2007: Slick Celluloid Without Much Substance

It’s all about aesthetics these days.

And why not? Computer graphics have propelled motion pictures forward, and films more visually gratifying than ever before are being created thanks to the advancement of digital technology and special effects. Comics are coming to life, as real life actors turn up in comics. Dramatic battle scenes are made real, while glittery fantasy lands we only thought possible in our head are rendered on the silver screen.

2007 was a remarkable year of visually inventive, computer-enhanced epics à la 300, Spiderman 3, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Transformers and Beowulf – all meticulously-styled movies: beautiful to behold, but less engaging on the mind than they were on the eye.

Needless to say these are the CG’d (computer-graphic’d), MC’d (motion-captured) times we now live in, and 2007 delivered some crackers.

One that most represents the year past is 300: a toned, honed, homo-erotic marathon that recreated the ancient battle of Thermopylae using a combination of real life actors and computer-generated imagery.

Sexy and slick, with sepia undertones and splashes of colour, 300 looks not unlike another graphics masterpiece, Sin City (also an adaptation of comic book guru Frank Miller’s). Both are film noir features of contrast and contradictions, fusing the vivid and flat, the energetic and the still, on desaturated canvases of black and white. But despite the fact 300 is such a spectacle, there isn’t much substance past the eye candy and eye-popping action.

Beowulf on the other hand went one step further. While sticking to the ‘bulging-biceped he-man-hero-saves-the-day’ premise that 300 mastered, it can also take responsibility for resurrecting the fashion accessory we all thought had died in the ’80s: 3D glasses.

Yes, movies have evolved, but sadly 3D glasses haven’t. They are still the cumbersome cardboard monstrosities they were when Jaws 3D came out in ’83 (those of us old enough to remember). But if you can stand wearing these giant goggles for near-on two hours, Beowulf is a must see. Again, a somewhat soulless movie, but visually spectacular and significant all the same.

One film that didn’t disappoint in the substance stakes was David Cronenberg’s (A History of Violence, Crash) atmospheric mob thriller Eastern Promises. A murky, moody, modern-day London is reflected through Cronenberg’s creative eyes, incorporating his trademark blood and violence, while actor Viggo Mortensen brings a whole new meaning to nude wrestling.

Though they were very much in the minority, 2007 was not without the odd memorable comedy (Knocked Up, Two Days in Paris), western (The Assassination of Jesse James, 3:10 to Yuma), or drama (Atonement, A Mighty Heart). But despite the fact these are all noteworthy films, they just didn’t meet the 2007 checklist: flashy effects, explosions and unashamed expense.

Yes, admit it: modern day cinema is all about prettiness. Think of it as the Pamela Anderson of film: nice to look at, but not much going on inside. Perhaps 2008 will see a return of the humble geek-flick. Napoleon Dynamite Strikes Back anyone?


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