Here's the difference between the DVD features on the new Indiana Jones picture compared to the Star Wars prequels: everybody involved actually seemed to have a lot of fun shooting the picture, building the sets and there are a lot of interviews with the cast. The prequel documentaries on the other hand are almost entirely reserved to the special effect work done at ILM. The only segment focusing on the effects of Indy comes near the end of the special features of disc 2 (which is only natural, since the feature's are organized in production order).
Here at last are all the ILMers introduced one by one. Some, like Paul Huston, are veterans of all the Indy movies, but most are fresh eyed computer geeks who all seem to have decorated their workplaces with fedora's, whips and crystal skulls (either that or documentarian Laurent Bouzereau placed them there). We get to see a lot of their work in process, notice the shots have all sorts of interesting numbers running at the top of frame (gotta dig those work-prints) and the occasional mention of 'Genre Productions' at the bottom. Steve Rawlings introduces us to anti-fan-favorite Buster the prairie-dog while Pablo Helman and Brian Gernand have a lot of fun blowing up a large miniature of Doom-Town (you see, even effect men get outside occasionally).
Thankfully they don't go into the creation of the CG monkeys. Instead they show us that a lot of trees were added to the footage shot on location in Hawaii to disguise the fact that the vehicles were racing along a clear path in the middle of the jungle. Still, they cannot afford to omit talking about another much maligned element from the film: those big damn ants (siafu). For the first time in the Indiana Jones series, the customary creepy crawly scene features only computer generated crawlies. A lot of people have taken offense to this and immediately cried 'fake'. Personally I like the ants. After all this is also the first time in the series that the creepy crawlies actually kill some people. People's main claim on them being fake is the fact that in their mind they know it's an effect. A lot of the snakes, bugs and rats in the original Indy trilogy were rubber too and nobody complained then. And neither is there anyone who has a problem with the fake trees during the jungle chase I mentioned above. It's really all in the minds eye.
To me, the ants, the prairie dog and even the monkeys look fine (though I certainly could have done without the Tarzan scene). The ant scene was something George Lucas has been toying with since an early draft of Indy 3 called 'Indiana Jones and the Monkey King'. Had that version been made in 1989 instead of crusade, ILM would have had to resort to a lot of animated optical to realize the deadly ants. Those effects would probably not have lasted the test of time, but I'll bet you nobody would've complained about them being too fake. That being said, one thing that does annoy me about computer generated effect is that in some misguided attempt to make the scene feel more real, the animators love to splat cg blood or (in this case) ant puss on the camera. They never broke the fourth wall like that with effects in the olden days, so why do they insist on doing it now?
The documentary goes on to show us how the Akator sets were expanded to look like giant temples (again, no complaints from fan-boys) and how the animators combined all the crystal skeletons into one seven foot alien (ok, I'll admit that one's a bit baffling, but it still looks pretty good). The computer nerds' biggest challenge was crafting the effects for the over the top finale, including the giant alien blender they nicknamed the 'garbage disposal' which sucked the entire temple up into the space between spaces. Looking at that scene when the flying saucer is revealed, I can't help but notice that Indy not only manages to stand upright in the middle of an extremely strong whirlwind, but he doesn't even bother to keep hold of his hat. Now that looks fake. Never mind the big spinning ship, his hat defies all logic!
7 out of 10
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