Rant: Hollywood's Special Effects Stink Or, Computer Animation I've Had It With You

By Josh Tyler 2007-12-11 04:21:51discussion comments
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Rant: Hollywood's Special Effects Stink Or, Computer Animation I've Had It With You image
Special FX wizardry seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur in Hollywood, and I want to know why. If you've been to the theater at all recently then you know what I mean. Hollywood’s filmmakers have gotten lazy, and their answer to just about everything seems to be throwing massive amounts of computer processed animation at it. They call it CGI, I call it a cop out.

Take just about anything released this year as an example. If there’s ever been a worse year for special effects wizardry I can’t think of one. Even 2007’s biggest budget movies are mess of laughably bad special effects. Did you see the flying scenes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? They might as well have hung the kids on tree branches over matte paintings in front of an old fashioned wind machine. 300 looked pretty cool, but only because they hid all the film’s CGI gaffs beneath layers and layers of mood and shadowing. I loved The Mist, but come on, those tentacles were a joke. Jim Henson could have done it better with a rubber Muppet. Or take I Am Legend, which uses CGI deer for no apparent reason, except that perhaps nobody wanted to clean real deer poop up off the set. Or maybe Will Smith just has something against animal wranglers.

CGI has made Hollywood’s filmmakers incredibly lazy. The problem isn’t the quality of the animation being used, the problem is that throwing a computer at it isn’t always the best way to do something. People talk a lot about the way Lord of the Rings changed things with its CGI Gollum, but the real innovation of LOTR was in Peter Jackson’s refusal to use computer animation for everything. Sure, Gollum was a CGI construct, but just about everything else in the movie isn’t. He built sets, he used costumes, he shot models, he got up at dawn to shoot a real, honest to god sunrise. Lord of the Rings looks good not because WETA workshop came up with some awesome computer program, but because Peter Jackson had the wherewithal to use a variety of different techniques.

Could it be that there really hasn’t been a significant FX innovation since Jurassic Park’s CGI dinos in 1993? Since then, it’s been a series of dinosaur copycats. Why bother to spend time planning anything, when you can just send in a bunch of nerds on computers and have them fix everything? That seems to be the attitude. Well here’s why… because CGI doesn’t always work. It’s a wonderful tool for doing amazing things, but you’re not fooling anyone Hollywood. We’ve had 15 years of this thanks. Nobody’s impressed anymore when you make a computer generated version of John McClane. We prefer the real John McClane. Isn’t that why you pay Bruce Willis all that money? He’s been well compensated. Drop him off a building or two.

Poor Hollywood, your computer generated constructs are becoming dated. No Mr. Spielberg, those tripods do not look real. They look like what they are. Cartoons. Every monster doesn’t have to be a glorified Daffy Duck character. Try some makeup. Prosthetics? How about a Muppet? Just no more CGI. Movies are starting to look worse instead of better. Limitations inspire creativity, and in a world where computer animation can do just about anything special effects are growing stagnant. It’s time to come up with something new (and no bad CGI in 3D doesn’t count James Cameron), or, barring that, try some of the old stuff that used to work better. Computer animated or hand painted, a fake background is still a fake background. CGI… I’ve had it with you.
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