Episode 158: Growing Up with CGI Movies


Last week, I explained why I plan to boycott Sony’s upcoming all-female Ghostbusters reboot/reimaging. One reason is because I don’t particularly think it’s going to be a good movie. But the bigger reason is the campaign surrounding it. Sony is focusing too much on making it a feminist “girl power” endeavor and it leaves an incredibly bad taste in my mouth as they’re trying to politicize this new Ghostbusters film and making it seem like you’re a chauvinist pig if you dislike this “girl powered” film.

Oddly enough, even though I know a lot of hardcore Ghostbusters fans are mad that they’re not using practical effects and that the CGI ghosts look terrible. Me? I actually thought they looked pretty good! But maybe that’s because it’s a generational thing or the era when you watched a film because, personally, I kinda like CGI effects more than practical effects at times.

Probably the only thing I like about this new Ghostbusters film

Probably the only thing I like about this new Ghostbusters film

I guess my feelings for CGI special effects started when I watched my first special effects filled movie, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. I already talked about how I actually liked The Phantom Menace when I first saw it on the screen. I actually was mesmerized by the huge expansive worlds, the aliens and space battles. I actually laughed at the antics of Jar Jar Binks, to which I will be eternally shamed for. But my four year old mind was blown away by this assault on my eyes. I loved what I was seeing on the screen.

This was actually around the time when Hollywood made the decision to move away from traditional/practical special effect. It just made good business sense. It was actually much cheaper to assemble a few polygons on the screen instead of planning out expensive stuntwork. It was most cost effective to shoot your actors in front of a green/blue screen than constructing expensive sets or scouting locations. And it was easier to construct huge monsters for your films on the computer screen than actually building them from real materials.

Movie fans just didn’t like this transition from practical effects to CGI. I guess it would be a jarring switch if you did grow up watching practical effects by special effects technicians. But me, I grew up during this boom of CGI-fests. So I don’t really mind all of the polygons flying around the screen as long as it looks real.

Tell me this looked fake!

Tell me this looked fake!

I do think Hollywood made a good decision in focusing on using CGI effects. This switch did allow them to create bigger and more imaginative worlds. Star Wars’ Original Trilogy built really imaginative world but were limited in one way or another. I distinctly remember seeing a werewolf like character when they went to the Cantina in Episode IV and, even when I was four, I though it was really strange. What’s a guy in a werewolf costume doing in a space bar? Maybe it’s just me but it looked really strange.

Of course, that’s not to say that I like all CGI movies. Like I said, the effects have to be believable. They have to put in a ton of work to make them look like they belong in the real world. The Green Lantern that starred Wade Wilson… I mean Ryan Reynolds had just awful looking special effects, most notably the “animated’ costume. The CGI form of The Rock/The Scorpion King in The Mummy II looked like a plastic figure that dived right into the uncanny valley. And, while they did an incredibly job with pasting Hugo Weaving’s mug on a lot of extras, the digitized version of Neo just looked awful!

And, if you really think about it, special effects techniques have to change to make use of new advancements. If you look at the original black and white King Kong film, it looks totally unimpressive by today’s standards. I’m not trying to put down the hours of hard work the stop motion artists had to do in order to bring the little King Kong puppet to life. But the animation looks really jerky and unrealistic now.

Even though I love CGI-fests and I do think they look great when done well, I do believe there is room for all form of special effects. Stop motion still has a place if they want to go for a retro style. Practical effects work incredibly well when in close up shots. Huge CGI battles work well when things have to get really frantic and you need to have a lot of things on the screen at the same time. There’s room for every special effect style in Hollywood.

But, for me, I really do prefer CGI special effects. When they’re done well, they’re really good to look at.

Now, while I will be boycotting the new Ghostbusters film, you know what I won’t be boycotting? Their gaming console! Speaking of which, you know what’s next week? E3! And I’ll be talking about Sony’s Press Conference from the event next time!

What do you think of the overabundant use of CGI special effects? Let me know in the comments section below!

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