REELGOOD: The Scorpion King Dilemma: Is CGI Still Practical?

http://www.reelgood.com.au/is-cgi-still-practical/

REELGOOD Magazine Online

17 SEPTEMBER 2013

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At their best, films are an escape. When the actors, plots and effects are persuasive, we reach another world. When these elements are unconvincing, we remember we’re watching a movie. We hit a brick-wall, instead of platform nine and three quarters. While CGI continues to advance, the rabbit is out of the hat.

Before the days of computer rendered visuals, directors used practical effects to flex their creative brawn. In the egg hatching scene from Alien, the hydraulic controlled fibreglass egg opens to release a creature made from sheep’s intestines. It remains to be fiercely unsettling. Fast-forward 30 years, and the digitally animated zombies in I am Legend are about as scary as; well, sheep. Or Michael Phelps.

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When used seamlessly, CGI is dazzling. The fusion of an actor with digitation in Gollum is ample proof. But directors are using these effects as a crutch. Instead of innovating ways to bring the supernatural to life, they fall back on a swirl of pixels.

Recent blockbusters have scenes which are forward of 90% CGI. At its best, (Avatar) it’s admittedly impressive. But mostly it’s a veggie paddy, and I need steak. To make matters worse, directors use it as the crux of their output. The digitally saturated Transformers films are just feature lengths of the Battling Seizure Robots show that the Simpson’s watch in Japan. The former only triggers fits of yawning.

CGI segments are akin to a video-game cutscenes (brief, non-interactive sequence used to advance the plot and characters.) Cutscenes are tolerable with the foresight that you’ll soon be blasting zombies to giblets. And you’re even allowed to skip them altogether. Yet we passively sit through hours of CGI.

In the age of internet ravaged attention spans, there’s no leeway for formulaic entertainment. The digital-abuse in Hollywood must be addressed. It may mean looking to advance the practical-effects of the past, or an altogether novel innovation. We need to revive the otherworldly immersion of film.

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