The documentary traces the development of creature special effects in film by interviewing various experts like Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, Mick Garris, Alec Gillis, Steve Johnson, John Landis, Greg Nicotero, Kevin Smith, Phil Tippett, Chris Walas, Matt Winston and Tom Woodruff Jr.
Le complexe de Frankenstein is an interesting documentary that gives a lot of background information on a part of filmmaking that is usually only noticed when it’s badly done, giving spotlight to the many enthusiastic people working on those effects.
Penso and Poncet found a lot of big name guys to talk to for this interview and it usually becomes quickly clear why they’re the big names and how knowledgeable they are in their fields. And since most of these guys are people working off screen exclusively, I appreciated it that Penso and Poncet took care to really show their names every time they’re on screen (often talking heads documentaries go about things with a name tag austerity that I just don’t understand. Especially when these are people you often don’t know at all or don’t know the faces of, it doesn’t hurt to give their names several times).
And since most of the guys talked well about their subjects, it was very nice to watch and hear them, but at the same time, I did wish for two things: one, more footage from the movies with the creatures in action – simply because I like watching them. And two, I kept wishing that one single woman would get to say something about creature design as well. But there were none. Zero. And while I’m sure that creature design and special effects is a very male-dominated club, I am also sure that there are some women working in the field. And I wanted to hear from them as well and not just get this sausage party.
As enjoyable as the men were being, when the film moved away from practical effects and animatronics towards more computer-generated stuff, it lost its steam a little bit and grew a little long and simply less enthusiastic. Maybe that’s a symptom for the entire industry, maybe it’s the personal interest of the filmmakers, maybe it’s simply nostalgia. But the central moment for me in the film was the absolute love for creatures and for experimentation all these designers showed. And that almost childish joy in seeing what else they could do was a little lost once the film turned to digital effects, ultimately also diminishing my joy while watching everybody talk about it.
Summarizing: not only for people with a passion for special effects but for everyone who loves seeing passionate people at work.