Media FX Review of Scooby Doo
by Noell Wolfgram Evans, feature writer for Digital Media FX Magazine
tagline for the movie Scooby Doo is truer than perhaps
it imagines. 'Be afraid. Be kind of afraid' the ads for the film
call out and as you enter the theatre. You should be. Based on
the classic cartoon, the live action/CGI Scooby Doo adventure
strives to reach cartoon peaks while sitting in reality. Instead,
though, Scooby Doo, as directed by Raja Gosnell, is an
example of not leaving well enough alone. The film is competently
built but as you watch it you have to wonder 'Why'. Why do these
characters need the big screen treatment and why do they need
to do it in the live action world? You question these things because
the film does nothing to forward the characters or even make you
remember why you liked them in the first place. The film, as constructed,
offers a very forgettable two hours in the dark. A Scooby Doo
movie could have been so many things, a dark take on the franchise
(ala Batman), a comic caper, a statement about the seventies vs.
today but instead what we get is a bland, watered down, cobbled
together attempt to cash in on the nostalgia of adults and the
base attraction of children.
of the plot should be familiar to anyone who's ever seen any episode
of any of the Scooby series'. The action takes place in the present
day with the gang of Mystery, Inc. solving the mystery of the
Luna Ghost. As they do, it becomes apparent that time has not
played well on their relationships. The group is tired and frayed
and as the mystery unravels so do they, breaking apart and heading
off on their separate ways. Two years later the group is still
on unspeaking terms when each is separately contacted by Spooky
Island theme park owner Emile Mondavarius (Rowan Atkinson). They
have been invited to solve the mystery of why the people at the
island are turning into 'zombies'. Determined to prove that they
in fact were the key member of the team, Daphne, Velma, Fred and
Scooby and Shaggy all head out on their own to uncover the mystery.
Of course circumstances bring the team together again to fight
the villains and save the world. Sandwiched inside of all of this
is a girlfriend for Shaggy, monsters that steal human protoplasm
(try to explain that to a seven year old), the rock band Sugar
Ray and a surprise (and I mean surprise) villain.
like an extended episode of the television series but what it
feels like is more of a patchwork of scenes, almost as if they
felt they had to put in this phrase or that relationship without
really considering where to place it or how it would affect the
overall feeling of the film. The hope I had going in was that
in this 'fuller' version of the Scooby Doo story, we would receive
an extension into the Scooby Doo universe. (In a way that 'The
Brady Bunch Movie' (1995) added a layer to those classic characters.)
Unfortunately what we find in Scooby Doo is just an uninspired
re-hashing of the characters signature traits (Velma's smart,
Daphne's pretty, Fred's bossy etc.). A more foreword thinking
director might have taken these traits and pushed them into new
and interesting directions or played them to their extremes but
Gosnall, working from a story and script by Craig Titley and James
Gunn, keeps things so middle of the road that you almost lose
sight of each characters individuality. It's not that these characters
need reinvented in any way; they just need to be defined by more
than the clothes that they wear.
As Fred, Freddie
Prinze Jr. bares the brunt of this 'blandness'. His Fred is an
egotistical and vain publicity seeker who really offers nothing
to the proceedings. Perhaps it would have been good to treat him
here as they often did in the series, send him off-screen to search
for clues. Prinze Jr. shades Fred towards the milquetoasty, frat-boy
wimp, missing the opportunity to bring out the bully in him that
you always felt was there.
plays Velma down the line. Smart, sensitive and quick thinking.
While she hits her notes well, there's just not much for her character
to do. Velma always seemed to be the character in the series with
the most potential and alas after this film she remains just that,
potential. (Note: Did not one person think to explore her sensitive
It is Daphne,
as played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who undergoes the biggest
transformation and unfortunately it doesn't really work. She starts
the film as a near-flightly constant damsel in distress and ends
it as a trained fighting machine. This transformation could have
carried the film and given it the weight it so desperately needed
but as presented it is one of the more wishy-washy growths of
a film character in recent years. As written she's tough one scene,
and helpless the next with no explanation or transition in between.
It's as if the filmmakers couldn't decide how she should be so
they split the difference and went in both directions. Gellar
tries gamely, but too often she herself seems confused by her
actions and is so busy trying to dance both sides that she has
no real time to cultivate any unique character trait.
of the actors work hard to meet the (limited) needs of their characters,
there is one who exceeded their mark. As Shaggy, Matthew Lillard
turns in the performance of his career. (What that says about
an actor who is in his early thirties can be left for you to decide.)
Lillard has Shaggy's mannerisms and whinny voice down pat; he's
exactly how you would imagine Shaggy if he wandered loose from
your television set looking for a snack. In fact, he's more cartooney
than Scooby Doo and therein lies the problem.
CGI Scooby Doo, created by visual effects house Rhythm and Hues
along with Visual Effects Supervisor Peter Crosman and a team
of artists, is an effective creation. He moves and acts alongside
his live action costars effectively. Scooby has a depth and a
layer to him that, while not setting any new CGI landmarks, certainly
lives up to the standards in this arena that a moviegoer expects.
And when it comes to Scooby Doo, we have high expectations. We've
seen Scooby running and hiding for over thirty years; he's become
one of those entertainment icons that you can clearly see if you
close your eyes. Given this, the effects artists were faced with
a daunting task. They could have made Scooby an exact 'replica'
of his cartoon self. This would have helped him to be a little
less jarring when seen, for me it took a while to get used to
the idea that the dog on-screen was Scooby Doo. The look was dissimilar
enough that it took me out of the moment every time I saw him
for the first half-hour or so.
direction that could have been taken was to make the dog as realistic
looking as possible. This would have taken him further from his
cartoon image, but it also would have grounded him with the actors
better. In his current state, they all seem to be on two planes
- live action and CGI instead of equally balanced. This dual world
approach works with a character like Jar Jar Binks whom we have
never seen before but with a case like Scooby it presents a different
that lives on the movie screen is a sort of the middle ground
between the two worlds and the result is a Frankenstein's version
of Scooby Doo, half real dog, and half cartoon animal. This lends
its self to a certain inexpressiveness on Scooby's part, most
likely because the animators can't seem to decide what Scooby
is, cartoon dog or real dog. This 'indecision' if you will drove
the project from the beginning as Crosman and the visual effects
team sought to 'hybridize the characteristics of a real Great
Dane with the cartoon dog.' The result is a very 'clean' Scooby
who looks (as someone behind me stated) a little to 'computerish'.
The CGI work
was not reserved for Scooby alone. Gone are the cartooney ghosts
and monsters of the television show, replaced by some large, scary
CGI creatures whose purpose is to chase people down and suck out
their 'life essence'. While these creatures may not compare with
the beasts of 'Alien', they did offer some genuine scares (although
granted they were to a crowd that was desperate to offer any sort
of reaction.) The monsters took center stage in a number of pivotal
scenes, generally in locations that required a lot of action and
actors. To this Gosnell must be given credit as unlike George
Lucas, Gosnell shot his film off of real sets. This meant that
the effects team spent a lot of time on the set, ensuring that
the actions of the actors and extras were properly calculated
so that the creatures could be added in when they were completed.
This also meant that the actors had to spent countless hours acting
opposite nothing. All of this work added up to some good integration
of live action and digital effects. Unfortunately the effects
did not always hold up their end of the performance agreement.
Particularly, the monsters suffered from the same 'cleanliness'
issues as Scooby. Their edges were crisp and clear and their movements
were clean and precise. Perhaps if they moved and looked a little
less perfect they would have brought a little more scare with
them. Still their intensity and quickness offered a certain 'jump-factor'
to the proceedings.
hole in the film was the music. Gone is the seventies spook-hunting
music, replaced by rock songs and dance beats. By not transferring
at the very least the themes and feelings found in the music of
the television show the filmmakers again missed an opportunity
to grow and expand the universe of these characters.
Doo was created by the studio of William Hanna and Joseph
Barbera in 1969 (in a nice touch the two were given Executive
Producer credits on the film) and it has lasted in popularity
for a reason. Unfortunately, rather than expand and build on this,
those behind the Scooby Doo film have chosen to play it
blandly safe. As they warn you themselves: 'Be Afraid'.
On a scale
of 1 - 10, this picture gets a 2.
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