Lead actors David Arquette and Kari Wuhrer are, not surprisingly, overshadowed by the critters of the title, which are rendered with panache—and only the occasional CG seam--by visual effects supervisors Karen E. Goulekas and Thomas Dadras. DP John Bartley is no stranger to this sort of thing: he shot the early seasons of The X-Files, winning an Emmy in the process. He and production designer Charles Breen have fun with some underground mines that the spiders have taken over with their nest, where web-wrapped victims are proffered for the head female's delectation. Sound designer Scott Wolf supplies the spider shrieks. (Do spiders shriek?)
Reign of Fire is a good deal more solemn, as it portrays a grim, circa-2020 English countryside landscape (actually shot in Ireland) that has been scorched bare by marauding dragons. Some human survivors, led by Christian Bale, are holed up in a medieval castle that is so grimy and depressing looking that it raises the question: can serving as dragon chow really be so much worse than living here? Anyway, a hilariously pumped-up, tattooed, and shaven-headed Matthew McConaughey—a cartoon of American can-do spirit--shows up to trade snarls and match wits with Bale. They set off for London to—you guessed it, destroy the top female dragon and her nest. Those gals just will keep mating and causing trouble. The London leg of the film is rather disappointing; a couple of quick shots of a burned-out Parliament Building and Tower Bridge expose the production's budgetary limitations. But for the most part, director Rob Bowman (another X-Files alumnus), DP Adrian Biddle, and production designer Wolf Kroeger conjure exactly the dank, heavy-metal future they wish, while costume designer Joan Bergin fittingly channels The Road Warrior. As for the dragons, they are well devised by visual effects supervisors Dan Deleeuw and Richard R. Hoover, though I could have used more of them.--John Calhoun
Also Seen at the Movies: Stuart Little 2 has just a wisp of a storyline, but its effects, supervised by Jerome Chen and completed at Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc., are even more impressive than in the first film. Stuart, the smallest and mousiest member of the Little family, is once again voiced by Michael J. Fox, and this time his expressiveness matches that of Snowbell, the acerbic family cat voiced by Nathan Lane. The rendering of Stuart's fur, and the blending of his character into scenes with the partly real, partly animated cat, human actors like Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, and Jonathan Lipnicki, and other CG characters, like the Stuart-sized bird Margalo, voiced by Melanie Griffith, is truly amazing. Credit should go to DP Steven Poster for capturing all these elements so seamlessly, and to production designer Bill Brzeski and costume designer Mona May, for presenting such a perfectly timeless, storybook vision of New York and its denizens, whatever their species.--JC
Seen in London: Since the RSC is no longer performing at the Barbican Centre in London, they have been seeking temporary venues for site-specific productions designed to bring new audiences to their plays. Most recently they performed three Shakespearean plays, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and Pericles, at the Roundhouse, a former train shed in the Chalk Farm section of London. A fabulous old brick structure (slated for renovation as a community arts center), the Roundhouse was transformed by the RSC, which had a three-to-four week building period, for performances that ran from late May through early July. The productions have moved to the RSC's summer season in Stratford-Upon-Avon (www.rsc.org.uk).
Each of the plays had a special "something," such as aerial ballerinas on bungee cords and a hydraulic lift for the ship in The Tempest, which was lit by Hugh Vanstone. In The Winter's Tale, set in the 1950s in the USA, an unusual sound effect was a baby, actually a doll, crying on stage. A wireless receiver was used to send signals to a small speaker at the center of the stage. In addition, live musicians playing everything from orchestral music to bluegrass were on a platform near the stage area.
While White Light provided the lighting rig, Autograph Sound was responsible for the sound equipment. Mick Paul, a freelance UK sound designer who works frequently at the Yorkshire Playhouse, designed the sound for all three productions. Matt McKenzie of Autograph Sound was also involved, along with Lee Dennison, Autograph's hire and projects manager, and James Fisher, the sound associate who will accompany the shows to Stratford.
The sound equipment includes loudspeakers from Meyer Sound, ranging from 32 UPM units (16 self-powered; 16 unpowered), to six MSL2A and four 650P sub-woofers, a Cadac F-Type console, Sennheiser radio mics, XTA speaker management, and MIDI control software for special effects. The lighting and sound consoles sat in a booth area at the top of the specially built bleachers, while the amps (Yamaha H500s and Crown K2 units) were in a backstage area behind the booth. In such a site-specific venue, the sound and lighting were close neighbors in limited technical space, with the usual battles over noise between the "ampies" and "lampies."--Ellen Lampert-Greaux
Heard on the Emmy Grapevine: There were too many categories in the Emmys for me to include all of them in my story yesterday, but a few tidbits came my way. Among the nominees for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special are the Cinesite (Europe) Ltd. team's work on two episodes of Band of Brothers: "Part 2: Day of Days," and "Part 4: Replacements." On "Replacements," the Cinesite crew, led by visual effects supervisors Angus Bickerton and Mat Beck, digitally recreated the largest parachute drop in history. Throughout the HBO World War II series, the digital matte work and other effects helped lend verisimilitude to the battle scenes and locations.
There are eight Emmy categories devoted to sound, each of which contain five or six nominated programs, with up to a dozen names named for each. But one bit of news from Dolby is that eight of the shows nominated--ranging from Band of Brothers to the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Olympics--were mixed and broadcast in Dolby Digital 5.1. This number is up from only two last year. In addition, six of the nominated shows used Dolby E technology for quality of multichannel audio mix delivery. Approximately 10 million US households are equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 home receivers. For a listing of programs broadcast in the format, see www.dolby.com.
Among the nominees for Outstanding Lighting Direction, note that lighting designer Robert Dickinson and lighting director Andy O'Reilly's names appear twice for their Vari*Lite-heavy work on both the 74th Annual Academy Awards presentation and the Olympics Opening Ceremony. (The first nomination is shared with Robert Barnhart and Matt Firestone, the second with David Grill.) Another nomination in the category, for the pan-network post-9/11 fundraising concert America: A Tribute to Heroes, is shared by LDs Kieran Healy, Leroy Bennett, Rod Yamane, Patrick Dierson, and Matt Ford. Winners in these and other categories will be announced at the Creative Arts Awards on Saturday, Sept. 14. For more information visit the Emmy website.--JC
Photos: Warner Bros. Pictures