Box Office Round Up – December 16 – 18, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

(Donnie Yen)

Ph: Film Frame

©Lucasfilm LFL

Get behind the numbers of last week’s box office! This week, Chris Neumer investigates Rogue One and why we’re all so goddamned miserable all the time.

by Chris Neumer

My movie viewing habits have changed rather radically over the course of the last ten years. Not in terms of the movies I watch specifically, but in how I watch them. A decade ago, I watched everything at press screenings for critics and entertainment writers. They were free, they were (usually) well in advance of the film’s release date and they were always shown in the best theaters/screening rooms in the city.

The one element missing from this viewing experience was co-mingling with an audience of people who were actually excited to see the film that was being screened. For reasons that I’ve never quite understood, film critics generally delight in not liking things. (They also like to appear as objective as possible with their writing, which strikes me as incredibly odd given that film criticism is as subjective a job as there is, but I digress). Audiences who pay money to be in a theater want to be there. They want to see and want to like whatever film is being shown. In the case of something like Assassin’s Creed, they probably won’t like it, but they go in hoping to be entertained. As a whole, film critics do no subscribe to the same belief.

So I started watching more movies in theaters with paying audiences. Because I was eschewing the critic screenings, I stopped looking at the production notes and plot synopses that the studio publicists sent around. The result of this was that I started going into more and more movies completely blind. Ironically, I closed my eyes… and then saw the light.

Now, I read as little as humanly possible about movies prior to their release, don’t watch trailers and, when put in a situation where I might accidentally see something I don’t want to, literally stick my fingers in my ears, look at the floor and softly chant, “La la la la la la la la la la la,” until my viewing partner tells me that the trailer is over or threatens to punch me.

When I went to see Rogue One during the Thursday night previews, I went in knowing as little as a huge Star Wars fan could possibly know. I knew that Rogue One was a stand-alone Star Wars movie* and I knew it starred Felicity Jones. That was it. I was completely unaware of when it was set, what it was about or that an actor who had been dead for more than 22 years, Peter Cushing, was digitally brought back to life to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin,

Had I seen any of the film’s promotional materials, I would have been well aware of all of these things, as well as the fact that Darth Vader makes what I will conservatively call the most bad ass cameo in the history of cinema. However, I was not. And it all came as such a wonderful surprise to me, it’s hard to put into words. I can say that I clapped and made Aaron Rodgers-like fist pumps at multiple times during the course of the movie and, like everyone else in the theater, went completely silent as my brain broke when Vader turns on his light saber for the first time.

Throughout the course of the movie, Cushing’s Tarkin appears on screen multiple times; he is not a one trick pony, but rather a legitimate supporting character. He talks, he walks, he sneers and basically does everything that the character did in the original film.  Only this time, the actor was dead.

When I first saw the character of Tarkin on screen, I assumed, Occam style, that it was a new actor who had to sit through a lengthy hair/makeup routine to make him look like Cushing. That’s a lot easier to fathom than that Rogue One’s production team brought Cushing back from the dead. Tarkin looked fantastic! I couldn’t believe how much he looked like the original (and for a good goddamn reason too). Only when I got home and began reading things online did I see that Cushing has been CG’d back to life.*

* As an aside, I find the voice matching software that Disney employed to get Cushing’s voice down far more impressive than their CG face replacements, but I have yet to read an article about that.

Interestingly, the overall tone of the articles was negative. Here’s a summary of critical viewpoints. One critic went so far as to compare Tarkin unfavorably to Jar Jar Binks.  Critics somehow were upset about the ethics of this move, as well as very down on how it looked. My issue with this is that it seems highly unlikely that any of these ‘problems’ would have been problems if they hadn’t been known about in advanced. Had I known Tarkin was a CG character, I would have looked at him more closely and could have conceivably found more flaws than I did. As it was, I noticed absolutely nothing about him that stood out as being bad CG. And I am not alone in this regard. Other entertainment journalists who saw the movie without first being aware of Tarkin’s digital status, didn’t notice either.

Generally speaking, I’m relaxed and laid back in my thinking. People can believe what they want to believe, they can completely disagree with my opinion and that’s not only fine, it’s healthy. I’ve never quite understood why so many people need everyone to believe what they believe. I value the diversity of thought.

When I began talking to friends who had seen Rogue One, one thing always came up in conversation: how fake the CG Tarkin looked. It was bizarre to me the first time I heard this complaint because I have the pickiest, most focused eyes of anyone I know and I didn’t notice a single thing. After some additional discussion, it became clear that the only reason my friends felt this way was because they’d read several articles detailing how fake Tarkin’s CG looked.

The most recent presidential election has brought a number of issues to the surface in American society. Fake news, truth in campaign promises and what role the media play in delivering information to the public have all been hotly debated. Interestingly, what I haven’t seen much as a topic of conversation is the way that the media benefits from anger and hatred.

Normally, people who leave horrible comments on message boards and reddit that are designed to produce a reaction in others are labeled trolls. Trolls send terrifically insensitive tweets at celebrities and direct hatred at women and minorities simply for being women and minorities. After several more conversations about Tarkin’s “poor” CG, I started to wonder whether the mainstream media has begun to adopt a much lighter, fluffier version of the trolls’ ethos. If articles about college safe spaces can get thousands of comments and even more shares on social media, why shouldn’t articles lambasting Rogue One’s “bad” CG do something similar?

Here are the top headlines that come up when you google ‘Rogue One Cushing CG great’:

  • ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ Is Brilliant, That CGI Though
  • We throw down over Rogue One’s CGI characters
  • “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” features a controversial CG Peter Cushing
  • Are the Star Wars Special Effects in Rogue One Unethical?
  • ‘Morbid and off-putting’ or ‘convincing’? Rogue One’s CGI
  • Let’s Talk About ROGUE ONE’s Most Unsettling Cameo
  • ‘Rogue One’ is a milestone (and warning sign) for CG resurrection
  • ‘Rogue One’: How Grand Moff Tarkin, Peter Cushing Returned
  • Rogue One: the CGI resurrection of Peter Cushing is thrilling – but is it right?

Strangely, Hollywood managed to believably bring someone back from the dead–and for artistic reasons no less–nailed the end result in a movie that earned incredible reviews and a huge opening weekend box office take and all anyone wants to talk about is how bad or unethical that decision was.

Why are we all depressed again?


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