Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects

Best Visual Effects Nominees:
Marvel’s The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Snow White and the Huntsman


If there’s any category that seems like a lock, Best Visual Effects would be it. Pushing 3D technology to another level by prioritizing spiritual storytelling and reigning back the visual bravura, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi seems a shoe-in. For roughly 75 minutes of the tight adventure film, a young boy is stranded on an ocean. Using computer-generated images, Lee creates painterly frames that bristle with visual allure as the human story of this young boy is given weight through his attachment to a digitally-manurfactured tiger named Richard Parker. As I said earlier, I’ve never seen a picture that mimicked animal behavior in such a textured way. Furthermore, every image in Life of Pi looks handcrafted, all built together to create something absorbing out what could have easily been boring.

If any film has a chance for an upset it would be The Avengers. By creating dynamic, energized, and entirely manufactured environments, The Avengers portrays a fun, if not all that original, superhero tale. There’s a certain clarity to Joss Whedon’s direction that makes the film quite consumable. However, to my eye, The Avengers doesn’t seem all that different from a growing VFX formula for these types of franchsie movies. Outside of the strong digital characters – specifically The Hulk – there’s little here that’s as interesting as Life of Pi. At last night’s VES awards, The Avengers took home two trophies. Life of Pi took three.

Prometheus stands as one of the most underrated blockbusters in recent history. If there’s any film in this category that should challenge Life of Pi it would be this one. By creating unique, tonally consistent, dark, and fitting VFX environments, Ridley Scott’s team told a story that was grounded in classic narrative dynamics while also being something altogether fresh. Unlike any of the other pictures, the VFX here was just one of the tools that made the film tick, thus only enhancing already interesting story elements. I like Life of Pi’s work a lot, but Prometheus is a close second.

I am yet to see The Hobbit, but the running thread for me will be whether voters find the work different enough or interesting enough to stand out from Return of the King – a film they already reaped heaps of praise upon. I’ve heard murmurs that this film has a lot of buzz in the VFX community for its important advancements to 3D and FPS technology. I’m not sure the general viewer – or even Academy voters – will care enough to see this as something they should reward above Life of Pi.

Seeming like the weak also-ran of the bunch, Snow White and the Huntsman, likely has little chance to take home the prize. Behind a color palette of deep grays, shadows, and blacks, Huntsman does push VFX into a far darker realm than is often attempted in the kinds of movies that can afford these enhancements. To an untrained eye, the animation seems too apparent in Huntsman, giving it a sheen of video game movements. i’m surprised that the sharpness of such other films as The Dark Knight Rises didn’t get a notice.

WILL WIN: Life of Pi
COULD WIN: Marvel’s The Avengers
SHOULD WIN: Life of Pi

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