SyFy's Face Off Third Season Features "Star Wars" Cantina Theme
· McKenzie Westmore
· Glenn Hetrick
· Ve Neill
· Neville Page
· Patrick Tatoupous
Television Review: Face Off,Season 3 Premiere
by Dennis Russo
Published: August 19, 2012
Face Off is SyFy's unscripted reality series showcasing the talents of up and coming special effects make-up artists vying against each other for $100,000 dollars and other prizes. This is the third season premiere of what has become one of SyFy's most successful programs. In fact, the second season finale was the most watched unscripted telecast in SyFy's almost 20 year history.
Typical of these competition reality series, the contestants are put up in a fancy house for the duration of the show, and during the day will meet celebrities, interact with each other, and compete in contests that test their creative and learned skills. In the season three opener they compete in two challenges: a "Foundation" challenge, and a "Spotlight" challenge. The Foundation challenge has them think and create on the fly with very little time to plan and finish. The Spotlight challenge offers them more time to plan what they are going to do (usually with a pre-planned theme) and complete it over a three-day span
Typically, the winner of the Foundation challenge wins immunity for the Spotlight challenge, and cannot be sent home even if they would have come in last. I kind of wish shows would come up with something new -- this whole immunity thing is wearing thin. In such a creative show as this, you'd think, they would think outside the box. They even have the staple for all reality show, customary "cliffhanger" commercial break with judges comments taken out of context so you don't know who or what they are talking about, or if it is even bad or ho-hum. That was novel once... once.
However, what this show is doing this year that is new and different from the other unscripted reality challenge shows is that for the first time we can twitter the show to tell them what we think of the finished jobs. Right from the start, when some of the contestants were introduced and they showed some photos of their works, I knew this was going to be some season.
These women and men (some as old as 46) are no amateur make-up artists. I thought to myself, "If they create works anywhere near the caliber of what I saw in those photos, this is going to be some close competition." And I was not wrong!
Of course in a situation such as this, with time limits and no preparation, even the most seasoned veteran will be stretched to come through with the best of what they are capable of. I know these types of shows are "unscripted" but I still can't help but think that the contestants the producers choose are chosen in some part based upon how they feel their personalities will interact with the other "chosen ones." Let's face it, yes talent makes for a good show and drama makes for a good show; so talent plus drama must equal success in a challenge series.
This seemed apparent as right out of the gate, in a pairing of artists for the Spotlight challenge, some personalities gelled right off the bat while others worked together like oil and vinegar. Very similar to as it did in seasons 1 and 2.
I think one of the reason this show appeals to me and, I believe, many others is because at the heart of every diehard scifi fan is a man or woman that at some point dreamed they could be a scifi make-up artist. Let's face it, along with the story and special effects, one of the core draws to scifi movies is the make-up and creature development. Still I made myself call this "down the middle" to be as objective as possible.
I'm not sure if it is the director, editor or both, but one of the many things I enjoyed about the opener (and in fact the series in general) is that they do a fine -- make that better than fine -- job of mixing the contestants working on their challenges, interacting with each other on the challenges and being at the house. They did a great job of editing here (guess it's the editor!) so that we saw each person at key moments in their creations' development that showcased their creativity, skills and challenges at pivotal points. They had to walk a tight line here, I feel, because too much "creation time" and it could get very boring, like, well... like watching paint dry.
This hold true in the people parts of the show as well. Too much "people" and not enough "creation" and the show would lose its purpose and character. I like that the "home time" was very minimal (at least in the opener). Sorry, but I have no interest in how they live and get along together at home. I want to see them work, so I was very pleased with that.
Returning show host McKenzie Westmore showed the contestants what they are supposed to do, and introduced the series judges as the show played out. She also guided the show along as it segued from one aspect to another. McKenzie is perhaps the best host of this genre of television programs. She can definitely "talk the talk" and "walk the walk," but what distances her from the pack is the honesty and polish that she brings to the role that so dearly lacks elsewhere (and I have seen many different "challenge" programs). Although she knows as much about make-up effects as everyone else in the show, she never flaunts it in the face of others, which is very refreshing.
The judges too have dynamic personalities, and have credits to their names that read like a "who's who" of the greatest scifi and action movies of the current age, and are very worthy to be judges (again a trait that sadly I feel many other "challenge" based programs fail at). Returning this year are judges Glenn Hetrick and Ve Neill, and for just this first episode Patrick Tatoupolus. After this episode Patrick had to leave to begin working on another movie. Joining this week and continuing on in Patrick's place for the rest of the show is veteran Neville Page. Lest you think him less qualified, know that he was the lead creature designer for "Avatar,", lead creature and character designer for JJ Abrams' "Star Trek" and character designer for "Prometheus," to name a few of his credits. A worthy successor indeed in my book.
As I said, I feel all of the judges have their own personalities and they work off of each other well, but even though I think all judges tend to overdo their critical-ness at times. But hey, there's no denying these guys and ladies know their stuff.
What I also liked is that as the artists are working on their creations, McKenzie and Patrick walked over and spoke to each team, taking with each to understand what they are trying to do and offer up suggestions to them if he thinks their creation may be too ambitious or perhaps going in the wrong direction. Then away from them he would discuss with McKenzie what he liked and what he was concerned about. I found this very insightful.
As the artists/contestants work developed on both challenges I was really impressed by what I was seeing being created. Typically in these shows (again) some struggle with what they were trying to do. Time and again, over-ambition and time management are the banes of all challenge programs and Face Off is no different. While the bad is er... well bad, the good is... OMG!
What some of these artists created for the Spotlight challenge (they had to create a creature that would fit in a modern version of the Cantina scene from "Star Wars: A New Hope") was nothing short of amazing... A-maz-ing! Even the judges could not believe some of the creations they were seeing, easily the best work I've seen since the series began, and it is only the first episode.
When it came down to the actual judging I was genuinely excited to see who would be chosen the winner. The judging takes place first with a walkout of the artists models, with a close up inspection by the judges to follow. We are privy to the comments they make amongst themselves with the artists out of earshot. One aspect of the judging that I liked very much is that the "middle of the pack" are simply called out first, told they are safe and asked to go back to the ready room. This leaves the best and worst left to be talked to, critiqued and ultimately judged.
Personally I've already made my choice as to who I think will win, as well as be the next and subsequent ones to leave. I think you can surmise by that comment I really liked this show and can't wait for the next episode. Once again though I want to stress that all of these artists from the first to go to the ultimate winner are all excellent artists. We as viewers tend to be critical of others because we can't do on a good day what they do on a bad one. But stress can bring out the best and worst in people, and these artists are no exceptions. To win this competition, the artist that will take home the prize is the one that brings his/her A-game every day, every challenge.
Face Off airs on Tuesday night, August 21st at 9p.m. ET/PT. If you can't see it live, DVR it.