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Robert Zemeckis: An Appreciation Part Three

(continued from Robert Zemeckis: An Appreciation Part Two)

2000’s Cast Away: Zemeckis reunited with Tom Hanks for this tale of a FedEx employee (Hanks) who gets stranded on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific after a plane crash, and must learn to survive on the island using whatever remained from the plane’s cargo while coping with the isolation.  Co-starring Helen Hunt, Hanks earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his tour-de-force performance (the film also received a Best Sound Mixing nod, but was snubbed in other categories).  The film was critically well-received as well as at the box office (it was number one for four weeks in a row!).

2004’s The Polar Express: Based on the short story by Chris Van Allsburg, this film would be the first of three Zemeckis-directed computer-animated films.  The story focuses on a boy who no longer believes in the magic of Christmas and his journey aboard a special train to the North Pole.  Having the actors (including Tom Hanks and Eddie Deezen) use motion capture to bring the animated characters to life, this film was not as critically well-received as Zemeckis’ past films, but strong word of mouth catapaulted the film’s box office returns at Thanksgiving and it became a surprise hit after the industry had written it off as a holiday flop.

2007’s Beowulf: Based on the Old English epic poem, this film would be the second of three Zemeckis-directed computer-animated films using the advancing motion capture process.  The story focuses on the legendary warrior (Ray Winstone) who responds to King Hrothgar’s (Anthony Hopkins) plea for help by traveling to Denmark with his soldiers to defend the kingdom from the creature Grendel (Crispin Glover).  Featuring a terrific cast (Robin Wright, Brendan Gleeson, John Malkovich, Alison Lohman, and Angelina Jolie), the film was critically well-received but was not a big hit at the box office domestically (the November release date didn’t help).

2009’s A Christmas Carol: Based on the famous Charles Dickens tale, this film would be Zemeckis’ final computer-animated film (so far) employing motion capture techniques.  Rich old Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) is visited by his dead partner Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman, who also played Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim) and warned that he’ll be visited by three ghosts (also Carrey) who will try to convince Scrooge to change his ways before it’s too late.  Featuring an excellent cast (Colin Firth, Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, and Bob Hoskins), the film’s reviews were more positive than negative, and although it was a hit, its numbers fell short of those from The Polar Express.

Zemeckis’ newest film, Flight, opens today to terrific reviews.  Denzel Washington stars as a pilot who is forced to land his plane under incredible circumstances but has to deal with the aftermath of the incident, including allegations of alcohol being present in his blood work (which could send him to jail) and the revelation that no other pilot could have landed the plane the way he did.  I am looking forward to this film, and it could be a big Oscar contender.  I am also curious as to what special effects are employed in the film (given Zemeckis’ history).  Thank you, Robert Zemeckis, for the films you’ve made and for the role you’ve played in pioneering advancements in movie special effects.

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