Ben Fritz

March 22, 2013 | 5:00 a.m.

Ken Levine returns with ‘BioShock Infinite,’ but will he stay?

'BioShock Infinite' creator Kevin Levine (featured image)
Some video-game makers are motivated to make the most detailed simulation of warfare. Others re-create childhood dreams of monsters in caves. Ken Levine is obsessed with ideologies run amok. The creator of the hit “BioShock” series — the first of the so-called smart shooters — and head of Boston-based studio Irrational Games makes video games about worlds in which an obsessive leader has created his own would-be utopia and the player must deal with the messy consequences. In 1999’s “System Shock 2,” it’s an artificial intelligence on an alien world whose genetic experiments go amok. In 2007’s “BioShock,” players descend into an underwater city founded by an acolyte of Ayn Rand. And in “BioShock Infinite,” due Tuesday, one of the most anticipated games of 2013, it’s a city in the sky ruled by charismatic, patriotic religious fanatics. Levine is known […]
Dec. 07, 2012 | 4:50 p.m.

‘Hobbit’: Reactions mixed to Peter Jackson’s quest to transform film

Peter Jackson, director of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which opens Dec. 14. Jackson's decision to shoot the trilogy in the super-clear 48 frames-per-second format has some unintended consequences. (Matt Sayles / Associated Press)
This post has been corrected, as detailed below. Few new filmmaking technologies have fundamentally altered the moviegoing experience. Sound and color certainly did. “Percepto,” the device that shocked viewers from beneath their seats, did not. The latest cinematic trick headed for theaters this holiday season is “high frame rate” technology, and director Peter Jackson believes it will be the next big thing at the multiplex. His new movie, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” was shot at 48 frames per second. That’s double the 24-frame industry standard, which has ruled for more than 80 years. VIDEO: Exclusive clip from ‘The Hobbit’ The picture opens Dec. 14, but Warner Bros. has already screened it dozens of times within the entertainment industry — and the reaction is decidedly mixed. Some who have seen the film at 48 frames per second marvel at its […]
Oct. 27, 2012 | 6:00 a.m.

‘Wreck-It Ralph': Disney animators zip around in video game realms

"Wreck-It Ralph" director Rich Moore at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, Calif., on Oct. 18, 2012. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
It was when he cast Bowser, the fire-breathing turtle from Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. games, that Rich Moore first grasped the magnitude of the job he was undertaking. “That was the huge one,” he said at Walt Disney Studios’ Burbank headquarters earlier this month. “That’s the moment where it felt like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m working with Olivier.’” With “Wreck-It Ralph,” an animated feature that opens Friday, Moore is attempting a feat that has stumped other directors for more than 20 years — making a video game movie that appeals both to the notoriously persnickety crowd of hard-core gamers and to mainstream family audiences. “Wreck-It Ralph” follows Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the burly villain of an old-school, 8-bit arcade game called “Fix-It Felix,” as he attempts to break out of his bad-guy role by traveling to other games […]
Sept. 20, 2012 | 3:52 p.m.

‘Avengers’ Blu-ray: Louis D’Esposito’s ‘Item 47′ fulfills a dream

Louis D'Esposito (featured image)
Louis D’Esposito escorts guests through the offices of Marvel Studios like a proud father. Meet the directors of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”! Check out this test footage for “Ant-Man”! Now Marvel’s co-president can say, “Look at my movie!” After about 25 years as an assistant director and producer on mainstream movies including “Ishtar,” “Basic Instinct” and “S.W.A.T.,” and six years overseeing Marvel superhero adaptations such as “Thor” and “The Avengers,” D’Esposito has fulfilled an ambition to make his own film. His 10-minute short “Item 47” ships next week with the “Avengers” Blu-ray disc. It tells the story of a young couple who live in the same world as Thor and Iron Man — the perfect material for a man who brings home comic books to research superheroes but seems to be friends with every person he passes. “Lou is […]
July 11, 2012 | 12:01 a.m.

‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’ will be the first ‘Halo’ movie

Daniel Cudmore as Master Chief in "Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn." Microsoft is producing the first live-action content based on the popular "Halo" video games. Set to be unveiled at Comic-Con, "Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn" is a five-episode Web series that will be turned into a 90-minute movie, a prequel to the upcoming "Halo 4" video game. (Microsoft / 343 Industries)
Microsoft’s blockbuster “Halo” franchise has sold more than 42 million video games and been featured in novels, comic books, trading cards and an animated series. But Master Chief, the “space marine” protagonist who wields two guns and takes no prisoners, got his butt kicked on his first foray into the live-action world, when 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures’ 2006 attempt to develop a big-budget “Halo” movie fizzled over budget concerns. Now “Halo” has gone in front of the cameras, but without any movie studio assistance. Microsoft has produced a Web series, called “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn,” which will premiere this October in five episodes leading up to the release of the “Halo 4” video game. The segments will then be collected, along with 15 minutes of additional footage, into a 90-minute feature film. Microsoft will announce “Forward Unto […]
June 05, 2012 | 9:40 a.m.

E3: J.K. Rowling conjures up ‘Book of Spells’

"The Book of Spells," published by Sony and Pottermore, is part magical reference manual, part game.
Muggles can now get a taste of Hogwarts. In partnership with J.K. Rowling, Sony on Monday announced an interactive title called “Book of Spells.” Part-game, part-book, the title lets readers learn about spells used in the “Harry Potter” film and book series — and then practice “casting” them via Sony’s PlayStation 3 Move motion controller. The book – or is it a game? — will feature some original writing by Rowling, though it remained unclear to what degree. “Book of Spells” was conjured up by Rowling’s new Pottermore division, which sells electronic versions of the author’s Harry Potter titles. The title, priced at $39.99 for both the physical book and a game disc, will use a new book-shaped peripheral called Wonderbook, which does some conjuring of its own by creating augmented reality to enhance stories and educational titles through the PS3. […]
Jan. 20, 2012 | 5:32 a.m.

Star Wars: The Old Republic — the story behind a galactic gamble

Star Wars (featured image)
It may be the largest entertainment production in history. More than 800 people on four continents have spent six years and nearly $200 million creating it. The story runs 1,600 hours, with hundreds of additional hours still being written. Nearly 1,000 actors have recorded dialogue for 4,000 characters in three languages. The narrative is so huge that writers created a 1,000-page “bible” to keep the details straight, and the director recently asked a colleague not to spoil moments he hadn’t yet seen. It’s not a movie or a TV series. It’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, the most expensive, ambitious and riskiest video game ever produced. Created out of a 60,000-square-foot converted warehouse next to a cooking school on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, the Old Republic is proof that while box-office, network TV ratings and music sales are slumping, […]
Jan. 06, 2012 | 6:24 a.m.

Action Movie FX: Bad Robot app delivers big bangs for your buck

bad robot
The week before Christmas was a big one for J.J. Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot, with the wide release of “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” which quickly gave Bad Robot the bragging rights to the biggest hit of the holiday season. But the week was also notable for another landmark: Bad Robot is now in the iPhone app business. The app is called Action Movie FX and it gives users the ability to insert special effects into any video they take with Apple’s smartphone. The two effects included with the app are a missile attack and car smash, allowing anyone to get all Michael Bay on unsuspecting family members, sleeping pets or the guy who cut them off on the 405 Freeway. In an e-mail interview, Abrams called Action Movie FX the first of a “slew” of “cool projects” that his […]
Sept. 30, 2011 | 1:03 p.m.

‘Glee’ director prepares for ‘Mortal Kombat’ film

mortal kombat
Kevin Tancharoen didn’t originally intend for the world to see his “Mortal Kombat” work. The 27-year-old director of “Fame” and “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” made an eight-minute video last year called “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth” that featured a new, grittier setting and origins for characters from the 19-year-old video game fighting series. His intention was to show the short to executives at Warner Bros. and its label New Line Cinema and demonstrate  that despite his background in choreography and directing the unsuccessful 2009 remake of “Fame,” he was the right choice to bring Mortal Kombat back to the big screen after a 14-year absence. However, a YouTube snafu resulted in “Rebirth” being posted publicly on the site, where it garnered millions of views thanks in part to supportive tweets from celebrities such as “The Guild” creator Felicia Day, who, like […]
Sept. 01, 2011 | 12:36 p.m.

Dan Trachtenberg’s ‘Portal’ catches gamer love, Hollywood buzz

A scene from "Portal: No Escape." (Dan Trachtenberg)
Video game fans love to debate whether their favorite game could be turned into a movie, but Dan Trachtenberg went out and did it. The 30-year-old commercial director and aspiring feature filmmaker made “Portal: No Escape,” a seven-minute movie inspired by the critically acclaimed video game series from Valve Software that features a woman trapped in test chambers that she must escape using a gun that can create entries and exits on any surface. (While Valve was not approached before the shoot, the company has posted the video on its Facebook page). Trachtenberg shot the movie a year and a half ago for just a few thousand dollars (plus an invaluable amount of free labor) and finished the effects a few weeks ago. The final version hit the Internet last Tuesday and has already racked up more than 5.7 million views on YouTube alone […]
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