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VFX Frontiers, Big Budgets and Boxoffice

Srfx021_3 I'm glum about how Superman Returns is faring at the summer boxoffice. I know that part of the problem is that studios are indulgent parents. They have gobs and gobs of cash to spend, and especially when they're investing in a huge potential franchise, there's no incentive NOT to let their smart, talented, imaginative directors throw more money—and length— into their movies. So Bryan Singer gets to spend $2.3 million on that bullet in the eye sequence. (Which I'm glad is in the movie.) Or he decides that he just doesn't like the way that mini-continent looks when Superman hoists it into outer space. (Here's my report on Singer and VFX supervisor Mark Stetson's fab FX.) Superman Returns reminds me of King Kong. Because Peter Jackson was coming off the amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy, Universal let him do whatever he wanted—and got a three hour movie that barely scraped into profitability, and should have been trimmed.

So too, at two and a half hours, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 has plenty of sumptuous effects. And as a devoted FX student, I will eventually see it. It's just that too many people have told me what a long slog the movie is. I know it's my duty to report how well this movie is opening, breaking the Spider-Man record, etc etc. But it depresses me. The more the studios get positive reinforcement from making pricey but less than well-executed movies like Da Vinci Code and X-Men 3, the more they'll keep feeling justified in doing more of same. Sigh.

Besides Bob Zemeckis's Beowulf, the next FX extravaganza that I am super-excited by is James Cameron's 3-D Avatar, aka Project 880. Sheigh nabbed an interview with Cameron. I can't wait. Word is, ILM's Dennis Muren will be the lead effects supervisor, with Weta FX Master Joe Letteri handling Avatar's character animation. Finally, technology has caught up with the movie that Cameron has long wanted to make.

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