Movie channels have long used original documentaries to augment and thematically connect bunches of films, which is helpful if said movies are, well, mediocre. Encore joins in that practice via “Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible,” an entertaining hourlong doc that plays like little more than a promotional video for founder George Lucas’ special-effects house, which, as writer-director J.J. Abrams notes, has technically given filmmakers “the ability to do anything.” What this cheerleading production never bothers to ask, conveniently, is whether that’s an unqualified cause for cinematic celebration.
Any history of ILM, of course, begins with “Star Wars,” and it’s interesting to hear filmmakers like Ron Howard or Pixar’s John Lasseter discuss how seeing that effects-laden marvel struck them (to borrow a line from “The Godfather,” another ’70s epic) like the proverbial thunderbolt.
Beyond the “Star Wars” franchise, the signature moment in ILM’s impact on moviemaking hinged on Lucas’ decision to turn the company into a resource for the entire industry — one that has created “some of the most iconic images that cinema has ever seen” and “revolutionized” the business, as the narration by Tom Cruise puts it.
True enough. But what’s missing from writer-producer-director Leslie Iwerks’ flowery tribute is any reference to the quality of FX-oriented pics, or even a modest notation that some of the films representing key moments of technological progress — “The Abyss,” “Willow,” “Jumanji” among them — were otherwise forgettable, unlike, say, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
Nor is there any contemplation about a potential downside to computer-generated imagery or its questionable impact on the quality of storytelling. Indeed, about the only thing close to a discouraging word is a fleeting mention that while opinions differ about Jar-Jar Binks (really? Find me the one person over age 6 who likes him, other than Lucas), the ability to seamlessly insert a CGI character into shots marked a tremendous breakthrough.
Certainly, ILM’s wizardry has come at a propitious time, allowing filmmakers to create action sequences that wouldn’t have been feasible previously in terms of time, budget and realism, facilitating the explosion of comicbook and fantasy properties. There are also some enlightening glimpses that pull back the curtain on the wonders of CG effects.
Still, “Creating the Impossible” will be paired with a marathon of such afterthoughts from the ILM filmography as “Jumanji,” “Jurassic Park III” and “Twister,” which lets a bit air out of the doc’s sails. And the title actually rather unfortunately sounds like “Siegfried & Roy: Masters of the Impossible,” a 1990s animated series about the magic duo.
Then again, that might be Encore’s logical encore: Unleash the CGI white tigers!