Against CGI – Felix Grainger
When I first saw the Thing (1982) it blew my mind. I was only 13 and was never a fan of ‘older’ horror movies due to them often being cheesy and not scary enough for my adrenaline seeking younger self. This was different. The effects were incredible, gory, slimy, plastic but they were there. You could see it in front of you, the creature moving and gnarling in its slimy ‘thingy’ way. I was so enthralled by the film that when the remake came out in 2012 I couldn’t wait to watch it. Then I watched it. Then I realised something. CGI just can’t replace the real deal. For those of you who have seen the Thing 2012 remake you will know what I mean. The film itself and the acting is ok, but the ‘Thing’ is just awful, unrealistic and clearly CGI. It totally removes you from the film and that’s my main problem with CGI. When done well, such as in Jurassic Park, it can be used to seamlessly glide from practical effects to CGI. When done badly it instantly destroys the suspension of disbelief as your mind drifts to the team of 90 computer folks jamming out cut-priced pixel art in California. Many films now remove any evidence of practical effects and rely wholly on the newest CGI technology, which in two years time will seem dated and fake, once more removing an audience from the film. The Thing (1982) has arguably aged well, the effects are still effective, whereas watching the Matrix Reloaded made over two decades later shows the lack of lasting power most CGI has. I am not disputing its usefulness as there are things CGI can do that practical effects would never do. I just sense it will never loose its gimmicky feel. This being highlighted by the new Jungle books ad campaign repeatedly demonstrating how all- but the actor playing Mowgli- in the film is CGI. The newest, bestest, never looking datedest CGI. I give it ten years before you’re watching it on channel 5, scoff at the ‘cheesy’ CGI and flick onto the Thing.
For CGI – Sam Joyce
CGI gets a bad wrap these days. Long gone are the days when the promise of seeing computer generated green blobs terrorising Robin Williams for ninety minutes, a-la Flubber, were enough to drag audiences to multiplexes. Instead, fan boys these days expend millions of megabytes complaining about George Lucas’s liberal CGI revisions to the original Star Wars saga, whilst celebrating the visceral grittiness of last year’s stunt-laden Mad Max: Fury Road. But watch any actual footage from that shoot and you’ll realize that besides the vehicular stunts, the final product would look very different were it not for liberal post-production enhancements which altered the weather, terrain and even humans. Everyone seems to hate CGI these days, except when they don’t know they’re looking at it.
Take Fincher’s recent oeuvre. Sure, CGI Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button took a little adjusting to, but I bet you didn’t notice the almost entirely computerized San Francisco that gave his Zodiac its distinct period feel. Indeed, even flashier effects in faceless blockbusters, like Davy Jones’s tentacles in the Pirates movies, manage to leave audiences guessing. They look too real to possibly be CGI, but their movements are too fluid to be puppetry.
Even below this level of elaborate auteur emersion, CGI is the saving grace of many a cash strapped indie producer. The hundreds of sheep in Brokeback Mountain? CGI. Jennifer Connelly’s tear at the end of Blood Diamond? CGI. That stormy sky as Keira Knightley stumbles up the hill in Pride and Prejudice? CGI. When it’s good, it’s almost impossible to notice, just another tool in the savvy filmmaker’s arsenal.
Even stars are part-CGI these days. The clear skin, defined abs, and almost unbelievably brights eyes of that on-screen hottie you’re lusting after? Likely the product of some sweaty geek wielding an Adobe suite deep in the bowls of a Soho effects house.
As soon as you know you’re looking at something CGI likely had a hand in, it’s unreality becomes clearer. But if its embedded in a scene, shot in a way that suggests the physical realities of film-making, and conforms to traditional compositional forms, it suddenly convinces. CGI, like an unhealthy treat, can be blissful and life enhancing when used right. Filmmakers just need to stop being gluttons for spectacle.