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VFX Summer Preview: 10 Movies to Watch

Lots of sci-fi, the return of a beloved franchise and a wizard named Harry and plenty of robots are part of our summer sneak peek.


Star Trek boldly goes where the franchise has never gone before under J.J. Abrams' new direction. Photo credit: Industrial Light & Magic. © Paramount Pictures.

Amid the usual explosive mayhem you'd expect for summer popcorn fare, we take a peek at lots of robots, dinosaurs and origin stories as we offer our top 10 summer picks.

1. Star Trek (Paramount, May 8)

J.J. Abrams' fast and furious re-imagining of Star Trek is definitely the summer's hottest movie, supported by bar raising vfx from ILM (supervisor Roger Guyett also served as second unit director) and great support from Digital Domain, Lola, Svengali and others. Not surprisingly, realism was the mandate for traveling on the sleeker and speedier Enterprise, the space battles, creature chases and planetary catastrophes. The origin story introduces a young Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) in their first adventure aboard the Enterprise, as they combat a time-tripping Romulan (Eric Bana) on planetary rampage. We can't wait to see the exploits of the Enterprise in IMAX.


There are more 'bots with greater complexity and some IMAX thrown in for extra eye candy in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Photo credit: Industrial Light & Magic. © Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks.

2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Paramount, June 24)

Talk about upping the ante: Michael Bay goes to the Egyptian pyramids to unearth some more secrets of the Transformers. And he's kept ILM (supervised by Scott Farrar) and Digital Domain (supervised by Matthew Butler) very busy. There are more 'bots (60) with greater complexity and moodier lighting in fancier environments to raise the level of eye candy. Plus, with three action set pieces shot with large-format IMAX cameras (a la The Dark Knight), greater resolution challenges and longer render times will be a challenge for the CG work.


Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Terminator Salvation is the fourth film in the franchise. It's a busy summer for ILM. © Warner Bros. Pictures.

3. Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros., May 21)

In this origin story directed by McG, Salvation follows John Connor (Christian Bale) and the human resistance battle against Skynet and its army of Terminators in a post-apocalyptic 2018. ILM does much of the heavy lifting on this (under the supervision of Ben Snow) with Asylum contributing as well. According to Charles Gibson (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), overall visual effects supervisor, "… McG's take is to weave science-fiction elements into a state-of-the-art action film: The camera always moves, the imagery is raw and kinetic, the pace is insane. The creative challenge for me will be to bury the effects into the photography but to still protect our big visual moments… We've been waiting to see this world for years -- it's only been glimpsed and hinted at in the previous Terminator movies. We're able to revisit the elements that have been established, but we're going to be adding a whole lot more."


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrives with scarier vfx and IMAX 3-D at the beginning and end for more immersive thrills. © Warner Bros. Pictures.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros. July 15)

Lord Voldermort is tightening his grip and the vfx look creepier than ever by Double Negative, MPC, Cinesite, Rising Sun Pictures, ILM and Luma Pictures. Plus, as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his sixth year at Hogwarts and discovers a mysterious old book that helps him learn more about Voldemort's dark past, we will be treated to 25 minutes in IMAX 3-D, split between the opening and finale.


Drag Me to Hell finds Sam Raimi returning to his horror roots with less CG and rooted more in reality. © Universal Pictures.

5. Drag Me to Hell (Universal, May 29)

Sam Raimi takes a break from Spider-Man by returning to his horror roots in a film that's getting great buzz. L.A. loan officer Alison Lohman is cursed by an elderly woman after refusing an extension on her mortgage payment (talk about timely). Tippett Studio apparently does some hellish vfx. But, for this one, Raimi has pulled back on the CG and has rooted his story more in the real world than his previous Evil Dead films.


G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra introduces yet another high-tech origin story based on a famous Hasbro toy line. © Paramount Pictures.

6. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount, Aug. 7)

Stephen Sommers (The Mummy and Van Helsing) takes on the '80s version of the famed Hasbro toy line in yet another origin story about the elite military unit that goes after the dangerous Cobra arms dealing organization. So get ready for Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), Duke (Channing Tatum), Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), Hawk (Dennis Quaid), Baroness (Sienna Miller), Destro (Christopher Eccleston) and Cobra Commander (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) . Sommers apparently boned up on his weapons technology and Digital Domain provides most of the CG action along with MPC, Frantic Films, Framestore, CIS (Hollywood and Vancouver) and CafeFX and others.


Vfx vet Hoyt Yeatman makes his directorial debut with the live action/CG hybrid G-Force. © Walt Disney Pictures.

7. G-Force (Walt Disney, July 24)

Oscar-winning VFX whiz Hoyt Yeatman (Mighty Joe Young, The Abyss, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, E.T., Blade Runner) makes his feature directorial debut with this live-action/CG from Jerry Bruckheimer about an elite team of highly trained covert guinea pigs employing unique tactics and nano-technology to thwart a looming global disaster. Vfx is by Sony Pictures Imageworks (supervised by Scott Stokdyk). This will also be screening in Disney Digital 3-D. Insiders insist this is no mere family-friendly Disney film, but a Jerry Bruckheimer film.


We finally get the whole backstory about the mutant with metallic claws in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. © Twentieth Century Fox.

8. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Twentieth Century Fox, May 1)X-Men gets its own origin launch with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who goes after Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), who will later become Sabretooth, for the death of his girlfriend, and winds up signing up for the mutant Weapon X program led by Stryker (Danny Huston). Usual X-Men-style vfx mayhem is being handled by Hydraulx, Cinesite and Rising Sun Pictures, among others.


Angels & Demons finds Professor Robert Langdon on the trail of a terrorist plot to destroy The Vatican without the aid of Leonardo Da Vinci. © Columbia Pictures.

9. Angels & Demons (Columbia, May 15)

Ron Howard and Tom Hanks return for another Dan Brown adaptation (a prequel turned sequel to The Da Vinci Code), as Professor Robert Langdon uncovers a terrorist plot by a secret society to destroy The Vatican. Howard continues in a more naturalistic vein after Frost/Nixon and this version is reportedly more fast-paced and less reverential to its literary source. Vfx are by CIS Vancouver, Double Negative, MPC, The Senate and others.


Land of the Lost gets a makeover for the big screen, with Rhythm & Hues supplying the CG creatures. © Universal Pictures.

10. Land of the Lost (Universal, June 5)

Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket, Casper) adapts the '74 TV series by Sid & Marty Krofft for the big screen, as Will Ferrell plays Park Ranger Rick Marshall, who's sucked into a time warp and winds up in an alternate universe with dinos and other CG creatures by Rhythm & Hues. Research assistant Holly (Anna Friel) and redneck survivalist Will Stanton (Danny McBride) are along for the ride.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of VFXWorld and AWN.

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Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.