Film Review: ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

Film Review: 'Olympus Has Fallen'

Bulgarian-made CGI does more damage than the North Korean terrorists in Antoine Fuqua's grim White House actioner

A North Korean terrorist may be responsible for taking the president hostage, but it’s Bulgarian-made CGI that does the most damage in Antoine Fuqua’s intense, ugly, White-House-under-siege actioner “Olympus Has Fallen.” Cut past the pic’s superficial patriotism, and the message is ironically clear: Never outsource your visual effects when a domestic shop will do. Courageously representing the human element in this mostly digital assault on American soil, Gerard Butler holds his own as a one-man-army. Millennium was wise to push this grim act-of-war movie out three months ahead of Columbia’s like-minded “White House Down.”

In June, auds will see how Roland Emmerich, whose “Independence Day” gleefully made things go boom at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., handles the task today. For the moment, the post-9/11 memory of real attacks on American targets still hits a bit too close to home. And though Hollywood’s jaunty disaster-movie days may have passed, this lower-budget entry comes with the satisfaction of evening the score before end credits roll.

Olympus Has Fallen” helmer Fuqua, who’s known for bringing an unflinching toughness to inner cities (“Training Day”) and ancient history (“King Arthur”), sticks to the “Die Hard” model here, minus most of the tossed-off one-liners. In ex-Special Forces pro Mike Banning, Butler presents a gritty but humorless hero who cusses, bleeds and occasionally pauses to remove shards of glass from his wounds.

To raise the personal stakes, Creighton Rothenberger’s script opens with a prologue in which Banning saves the life of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, who looks the part of a Wall St.-friendly commander in chief), but fails to protect the First Lady (Ashley Judd) — a tragedy that leaves the redemption-seeking secret service agent reassigned to desk duty.

Banning’s chance to square the books with Asher arrives when heavily armed guerillas swarm the White House, led by the undercover Kang (“Die Another Day’s” Rick Yune). While a massive CG warplane flies low over D.C., gunning down pedestrians and blasting the top off the Washington Monument, turncoat Forbes (Dylan McDermott) helps Kang and his men take the president and his top staffers (including Melissa Leo’s unyielding Secretary of Defense) captive in the White House’s underground safe room.

Hokey glimpses of tourists attempting to outrun blocks of falling granite make the lo-fi effects of an earlier era look realistic by comparison. As pedestrians run for cover or die in the crossfire, Banning makes his way into the fray, searching for the president’s missing son (Finley Jacobson) before worrying about the kidnapped world leaders.

With Asher incapacitated and his veep brutally executed before the eyes of the military’s top brass, the shot-calling role falls to the Speaker of the House, played by Morgan Freeman, an actor with experience at holding the reins of power, having occupied the Oval Office in “Deep Impact.” Freeman demonstrates due gravitas, steeling his nerves with a strong cup of coffee while the small army of character actors around him hang their heads in desperation.

Fuqua’s widescreen approach — which offers ample room for all that vidgame-quality CG — relishes such cornball iconography, featuring shots of the American flag pierced with bullets, or tumbling slowly to the ground against a flame-red sunset, while Trevor Morris’ drum-corps score keeps things sounding duly martial. Banning earns well-deserved cheers for using a heavy bust of Lincoln’s head to bust in a baddie’s noggin.

Though not as exciting as the White House-storming seventh season of “24,” the high-concept project alternates between brawny action movie and crudely considered “what if” scenario. Despite the pic’s one-on-many focus, Fuqua approaches it as a full-blown war movie, incorporating the military’s latest toys into large-scale shootouts between squads of anonymous opponents.

Sadly, those crude Bulgarian-rendered effects aren’t much more convincing than the recent White-House-in-the-crosshairs propaganda videos pouring out of North Korea. Butler brings things back to a more practical level, as his butt-kicking hero shoots, stabs and punches his way through to the commander-in-distress, only to face off against a foreign-rigged computer program in the final scene. Figures.

Olympus Has Fallen

Reviewed at Aidikoff screening room, Los Angeles, March 18, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 120 MIN.

A Film District release of a Millennium Films presentation of a Nu Image/Gerard Butler/Alan Siegel Entertainment production. Produced by Antoine Fuqua, Butler, Siegel, Ed Cathell III, Danny Lerner, Mark Gill. Executive producers, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, John Thompson, Heidi Jo Markel.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Screenplay, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt. Camera (color, widescreen), Conrad W. Hall; editor, John Refoua; music, Trevor Morris; production designer, Derek R. Hill; art director, Karen Steward; set decorator, Cathy T. Marshall; costume designer, Doug Hall; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital), Steve C. Aaron; supervising sound editor, Mandell Winter; re-recording mixers, Chris David, Daniel Leahy; special effects coordinator, Jack Lynch; visual effects producer, Scott Coulter; visual effects, Worldwide FX, Ghost FX, Base FX; stunt coordinator, Keith Woulard; associate producer, Danielle Robinson; second unit director, Jamie Marshall; second unit camera, Gary Capo; casting, Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, Amanda Mackey, Ryan Glorioso.

With: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Finley Jacobsen, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Ruth McMillan Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Phil Austin, James Ingersoll, Freddy Bosche, Lance Broadway, Sean O’Bryan, Keong Sim, Kevin Moon, Malana Lea, Robert Forster, Sam Median, Ashley Judd.

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  1. Emilian says:

    I think the bulgarian VFX are great and realistic. Apparently mr Peter Debruge is not familiar with VFX technology and methods. So he better stick his opinion as a critic, to the story of the movie, and not show his negligence trying to talk about matters he does not understand.

  2. Craig says:

    Apparently a certain movie critic does not care much for Bulgaria. What a bizarrely written review.

  3. Luke says:

    I’ve seen fewer spoilers at a muscle car convention…

  4. Fran Harelick says:

    Despite the critic’s less than stellar review, I was riveted!..sat at the edge of my seat

    • jamesat17 says:

      If you liked this movie, then G. I. Joe is going to blow your mind. I saw it last night and want to see it again. I don’t watch a movie a second time unless it has more to see a second time because it is carrying you through on a rollercoaster. G. I Joe did that.

  5. jamesat17 says:

    I saw the movie and it was really good. All the actors did their parts really well. I saw no problem with the CGI affects. Making the affects of a building falling on people, well, it looked like they did their best. How many of you would run out of a door when in front of you a couple of dozen other people have been gunned down? Wouldn’t you do as the main actor did and get behind a wall and shoot from there? If that were the type of people that are guarding the WH then we are all in for the same kind of fall by making others think they can take over with ease. That scene lasted for a few minutes and all that time I was thinking how stupid can people be. Even before that scene was over I leaned over to my friend and mentioned that the others were going to run out of the building thinking they were going to stop a machine gun. Of course they had to get it down to just the main actor, but come on. Give us a movie of the same story line and make us stand up out of our seats because it looks so real that people walk out of the theater.

    • pleasedontseethismovie says:

      The CGI looked like I was watching someone play Sim City or something. This was easily one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

  6. prem says:

    so the next time some wonderful vfx comes up in a movie , can i expect the reviewer to name the country and give it praise?

  7. Michael AvMen says:

    Seriously. The only Bad CGI was the plane, But you would Never Know that the Entire Film Was done in Shreveport ,LA…. All of it. The CGI White House and DC areas are all Plate Shots VFX.. So, Not So bad now.. Huh? I have a Small Scene at the Very End that Actualy made the Final Cut..

    Michael AvMen ( I stand Right behind Banning at the End When the Presidents Gives his Address to the nation.) Sorry for the Spoiler.

  8. Xenophobic Reviewer says:

    The underlying message of the reviewer’s rant against Bulgarian VFX would seem to be that unless your VFX are done in California you can’t expect quality. That basic premise is untrue, of course. Visual effects is a global industry and VFX artists and companies from New Zealand, UK, France and Canada all have proven capable of delivering high caliber work. Two of the companies listed on this film are known to do sub-contract work for ILM regularly.

    This reviewer is either uninformed or he’s chosen a sensationalistic headline to jump on the VFX Solidarity movement bandwagon.

  9. Zdravkov says:

    In all fairness, 49 out of the 115 names under the “Visual Effects by” title are indeed Bulgarian, so there’s obviously merit to the catchy headline. But the author neglects to mention the connivance of the studios and the fact that the majority of VFX work was handled on American soil.

    Blaming the Bulgarians for the outcome is tantamount to blaming Chinese sweatshop workers for the quality of a knock-off one bought at half the price of the original. Clearly, this is not a question of the product’s “made in” stamp, but of the purchaser’s standards and willingness to pay for quality.

    The VFX in Life of Pi, Argo and Cloud Atlas also have Bulgarian participation, but no nation-specific praise has resulted from that. Obviously, this is a matter of corporate greed, and simplifying it down to a level of “domestic” vs “foreign” only means that some of the pic’s superficial patriotism has found its way into the article. Now pass me some freedom fries, please.

  10. P-Fi says:

    The point of what the reviewer is trying to say is that you can’t put budget, low quality “visual effects” in a movie and not expect people to notice. The “visual effects” play as important a role in movies today as it’s major stars. Even more so in some cases.

    I’m sure there are great artists in Bulgaria, Louisiana, Toronto and the other regions where the VFX was made. However, with no money, this is what you will get. Visual Effects artists and companies are being under appreciated and very poorly treated these days. It has to stop.

    Thank you Peter Debruge for helping bring this to light.

  11. Cobra Commander says:

    Yeah and Ghost FX isn’t even Bulgarian but a Danish company. They have done some excellent work on other pics. But apparently that doesn’t matter as long as the headline is catchy …

  12. Rusty says:

    It does sound like someone has an axe to grind about vfx work being outsourced to foreign countries, it isn’t like this happened overnight. The problem is not who does the work or where, but the painfully short post-schedule in which to do it in. Either way, go and see the film and make up your own minds.

  13. cris says:

    Obviously this reviewer didn’t do his research…The louisiana branch also worked on this movie…

  14. Justin Kanowicz says:

    This is less a review, then a spoiler filled screed against the Bulgarians.

  15. Sheesh says:

    Whoa! Spoilers much?

  16. HybridHalo says:

    A lot is made of the VFX work in this film not being American, though all of the shots you’ve mentioned as being stand-out poor, were handled by Millennium’s Louisiana studio.

    In the light of the level of output, it’s looking like they’re trying to distance themselves and blame the Bulgaria side of the group. Convenient.

  17. jamesat17 says:

    Anytime you blow up the WH, well I’m game for that.

  18. Ben M says:

    Yes Effects can go horribly wrong when they’re done on the cheap, but let’s not forget that several recent Oscars for Visual Effects have gone to London and New Zealand. Just because it’s not American doesn’t make the quality poor by default.

  19. Brett says:

    Tell this to the studios…..

  20. Brad says:

    Nice to see someone aknowledge the hard work on American Artists…… or in this case, the lack of it!

  21. Dave Millnick says:

    Yeah, just from the trailer one could tell the CGI looked cheap.

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