There were lots of trailers on show at this years Comic-Con, but one film that didn’t release a new trailer was Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Instead, we got a giant middle finger aimed at George Lucas, the prequels, and modern blockbuster film making in general. It was a short video that started with the words ‘practical effects’, with an emotional and self congratulating tine. I get it, people hate the prequels, and the ‘special editions’, partly because they have so many visual effects in them, and this film wants to distance itself from those in every way possible. But here’s the thing. Practical effects aren’t always better. In fact, most of the time, in modern film making, they’re much worse.
Before I go any further, I want to mention the main picture of this article. That puppet looks ok, but did you know it takes FIVE people to operate at any time. Five people. That’s a lot of effort for a very limited amount of movement, and a character that can only do a few things, very slowly.
Let’s take a look at Jurassic World, not only one of the biggest films this year, but one of the biggest films of all time. Even though people generally liked it , there were some grumbles that it was too reliant on CGI. There’s no denying that there was a lot in the film, but in my opinion, and I know a lot of other people agree, it looked great. Do you know what didn’t look great? The scene where Chris Pratt holds (oh wait, spoiler warning I suppose?) the head of a Brontosaurus as it dies, and it looks awful. Yes, he could fully interact with it, and that was nice, but it looked so fake and outdated. It didn’t move like a real animal, and it was all rubbery. It looked like a toy.
Mad Max: Fury Road, that was practical, and that was awesome! True, a lot of it was practical, but I was shocked to find out how much CGI there was in it. You just need to see this article to see how reliant Fury Road was on computer enhancement. Trust me, go and look at it and then come back……….. Wasn’t that interesting and surprising? All those rocks? All those cars? All those people? NIGHT TIME?!?!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this to sound like I’m hating on practical effects. Practical effects can be great, but there are so many things they just can’t do. Look at the first two Terminator films (dated example I know, but they were still made relatively close together). In the first film there was a moment where an injured Arnie sans-eye repairs himself, and it looks so brilliantly terrible. Look at it here.
Now look at Judgement Day, still thought of today as one of the best films for visual effects of all time. Yes, there were some excellent practical effects, but it had some effects that are only just starting to look outdated now. Such as this one.
These films had a bigger gap in release than most sequels, but even so, does this look like only 7 years of development? No, these looks like effects that are decades apart.
So CGI looks better (in the right circumstances) in present day, and it holds up better years later. So why are so many people so upset that there’s more and more of it in modern films? They are the natural evolution of the effects industry, and they give film makers an opportunity to do things they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. The fight against CGI is an outdated, fuddy duddy, stick in the mud point of view. Practical effects and computer generated effects both have their place, for sure, but to deny the importance or influence of either of them is quite frankly ridiculous. So practical effects, please stop acting like you’re better (I’m looking at you The Force Awakens), and start complimenting your younger self, it’s the only way were all going to get along.
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