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November 16, 2015

Movie Review: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (2015)

Directed by Peter Pau and Tianyu Zhao

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

In a fantastical universe set in the 16th century – or so, demi-Gods, demons and mortals coexist. The demons of hell are anxious to return to the earthly plains to raise a ruckus. Hu City, a Chinese every town on the Silk Road has recently suffered through some “demon issues.”

Semi-God Zhang Daoxian, played by Winston Chao volunteers to save the city, and sends protégé Zhong Kui (Kun Chen) to hell to steal the Dark Crystal. The egotistical Zhong endures corporal pain to master demon-slaying techniques. Zhang grants Zhong the ability to conjure up his demonic alter-ego – resulting in a really BAD bit of computer animation that one would see in a second-tier video game -- Demon King lets loose the snow spirit Xueqing (Bingbing Li, “Transformers 4”) and dispatches her to Hu City to reclaim the crystal. Arriving with a caravan of female demons in the guise of a hoochie-coochie dance troupe, she mesmerizes Zhong, who believes she is his lost love, Little Snow. Throw in lots of so-what battles and a drag queen warrior and you have more of the same from the Chinese film indus

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal is Exhibit Number One as to what is ailing popular cinema today: Everything is rendered irrelevant with computer-generated imagery, or – as the disease is more commonly known, CGI. Movies of yore at one time had to come up with actual working sets and effects that could be reproduced before the camera. Filmmakers today can type out a few things on a keyboard and, voila! Entire worlds can be destroyed and rebuilt with a few mouse clicks. While a spectacle to behold, movie audiences are hip to the idea and can clearly spot GI at work – and NO ONE CARES! Much CGI to this reviewer is a strain on the retina. These sequences use “camera movements” that cannot be replicated by any actual camera, and as such, have scene after scene of the eye’s field of vision going from a million miles away – to the head of the pin in a matter of seconds. OUCH!

The CGI in Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal in particular is particularly lousy, anyway. In addition to the crappy character animation of Zhong, the Snow Girl’s demonized character calls to mind the wretched, pixilated finished version of ‘Lis’ in Species (1990). I hope that this trend to CGI-only films may turn around. The recent version of Peter Pan, Pan this year, bragged of having no physical sets for the actors to play against. These efforts were rewarded with no physical audiences in theaters.

The Blu-Ray of Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal includes two brief “making of” documentaries on the film’s music score and special effects, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.

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