New theatre pieces, movies, architectural projects, installations, gossip…this is the place to visit every Friday to find out the latest from the entertainment technology and lighting industries.
SEEN AT THE MOVIES: A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
For the first time in a long time, Seen & Heard stood in line with the paying public at New York's Ziegfeld Theater on opening night of A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Inside, despite the usual distraction of cell phones going off, the audience members were notably quiet and attentive during the film. After it was over, many of them could be heard conversationally scratching their heads, puzzling out the movie's meanings. It seems the public is just as divided as the critics in its opinions about this unique collaboration between two filmmakers, one living (Steven Spielberg) and one dead (Stanley Kubrick). Seen & Heard is equally flummoxed--A.I. is often extraordinary in its depiction of a future in which robots have taken on tasks from gardening and housekeeping to lovemaking, and are finally given a more human range of emotions in the form of "mecha" child David (Haley Joel Osment). But it can leave you with an unsettled, dissatisfied feeling.
There is no doubt about the movie's technical accomplishment. To begin with, Stan Winston's robot characters are amazingly conceived and executed, especially Teddy, the supertoy bear that accompanies David on his quest to become a real boy. Voiced by Jack Angel, the animatronic Teddy is made so lifelike and endearing with the help of 50 servo motors in his small furry body, and 24 in his head alone. Of course, when Teddy is called upon to run or jump or do other complicated stunts, the digital artists at Industrial Light & Magic take over. But the blend is perfectly seamless. This is also true in scenes of broken-down robots played by human actors—some of whom are actually missing limbs—rifling through junkyard piles of discarded mecha parts searching for new attachments. Blue field masking turns the faces and bodies of these characters into miniature versions of bluescreen stages. The robot characters played by Osment and especially Jude Law are enhanced by Winston and Ve Neill's makeup design. The face of Law's Gigolo Joe, an incomparably slick mecha seduction artist, is slathered with a flexible plasticized makeup. Bob Ringwood's costumes for the character further the effect with a cloak make of fishing line and a plastic shirt.
A.I production designer Rick Carter and director of photography Janusz Kaminski approached the film as a three-part affair: the first third, set in David's adoptive parents' futuristic home, presents a hermetic environment shot in bluish, somewhat clinical light. The second part is much more visually varied, following David through dark forests and the heavy-metal carnival atmosphere of the Flesh Fair; both settings were created in the Spruce Goose Dome facility in Long Beach, CA. For decadent Rouge City, Carter called upon storyboards commissioned from comic-book illustrator Chris Baker years ago, when Kubrick was still planning to direct the project. In the film's last movement, underwater (and eventually, under-ice) Manhattan and Coney Island were to a great extent the province of digital artists, led by Dennis Muren, at ILM.
A few of the movie's effects seem lacking in inspiration. The toylike cars driven around suburban New Jersey by the human characters look absurdly flimsy. And the evolved robots (which many viewers mistake for aliens) seen at the end of the film are too similar in design—elongated bodies, large heads—to otherworldly creatures passed down from Close Encounters to The X-Files and many other films and TV shows. They throw you out of the movie at a crucial point, and make it even harder to respond to the creepy conclusion. Still, A.I. is something to see.
by John Calhoun
SEEN ON DVD: SECOND TIME’S THE CHARM FOR KUBRICK
Not long after director Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, Warner Home Video rushed into release a set of DVDs of some of his most famous films, culled from its extensive library, which includes numerous MGM titles. The haste showed; fans were distraught to find lackluster VHS-quality transfers on the shiny new discs, and home theatre websites flooded with outrage (the best site, by the way, is easily The Home Theater Forum, at www.hometheater.com).
With the release of A.I., Warner has rectified their error with a sparkling new Stanley Kubrick Collection, with audio and video transfers so clean even the demanding HAL would be pleased. As an example, Seen & Heard recently did a side-by-side comparison of The Shining, then and now, and frankly there was no comparison: the 1999 disc is now a coaster, blown apart by the seamless gorgeousness of the 2001 edition. There’s been a lot of quibbling over aspect ratios and the lack of supplements on these discs, but Kubrickians will want to have these definitive (well, for now) editions.
The other films in the Collection are a cleaned-up Lolita, Dr. Strangelove (a Columbia TriStar Home Video release pulled into this set, which does have some documentary content), 2001: A Space Odyssey (which has never looked better), A Clockwork Orange (ditto), Barry Lyndon (not a film for casual viewing—we’re not sure any of his films are--but an absolute must for entertainment technologists, such is the depth of its period recreation), Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut (still the R-rated cut; European and Asian readers have always had access to the film, theatrically and on video, without digital masking during the orgy scene; why can’t we in America?).
The Shining does have, as an extra, daughter Vivian Kubrick’s fascinating Making of chronicle, with scenes of a drawn and haggard Shelley Duvall poring over her lost hair, which fell out in long locks during the stressful shooting. Further war stories are told on the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, which, after a few airings on Cinemax last month, is now available exclusively as part of the Collection. Put together by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law and a producer on his films from A Clockwork Orange on, the Tom Cruise-narrated reminiscence mixes clips and talking heads (including a recovered Duvall and production designer Ken Adam, who co-won an Art Direction/Set Decoration Oscar for Barry Lyndon) to give an overview of the filmmaker’s life and art (readers are commended to Vincent LoBrutto’s excellent biography, recently revised, to fill in the blanks). The other titles in the Collection are otherwise available separately, as are MGM/UA’s The Killing and Paths of Glory and, from the Criterion Collection, a superlative, supplement-laden edition of Spartacus.
by Robert Cashill
HEARD ON THE STREET: Seattle-based LD Ross De Alessi recently finished the lighting of the Montecasino casino in Fourways, South Africa…LD Jason Boyd will continue to tour with Blues Traveler through August. In August and through the second week of September, LD Steven DellaPietra will finish up the last leg of Vertical Horizon’s Everything You Want tour; after that, the band wants to head back to the studio to record a new album…Kathleen McDonough of Kevin Lee Allen Design (see http://klad.com) has been art directing the second season of the SciFi Channel's Exposure, a weekly festival of short science fiction films. Her responsibilities include selecting appropriate setpieces, artwork, and other visuals to unify each episode's theme…Owen Roizman, ASC, best known for shooting The French Connection and The Exorcist, will receive the 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award in December at the CamerImage International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography in Lodz, Poland…Jacques Rivette's Va Savoir will open the 39th New York Film Festival, which runs at Lincoln Center Sept. 28 through Oct. 14.