Criterion Caravan: #25 La Bete Humaine (1938) Dir: Jean Renoir
So we come in our journey through the Criterion catalog to 1938. Good ol’ France is still churning out thrillers, not daring to believe the darkness that is going to fall over it just two years down the line. With 20/20 hindsight, one is tempted to say that accounts for the tense, almost hysterical attitude in Bete Humaine, but that is probably reading too much.
The production history on the wikipedia page for this film begins, “Jean Gabin wanted to star in a film about locomotives ” Frankly, that’s good enough for me. Anytime Jean Gabin wants to make a train film, count me in. And frankly the first and last scenes of this film, which are just long minutes showing Gabin driving a train as it races down a track, communicating in signs with his fireman over the screech of the engine, are the best things about the film, and the best fast moving train footage I’ve ever seen. Take your breath away they really do.
Unfortunately, I can’t say as much for the plot of this film. Renoir as always creates some incredibly taught scenes in which every shot tells you a novel’s worth of stories. But the characters in this are just a little too off-putting to take seriously, or to know how to read during the film. It tells of a triangle consisting of Gabin’s character, a good-natured engineer who now and then just has to do terrible things, a flirtatious young woman who eggs her lovers on to do terrible things, and her frumpy station master husband who is driven to terrible things by his need to control. Lots of metaphors for the railway system! So if railway system metaphors aren’t your cup of tea, stand clear.
And in the midst of the tension between these fairly off-putting characters, it’s a bit of a weird muddle through it, everyone constantly on edge about to pop for reasons you can’t quite buy.
Jean Gabin also looks much puffier than he did in Pepe Le Moko, just a year before. Super-stardom is agreeing with him apparently, but while he remains a formidable screen presence, one misses that easy charm.
An interesting film. Plenty to look at but ultimately lesser than Renoir’s Grand Illusion. Come for the train driving scenes though. Those you will not forget.
When Jurassic Park debuted in 1993, computer generated special effects were barely out of their cradle. A handful of films such as Terminator 2 had dabbled in using digital animation for very specific effects, but no one had yet been able to crack the Holy Grail—making these effects look believably real on giant movie theater screens.
With Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur blockbuster, the effects world took a brontosaurus-sized leap forward into a realm where creatures born on desktop computers could hold their own alongside flesh and blood actors. This behind-the-scenes video from The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – which you can see exclusively today at Yahoo Movies – gives a glimpse of how Jurassic Park broke wide open the landscape of what was possible in film. The video is an installment of Moments That Changed the Movies, a new Academy Originals web series, debuting Monday.
Today, Jurassic’s towering T-Rex and sleek raptors are still considered examples of top-notch digital effects, but when Spielberg began working on the film, computer effects were still so untested that all involved assumed the film’s dinosaurs would be created largely with animatronic robots. It took a handful of wizards at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) to convince Spielberg’s team that computer-generated creatures could work even better.
In the end, Jurassic Park featured only 15 minutes of dinosaur footage. But those handful of minutes changed film forever. Suddenly, anything a director could dream up could be put on the screen – tornadoes, snarling monsters and, as we’ve seen nearly ever summer since, wide-scale devastation. But just 21 years ago, the idea of accomplishing such feats was science fiction itself.