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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt


When the camera was invented, painters had to move away from realism to compete, but the camera’s rule may turn out to be short-lived. Since 1937, when Walt Disney created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – or perhaps even earlier, when Winsor McKay depicted the sinking of the Lusitania-artists and painters have been working to represent reality on their own terms, and in the past decade or two, their inroads in contributing to motion picture storytelling have been substantial. At the moment, they still fill a supplementary role, but with greater and greater frequency, movies are being developed where the role of the painter exceeds the role of the cinematographer. It is fitting that Paramount’s Beowulf Director’s Cut(UPC#097361323145, $30), a significant example of what the future holds in store, is an adaptation of a defining work in English literature-much in the way that Snow White was. The story of a warrior whose deeds of glory in killing an ogre are compromised by both the reality and legacy of his actions, the film utilizes animation not just for its spectacular action sequences, but to render entirely its setting and costumes, and even to manipulate its performances. While actors participated in the film’s staging and blocking, their images have been altered (the pudgy Ray Winstone plays the svelte, muscular hero), so that even when a shot, such as a closeup of a face, looks completely real, it isn’t. The 2007 Robert Zemeckis feature was released in theaters in 3-D, a presentation format that home video has yet to replicate in all but its crudest forms, but as simply the 2-D feature that appears on the DVD, the film is still a highly exciting and entertaining experience-the final battle with the dragon is hold-your-breath dazzling-and one that is enriched by its pointed exploration of archetypal forces. Will animation someday overwhelm visual storytelling entirely? Like the conclusion to Beowulf, the vanquished may not entirely disappear, but nothing will ever be as it seems.

Both Director’s Cut and the standard theatrical release run 114 minutes, so the differences amount to a few extra-gory moments here and there, and an extra touch of licentious behavior. The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The picture transfer is precise at all times, and crisp even during the darkest sequences. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has some good separation effects and a reasonably strong dimensionality. There are alternate French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby, optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, a trailer, 10 minutes of deleted scenes that, along with supplying a little more background detail for the characters, give the viewer a chance to grasp the interim animation steps, and 43 minutes of excellent production featurettes, which talk about the story (and explain the more complicated aspects of the plot), the casting, and how the film was executed. After the artwork, scale models and storyboards were completed, the cast members dressed in jumpsuits and their faces were inundated with dots. They gathered in a gymnasium-sized soundstage and, without worrying about lighting and other matters, played out the drama and fighting stunts in just a few weeks (the horses had a harder time keeping their dots on). Get used to it. Someday, most movies are going to be made this way, the upside being that naturally talented artists and painters, people with vision and imagination, will always be gainfully employed.

March 21, 2008

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon