Uncanny valley

Wednesday 10 November 2004

Along with The Incredibles, The Polar Express is opening this week. The general consensus seems to be that The Polar Express is creepy. This is explained by The Uncanny Valley, a theory about human response to near-humans beings (robots, cartoons, stuffed animals, whatever). The theory says that the more similar a being is to a human, the more positively people feel about it, until they get really close to human, and then it just gets creepy (uncanny in the original wording). In the case of The Polar Express, the eyes just seem really cold (Max says it’s because they can’t motion-capture the eyes).


We saw a trailer with Tom Hank's animated corpse ferrying dead babies in to the Christmas Train of the Damned. Is that the one? It is the perfect illustration of the Uncanny Valley, at least so far as we were concerned. It's supposed to be cute but comes across as an incredibly subtle horror movie.
We're trying to figure out how they took a relatively brief book and blew it up into a movie. Lots of padding, and I'm sure it'll ruin things.

A good friend (my former college roommate and the best man at my wedding) worked on motion capture for the movie. So I'm obligated to go and cheer his name when it scrolls by!
Interesting commentary on this "uncanny valley" concept. "The Mummy" from 1999 did it for me-- starring one of the worst actors ever, Brendan Fraser, in one of the scariest movies ever, it almost made Arabs seem human and very real/life-like. Hidden behind Disney style storytelling, and background music that directs and prompts the audience so well, it's all very conditioning, until the movie ends and during the ejection from your VCR, news reports from the Middle East appear on your screen.

I rented it completely fooled by the cover- I was expecting something much more "Indiana Jones" and was quite disappointed. And to think I actually avoided renting Tomb Raider for the very reason I hated The Mummy- thinking it would be an overly-comerical exploitation of a licensed character and therefore likely of being lower quality. But Tomb Raider turned out to be exactly what I was looking for when I rented The Mummy instead.

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