Let’s start off with the match lighting the fire:
Got it? CGI sucks and movies suck and Hollywood sucks and everything sucks. Young millennials, come at me bro!!!
But….listen for a damn second while you try to find the caps lock button and take a sip of your sugar laced, whipped cream topped caramel-chocolate-pumpkin spiced-soy milk laden iced beverage that just-so-happens to have a cinch of coffee in it. Let’s actually get to the root of this non-argument argument. The truth is that this whole CGI vs. Practical Effects internet fight is a misstatement of the problem that older millennials and older generations have with today’s blockbusters. Using the ‘CGI’ excuse to downgrade today’s blockbusters (and yesterday’s Prequels – I can’t dismiss them from this because…well….Star Wars) is too easy for older fans and cinefiles to throw out there. But its a misstatement of the real critiques of sub-par films.
This whole ‘Pro-CGI’ and ‘Anti-CGI’ rift has been on my mind because I’m a Star Wars addict and young millennials are up in arms about Disney-Lucasfilm advertising their use of practical creature effects (because they’re so evil and terrible and hurt their feelings so much). To the Pro-CGI internet warriors the Anti-CGI crowd is old and nostalgic in its love for so-called ‘practical’ effects that they can’t appreciate that CGI is actually better and all that jazz. To Anti-CGI internet warriors, the Pro-CGI youngsters are lame and grew up watching too many cartoons instead of outside dodging cars and playing wiffle ball (which is probably true either way).
But both sides completely misunderstand their own argument, which is mostly to blame on lazy cinefile internet blogging and click-bait. CGI is the low hanging fruit of criticism. Its easy to say that a 50 ft. dragon or a green muscled giant or an entire battalion of chrome robots ‘looks’ fake. Of course it does. And its easy to contrast an army of Ultron bots to a singular T-800 crushing a human skull in one of the greatest opening shots ever.
Yes, yes, I KNOW there was CGI compositing in that shot. Chill out and drink your almond milk latte that is probably responsible for half of California being lit on fire right now. But the Anti-CGI crowd isn’t upset about that amount of ‘CGI’, so set your strawman on fire and let it burn.
What many Anti-CGI internet warriors are really saying, and they say it stupidly, that CGI makes filmmakers lazy – it allows them to use CGI as a crutch and show no restraint in editing an action sequence or going to the lengths of ensuring an interesting and clean angle or long shot. Anti-CGI cinefiles are praising Mad Max:Fury Road for its use of real cars, explosions, fire, and crazy stunts as an example of incredible filmmaking that invalidates the requirement for heavy CGI use. But, as the following video explains, there is plenty of CGI used in Mad Max. Its used to composite together the large number of vehicles and to enhance what’s on film.
Now, I’m not saying that the Anti-CGI curmudgeons don’t have a point. There is a lot of…hmm…..miscalcuation…with a lot of films on what makes CGI effective and when its too much. There likely is a lack of restraint from some filmmakers when editing an action sequence and taking up running time that could be better spent developing a character or exploring an underlying story theme. For a prime example, you probably can’t convince me that the availability of the shiny new CGI tools that George Lucas enjoyed during the Star Wars Prequels run didn’t distract him from focusing on dialogue, acting, camera work, editing, and all the other arts and sciences that go into the creation of the emotional connection that great films make with their audiences. You can’t claim that a roughly 25 minute fight between our two (really, one) protagonists in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was completely effective. Even staunch prequel defenders should admit that the Obi-Wan Kenobi – Anakin Skywalker battle in Revenge of the Sith, was overdone and ‘video gamey’. In fact, there’s a point where I feel the characters had to remind us why they’re fighting because it got so lengthy and drawn out and solidly uninteresting. Obi-Wan and Anakin have to summarize the entire plot in this short exchange:
And this is edited between a Yoda-Palpatine fight that is ultimately completely INCONSEQUENTIAL. Nothing is solved or decided by the Yoda-Palpatine showdown other than they’re both cool and powerful and Yoda and the Jedi are done for in the time being – which was already previously decided.
Although, to give George Lucas an easy out here, the dialogue and acting was so uninteresting in the rest of the film, that it really may have done worse than an overly long fight. Not an excuse, but unfortunately it may have been a choice between bad dialogue and an overly long fight scene. He might have made the right Murphy’s Choice.
Ok, enough nostalgia. Bringing it back to the present two subjects of this non-debate debate: Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Anti-CGI crowd is split on the Avengers installments – which I’m sure young fans get angry about: “How can you dismiss the first Avengers and criticize Age of Ultron??” Completely valid point. And it’s definitely discussed in the CGI-defending video above. The editing of Age of Ultron is a mess. There’s too much teasing of future films, a sin that Jurassic World also suffers immensely from, and not enough development of Ultron’s character. Now, the CGI is not a major problem in Ultron although it is cited in many reviews as overly used. The editing of the film leaves little time to explore the villain’s character, which is a HUGE problem in any film, hero genre or not. The use of the anti-CGI argument in critques of Ultron is incorrect unless the argument is that ‘time used in the climactic bot-battle should have been dedicated to more explanation of Ultron’s character and character flaws’. That is a better argument – but its mostly an editing problem.
You might also say that lack of restraint caused by the availability of CGI resulted in even less time for the movie to explore the Ultron character. That isn’t a terrible argument and it reflects older Star Wars fans souring on George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. The gist of that argument is that: “The filmmaker is too busy playing with his newly available toys and not thinking whether he should use those toys.” And that reminds me of something………
Boom. Ian Malcolm to the rescue!! This is essentially the problem Anti-CGI curmudgeons have. Just because you have the ability to do something, doesn’t make that the use of it beneficial or even good. Their ‘argument’ is that CGI adds nothing to a bad story. CGI artists will get credit within the industry for good CGI work in a bad movie just like a good actor in a bad movie does. But the movie still sucks.
For posterity’s sake, I would say the Anti-CGI argument is likely 100% overstated in regards to Jurassic World. Jurassic World is a monster movie that falls short on editing – again, teasing sequels rather than developing characters in the current feature. Perhaps some of the cool aspects of the Indominous Rex are ‘created’ by the lack of restraint, but its still the extraneous need to tease sequels that obstructs an otherwise simple monster flick.
So the frustration of the Anti-CGI crowd is frustration with the overuse of a tool in the filmmakers toolbox, but not the mere use of it, or even use of a lot of it. Rather, its the lack of restrain of the filmmakers themselves, as well as the difficulties of actors acting opposite cardboard cut-outs and limitations of camerawork within a CGI-heavy fight scene (See: constant sudden close up shots of Count Dooku, Yoda and Palpatine in multiple lightsaber fights).
It would be nice if the Anti-CGI crowd actually articulated that argument correctly and not spout off anti-CGI rhetoric – its lazy.
But for the Pro-CGI crowd, CGI doesn’t necessarily add quality to a movie – it enables a filmmaker to do things (Heath Ledger Joker voice), but that doesn’t necessarily mean great CGI – like in some of the Transformers series of films – mean that a film should be appreciated more or less because of the quality of CGI. Battle sequences in Braveheart are just as meaningful and amazing as a CGI composite of Wookies, droids, Clonetroopers, Ultron bots or Gungans (ugh). Peter Jackson succeeded in using huge CGI armies in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and completely failed in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies even though those films are nearly a decade apart and many of the combatants – elves, humans and orcs – are the same. Legolas’s antics in The Lord of the Rings – jumping around an oliphant, grabbing ahold of a horse in full gallop – are similar to the ones in The Hobbit – using falling stones as platforms – but we love LOTR’s Legolas and the Legolas in The Hobbit was….just there, an elf of action in an action movie involving a lot of elves – his CGI antics were rendered beautifully by the graphic artists, but rendered useless by his character’s placement and use in the feature.
And it is also not true that practical effects don’t hold up. Take one look at the filmography of Guillermo del Toro and you’ll find not just Pacific Rim, but my personal del Toro favorite – Pan’s Labyrinth, a film that uses mostly practical creature effects to a haunting and emotionally stirring impact. That movie is incredible, along with del Toro’s Hellboy, which won the Oscar for costumes. If a main character can be as effective as Ron Pearlman’s Hellboy, then in no way should prequel defenders bitch about a bunch of practical creature effects being used on background characters. A practical ‘Dexter Jettster’ would have served just as well if not better than the CGI one in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. And you can’t complain about nostalgia-based marketing of a upcoming Star Wars film that many older fans are skeptical of because of the prequels – no matter what those reasons were.
In conclusion, this debate is pointless and its a misunderstanding. Its laziness on the cynical cinefile blogger that doesn’t want to get into the specifics on why well-done CGI didn’t add any enjoyment to a poorly edited film. And its also a useless internet fight over one aspect of filmmaking that is groundbreaking but still only a means to an end. Just because you give Jackson Pollack a brand new paintbrush made of the finest genetically enhanced camel hair, doesn’t mean it will make his particular art better. Citizen Kane, Casablanca, A Miracle on 34th Street, were all masterpieces, milestones, and classics before they were colorized. Let’s keep these things in mind before we react to a lazy argument. We internet cinefiles will all be better for it.
Oh, and the original Star Wars Trilogy was a masterpiece before Lucas decided to put this ugly thing in it: