Therein lies the rub, the key phrase, ‘when used properly.’ You see, for every Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and Avatar, there are countless other examples of horribly poor, distractingly so, computer generated images.
This issue has been eating at me for a while now. In the past, it could be forgiven, as film makers started to find their way in the world of technology, seeing how it could enhance their story telling. But in today’s world, where personal computers are capable of so much with simple ‘off-the-shelf’ programs, can poor, jarring CGI really be forgiven? The answer of course, is no.
The problem is that CGI has, for some, become the ‘quick fix’. The industry has become saturated with digital effects companies and sadly they’re not all as good as Weta Workshop or Industrial Light and Magic. Yet film makers, it would seem, do not mind one bit, they seem to look at their budget and schedule, think for a second and then come to the conclusion – “We can CGI that.” No matter what your budget, sometimes this just points squarely to a lack of creativity.
Back in the day, before the wonders of CGI, film makers had to be creative in order to work around any financial or practical limitations. Think back to the shower scene in Psycho, the tension and fear created merely through Hitchcock’s choice of camera angles and cuts. A timeless moment of cinema, a classic piece of film making. Yet nowadays, CGI, for many, is the way to go. So much so that it has even led to less innovative location scouting – put your actors in front of a green screen and they can be anywhere you want them to be. It’s a tempting short cut to take, but when you’re dealing with an extremely savvy audience, if you don’t do it right – they’ll notice. And of course there is the scripting, whomever may be writing these movies, or deciding upon the massive over-the-top action sequences to include, if you want your movie to be taken seriously, and know you don’t have the budget for the best CGI possible – rewrite your film. The recent A-Team film, for example, was spoiled by the final ‘CGI-tastic’ set piece. Where as all they had to do was dial back some of the ‘stuff that happens to create added danger’ and they still would have had a pretty cool finale, there just wasn’t any need to go so far. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Going back to film knives, The Expendables has a particularly awful CGI knife moment. One that, quite honestly, between the laughter, made me want to cry…and vomit…at the same time. That’s how bad it was, I wanted to cromit.
It all comes down to a matter of control, just because something is available to you, doesn’t mean you should use it. Because in the end, bad CGI is like Cocaine that’s been cut with chalk and ground up Lucozade tablets* – it’s a whole lot worse for you and will probably kill you quicker.
*That’s not to say that good CGI is like high quality cocaine, the metaphor does not extend both ways, though I’m sure if you ask Cocaine users they’ll say the good stuff is freakin’ awesome, so in that case it does.
Don’t do drugs.