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LotR - The Two Towers
by yo go re

I was asked, recently, what I thought of the rise of CGI actors. Since George Lucas broke the seal with the universally abhorred Jar Jar Binks, more and more computers are stepping up for acting duties. Computerized Yoda put puppeteered Yoda to shame, Harry Potter's Dobby integrated seamlessly, and this summer's Hulk is, for the first time, not a big guy in green body paint. But so far the best of them all has been the pathetic little Gollum.

Tortured and wrought wretched by the lure of the One Ring, Gollum is a withered, piteous creature. Driven mad and twisted by his loss of the One Ring decades ago, he is compelled to haunt Middle-earth, searching everywhere for the only thing in the world he ever cared for, his "precious."

Peter Jackson faced a daunting task (and the daunting glare of generations of critical fanboys) when he decided to adapt Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. When it was announced that Gollum would be completely CGI, visions of Jar Jar danced in fans' heads. The final product showed that Jackson had indeed made the right choice.

Gollum, in the film, is a tiny, wretched, gaunt little freak. Imagine Andy Dick without the afro. There was really no way that an actor in a costume would be able to sufficiently portray the type of age and abuse this tiny figure had undergone. His limbs were distended while his hands and feet were hugely oversized.

The sculpt on Gollum is wonderfully creepy. I don't know if ToyBiz based the sculpt on the computer data (as they did for the Cave Troll) or if it was done by hand, but every wrinkle, every scar is represented. His big round head has the few strands of hair that clung tenaciously to his scalp, his wicked rotten teeth interlock jaggedly, and his humongous eyes stare forward with malice. He's wearing his tattered loincloth, and you can peek at his little Hobbit if you want.

In recreating Gollum's tiny frame, standard peg joints would have been too weak or too bulky to adequately support him. Instead, ToyBiz made him bendy to better allow fans to get him into those squatty poses seen in the film. So while Gollum has no articulation, he's got almost limitless poseability. Gollum's huge feet (more than an inch long each) give him a big stable base so he won't fall over.

Gollum comes with a stone outcropping base. There's a spindly tree sprouting from the rock, and pressing a button lets you hear Gollum's hissing cry for "My precious!" It's a pretty loud voice, which seems to be a typical choice for all ToyBiz's LotR figures. Still, it's quite clear and exactly what was heard in the film. So creepy!

So, what do I think of all these CGI characters? Andy Serkis may not have appeared onscreen, but it was his movements and his voice that gave Gollum life, not simply an animator moving a mouse. New Line Cinema was right to try to get Serkis a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, even if based solely on the dialogue between Smeagol and Gollum. Not only did Serkis deserve a nomination, but his performance was easily better than Chris Cooper's. Of course, last year Fellowship was better than A Beautiful Mind, but it didn't win either.

-- 05/13/03

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