Are we spoiled with CGI?
I was watching an episode of Gogglebox (don’t judge me) on UK Channel 4 recently and had the opportunity to watch other people watching JAWS (1975), one of my all-time favourites. I was probably around 10 years old when I first saw JAWS and remember being terrified by it – especially old Ben Gardner and his damned head. I remember playing “JAWS” at school and taking turns in playing Quint; there was an old log in the playground that sloped down to the ground and we used to pretend that was the stern of the ORCA, sinking slowly into the water. (Who needs violent computer games when you can eat your mates off the back of an old log?)
In short, a film like JAWS, for someone of my generation, left a lasting impression; one that has persisted 30 years later, and still finds the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention when John Williams’ score looms up at the start of the film.
What I saw on Gogglebox was a group of people laughing at Bruce and what they described as “rubbish” effects. Now this may be due to the environment – being filmed while watching the TV is probably not the most intimate of settings to watch and appreciate a classic – or, perhaps, because they had all seen it many times before and were not really paying attention.
But it got me thinking.
Now, I’m the first to admit that Bruce can look a little ropey in some shots but, for me, that is not what the film is all about. It’s about the anticipation of the shark, the fear of the unknown; what IS under the water? Jaws works so well because the reveal of the shark is left so late into the film – if we had seen him during the opening credits, the latter parts of the film would have had a much less shocking or powerful effect on this 10 year old – Spielberg knew what he was doing by withholding stuff from his audience. A lot of this withholding was, of course, down to the problems they had with Bruce and the technology driving him. The physical effects required for Jaw were probably a lot more demanding than the CGI required for Deep Blue Sea (1999).
What I began to wonder is whether a younger generation of film-goers (hark at me, miserable old man) are spoiled by the advances we have made in technology over the last couple of decades? Spielberg himself opened CGI up to the masses with Jurassic Park (1993), and fan-favourites likes The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) really piled on the “wow” factor of what could be done in films with this new “technology.”
I’m not complaining, I love a good effect but, when everything is photorealistic in a film, does it mean that viewers of a certain age can’t appreciate the skill involved in the physical aspects of film-making? Is Bruce, in Jaws, the 21st Century equivalent of me watching an Iguana with a plastic horn fighting Doug McClure? (Which, I hasten to add, I loved.)
It is great to see newer films being made by teams keen to reintroduce more real, physical effects; for example Mad Mad: Fury Road and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. I realise these films still involve a lot of CGI work (it’s almost unavoidable in a modern “blockbuster”) but you can’t beat good old fashioned effects work. I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) with the kids a few weeks back and it really is a joy to watch all those physical effects being shown onscreen, bringing back memories of watching “The Making of Documentaries” on TV on a Saturday afternoon, a long time before the advent of DVD extras.
It is, perhaps, just too easy to destroy worlds inside a computer now than it has ever been – well, maybe not “easy” but the restrictions are so much less than they have ever been, meaning the sky is the limit; which had me thinking whether this has had an affect on the types of stories that people write and the way they write them. 30 years ago, a film like The Avengers (2012) couldn’t be made or, at least, not on the same scale. The effects required would have put even the most dedicated film-maker off. This made me wonder whether writers in the past felt restricted in the stories they could tell or whether it made them more creative in finding ways to skirt the technological limitations of the times and bring their visions to the screen?
Today, we can pretty much write whatever we want knowing that, if necessary, we can show it on screen. I am not sure there are any restrictions now other than budgets and our imaginations.
What do you think?
- Are we spoiled by CGI these days?
- Has it made story-telling easier… or harder?
- Do you write without boundaries because of this?
Please feel free to comment below!