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5 Modern Movie Trends That Were Started By Peter Jackson

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  1. Allow Us To Explain Allow Us To Explain

    In honor of The Hobbit's wrapping, I took a little personal trip down memory lane to the last time I was this excited about the holiday movie offerings. We'd have to go back over ten years (to an unfortunate period when I quite resembled Mr. Wood's turn as Frodo Baggins), and to an era when every wintery season was graced with another installment of the incredible, affable, and occasionally goofy Lord of the Rings trilogy. For my friends and I, literary geeks to the last, this was the culmination of our nerdy wishes. There were so many factors that would have seemed like long shots on paper; a relatively unknown director, whose notoriety was in cheesy horror; an unheard-of-production scale; a huge cast; and an army of extras that would have made Cecil B. DeMille proud. But LOTR -as it is commonly thought of by our lot - fulfilled plenty of our lofty expectations, and then some. It launched, and re-launched, careers, earned its place in cinematic history, and set off more than a few trends that we're still seeing the effects of today.

    For better or for ill, here are five prominent modern movie trends that can be traced cleanly to our dear, hardly departed LOTR. Not all of these started with the Trilogy of our generation. However, their sudden, cresting popularity came in a sure surge after Peter Jackson's team had retreated to New Zealand. For your enjoyment, I present a loving look at some of the things that are wrong (and some things that are just alright) with the modern blockbuster as we've come to know it beyond the aughts. I expect the comments to light up with the ones out there I've overlooked. These were the top five that jumped to my attention.

  2. (Almost) All Movies Are Too Long (Almost) All Movies Are Too Long

    Lord of the Rings proved a lot of things to movie producers. But beyond a shadow of a Ring-made doubt, it proved that audiences were willing to plant their butts in multiplex seats for three hours at a time.

    Well, sort of.

    Actually, this conclusion is a violent misconception about our patience. We were willing to sit for three hours and watch the goddamn Lord of the Rings trilogy. Pirates of the Carribean 4, for example, does not merit that kind of attention. Rising (and rising and rising) ticket prices might make you say that you're getting more bang for your buck, but when the average mind-numbing rom-com or action flick is as long as it takes to hike to Isengard, there's something wrong with the editing process. Storytelling has really unbuckled its belt and let itself go. Moreover, these monoliths roll into the theaters, obliterating the usual available time slots, and taking up multiple screens so that theaters can give as many showing options as possible, a practice that can knock smaller films off the distribution roster.

    This excess is getting self-indulgent. For example, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, and admit it has plenty of material to cram in, The Avengers is not such a tremendously complicated story that it should require two-and-a-half hours to watch. Similarly, upcoming box office juggernaut The Dark Knight Rises is clocking in at 2:45, according to industry sources. I am an ardent defender and fan of Nolan's Batman opus, but TDKR isn't a world-altering documentary. It's still a Batman movie.

    But what's that you say? I'm a spoilsport? If I'm a real geek, why wouldn't I want as much movie as possible? For those who want to have their shawarma, and eat it too, look at list item number 2.

  3. We Have Incredibly High Expectations for DVD Features We Have Incredibly High Expectations for DVD Features

    It's hard to believe from the perspective of more than a decade later, but when the first Lord of the Rings was released for home viewing, we were still getting a handle on the whole idea of DVDs. 2001 was basically still the late 1990s by pop culture's clock. Forget about Netflix Instant; plenty of homes didn't even have a DVD player yet. Makes you feel old, doesn't it? So when Peter Jackson put extra special loving care into something called the Extended Edition, I don't think we realized what was going to happen.

    There was nothing to compare it to, and, to a large extent, there still isn't. The Extended Editions, those lovely book-looking boxes that probably still have a proud place near your home viewing system of choice, set the bar very, very high. They contain not only cuts of the films that run nearer to four hours apiece, but also what feels like 100 hours of bonus production footage, previs and on-set documentaries, feature-length commentaries for each film broken up by production department, and videos of the ridiculously chummy and charming cast being fanboys (and girls) about each other and the film. There are four discs for each film packed with this kind of thing, with packaging covered by beautiful drawings by Alan Lee and John Howe. This lavish, extensive evidence of the whole event made viewers feel even more attached, besotted, and generally obsessed with what by all accounts seemed like the best filmmaking experience in the history of movie making, bar none. Tell me you didn't sit at home on your couch, into hour ten of watching stuntmen pull at wet prosthetics and think, "I would have killed to have just stood in the background at Helms' Deep, getting smacked in the flank by Viggo Mortensen." You didn't wish for something like that? I don't believe you for a second.

    So we got spoiled. Really, really spoiled. Remember when Inception made it to DVD, and we all complained that there wasn't much in behind-the-scenes, making-of, or anything, really, besides the movie? I can't tell you how many Internet forum posts I saw where people said they felt cheated. Time was, we were content to have a home viewing copy of Star Wars on a scratchy VHS we taped off the Christmas Special (thanks, Mr. Rogers, for making that possible). LOTR Extended Edition changed the game forever. Speaking of game-changing plays...

  4. It Triggered the Rise of the Ensemble Cast It Triggered the Rise of the Ensemble Cast

    Before Harry Potter made good on its bid to hire every stately English actor for five minutes of making Daniel Radcliffe look betrayed, LOTR was stuffed to the brim with everyone else, and a few more. Think about the cumulative film credits of the cast of those movies. LOTR re-defined massive, and I don't mean the A.I. battle simulator made famous by the first film's eye-popping opening. It's not just a matter of numbers, though the series has got that more than covered. It's a matter of names, and largely one of chemistry.

    Having a large cast of notable and semi-notable actors isn't entirely new. It's an old-fashioned Hollywood trick, and one our generation wasn't particularly familiar with when LOTR played its hand. But with a Shakespearean cast to match its epic scale, and a deft directing eye to pull it all together, the old idea had new legs. Suddenly, it seemed like a much better bet to have as many main actors as possible to pull in viewers. The tired-and-true method of having a single star carry a major motion picture has lost a lot of traction in the last ten years, but the solution, at least from Hollywood's perspective, started right at the millennium's turn.

    I can tell you right now that if it wasn't for the success of LOTR's assembled talent, and the green-raking repeats of that formula in the following years, Disney and Marvel would never have started down the warpath to this summer's record-breaking giant. HBO would not have been sitting as pretty in the ratings (and less attractively in the pirating stats) with enormous cast shows, of which high fantasy Game of Thrones is only the latest. Countless other franchises wouldn't have dared their packed casting, or installment shakeups. The box office proper is still reeling from the onset of a torrent-savvy culture who won't pay unless it's worth it to go to the theater. While we haven't seen the death of the single-star vehicle, if Brad Bird's well-received fourth Mission: Impossible is anything to go by, the single-star vehicle might be getting an assist (or three), for now.

  5. Mo-Cap is King Mo-Cap is King

    For years, the dubious technology known as mo-cap (or, motion capture) had lived on the fringes of movie production. Consisting of sensors adhered on a bodysuit, referred to sometimes as "ping-pong balls", the points covering an actor or a stuntperson would pick up their performance, and send the data back to a computer. There, no matter what James Cameron has told you, a team of engineers and animators relate the data to CG models, translating a real performance, in real space, with real actors, into a form that could not be realized through complex prosthetics, or camera trickery.

    But for the longest time in the F/X world, what we now take for granted was costly, clunky, and just didn't come off well. Attempts to replicate human performance in a humanoid fabrication tumbled fast into the uncanny valley. Or, no better, it looked like cheap, bad F/X, and took the audience out of the picture.

    Then the team at WETA dared to do it, and accomplished a better example than we'd ever seen it done. Gollum, as an equal creation of CG and Andy Serkis' memorable performance, was a big gamble. No one had attempted an extended, interactive motion-capture character at that level, and certainly not as a main player, shown not only in shadow and fog, but full-blown daylight. WETA and Serkis did more than create an iconic character. They proved that mo-cap could be effectively used for large portions of major motion pictures.

    In a way, the job was done too well. Gollum's subtleties, empathic moments, and light-refracting pores left Hollywood convinced that this method should be used as often as possible. Now, we've got actors and extras suiting up in mo-co rigs at the drop of a hat, sometimes with great care taken, and sometimes with very, very little. Now that we know motion capture can be done to great effect, it should become another tool in the arsenal, not a de-facto solution. CG alone is not a magic wand that can be waved to solve all your production problems. Prosthetics, animatronic builds, and other physical effects still have, and deserve their place. Or, are we all excited to watch the newer Star Wars movies happen again?

  6. Everything is a Trilogy Now Everything is a Trilogy Now

    Lord of the Rings cost a lot of money. But, given what was turned out, it was comparatively cheap when you think about single movies since that have spent 2/3 as much for their one outing. (Avatar, I am still looking at you, but not just you.) Jackson managed this by shooting all three back-to-back, and doing pickups in one chaotic go. In due time, LOTR's cumulative box office again communicated something that isn't true without the Jackson & Co. context; that you can make more for less, and that audiences will always, always want that "more".

    It's true.

    If that "more" is Lord of the Rings.

    Which is, um…a trilogy.

    "Trilogy" is one of those fantasy-genre casualties that brings to mind a certain importance, or grandeur. What it means, theoretically, is; there are three of these because we've really got that much to say. (I'm not including multiple-movie runs like the Star Trek films, because they are not, for the most part, a single, continuous story. They're more like a series with recurring characters that happens to have 90-minute high budget episodes.) Now, thanks to LOTR, we shall forever have three of everything…no matter how little we want, or need, another two. As with almost all the items on this list, Hollywood smells money, and immediately loses higher cognitive function. Not to beat a dead horse (or a drunk pirate), but who really needed three Pirates movies (not to mention 4, or the rumored 5 and 6)? What about the word on the street that Cameron's shooting Avatar 2 & 3 back-to-back to cut costs? Maybe it's just this reviewer, but do we really need a second Avatar? Or a third? No matter how small the chance of a sequel being made, it is now standard practice to sign actors to trilogy contracts at minimum. Even if you enjoy a few of the bloated blockbusters mentioned here, as I indeed have, it all begins to smack of excess taken to a new level. Combine ever-growing overseas receipts and record-busting midnight openings with the industry's worsening scaredy-cat syndrome regarding new properties, and we're looking down the barrel of a boring moviegoing future.

    So, congratulations, Hollywood! You're having triplets! Until we make a viable franchise with four continuous movies.

    Um…guys? No, there's not enough plot in Breaking Dawn for two movies.

    Look, just because Harry Potter did it with it's last book doesn't mean... Guys?

    Why are you getting that gleam in your eyes?

    Stop. Stop. Don't try to look innocent. I can see Robert Downey Jr.'s number on your call screens from here, and that copy of Mockingjay with a bookmark in the middle of it. Back away.

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