FIRST LOOK REVIEW: FANTASTIC FLESH - The Art of Make-Up EFX (by Adam Barnick)

Just in time for the frightful Fall season, Starz Inside reminds brings us a welcome peek at the men behind the masks in Fantastic Flesh, the Art of Makeup FX.

An overview and appreciation of the craft that has given birth to our most memorable monsters and imaginary men, Flesh is a great reminder that CGI isn’t the one-stop-shop for visual effects creation even in the current times of digital excess. Hardworking people sculpting, casting, painting and airbrushing are still mostly responsible for our cinema wonders and nightmares. If you're seeing some absolutely stunning creature, you're probably blown away by the “tangibility of the CGI” because it's actually makeup! Flesh gives the movie-fan newcomer a welcome primer on the background and current activities and players in this industry.
The only drawback to a program like this (which will regardless entertain hardened geeks and movie magic newcomers) might be its running time- if this was the initial episode of a ten-part series, it'd have the room to breathe as some might like. It's nearly impossible to encapsulate such an expansive subject into under an hour- but that’s not really the prime focus of the documentary. Regardless, it’s a highly enjoyable window into the subject.
Introduced by series host Richard Roeper and then carried through by knowledgeable makeup masters and filmmakers, nearly all the greats in horror/sci fi/fantasy get a chance to speak: John Carpenter, Mick Garris, Wes Craven, Eli Roth, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger; George Romero, Joe Dante, Dick Smith, Frank Darabont... Nearly all the 'masters of horror' make cameos as well as geek favorites such as Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Simon Pegg… the list keeps going!
Opening with a quick look at several current blockbusters that the mainstay FX company KNB has recently worked on, which is a nice reminder that even if digital is getting most of the glory these days, it’s real makeup doing much of the work to this day.

Diving back into the past, several iconic makeup creations are touched on, like Rick Baker's American Werewolf in London transformation; Rob Bottin’s hellish creations for The Thing, and the revolutionary gore FX of Tom Savini (primarily in the service of George Romero).
Obviously there’s not enough time to really cycle through each makeup master’s pioneering contributions to the field though some of the masters of the past are given their due; Jack Pierce, responsible for landmark makeups such as the original Frankenstein monster; Lon Chaney, the original Man of 1000 Faces who suffered greatly to apply and act as his twisted characters; and John Chambers who won an honorary Oscar for Planet of the Apes before makeup was given its own Academy category.
There’s a welcome vignette on the father of modern makeup techniques, Dick Smith, who I haven’t seen much of lately; it’s a wonderful look at how many makeups we know and love were created by him. Clips and photos showing his startlingly realistic old-age FX for films like The Exorcist and Amadeus have yet to be bettered even with decades of trying. It’s also another good point made that many makeups you’ve seen in movies are ‘invisible’ or not simply in the realms of horror and science fiction.
Fantastic Flesh is an enjoyable look at the industry as well as a great nostalgia piece. Though The fact that there’s too much to cover in one hour is unfortunate; but towards the end of this special it all came together for this viewer as to the documentary’s intention; KNB Co-Founder (and the special’s co-producer I believe) Greg Nicotero summarizes how he was the kid at horror conventions being amazed at glimpses into this art form, who went on to do the same thing...
And that's how/why I feel this special was created; as a window in for an imaginative kid out there who loves movie magic and needs to know a bit more about...'how do they do that?' It reminded me then of the 80's "making of" specials during horror makeup FX's heyday, when those looks back at the medium got me excited enough to get into filmmaking. I’m certain this special will light a fire under some imaginative young men and women who just might want to contribute their own creations as soon as they can get their hands on the tools they need. – Adam Barnick

FANTASTIC FLESH: The Art of Make-Up EFX premieres on Starz October 7th, 2008!

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