Robert Zemekis has perfected photorealistic computer animation. But why? His Beowulf (Zemekis, 2007) is impressive, but distracting. What is gained from making computer images of people that look exactly like real people? I think I prefer the route taken by (the very similar, but aesthetically superior film) 300 in which real actors are placed on a primarily CG background.
The one philosophically interesting thing about Beowulf’s motion capture technology is the way it forces us to redefine animation. If Beowulf is animation, then why isn’t 300? What percentage of the imagery must be traditional photography before the film ceases to be “animated”? If we say an animated film can have absolutely no photography, then WALL-E wouldn’t count as animated. (Remember the video of Fred Willard as the Buy-n-Large CEO.) After watching Beowulf, it seems hard not to count 300 or Sin City as an animated film. But then do we also have to count the Star Wars prequels or The Lord of the Rings movies which also have a large percentage of computer animation?
Zemekis should have stuck to traditional filmmaking. Now he’s gone and confused our whole cinematic ontology.