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Special Effects: A Substitute for Good Acting?


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<span style="font-size:19.5pt;"><font face="Verdana">Why Avatar’s triumph has left Hollywood stars feeling blue</font></span>

<span style="font-size:7.5pt;"><b><font face="Tahoma">Chris Ayres in Los Angeles</font></b></span>

<span style="font-size:10.5pt;"><font face="Georgia">With $1.25 billion in the bank — and counting — the makers of the sci-fi epic Avatar could hardly be any happier. But not everyone in Hollywood is feeling quite so chipper about the record-breaking success of the 3-D mega-franchise. Actors, for example. Up until the mid-2000s actors were the force to be reckoned with in Tinseltown. Stars could expect fees of £12 million or more to appear in a single movie, plus royalties. Many also formed production companies in association with studios, meaning that they had a say in what kind of films were made.

Those days are long gone now. In a process that began with the much publicised “firing” of Tom Cruise in 2006, Hollywood has in effect destroyed the power base of actors by refusing to write eight-digit pay cheques and turning “branded franchises” into their most bankable assets — rather than temperamental human beings.

The result of this strategy was all too clear when this year’s Oscar nominations were announced: Avatar, the most technically sophisticated and financially successful film in the history of the medium, received nine Oscar nominations — and not one of them was for an actor.

“This is clearly a watershed moment,” said Tim Langdell, founder of the video games company Edge Games, who has worked with Hollywood through the Writers and Producers Guilds of America.

“The motion-capture technology is so accurate in Avatar, there’s no doubt that there’s a real actor on the screen, not just animation. But at the same time we’ve known for years that no one cares who the actor is in a video game. So it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to learn that the same thing is true with a movie like Avatar.”

Despite this assessment of the acting profession some prominent thespians are refusing to take offence at the Academy Awards’ snub of individual performances in Avatar, arguing that wearing a camera-rigged “skull cap”, which captures every movement down to the twitch of an eyebrow — with the data then rendered in computer-generated imagery — is not real acting.

The most prominent of these critics is James Lipton, host of Inside the Actors Studio, who this week said he doubted that the technology in Avatar “equally captures emotion” when compared with traditional performances.

Unsurprisingly, the makers of Avatar are left exasperated by such thinking. “People confuse what we have done with animation,” James Cameron, the director, said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter after the nominations were announced on Tuesday. “It’s nothing like animation. The creator here is the actor, not the unseen hand of an animator.”

Actors are not the only ones losing out because of their precipitous fall from grace. Agents and managers — who typically make 10 per cent of a star’s earnings (with lawyers sometimes taking an additional 5 per cent) — have also become victims of A-list salary deflation. In an effort to stay ahead of the anti-actor trend, some agents have gone so far as to take on software developers as clients, although insiders admit that most of these deals have been more about the symbolism than money.

Others are refusing to panic about Avatar, arguing that definitive conclusions cannot be drawn from one film and that other special-effects-laden franchises, including The Lord of the Rings, have come and gone without rendering actors obsolete. Besides, Avatar’s biggest rival in the Oscars race is The Hurt Locker, a low-budget Iraq war thriller — directed by James Cameron’s former wife, Kathryn Bigelow — whose success has been largely attributed to the performance of its lead actor, Jeremy Renner.

In the flesh

Hollywood’s highest-paid actors and actresses in 2009

$41m Daniel Radcliffe

$40m Ben Stiller

$36m Tom Hanks

$32.5m Tyler Perry (includes income from writing and directing)

$31.5m Adam Sandler (includes income from writing)

$31m Denzel Washington

$30m Emma Watson

$30m Rupert Grint

$29m Owen Wilson

$28m Nicolas Cage

$28m Russell Crowe

$27m Cameron Diaz

$25m Johnny Depp

$25m Steve Carell

$24.5m Robert De Niro

$24m Sarah Jessica Parker

$24m Katherine Heigl

$22m Robert Downey Jr

$22m George Clooney

$22m Matt Damon</font></span>

<span style="font-size:7.5pt;"><b><font face="Tahoma"></font>http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/oscars/article7017167.ece</b></span></p>

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