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Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Short Discussion on The Hobbit Movie's Frame Rates

As the vast majority of world geeks already know, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first film (is that term really relevant anymore?) to be shot in 48fps, the so-called high-frame rate (HFR), in contrast with the century-old standard of 24fps. Peter Jackson (with some backing from James Cameron) is labeling the new frame rate as a revolution in cinema, stating that the increased rate will offer more clarity in 3D projections and will eliminate the -existing- strobing effect found in 24fps projections, especially when panning shots are used.  Initial feedback on short segments of HFR footage was negative, while there were some reports on the movie's premiere that it caused nausea to some audience members.

I was able to watch the movie in arguably the best formats possible: IMAX 3D (24fps) and HFR 3D; and the end result really does make a difference. The IMAX 3D presentation was a standard digital blow-up, with excellent use of 3D, really good colors and brightness levels, with the only nitpicks being a relative lack of detail compared to traditional IMAX cameras due to the use of 4K digital cameras, and a strobing effect in the numerous panning shots that Jackson obviously used in order to demonstrate the superiority of the HFR format.

The HFR format however was an entirely different business. In the first shot I was really terrified from what I saw, with indoor shots seemingly being projected in super-speed motion, and the movie having a look resembling an awesomely HD version of Fawlty Towers! Thankfully after 5 minutes or so I started getting used to that look, although I was still having motion perception problems due to the fact that I was not used to that much information projected into my eyes. The argument for 48fps is that it looks like 'real life', although I guess in real life one does not cut every 2 seconds and our eyes do not constantly zoom in and out, pan and tilt, and generally do all the crazy things that Peter Jackson's cameras typically do.

A very good point for 48fps was however the fact that all strobing artifacts were eliminated; no longer did I see split frames when the camera moved all over Bilbo's map or when the bird's eye view panned over the city of Dale in the opening prologue. And yes, the added motion did somewhat improve the 3D experience. A major downside were the washed-out colors and the dim brightness typically offered by standard-grade 3D projectors - I guess sometime in the future IMAX projectors will be able to work in 48fps as well, but from what I understand all so-called 'IMAX 48fps' adverts were in fact pseudo-IMAX in 2K, which should be avoided, unless one wants to count digital artifacts on the screen.

And finally, after about one hour of viewing, I was able to adapt to the new motion offered by HFR and forgot about these nitpicks. One very valid question posed by Devin Faraci was that the new format, if adopted, might make 24fps viewing unbearable. I do not necessarily agree with that; as with e.g. black and white film, the human mind is complex enough to be able to train itself and adapt to different conditions. But the fact remains that this format does narrow the barrier between what is real and what is not, which is an aesthetic choice that some filmakers might (and should!) opt out from.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

So yesterday  we decided to go to the cinema. What better excuse for a movie-going experience than  the latest (and final) installment of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Most of the praise about this movie is well founded and the vast majority  of the production decisions hit the spot. It was good, it was big and it was immersive. 

I did not like some of the motivations of the characters. There were moments that I would feel that their actions  were forced in order to move the plot forward and I could not take them so seriously. You could feel some cliches being forced in the actor's lips 'just to have that moment'. Do not get me wrong. I do not mean that all was bad, in fact most was well-thought but some crucial plot twists felt unjustified. 

And since now I got the bad parts out of the way, the good parts. The movie felt big in every sense. The scenes were big in scope, the stakes were big, the action was big(even though not a lot). I particularly liked the pace of the film. It was not rushed and all(...well most) scenes had their place. It was not so much about the eccentric millionair turned vigilante but about a whole group of characters good or bad and their interactions with each other. In fact for a Batman film, Batman was not in most scenes. This was good though because when he was it meant something and there was a purpose to it.

 I said Miaou

I especially liked the Anne Hathaway Catwoman. Not only because she was hot as catwoman, but because  unlike all  psychotic, eccentric, plain mentally unstable, with no real motives, catwomen of previous takes on the Batman franchise, she felt believable. She is the girl next door that fell into hardship and her thieving was out of necessity and not fetich.

This time we get a different main villain. One that has purpose and means and one that can kick the shit out of Bruce Wayne.  He is not the mastermind that hides behind mindless drones but he is the warlord leading the bad guys into battle. We are not used to this kind of villains, usually we get the brilliant asylum inmate with lots of inferiority and misanthropic issues that uses cunning and theatrics. This time we do not. We get a guy that we know is physically not going to go down easily.

 Lovely chap once you get to know him

The acting is good as what is to be expected of this film's cast members but the acting of some of the minor characters might have been a little better. Or maybe it is just me and my issues with their silly motives and unjustifiable actions.

Overall the final(?) installment in the Dark Knight Trilogy is totally worth the admission ticket. It is a very good cinema experience and a film that you will thoroughly enjoy.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Game Review: Dead Island

Dead Island is fun! It is actually the most fun I had with a game in a long time. As the title suggest this is a game about zombies. The last few years zombie games seem to be the new WW2 games. Everybody wants to release one to catch up with the zombie gold rush. This game though is not some poor excuse to pay the developers in order to slay undead hordes. This is gaming at its best.

Dead island starts with a crazy party in a luxurious tropic island resort. During the night though all hell breaks loose and the beautiful sunny resort turns into a post apocalyptic zombie infested nightmare. For some reason everyone that has not played Dead Island is under the impression that it is an FPS of the Left4Dead nature. This a wrong impression. Dead Island is an action RPG and has plenty of elements from both genres. You kill zombies and level up in an open sandbox environment. You pick your skills and complete quests from NPCs, while hacking undead with your machete. You craft more powerful items from objects you find in the environment, while you run down zombies with your pickup-truck. You get the picture...there is lots of action  in a open world RPG.

Stop ruining my holidays
When you start the game you choose your character out of possible 4 very unlikable(they are all pricks if you ask me) protagonists. They are not different classes exactly, but each character offers different strengths and weaknesses. You 've got your  tank-ish character and the more agile/ranged one for example. The game starts in the resort where you get your first missions helping out some survivors and learning the ropes of the game. There are story missions and there are the sidequests. I highly recommend doing all of the sideqests. Besides offering many many hours of fun gameplay, each off them offers  money, experience points, unique items and much more. Each chapter opens up a new quest hub  for story missions and side quests but you can freely travel between them.

In Dead island I never got bored. The game is pure entertainment from start to finish. The missions vary in nature. You have missions were people want to find relatives, items, you got to save people, investigate situations, kill certain characters, rescue and escort NPCs. There are many missions and while some might look like your standard fed ex quest it is not and the island makes sure about that. While you are trying to get from point A to point B the game will throw everything at you: more small side quests, interesting places to explore, loot to grab and a horde of zombies and human enemies. The real protagonist is the island. It is alive and wandering around pays off in fun, XP and loot.

The four pricks
The graphics are very good and each hub has its own distinct look and feel. After the lush bright and sunny beach resort you find yourself in the depressing city slams and after that in the deep jungle. My favourite two areas have to be the resort and the Jungle mainly because I preferred the open beautiful environment to the gloomy and doomy shithole that were the slams. Another reason was probably that some missions in chapter 2(the slams) I had to fight in closed space and the game turned into a corridor 'shooter' which was a bit repetitive, but fortunately it did not last long.

Speaking of 'shooter' this game offers many many weapons. It took a considerable amount of time though before I got my hands on a gun. There are machetes, axes, knifes, frying pans, shotguns, rifles, pipes and many others. The game offers many different melee and ranged weapons to use in different situations. For zombies (who will be the most enemies) I preferred melee weapons. For human enemies I mostly used ranged since they were shooting at me from a distance but also because in melee combat were harder to hit.

What a relaxing place to slay zombie hordes
While you kill enemies and complete missions you gain experience points to level up. With each level you earn skill points which you spend to advance your various skill trees. There are various tree builds for your characters depending on your preferred play style. One important game mechanic in Dead Island is crafting. During your adventures you will find and pickup many different items. These items can be used to create mods for your weapons and other various helpful 'tools of the trade' like bombs, molotof cocktails, bullets,etc. Money is also a very important aspect. You use the money you gain from missions, or looting, for various things such as to upgrade or repair your weapons and buy useful items from NPC merchants.  

Dead Island can be played as single player or as multiplayer from the internet or LAN. When you are on a mission the game will try to find players around your game area and range of missions and join the two single player games into a coop. It is a really nice implementation  that seamlessly brings players together for a multiplayer experience.  

Overall Dead Island is a very entertaining product that does everything correctly and provides many hours of gameplay. The production values are high, the action is intense and game mechanics are fun. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

(Note: This review is on the IMAX 3D version of the film. Spoilers contained.)

Prometheus is a film that generated an insane amount of hype amongst film geeks, especially us Alien fans who have watched again and again all 4 films and have been so disappointing with the AVP monstrosities. When Ridley Scott finally announced that he would be returning to the world he first created so many years ago, expectations ran high, especially as he was given an unprecedented amount of money and resources for essentially a sci-fi thriller. The excellent ad campaign with these great viral videos (see them at http://www.projectprometheus.com/) generated huge amount of enthusiasm and confidence that Sir Ridley would be creating a masterpiece.

So, as it perhaps inevitably turned out, the end product is somewhat disappointing. Prometheus is an overambitious film, filled with strong visuals, good performances, which however has a somewhat weak script. It starts out strong, with an excellent prologue depicting the beginning of life on Earth, which might however give out more than it should have. Flash forward some million years, where a scientific expedition on a spaceship called Prometheus aims to meet the creators of life, aka the Engineers. After an amazing sequence showing the life of an android called David (Michael Fassbender - the best performance by far) during the two years of this trip, the crew lands on a planet which might contain the answers they are looking for. Then again, it might not.

The main problem of the film is perhaps that it was scripted by Damon Lindelof, who in true Lost fashion, for every answer he gives he asks two more questions. Also, the fact that the movie shifts from epic sci-fi to Alien-type thriller in the third act sort of undermines the efforts of the characters in the first two reels, leading to an unsatisfying confrontation between the lead (Noomi Rapace) and a muscular Engineer, which frankly makes little sense. Having said that, perhaps the best scene in the movie is a gore-filled one, containing an automatic caesarian on Noomi's character. The scene is incredibly well-shot and as gory as it needs to be, and is perhaps event better than the famous chest-bursting scene of the original Alien. Finally, some weak characterization does not help things - the second lead (Logan Marshall-Green) is especially weak, and the movie is filled with several non-existent characters waiting to die. Perhaps the only secondary character with an interesting story arc is Charlize Theron's company representative, who might have several agendas, some not as obvious. Finally, the 3D is not used very much, and in a dark film like this it's a bit useless, since it just keeps the viewer from experiencing the sets in full detail.

So in the end Prometheus is a decent film with extremely strong visuals (the DP needs an Oscar right now and the sets are amazing), which is hampered by an aimless script. It's obviously miles better than the AVP movies (and perhaps Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection) and the fact that the movie does not rely on the Alien franchise but instead tries to create something new is commendable. But it could have been so much more...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Diablo III

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Game Review: Gemini Rue

Launching Gemini Rue is like opening a door to the past, to the early 90s when point & click adventure games were king. Even though the game was released in 2011 it plays, looks and feels like on the of the old school adventure games and you could even confuse it with a game released from Sierra or Lucas Arts back in their glory days.

Gemini Rue could be a Phillip K. Dick story. It is disturbing, it asks difficult questions and portrays a dark future for mankind. You are Azriel Odin, a cop. You were an assasin working for a criminal syndicate but you betrayed them and now you are trying to take them down. Your brother has been kidnapped and is being held in a secret facility were they alter people's personalities. Your goal is to get your brother back. The plot of the game is very well written with great twists. The characters are well thought off and each has his/her own motives and past story that you will discover while playing. As far as sci fi stories go this is a top dog. I find that the better sci fi stories are criticism on the present and this is no exception.

One of the game's strong cards is its atmosphere. It has this noir detective mystery feeling. It feels a lot like being in Blade Runner. The graphics are hand drawn and beautiful. They play their part and get the job done without offering millions of polygons. The sounds and voice acting are nothing special but for an indie game are rather good.

The game is somewhat short but the gameplay is solid and you will never feel that you are bored or doing something that you shouldn't been doing. The riddles are almost all inventory based with the occasional logic puzzle here and there. The game is a bit easy but that will not bother you as the riddles are very well blended in to the story and what your characters are doing. During the course of the game you will control 2 different characters, most of the time each being in a different environment pursuing his own goals. There were no illogical puzzles but there are a few "action" sequences. Don't get me wrong these are not 'action' exactly but rather some shooting mini games that you will have no trouble tackling. They don't feel like they were put there to extend the gameplay or to market the game as having action, but they enhance the thrill at the right moments.

Overall Gemini Rue is a highly recommended game for everyone that enjoys a good adventure or a sci fi story. It is very cheap and you can buy it from steam, or from the publisher's website directly. Just launch it and travel back to the glory days of the point & click adventures

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Prologue: Incomprhensibility and the Masses

Today I managed to see the IMAX prologue for one of the most anticipated films of 2012, aka Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. The prologue was announced by a staff member at BFI IMAX, something which gathered a fair share of applause. When the 7min prelude ended however, the audience reaction was totally muted. The main complaint over the short is of course well documented, being the fact that the main villain's dialogue (Bane, played by Tom Hardy) is incomprehensible or inaudible. Personally, I managed to get only one sentence out of the 7-8 uttered by Bane, which might say something about my English language level, my hearing problems, or the fact that Bane's dialogue is indeed garbled. Evidence points towards the latter, and Nolan should well be forced to make some compromises in his creative vision of filmic realism and change the sound mix in the final version of the movie.

As for the prologue itself, even with the dialogue explained there are several vague points that are apparently answered by the various viral sites found online. However, that is a relative drawback of the presentation - unlike the Dark Knight prologue, it is not completely self-contained and definitely did not have the same emotional impact, although visually it was much more impressive (featuring an airplane vs. airplane highjacking in Scottish locations). So, as an IMAX presentation it gets high grades (the resolution was amazing, and in fact the IMAX cameras used were much better than the ones used in the main feature, MI:4), but as a teaser it could have been better.