Judge Gordon Sullivan's disappointed. This DVD didn't show him how to create his own nifty boils and open wounds.
Meet the masters of the craft.
Fantastic Flesh: The Art of Make-up EFX is a documentary from the Starz channel that attempts to present an overview of special makeup effects through a combination of film footage, interviews with directors and artists, and peeks behind the scenes of some of the classics of effects-driven moviemaking. The participation of directors like Quentin Tarentino, George Romero, and Eli Roth, and artists like the KNB guys, Dick Smith, and Tom Savini make this documentary unique in gathering such a diverse and multi-generational group of participants for a look at make-up effects. The film begins by examining the influences of some of the early pioneers, like Lon Chaney Sr., but then seems to follow no logic in treating other films. Some of the documentary is broken down by film, covering recent films like The Mist and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, while other parts are arranged around specific kinds of makeup, like the old-age effects in The Exorcist.
Fantastic Flesh has a laudable goal: present some of the history and craft of the masters of makeup effects. It's a story that deserves to be told well. As I was watching the documentary, however, I wondered who the audience for this particular film would be. Here's the breakdown on what different viewers are likely to find:
• Gorehounds. There's absolutely nothing new here. The interview subjects are interesting, a dream team of artists, but they don't say anything that they haven't said elsewhere. In fact, some of the things they've said elsewhere (like the effects of the Vietnam War on the effects industry) would have helped the film by their inclusion. There's some behind-the-scenes footage that may be new, but unless you're obsessive in your need to have every single second of footage from Dawn of the Dead, there's not enough new stuff here to recommend the film.
• Future makeup artist. This film would be a logical choice for budding artists considering the amount of talent that's on screen. However, this film is unlikely to satisfy for the reasons stated above (the lack of new info), and for viewers in this category the film is likely to be even more disappointing because there's very little discussion of the how of makeup effects. There's a little bit of "Oh, we molded an appliance," but very little detail on how any of the famous effects the film showcases were achieved.
• The casual fan. I'd count myself in this category. I watch a lot of horror movies, know a bit about how the most famous effects are created, but I'm not aware of every detail. I found Fantastic Flesh to be a decent watch because I like most of the participants involved. However, I found the choice of certain examples questionable. For instance, I thought The Mist had some truly horrible effects (for a Hollywood movie anyway) in it and didn't really fit with the other films profiled. Fantastic Flesh wasn't a complete waste of my time, but it definitely feels like more like a distraction on late-night cable than something I'd like to put on my DVD shelf.
• The uninitiated. Those in this category either don't watch films with a lot of special effects (like horror movies) or are otherwise ignorant of how those effects are achieved. Fantastic Flesh doesn't seem likely to appeal to this group either. There's a certain "boy's club" feel to the film that is likely to turn off those who don't know anything about makeup effects, and there's enough gross material to keep the squeamish at bay.
Anchor Bay offers a solid technical presentation of the documentary. The anamorphic transfer is clean and doesn't suffer from any compression artifacts. Most of the footage from other films seems to have been sourced from clean copies and the interview footage is well-shot. The audio is clear with excellent balance. The disc doesn't include any special features, which is a shame because I'd love to see some of the unedited interview footage.
Fantastic Flesh isn't a total waste of time, but it's probably best caught on cable or rented. Because it tries to offer a glimpse into an under-chronicled world, Fantastic Flesh is not guilty.
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