This weekend brings the true story of The Walk to theaters everywhere after an exclusive IMAX 3D engagement began last week. Director Robert Zemeckis has finally figured out a way to use 3D to his advantage, and without hollow, haunting motion capture characters , by crafting one of the most breathtaking, suspenseful sequences that film has seen in a long time.
So as the tale of wire walker Philipe Petit’s daring stunt between the Twin Towers gets a wide release this weekend, it’s the perfect time to look back at the films of Robert Zemeckis. Beginning with his first feature film in 1978 and running through this year’s The Walk, we have all of the Robert Zemeckis films ranked. Which one made #1?
#17. A Christmas Carol
As someone who always hopes Jim Carrey can use his wide range of acting skills to make another great movie, it’s tough to watch one like this. Carrey clearly has a lot of fun playing multiple characters in this motion capture, computer animated retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, but unfortunately the audience doesn’t get to join him. Thankfully this turned out to be Zemeckis’ final foray into motion capture movie making, but the quality of lifelike characters is barely improved from his first effort in 2004 (we’ll get to that later). That only makes it even more of a stale adaptation of a story that we’ve seen told much better countless times before.
Arriving just three years after The Polar Express, it was surprising to see such an adult story told with motion capture technology. Maybe it’s because audiences had never really seen a mature tale told with technology usually reserved for family films, or maybe it’s because Zemeckis never figured out how to bring characters to life with motion capture technology that don’t look like mannequin imitations of actors who just happen to have the ability to walk and talk, but the powerful epic poem is made weak by this film adaptation. But I suppose we should give Zemeckis credit for making someone as stunning as Angelina Jolie look so creepy when walking naked out of a pool of water.
#15. The Polar Express
For me, The Polar Express is the best film Robert Zemeckis made with motion capture technology, but it’s still not very good. However, as a holiday movie, it does have a certain amount of appeal and charm. There are some parts of it that have the flare of an Amblin adventure, and there’s some genuine heart here as well. However, it’s all overshadowed by the glass-eyed motion capture characters that suck the life out of every moment that could have made this movie a real classic. Plus, Tom Hanks unnecessarily playing a variety of characters, including the creepiest Santa Claus you’ve ever seen is a frustrating distraction and waste of his talent.
#14. What Lies Beneath
Robert Zemeckis tried his best to craft his own Hitchcockian thriller, but despite a pair of solid performances from Harrison Ford (getting surprisingly villainous) and Michelle Pfeiffer, it doesn’t quite connect. The biggest problem seems to be a script that just doesn’t measure up to the talent on screen and behind the camera. And while it’s refreshing that Zemeckis decided to make such a low key thriller, it also feels like a film that was made hastily between the making of another film, which is exactly when it was shot. While Tom Hanks lost weight and grew an impressively scraggly beard for Cast Away, Zemeckis made What Lies Beneath. It’s a shame he hasn’t tried to do something like this when he has the time to give it his full attention.
Fun Fact: Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson of The Avengers, wrote the script.
Denzel Washington and John Goodman are the only reasons to take the time to watch this character piece, but otherwise, Flight feels like it’s building to something and never quite gets there. Washington brings plenty of gravitas to the role of substance abusing pilot Whip Whitaker, but Zemeckis really piles on the drama when he probably should have been a little more subdued in this instance (though that’s never been his style). Flight isn’t terrible, but it suffers from walking ground that has already been explored by several other competent directors in more interesting ways.
#12. Death Becomes Her
Robert Zemeckis has always been obsessed with state of the art special effects and filmmaking technology, so it’s no surprise that after the crowning achievement that was Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, he follows it up with the strange, effects-driven comedy Death Becomes Her. This is a fun film that doesn’t entirely know what it wants to be, but in a way, that almost adds to the Frankenstein-esque nature of the story, taking parts from almost every film genre. It certainly feels dated, though it does have some very impressive special effects for the time, not to mention truly unique performances from Meryl Streep and Bruce Willis. If anything, it’s one of those movies you should watch just to see it for yourself.