Once upon a time, not too long ago, the children's show "Thomas & Friends" was live action. Extremely detailed miniature sets and model trains. The show was a HUGE hit with kids for years. Seeing real models and elaborate villages set kid's imaginations wild with adventure. Flash forward to today...
Dead and lifeless. My boy, who was a big fan of the show can't watch these. He keeps telling me where the real ones are. and NO I haven't indoctrinated him in any way. These new shows just suck. They're boring to look at. What made the show unique from any other kids show has been wiped clean with CGI.
Originality is dead kids. Thomas killed it, Sorry.
For those of you seeing The Thing (2011) which opens today, give me your thoughts in the comments. How were the practical effects? Was CGI used a bit too liberally or excessively? Was it really necessary? Let me know!
This rant is brought to you by a fan. Take it with a grain of salt. I'm someone who grew up with the films and absorbed the Star Wars culture. I was a child of Lucas & Spielberg. I am not an industry insider.
So now I think it’s safe to say that George Lucas will be re-tooling his Star Wars films until the day he dies. Apparently nothing can stop him. He has gone from a visionary director with average directing skill into a Gollum-like state with CGI being his “Precious”. I’m also convinced he will place in his Will, something so profoundly insulting to his fans, that he’ll be laughing from beyond years after his demise.
What I’m trying to say is that I give up. You won Mr. Lucas. You have buried the memory of the original trilogy so deep into the digital swamp that it has almost become unrecognizable. We all know it’s not going to stop either. Ten years down the road all of Frank Oz and Stuart Freeborn's work in Empire and Jedi will be scrubbed out as well. Mark my words.
Mr. Lucas, all I ask in return for submission and acceptance of your changes is one thing:
You must return the Oscars that were won before the changes. Simple as that. And by citing Mr. Lucas I mean the whole creative team. (if they were also involved with the retooling)
It may seem a little extreme, but hear me out. Star Wars (1977) won six awards. One of them was for best visual effects. They win the highest achievement for their practical effects, just to go back 20 years later and ruin it with sub par CGI. Apparently Lucas feels that the work of Dykstra, Edlund and all of ILM wasn’t worthy of the Academy Award or else he wouldn’t had them cover over it. Same goes with Best Film Editing. You shouldn’t be able to win for editing then ad in new scenes that disrupt the flow.
Steven Spielberg almost fell into the same drug induced state with E.T. Fortunately he just recently learned the error of his ways and expressed stupidity for wanting to change the past. If only he could have convinced Lucas before the Blu-rays came out.
Film is our culture. It’s our history’s culture, good or bad. It is meant to reflect the time in which it was made. To repeatedly go back and alter and distort it is to ignore history. To ignore history that has won six Academy Awards and influenced countless other filmmakers is just simply deranged.
Cinema is the most important window in which to view our culture. Film preservation is essential. To alter what has already been done is not only a poor artistic decision; it is also a defacing and elimination of a cultural milestone. (*cough* Mr. Lucas *cough*)
While film preservation is a must, I believe film prop preservation is also essential. To be able to see what was used in a film says a lot about the craft. To hold a prop from something that has been a pop culture mainstay to millions would be quite an exhilarating experience.
Case in point: Giger’s “Alien” head from the 1979 film. This is the actual Carlo Rambaldi mechanical prop.
Nicely preserved at Giger’s estate in Zurich. Notice the human skull in which the entire head is formed around.
Now, what if this was CGI instead? What would we have to display? At the very most maybe a small maquette or model that they would have used to scan in into the computer, but nothing that would have actually been seen on camera. This “Alien” head is tangible. We see the wires. We see the remnants of prophylactics on the jaws. We see the tool that was used for a very familiar cultural image… and it is awesome.
It seems to me that "Prequel" is the lazy way of saying, "Let's make the same story in the same locale, give it the same name, but replace Kurt Russell with a 24 year old no nonsense woman and dumb down the terror by over explaining things and make the alien morphing effects CGI even though the original could do it impressively CGI-free 30 years ago."
And what was with that sting at the end? It looked horrible!
Fighting the good fight can be daunting. We all know CGI is here to stay. There are signs of practical effects resurgence but they are few and far between. I figure at this point, instead of embracing the beast, why not educate the masses on taming it.
There are two major factors exposing CGI “fakeness”: Physics and camera placement. The latter can be easily rectified and the former is bound by the limits of the craft. We all know that gravity can spoil the illusion. After all these years and technological advances, they still can’t duplicate the physics behind gravity. Spider-Man is a perfect example. On his feet, your friendly neighborhood web-slinger looks great, but get him swinging through the city, and you get a flat, lifeless CGI cartoon. (The Spidey re-boot is rumored to be rectifying this by using *GASP* real stunt work and *SHUDDER* wires!)
With physics out of the question of improvement that leaves us with camera placement. The suspension of disbelief from the movie goer’s eye can only go so far. When you have CGI robuts and monsters or massive armies of extras going into battle, we may forgive digital accompaniment, but it’s in the placement of the camera where the movie magic can be lost for us.
We all can grasp the basic function of how movies are made. There is a camera, and people do stuff in front of it. We know the camera is just as physical and real as the actors. If they need a long shot from up high and need it to end it on a close up of something or someone, we know they have to use a crane or dolly. We may not all know what the tools are called, but we all know that SOMETHING has to make the camera move.
Now, when you use CGI as camera movement you get the instant “fakeness” result. No matter what is on the screen, none of it is justified. Something tells us that the camera cannot fly through the sky and zoom through objects all in one take. We are pulled out of the experience. We are told, “This shot wasn’t really filmed, but it is in your face!” Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people that love that look, I just happen to despise it.
I struggle to find a perfect example on YouTube of what I mean, but this clip from Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring comes close. Granted, I know it’s a lot of model work but pay attention to the camera and visualize how it could be achieved practically…
Don’t get me wrong. I love Jackson’s work and I understand his reasoning in using CGI. But seeing this in the theater, that first shot of Isengard swirling around and diving underground took me out of the film a bit. I know it’s nit picking, but that’s why I have this blog.
I am a sucker for the elaborate practical shots. The kind that you have to rehearse over and over just to get right. I just wish if a director wants to get really ambitious with a shot, he would take into consideration camera movement. Sometimes it can take the most CGI filled scene and restore a little life back into it if the camera is allowed to be restrained a bit.
That’s just my two cents. I know it doesn’t buy much. But what do you want? I’m a whiner.
I will leave you with this though. Before he died, Sergio Leone’s next film was going to be about the siege of Leningrad. An interview with Claudio Mancini describes Leone’s intended opening scene:
There was a lot of talk about Leningrad. Sergio had a lot of things in his mind, but almost nothing in writing, but he would describe what would have been the opening scene. It showed a theater where an orchestra was rehearsing. The rehearsal finishes and a man puts his instrument back in its case. He leaves the theater, the camera backtracking in front of him, that's important. He starts walking in the street and you can see a devastated city, buildings gutted by bombs etc. A tram passes by and the man catches it. He sees the ruins from the tram which is now moving. All this without a single cut: how Sergio intended to do this, I really don't know. The tram arrives at the end station, the man leaves and walks 100 meters to a small house; he enters and there is a woman. While they embrace, the camera turns and you see a window, then a river and across the river 1.500 German panzers in position. I said: "Sergio, you wouldn't be able to frame 1.500 panzers not even if they were small cardboard models! On screen you could probably frame 150!" But he envisioned 1.500!"
How would this have been pulled off today without CGI? I don’t know. If anyone could make it work though, I bet it would have been Leone.
BIG THANKS to my new internet extended familiy Aunt John & Uncle Lancifer from KINDERTRAUMA. They gave me a nice shout out on their page. If you haven't seen it you're missing out. One of the best sites the web can offer. Its depths into childhood nostalgia on a purely tromatic level runs very deep. So deep in fact, that I've been inspired to write a jingle...
♫ From the "Trilogy of Terror" Zuni Doll to "Little House" Albert's methadone withdrawl. Kindertrauma has it all! ♫♪
and for KINDERTRAUMA vistors stopping by, thank you and welcome!