Movie Reviews & VFX – Or Why Mark Kermode Sometimes Makes Me Mad

The only film critic I listen to regularly is Mark Kermode. I download the podcast of his show with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live each week.

Kermode’s knowledge is encyclopedic. I have no idea how he remembers everything about every film he has seen. It is this knowledge that makes his reviews so interesting and adds an authority to his opinions. Combine this with his bold voice and strong opinions and you have someone who talks very convincingly about movies.

Although Kermode does know a lot about some aspects of the movie industry there are some massive gaps in his knowledge. A lot of these gaps are in the technical areas of the film making process. Now I don’t hold this against him, this shouldn’t be important when it comes to reviewing the content of a film. The problem is that he inevitably does get onto discussions about the visual effects and technical aspects of movies and he still talks with the same air of authority, even when I know he is incorrect. Now maybe he’s wrong about other things that he talks about but I just don’t notice because I don’t know enough about them, but I do think I know more about visual effects.

The worst instance of this was when Mark was reviewing 2012. He said one of the main problems of the film was that because everything was done with CGI, and not with models and stunts, it lacked drama. Now that’s a pretty big claim, that any digital effect instantly fails.

You can watch his review here. He starts to talk about the visual effects 8 mins in:

Later on in the show he continued to talk about the visual effects and claimed that these days they are too easy. He said anyone with a computer can do them. This demonstrates how little he understands the process. I was listening to the podcast at my desk at work. Being told that the thing you are working hard on is easy, by someone who doesn’t have a clue, really got to me. I immediately sent him a message on Twitter saying that I would like to see him try, and to be fair to him he retracted his statement in the next show.

In another example they were discussing Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1. They were praising our work on Dobby and Kreacher, but Kermode said, in quite a dismissive tone “well it’s all just motion captured from the actor”. Having worked on the project I knew full well that this was wrong. Framestore took great pride in the fact that the elves were animated by hand. If Mark Kermode had done even a little bit of research he would have found a whole host of articles about the work. Not doing this research and then making incorrect statements in his position does a serious disservice to the artist involved.

Mark’s favourite film of last year was Inception. I agree with him that Christopher Nolan should have been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. But there is no way that the film would have been as good if the effects work hadn’t been top notch. In all of the praises Kermode threw at the film he barely mentioned the effects. Although Christopher Nolan tries to do as much of the effects work on set, there is no way you could do something as epic as folding Paris on top of itself without digital visual effects. You can hear an interview with the Oscar Wining DNeg supervisor Paul Franklin here.

Perhaps the visual effects industry should be more honest about some of the work it does. Whenever there is a behind the scenes video or article they always concentrate on the big glory shots. Now I understand that this is what the public want to see. And I understand that the VFX facilities want to look smart so they make it look straight forward but sometimes I think they make it look too easy.

I don’t mind reviewers making comments about whether or not the effects worked for them, I actually agree with Kermode’s issues with the young Jeff Bridges in Tron, but unless they know about the technical side of things I don’t think they should talk about how they were done. There are plenty of other places you can go to read about that. Stick to what you know about.