Beautiful Cinematography, No Story

Eye_candy8I love sci-fi, but one thing I seem to love and everyone else on the planet hates is a good story.  Contrariwise, one thing everyone else seems to love and I hate is mindless eye candy.

See, while I went to school for a while for a career in computer animation, the one thing I’ve never cared for is splashy graphics on screen as a substitute for a compelling plot.  I want an intriguing story, complex characters, well-written dialogue and an in-depth plot that comes together to make a truly memorable movie or TV series.  Far too many directors in Hollywood (Michael Bay) think that explosions and CGI make up for all of that and unfortunately, there are far too many movie-goers who are only too happy to buy into it.

Here are three sci-fi shorts that, while beautiful, let’s be honest, are little more than extended fight sequence and effects masturbation.  I ran across them while poking around one night and, yes, they are well done pieces and I think all of them have won awards for “short subjects”, but in reality, are they any more than effects reels?

Bad Motherfucker:

This may have the most plot of the three, but it’s paper thin.  You’re dropped into the middle of an action sequence between an unnamed agent and another group of unnamed men, in a running battle to recover a teleportation device.  It’s from a first-person perspective and very well done, although it takes about a minute to get oriented, but there’s really nothing to it beyond “ooh, look what we can do!”

Ruin:

All three “films” are done with a mad chase sequence and this might be the most entertaining of them.  Some unnamed kid in a post-apocalyptic wilderness (I hate post-apocalyptic stuff, sorry) gets chased by a futuristic drone bent on his destruction.  All action, no story.

Rosa:

The final one, done in an anime-style, tells the “story” of an android girl presumably named Rosa, who awakes in the middle of an empty post-apocalyptic city, the last remnant of the “Kernel” project, meant to jump-start the planet’s eco-system.  She is almost immediately set upon by two male cyborgs who want to kill her (and eventually do) and every drop of her “blood” causes plants to grow.  Um… okay.

I’m generally cool with nice effects, but these people are pretending to be filmmakers, not effects guys and artists and one of the biggest elements of being a filmmaker is being able to tell a compelling story.  I’ve seen plenty of shorts where they manage to tell a quite complex story with a beginning, middle and end, with good characters, why does it seem you have to pick one or the other?  Style and beautiful effects or story and good writing?

Why can’t we have both?

5 thoughts on “Beautiful Cinematography, No Story

  1. I disagree about Bad Motherfucker (which is actually only the second half a two-part story). Film/video is not limited to the goal of storytelling, although it's certainly nice to GET a story when you pay for one (I recently didn't). It can also be about exploring a character or a feeling. It can be a record of something real. Or it can be entirely abstract. I think here they were going for a feeling, and they achieved it quite well.

    I disagree (in the other direction) about Ruin. It wasn't even a good demonstration of animation. The presumably human character was completely unrealistic. Running was particularly bad, and so was the hair. Anything involving fire and explosions (which have otherwise been getting better in feature films, as well as in the earlier Rosa you've also listed) was similarly terrible. I'm surprised this is being expanded into a feature. If I had to guess, I'd say this was a Terminator fanboy with some spare time. I felt nothing.

    While Rosa is quite good technically, I almost felt the same until the end: nothing. It's not real clear what the end is, but the final scene does suggest something significant is happening in that place. Maybe a feature-length film from this one might make sense.

    I do agree with you though, generally. We need more story, and the wrong shorts are winning raves and awards. For example, even though it had a (paper-thin) story, the short Paperman certainly did not deserve to win its recent Oscar. It was only the technology behind it, not anything that appeared on screen, that got them the win.

    1. I disagree, everything is about story if you want to call it a "film". Otherwise, as I said, it's just an effects reel. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but that's the difference between having a reel to send to potential clients or employers to show what you can do and something you put into film festivals. One tells a story, the other is just a bunch of flashy effects that only shows what you can do technically.

  2. I disagree (in the other direction) about Ruin. It wasn't even a good demonstration of animation. The presumably human character was completely unrealistic. Running was particularly bad, and so was the hair. Anything involving fire and explosions (which have otherwise been getting better in feature films, as well as in the earlier Rosa you've also listed) was similarly terrible. I'm surprised this is being expanded into a feature. If I had to guess, I'd say this was a Terminator fanboy with some spare time. I felt nothing.

    1. If you're talking about a CGI film, I'm not as worried about complete realism. If you wanted that, why not just use human actors? There is a place for artistic license and I'm fine with that. The CGI certainly isn't bad in this, or most other similar CGI short films. The one thing that isn't optional though, in anything but a tech demo, is a story. Without a story, there's no reason to put it on the screen in the first place. Hopefully when they make a movie out of it, they actually get someone to write a story, otherwise it will just be a bunch of Michael Bay explosions with no reason to sit there for two hours.

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