Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Zemeckis and the Subtle Use of Technology

Hey guys,

I have to start this mini essay of sorts with an apology. I had mentioned in this week’s episode that I wanted to write about the amazing work of Alan Silvestri but I feel that my love letter to him would be better served later in the season as he still has so much more great work to come. So never fear! You’ll be hearing my thoughts on Alan Silvestri soon.

But it was when I was sitting post recording of the Who Framed Roger Rabbit episode that I began to think about the behind the scenes TV special that I had described earlier in the episode. I just wanted to find that footage so I can watch it again. This lead me down the old YouTube rabbit hole, no pun intended, and I came across a few nuggets of gold. In particular, this one here;

Watching over this you get a real idea of two things, firstly just how amazing a job Bob Hoskins is doing throughout the film and secondly just how meticulous a film maker Zemeckis is. Each of these moments in the film had to be thought out, planned, designed and implemented multiple times to give the finished products we love so much in this film. Without it the chemistry and relationship between physical actors and the characters we love so dearly just would be there or believable.

Craig and I touched on the opportunities that could have been there for Zemeckis and Co. to cash in on the usage of this technology a little during the episode, but let’s elaborate a little more on it. When you really think about it, the film business is in the game to essentially make money, albeit through a medium that we cherish. I’m not saying that Who Framed Roger Rabbit didn’t cash in on its technological uses, the fact that at 6 years old I can remember watching a Behind The Scenes video shows they were spruiking the film big time, but when the opportunity was there to maximise the revenue opportunities, I believe that Zemeckis showed a lot of restraint. Scenes weren’t crowded with characters, unless the scene called for it, actors weren’t given shameless cameos, and product placements didn’t fill the screen being sneakily endorsed by our beloved cartoon friends.  

Throughout the 5 films that we’ve watched so far as a part of From First To Last I’ve come to realise this. That when it comes to the usage of technology, Robert Zemeckis’s films may be cutting edge but that doesn’t mean that they glorify the technology in a way that is gimmicky and icky. Before I speak about Zemeckis’s subtle usage of technology I thought I’d show what I considered an icky usage of technology. In the mid to late 2000’s 3D technology saw a resurgence, now there’s an entire article that can be devoted to 3D technology and it’s pros and cons, but what became evident during this time was that if studios had their film shown in 3D that the revenue possibilities could be huge. This meant that lots of films, animated in particular, were made and released with 3D technology in mind.

The flow on effect was a times lazy and gimmicky moments in films, where it tainted the experience for me. One in particular is the opening of the Dreamworks Animation film Monsters vs Aliens. In this scenes a meteor is tracked by a government agency as it enters Earth’s orbit. In the moments before the meteor is spotted by the scientists, the viewers are given a glimpse into the workspace that the scientists live in. In particular, the shot ends with one scientist lazing in his chair, feet on desk, playing with an old school paddle ball game (you know the paddle with the ball attached to a piece of elastic that is hit back and forth onto the paddle). The result was that using 3D technology the viewer thought they’d get hit by the ball. Maybe it was a call back to the old 1950’s 3D films, but for me it just seemed gimmicky and a lazy usage of a technology that could enhance a film not betray it. A few months later this amazing usage would be displayed in James Cameron’s Avatar. I tried to find the opening scene from Monsters vs Aliens to show just what I meant but the best I could find is this and apologies because it’s in 3D but you get the idea;

Just in case there are huge Monsters vs Aliens fans out there outraged by my decision to single this film out. It’s nothing to do with the film itself, it’s quite popular in the Reid house and Craig and I have a soft spot for it thanks to some cool interviews in the CineFOOLS days as well. The studio that made the film, Dreamworks Animation, had a different approach to their films and as a result different values to their approach with technology. Again this could become a totally different conversation about product placement to justify additional funding for technology but to further show that the 3D was also used for additional financial gain check out this video where Monsters vs Aliens was then used to sell Samsung 3D TV’s.

Now we’re really in the early days for Zemeckis and his usage of technology, but never yet in his films have I felt that Zemeckis used technology in a way that came at a cost of his films. It always enhances things in such a beautiful way. Take Romancing The Stone for example, the first moment you see the stone technology is used to make it greener. It’s ever so subtle but the stone itself needed to be the most amazing green jewel you’ve ever seen. Or even the way in which the Delorean splits its way through time, almost as if it’s trying for the entire car to reach the place where it’s ready to travel. The glow, the sparks and shoots of light all work together to sell the possibility that time travel could really be possible.

As I mentioned before it’s early days for Zemeckis’s filmography but looking ahead I can already tell that now he is honing his ability to use technology in his film in such a way where the film itself is more important than the technology itself. It’s most like he is learning to use technology in its purest form. A little bit airy fairy I know but it’s true. Zemeckis only wants his films to be the best that they can and technology is one of the many ways that he does just this.

Before I leave, I thought I’d share a comparison video of technology again being used in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s just amazing, not just for the way in which technology was used but also to showcase just how great a performance Bob Hoskins gives. Enjoy two masters at work.

Big Love,

Geoff