Excessive CGI and Special Effects

Posted on Starpulse.com

A few weeks ago I got to see 15 minutes of James Cameron‘s “Avatar” on the IMAX in 3D, and it was some of the best CGI ever seen on the big screen. For years Cameron has promised a big comeback and at least visually this movie looks like it will truly deliver when it comes out in December. And yet … what little they revealed of the plot felt contrived, and the dialogue was stiff. A soldier sneaking undercover in another society and then falling in love with this new culture and trying to make peace between the two nations. Viewers have seen that before, but what makes “Avatar” different has nothing to do with the been-there plot or snooze-worthy dialogue. Even the acting makes little difference, because what really matters is the special effects and technological advance in CGI. So does impressive CGI excuse an otherwise bad script merely due to its awesomeness? This is becoming a trend in the movie world.

There are many movies that use their special effects and explosions to attract a crowd, while they barely bother to work on the rest of the movie. Does it matter when films like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” make millions of dollar with little more than CGI and special effects to win over the crowds? Both movies were generally panned by critics and yet still dominated the box office, and despite agreement that the plots and acting were atrocious, they will still make millions more on DVD.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Image © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

This does not mean all visually appealing movies are lacking in content, however. Pixar has proven time and time again that their exceptional animation style is matched step by step by their touching storylines and memorable characters. “District 9” already startled audiences by giving them an alien story that’s more about humanity than anything else. The question is about whether or not animation, CGI, and special effects are taking over the industry. Most people would answer yes, and that this has been happening for a long time. It goes back as far as “Star Wars,” and how revolutionary that science fiction series was at its time, but it could go back even earlier to “King Kong.”

Movie goers have always been interested in seeing something they’ve never seen before, for things to be bigger and better on the screen then they are in real life. And yet it’s hard not to remember that the creativity of set design, costumes, and make up were once a daring process. Making “Dracula” was more about setting the mood and physically creating an epic illusion, because they did not have the technology we do today. But special effects were like the icing on a really great piece of cake in movies like “Terminator” or “Alien,” not the primary reason people bothered to see it.

On Box Office Mojo, the top ten grossing movies of 2009 involve 8 heavy CGI films (including “Star Trek,” “Up,” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince“) while only two (“The Hangover” and “The Proposal) were average flicks. In that top ten, several were panned by critics and yet beloved by the population; was it because the movie had hidden gold or because it looked really pretty? Special effects can be the perfect addition to a good film, it can tighten the look and wow the audience, but there’s a problem with relying too heavily on it to sell films. Does it dumb down our entertainment? Does it allow the filmmakers to be lazy and create something subpar just to sell sell sell? And what does it say about the average moviegoer that it actually works? We’ll get more “G-Force” movies and “G.I. Joe” sequels and before you know it, a movie won’t be able to get made unless it features enough explosions and flashy animation styles.

Transformers 2

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen © Paramount Pictures

There’s some hope yet. “Street Fighter” and “Dragonball Evolution” only made a few million each. So obviously people were not as sold as they needed to be to let a bad movie walk away with bushels of cash. Then movies like “Public Enemies” and “Taken” manage to catch attention without going overboard. It is more that the entertainment industry needs to find a happy medium, a way to give us candy for the eyes while still reaching to the brain and heart. It is not a hopeless wish; we’ve seen it work before. Just do the industry a favor and don’t reward bad movies just because they’re pretty. No one wants to see another “Knowing.”

What do you think about CGI and special effects in movies?


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