Robert Zemeckis lives in a Thomas Kinkade-style cottage in the wealthy creek-side district of the Uncanny Valley, a neighborhood where everything looks like a Parisian Christmas as reenacted by Precious Moments kids. At least, I imagine that’s where his hate mail goes—notes about the terribleness of matte-eyed, computer-generated movie protagonists with A-list voices, plus maybe a postcard from Disney about how they’re kicking Zemeckis’ production company off the lot. Zemeckis—who made killer stuff like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump before mo-cap disasters The Polar Express and Mars Needs Moms—is finally going back to live action for his next project, Flight. But will it matter? After all, plenty of live-action movies are eye-insulting crap bonanzas, too.
What you have to remember is that subpar mo-cap and facial algorithms are only half of our current problem with onscreen verisimilitude. They are mere technical challenges, soon to be overcome. Eyes are getting livelier. Staccato, windup-girl hand movements are becoming fluid. The real issue is the opposite side of the valley. I’m talking, of course, about actors. As fast as the computer jockeys trek upward away from uncanniness, the ostensibly real denizens of Hollywood are schussing downward for drinks at the lodge.
Someone, please, come fix our famous. Just look at the sheer improbability quotients of Megan Fox’s chest-to-waist ratio, Ryan Reynolds’ eight-pack, and Rose McGowan’s new face. Who are these extraterrestrials I’m paying money to root for? I know that in real life, movie stars have always looked like Pez dispensers—with giant heads on skinny little bodies. But that was because (thanks to some kind of optics math) such a build was supposed to look better on an enormotron screen. Now it’s gone too far. They look … weird. With Restylane, Botox, crap that makes your eyelashes thicker, blepharoplasties, saline, disordered eating, manic workouts, and icing-thick body makeup, it’s no wonder the CG people look fake. They’re modeled after real people who are so pretty I suspect they might be missing a belly button (and not the Patricia Heaton epidermal-sari kind of missing a belly button, either). January Jones is Bradley Cooper is Channing Tatum is Jessica Biel. Can you imagine Steven Spielberg casting Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws today or Ridley Scott letting Sigourney Weaver play Ripley? There was kook in their countenance—an off-kilter vibe that was sympathetic and engrossing. Today’s immaculate attractiveness reads as rigged. It smacks of eagerness or an agenda.
You know who I, along with just about every human, happily pay to look at while he does stuff and says things? Ryan Gosling. And he is not an empirically handsome man. Lips: thin. Nose: too narrow. Eyes: too close together. He doesn’t have a single facial feature that is extra-good-looking. Yet he’s winsome like you read about. He’s high-school hot, with a screwball smile and a busted laugh. Give me someone oddly enticing (or enticingly odd) like that and make him charming and I’ll pony up for the 3-D glasses.
In fact, if casting agents and glamour squads would just lay off for a minute, maybe the f/x gods would be able to whip up a few imperfectly perfect digital stars for people like me. Shoot the moon, software! Conjure me all actors, past and present, and let me choose my own adventure at the megaplex—a bespoke dark comedy (instant relief from January release-itis) in which Daniel Day-Lewis introduces new fiancé Amanda Seyfried to his family (Gary Oldman, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Smith). Or how about Quantum of Solace with Idris Elba as James Bond? Romancing the Stone with Kristen Wiig? I expect to settle into the ultrafoam chairs of the theater of the future, loved ones by my side, each of us on our own trips. It’ll be compromise-free, and I’ll be sitting pretty as hell. Even if the 3-D-helmet rental costs 34 bucks and still doesn’t fit over your glasses.