese's first film shot in 3-D is an adaptation of Brian Selznick's bestseller about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s and a mysterious encounter with Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the father of special effects. Scorsese told The Guardian: "Every shot is rethinking cinema, rethinking narrative -- how to tell a story with a picture. Now, I'm not saying we have to keep throwing javelins at the camera, I'm not saying we use it as a gimmick, but it's liberating. It's literally a Rubik's Cube every time you go out to design a shot, and work out a camera move, or a crane move. But it has a beauty to it also. People look like… like moving statues. They move like sculpture, as if sculpture is moving in a way. Like dancers…" Rob Legato (Shutter Island) serves as overall supervisor; Pixomondo LA is the lead vendor. Legato tells AWN/VFXWorld, "The Melies recreations are stunning looking. In some cases impossible for the trained eye to see what might have been restored from what was recreated. First choice, of course, is restoration but we have recreated some moments and the behind-the-scenes shooting of the same. We recreated the glass house studio and the painted backdrops and fantastic costumes. A treat for film lovers."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.