Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where Technology Takes Us

Hollywood has always been about illusion, the original dream factory, but somehow over the years people have become the illusion and Hollywood the fantasy everyone wants to make real. It has lost the quality of fantasy and blurred the lines between real and make believe. It's obvious when you look at the movie and TV stars who spend so much money and time on trainers, nutritionists and plastic surgery so they can take their fantasies into the real world. It's the story Rita Hayworth always told, that men went to bed with Gilda and woke up with her, confusing the fantasy with reality and unable to understand the difference.

In a world where fantasy is more real than reality comes Beowulf and we're back to fantasy again where talent is not forsaken in the face of cinematic beauty. That's the one thing that has been lost in the march to Hollywoodize the world, talent. That's not to say there aren't talented actors who look good (and sexy) naturally without plastic surgery, trainers and nutritionists or that there isn't value to treating your body well -- well, except for the plastic surgery -- but movies are all about fantasy.

The star of Beowulf is nowhere near the buff, gorgeous figure of Beowulf. Ray Winstone is overweight and paunchy and getting older. If Beowulf was a live action movie instead of computer generated, Winstone would not have been chosen to play the part, nor could he have done so without at least a year of intensive training and diet and a bit of plastic surgery. That's not to say he isn't talented, because he is, but Hollywood has finally found a way for talent to take center stage alongside real fantasy.

The movie isn't that good, but it's interesting because it remodels the actors' bodies into whatever the part requires (like Anthony Hopkins' huge paunch and bloated face) without the actors having to change their appearance. It is their talent that shines forth and not chameleon changes by knife. It doesn't matter that Winstone is 50 years old and Beowulf is in his early twenties. It works. Granted, the technique needs some refinement before it can take the place of real live actors, but it's getting there. Unlike Looker where models once perfected by plastic surgery were killed so their computer generated clones could take their places or The Stepford Wives where perfect robots made to order with the right bra size and figure killed their living templates, there is no need to walk blindly into the future Michael Crichton envisioned when technology replaces people. Technology can mold the physical without the use of plastic surgery or grueling training and starvation diets or Botox or any of the surface things actors do to fit the part and retain the spark of talent and genius that makes an actor worth watching. It can't be long before computer generated movies move into the realm where fantasy mimics reality without the need for fantasy to take over and supplant reality. Hollywood will have reclaimed the dream factory without sacrificing humans on the bloody altar in the name of money cloaked in the guise of art.

Bottom line? Actors can get old, can succumb to illness, gain a little weight and sport their wrinkles, stretch marks and saggy butts and knees without ending their professional lives and the dream factory can give them immortality, youth and beauty while borrowing their voice and acting talents without using them up and tossing them aside like old Kleenex. Somehow that seems like a much better and healthier world, although the gossip rags will suffer since no one will care about dimpled asses or deep wrinkles. Wouldn't that be a shame?

I'm a realist who knows that talent is not only contained in a plastic package and can be found in even the ugliest creature, as Stockard Channing illustrated in The Girl Most Likely To. Beauty isn't everything and when these plastic beauties die and their bones are dug up centuries from now by some curious archaeologist, their bones will tell a different tale than what was made from them when the actor was alive.

That is all. Disperse.

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