The Uncanny Valley Of Superman’s Upper Lip In The Justice League Movie

Posted by November 16, 2017 Comment

I saw Justice League last night and rather enjoyed it.  It’s never going to be the masterpiece that the seventeen-year-old on my left thought it was, teling me it was “the best film I’ve seen in my life” only left me wondering how many films he’d seen. But there was a veritable thrill of seeing such comic book characters on the screen, doing comic book things, making jokes and fighting a big bad guy with dubious motives. It was a lot of fun and definitely more Wonder Woman than Batman V Superman.

But the big issue for me, and one I found it impossible to see past was Superman’s lips.

Facial hair grown by Henry Cavill for his role in Mission Impossible 6 had Paramount refusing to let him shave when he did reshoots of Justice League with Joss Whedon who took over from Zack Snyder, leaving the Justice League team to remove his facial hair digitally in post-production. He told Fox5 “There’s nothing to cover it up. What we do is try to pull it back from the top of the lip as much as possible. They wax it up and then I have dots all over my face”.

But it didn’t work. It really didn’t. I mean, having Cyborg as a fully CGI-realised character, including his hoodie, would have been problematic enough, rather than going the mix of live action and CGI of Iron Man which has worked more convincingly. That teetered on the brink of the uncanny valley. But Superman’s lips plummeted to the depths of that valley.

The “uncanny valley” measures the relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept of the uncanny valley suggests that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. The valley denotes a dip in the human observer’s affinity for the replica, a relation that otherwise increases with the replica’s human likeness.

Examples can be found in robotics, 3D computer animations, and lifelike dolls among others. With the increasing prevalence of virtual reality, augmented reality, and photorealistic computer animation, the ‘valley’ has been cited in the popular press in reaction to the verisimilitude of the creation as it approaches indistinguishability from reality. The uncanny valley hypothesis predicts that an entity appearing almost human risks eliciting cold, eerie feelings in viewers.

Or in Superman’s case, a lack of being able to take what is happening seriously. Watching him speak was closer to watching one of those ads where toddlers lip-synch to music.

And it’s just as freaky. Totally taken out of the film every time he opened his super mouth – and also signalling exactly how much rewriting and reshoots were required by Whedon – and it’s lots.

Steppenwolf, a non-human CGI character in totality is far more convincing, and Cyborg gets away with it more, even though his skin seems strangely rubbery and his hoodie like a character in an XBox game.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a really freaky lip and frankly they should have given the character a beard for the film and added it in post to the earlier shots. Probably would have looked a lot more convincing. So, go on, enjoy the film as I did. And bet that this will form a number of rules in upcoming drinking games.

Or be like the seventeen-year-old on my left and not notice it at all.

(Last Updated January 2, 2018 7:01 pm )

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