Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resident Evil: Degeneration (Or, the problem with CG movies.)

Last night I watched "Resident Evil: Degeneration". I played the first one and a half games using cheat codes because I suck at these kinds of games, but love the atmosphere. So I'm not a hard core Resident Evil/Bio Hazard fan. But I do love a good zombie flick and sci-fi action rocks, so I knew I'd have to check this one out.

It had a few good things going for it, but not enough to make it a purchase. Some great visual designs and creature stuff provided nifty eye candy and a few of the action sequences scratched the itch for me. Where the movie falls short is, like so many of its kind, in the motion capture.

Now, I have to say very quickly and with great stress, this is not the fault of the mo-cap actors. I emphasize that because after watching the credits I discovered that the mo-cap actor for Claire Redfield was played by one of my and my wife's friends. I felt her performance was solid and one of the strong points of the film. Even before discovering her name in the credits I thought in one scene, "the mo-cap actor's movements are really selling this scene for Claire." I came to my own conclusions about the quality of the film before seeing the credits, so I believe I maintain my objectivity.

So what do I mean about mo-cap being the weakness? I'm talking about the technology. It hasn't reached the point where we can capture the subtle emotional tells in a person's face. With only a few dozen capture points in use, we just can't capture the facial performances like we need to. And if there IS technology available to track eye and eyelid movement, it hasn't successfully translated those movements to the screen yet. We can do large limb and joint capture pretty well. Even hands aren't too bad. But anything smaller and the performance is lost.

On the DVD for this movie, you can even see a live comparison from the actors and the capture they produce and there is just a lot missing from the get go.

Until we master mo-cap, I think it is best used for action sequences only. That's why films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Beowulf, and this one, will always produce characters that feel wooden. In the making of "The Incredible Hulk" they used a new mo-cap process where they spray florescent paint onto the actor's faces, allowing them to pick up MUCH more detail. But this still didn't result in very believable CGI. And without those believable performances on the screen, dialogue and "character driven" moments fall flat and are just plain boring to watch. That's why I didn't feel I could do a full and fair review of this movie. After awhile, I ended up fast-forwarding through a few dialogue scenes.

Resident Evil was great in it's action sequences, but it spent too much time trying to convey 3 dimensional characters with real emotions, given that the technology just isn't up to the challenge yet. A film in this format that succeeds like no other is "Final Fantasy: Advent Children". Compared to the other "all CG" films I've mentioned, this one really played up the strength of CG by giving us a 90 minute action-fest with crazy camera work and "stunts" that can only happen in a CG film. Advent Children doesn't waste alot of time trying to give great character performances. It plays up the strengths of CG and downplays the weak points.

I would LOVE to see a sequel to Resident Evil: Degeneration that utilized this strategy a little more. That, or one that waits to be made until the technology can translate the performances to screen that these actors and directors put so much time and thought into.

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