Thursday, 26 September 2013

Special Effects are often boring...

Special effects in scifi are often boring. When I say I prefer the pre CGI era it isn't necessarily because I find ropey-looking stuff camp or quaint. It's because when resources were limited and string and tins cans and plasticine were used the writers had to use more ingenuity. They had to rely on metaphor or suggestion rather than mere spectacle...

For me it's about a sense of human involvement. The Harryhausen monsters look palpable and pliable - we could reach out and touch them. They're invested with soul because someone has spent time with them, moulding them physically. you can sometimes see thumb prints in them. Similarly, in computer animated films it doesn’t feel tactile to me - you can’t see the human hand drawing these things. (Rewatching for the umpteenth time 'The Rescuers' the other night I was delighted by what look like actual, scratchy pencil marks around the characters.) 

In the pro-cgi argument there's an assumption that everyone is after greater verisimilitude and improving technology helps film-making move towards an assumed desired goal of having everything (however outlandish) look real. I'm not sure that's the case..? Also - to my eye - cgi gives far more detail than I'd ever see in real life (awfully short-sighted as I am) - and so it all feels overdone and weirdly unreal in its insistence of being nearly – virtually - real.)

The other thought I had about the more primitive physical effects is that - when we as kids could see that space ships were made out of washing up liquid bottles and monsters were painted egg boxes, etc - it made you feel like you could make them yourself once the show or film was over. It made them palpable and copyable. Nowadays things are so glitzy they are impossible for kids to make with the stuff at hand. (And essentially these are kids’ films and TV shows we're talking about, aren't they? There's another argument to be had about the predominance of effects-led movies and its infantalising of mainstream cinema...)

Primarily I guess I find spectacle boringly overdone these days. Just because you can show something, doesn’t mean you need to. I’m much more verbal. I like dialogue. I like character. Current trends in genre film and TV seem geared to turning the viewer into passive spectator rather than active participant, I think.

The best thing I've seen for ages - blending many different techniques - both computery and physical - has been ParaNorman. But that's full of wonderful writing, acting and design as well. You can tell that they - plus the story - have been put firmly first.

1 comment:

  1. In "the olden days" I'd watch programs about the Making Of a film and we saw people working with hand crafted models (it's really the Millennium Falcon!).

    Modern films with their DVD extras about the Making Of only show office meetings and a room full of computer programmers. Where's the magic in that?