Ya know, I have a strange curiosity about WWII stories, something we don't get very many of in todays world. When I heard about Anthropoid, I was interested in not only the story, but also the filmmaking practices. Here is a young filmmaker who made the leap and shot a pretty big "hollywood" action film with Hawk Anamorphic lenses on Super 16. This really interested me because honestly, I haven't seen very many movies made this way and that along with the WWII story, had me interested. I had a few hours off today, so I figured why not see it before it left the theater.
Went over to Arclight and of course, it's playing in the little theater in the back, you know the one with the blown stereo and dead pixel north of center. Sadly, the moment the movie came on, I was pissed because it had typical zipper syndrome on the graphics/text elements, which is a dead give away of a 2k delivery. Alright, I don't care... lets watch the movie.
The movie... well, it's unfortunately not very engaging. In fact, in the first 20 minutes, I closed my eyes for a few seconds because the filmmakers kinda forgot how to tell an interesting story. This is a very simple story of a few secret agents originally from the area, but then turned british spies, who have infiltrated czechoslovakia in order to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Jewish extermination and at the time, running the country where they planned to build three of the concentration camps. Of course the agents were mostly doing intelligence gathering, which can be exciting on camera if done right. However, the filmmakers didn't build up the two hero's enough to make anything they did exciting. Where the movie does well is hitting the key historical points, which appear to be pretty close based on my loose understanding of what actually happened. Bringing in some brits to play czech's was... well, maybe not a great idea? I mean they needed faces, but with a movie like this, isn't it more important to get what happened right? Anyway, it was a slight disappointment in that they COULD have told a more interesting spy story, instead they added some fictitious nonsense about a love affair, which was so underwhelming, it could have been left on the cutting room floor and nobody would have noticed anything but the movie being shorter. Yes, there are some good action scenes, but as I'll talk about next, they weren't "covered" very well.
The cinematography was for lack of a better word, was uninspiring. It was almost entirely hand held, with the occasional steadicam. It also appeared to have the same focal length's for most of the movie, which was kind of depressing. Every time I wanted a wide shot, it was a medium. Every time I wanted the camera to calm down and give the shaky cam thing a rest, they did more shaky cam and it's annoying. A dolly and nice cinematic camera moves would have made this particular movie look A LOT better. The use of 16mm on this movie was clearly for the addition of grain, more then anything else. They used mostly 500T and clearly underexposed several scenes, which makes it even more grainy. The daylight exteriors were 250D and again, a lot of them were underexposed. The few shots with direct daylight, looked MUCH better, but most of the film was shot in overcast skies between buildings in what appears to be Prague. The lighting was also underwhelming, clearly purposeful because it's really a dark time in history, so why should it look good? So the lighting did serve the story well. The anamorphic lenses look great, no distortion at all and very clean/crisp image when they weren't underexposing. I was very impressed with the glass.
I was also not very happy with the DI treatment. I felt the coloring was fine, but the grain was very crisp and the modern cleanup methods, really make it look bad. Probably because it was underexposed in many places and they needed to push the stock in post, but that's just a guess. I felt they could have done a better job over-all, had they over-exposed slightly and made the under-expose look in post. They also added some cleanup and visual effects work that was poor and unnecessary. They could have not shown those scenes, they weren't important to the story. I think a lot of the cleanup work was due to cutting scenes out and them needed bridges between scenes and used VFX to fill in the gap. All I know is when you see fake shit on screen and everything else is tastefully done very realistically, you've gotta second guess someone involved.
Over-all, I'm absolutely picking on this movie more then it deserves because it came close to being good ya know? If it was just a load of crap, I wouldn't care but the filmmakers clearly cared about the story and found great locations, made some great sets and made a very simple story work. I just think it could have been a lot more interesting and frankly, made better. Maybe as time goes on, we'll learn more about the filmmaking process and discover what actually happened. For the time being, this is just my opinion on what I saw. It was great to see a Super 16 film on the big screen though, that was a treat and worthwhile to analyze for anyone wanting to shoot S16.... Maybe even to learn what NOT to do...
Anthropoid; Bringing anamorphic 16mm to the masses
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