Directed by Dean Semler
Visual Effects Supervisor: John Desjardin

Visual Effects Produced by:


Review by Todd Vaziri

Academy Award-winning cinematographer Dean Semler directs his first picture, FIRESTORM, a minor action movie with little excitement and ingenuity. Handling all of the film's visual effects was VIFX under the supervision of John Desjardin. The film contains several fine composites, and the realistic, clever composites far outweigh the poor ones.

Just about all the film's effects surround blazing forest fires, and placing those fires in environments where no fires actually exist. Especially difficult for the effects teams was matching their miniature/CG forest fires with actual forest fire footage, as well as small, controlled fires set by the production. The consistency of flames, smoke and ash elements make the effects blend with these real-life fire scenes in a seamless fashion.

Other memorable large scale fire and smoke effects movies include BACKDRAFT, DANTE'S PEAK and VOLCANO; the latter featured numerous composites by VIFX. There are some similar shots in FIRESTORM to VOLCANO, namely the four or five large, wide helicopter shots of the fires with camera movement led by some kind of aircraft. The film opens with one of these grand shots, an aerial shot taken from a helicopter, with a huge forest fire revealed behind a mountain. The shot is quite pretty, with the smoke and fire elements realistically tracked and composited--what ruins the shot is the large aircraft that flies directly over the camera and heads toward the blaze. The plane is obviously CG, not because of its textures or shape, but because of its stoic, linear motion. The camera also doesn't seem to move a muscle as the plane flies dangerously close to the 'camera plane', revealing the illusion of the shot.

As Howie Long tries to make the film's opening rescue, plenty of VIFX composites extend the fired-up set--adding numerous layers of fire and heat distorion, all of which are very convincing. When Long and his team put a heat resistant blanket over them, the flames that surge around them seem a little cheesy and pasted in.

In a very dramatic crane shot, the film's big fire is revealed. Craning up from behind the prison bus, shuttling prisoners to the fire, the camera rises through a valley to show the huge fire. Although the blaze is far in the distance, the elements are perfectly tracked and totally look locked into the shot. As Howie Long's helicopter approaches the blaze, another helicopter shot captures it. The chopper whizzes left to right past the camera, another well-tracked forest fire is seen. It is these terrific helicopter effects shots that are the most memorable in FIRESTORM.

As Suzy Amis is wandering through the woods, she realizes she's caught in the blaze, and in a nice shot, she looks up to see the hilltop lined with massive flames. The tilt up shot is nice, although the arrangement of flames and trees just seems too perfect to be true. As Long parachutes out of his chopper, a couple of ridiculous composites depict his fall. He soars through the air in perfect closeup in perfect focus, with a perfect anamorphic lens flare in the frame, with the helicopter behind him. This glamour, 'camera of God' shot was poorly designed to begin with.

As Long and Amis motorcycle off a ridge, he launches his parachute as Amis hangs on. In plenty of greenscreen composites, Long and Amis are seen plunging to the river below, just about all of them adequate. The best of the shots is actually the last shot in the sequence, with Amis falling into the river in a really cool overhead shot. The compositing of that shot is remarkable, with color and contrast levels allowing the shot to look very realistic.

There are a couple of unnecessary shots that are extremely contrasty--the evil William Forsythe and his crony have an argument on the edge of a ridge, with the smoking embers of the forest fire in the distant background. Later in the film, Amis and Long venture deeper into the forest, a terrific whip pan from the actors to the blazing fire brings the blaze closer than it has ever been to the camera.

The climactic end of the film takes place on a dock, threatened by the oncoming firestorm, a fast barrage of fire that obliterates anything in its path. In a couple of dramatic yet dubious shots, the firestorm demolishes hundreds of trees at an enormous rate of speed, although it never seems to reach the actors. Although these scenes are realistically questionable, the visuals are stimulating and interesting to watch. Amidst a flurry of really nice shots is the ridiculously designed 'death' shot for Forsythe--his head, blasted through the underside of the boat, is surrounded by the firestorm as the camera rises dozens of feet into the air in this utterly silly shot.

FIRESTORM, while containing some fine work by VIFX, is not really worth a trip to the theatres.

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