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FAQs: Special effects (and The Hobbit)

Another entry in the ongoing series of Film Critic FAQs:

4. How do you judge special effects?

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Aren't we all tired of special effects? Ideally, if they work, we should never feel the need to talk about them unless we want to become effects professionals ourselves. I react to them when they're imaginative or beautiful; I like effects as different as the parting of the Red Sea in DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" and the Mother Ship's light show in Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." When I reviewed Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, I wanted to talk about the wondrous things he did, not how he did them. I rarely expounded on the wizardry of the make-up, computer and camera sorcerers who helped get this massive vision to the screen or gave life to otherworldly creatures like the Orc pictured here.

Now that Guillermo del Toro has left the Jackson-produced, two-movie version of "The Hobbit" because of scheduling problems, I hope Jackson will consider handing it over to another director who's been masterly at integrating effects and story: Sam Raimi. His "Spider-Man 2" is one of the high points of comic-book movies, partly because of its poetic use of effects. The tentacles of that sad villain Doc Ock parody humanity with their individualized insectlike chatter and their alternately suave and lunging moves. And Doc Ock's pathos-streaked terror is matched by Spider-Man's tremendously moving valor when he exhausts his energy struggling to save the riders on a runaway train car. All Raimi's  strengths come into focus in that set piece. With the deep, churning textures available in the new special-effects universe, he gives Spider-Man's efforts the aura of thrilling exertion that energized Max Fleischer's old Superman cartoons. The hyper-realism pays off when the passengers handle the insensate superhero's body as if he were a fallen Viking prince.

What effects have resonated with you as drama or comedy, not just eye candy? And who do you hope will take over for del Toro on the two Hobbit movies?

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