Effects Matter

So, after setting up my new televsion last night (all thanks due to my parents!) and sitting down to blog, I found that the best option on my television at the moment was, sadly, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen back to back.  Fortunately, I only had to sit through about twenty minutes of the former travesty, but it was enough for me to notice that, stunningly, the special effects were actually worse than Jessica Alba’s acting.  They were so bad it was distracting: it was as if they’d started doing the CGI on the Silver Surfer, wandered off mid-coffee break, had a surprise visit from Sarah Michelle Gellar wearing a cheerleader outfit and carrying a stake, and just never returned.  The movie is so dreadful it doesn’t matter, really.  The effects are just another thing dramatically shortchanged in a crass, cheap adaptation of a venerated comic.

But in The League, the poverty of the special effects do make a difference in what could have been an entertaining B movie.  It’s highly campy, of course.  Sean Connery, at 73, is wandering around punching people in the face.  Tom Sawyer’s addition to the crew is diverting, but deeply underdeveloped.  The Invisible Man’s nefariousness is signaled by the fact that he runs around naked and refuses to wear his trench coat and cold cream most of the time.  So, clearly, goofiness.  But the poor quality of the effects is again distracting, this time decisively so.  Mostly it’s that Mr. Hyde just looks dreadful: the movie’s effects folks mostly make him look misshapen and awkward and big, but it’s not a convincing distortion, and they signal his transformations back into Dr. Jekyll mostly by waving the camera around and making things look blurry.  The animation on a guy who takes Jekyll’s transformative potion to fight him are even worse.  Ditto for Mina Harker: they don’t even bother to make her look vampiric, they just toss in some red in the whites of her eyes and have her nuzzle aggressively into someone’s neck when she bites someone.  And it’s particularly too bad, because they do a nice job on certain things, like the Nautilus, Captain Nemo’s ship, which looks sleek and gorgeous and steam-punky.

Why they couldn’t have done that across the board is beyond me.  Instead, the effects are a constant reminder of the slightly threadbare story they’re hanging on, and the overstuffed cast holding it up.  If the effects were plausible, it might have been easy to ignore the movie’s cheerful deficiencies and just gone along with it.  With nothing pretty or genuinely grotesque to look at, all its flaws stand in much sharper relief.