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CGI…What is the problem with it?

As many of you know I do frequent a few science fiction related message baords. I have learned that there are many individuals who are not fans of CGI and often complain about its usage or over usage. I am a fan of CGI so I wonder what is exactly the criticism of this tool? I beleive that CGI has come a long way in looking realistic, it still has a way to go in looking exactly realistic. I have heard this complaint with the recent Man of Steel movie and some have lodged the same complaint about not only Peter Jackson’s recent Hobbit movie but also about his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. A Facebook friend and great musician Chris Bannister said this recently about CGI…

Watching The Hobbit I realised that I’m totally bored with huge, CGI set pieces and that these kind of movies look terrible in super high def, the makeup looked rubbish and the aforementioned special effects looked laughably unrealistic.

I do admit there are times when CGI loses some warmth that other special effects can deliver.

In 1993 Jurassic Park really raised the bar for CGI when some of the depictions of the dinosaurs in that movie were done solely on computer. It is ironic then that director Steven Spielberg has claimed that an audience can always tell the  difference between CGI and real-life action. He even went on to say that had he been directing Jaws today he would have done the Shark in CGI but says that the success of that film was due to the model fo the shark looking realistic.

I am reminded of what the late great Ray Harryhausen said about his own work. He said that when doing his creatures he felt there needed to be some degree of being unrealistic to let the audience know these movies are fantasies. I don’t think anyone ever accused Ray Harryhausen’s work looking fake! There is a concpet in literature called  verisimilitude which refers to the believability of a narrative—the extent to which a narrative appears realistic, likely, or plausible (regardless of whether it is actually fictional or non-fictional). In film verisimilitude refers to the believability  realism as reflected in the over all tone of the film. So lets take Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films (Lord of the Rings plus the Hobbit). These are fantasy films loaded with CGI. The creatures do look life-like yet the  verisimilitude of the film clearly is adapted to show that we are in a fantasy world.

Let me take another CGI laden film…Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the use of CGI. The movie, set in 1933, has the verisimilitude of a fantasy. We are not in the real world. In that sense the CGI works to create that sense of fantasy. I also think Kong looks spectacular in this film. In the previous incarnations of Kong he has been depicted using stop-motion animation and a guy in a suit. This is the very first depiction of Kong where he truly looks and acts like a giant gorilla. Let me contrast this with the 1976 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the special effects. The setting in this movie are real and look good for the most part. The wall on the island where Kong lives was done very well. The problem with the effects? Kong himself looks terrible! The man in a suit look just doesn’t work well for this movie. I much prefer the CGI kong.

Persoanlly I don’t have aproblem with CGI and there are times I really like the fantasy worlds they can create. Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films and Zack Snyder’s films are good examples of fantasy worlds come to life with CGI. Next year Godzilla comes to theaters once again I am looking forawd to how Double Negative, the special effects company that will render Godzilla, in a realistic and life-like manner! I also still like more conventional special effects and they work well.  

In conclusion I really do not have a problem with CGI. I think it goes a long way in setting the tone of a film and taking the viewer to another world, place and time. While I also recognize that there is different levels of quality in CGI there is nothing wrong with using it. If people could enjoy and accept some of the cheesy special effects from science-fiction fantasy films of the 50s-60s and beyond, I really do not understand why they object to the usage of CGI today.


Godzilla 2014: My Expectations

We are little more than a year out from the next Godzilla movie being released to theaters. I am actively watching for news of the production. From the last bit of news I found was that production has shifted to Hawaii (where I am told Jurassic Park IV is currently filming). As I wait for this movie I have read online the expectations people have for this movie and I have contemplated my own expectations.

This movie will be the 30th Godzilla movie. 28 of them were Japanese productions and one other movie, the 1998 Godzilla movie, was the first American produced Godzilla movie. This movie will be the second American production. I can envision some readers having a fit or a stroke by the mere fact I mentioned the 1998 American Godzilla movie because many fans call the movie, and the American Godzilla, GINO (Godzilla In Name Only) and to this day the mere mention of this movie will produce a volume of outrage and hatred. I understand from my reading message boards and other sources about the 2014 Godzilla is that their main concern is that this new American production will not resemble the 1998 version. While I enjoyed, and still do enjoy the 1998 movie I am pretty confident that this movie will be nothing like its 1998 counterpart.

Some of the fans seemed concerned that they will get another design of Godzilla that will not look or act like the Japanes version of Godzilla. After the bad reviews and the outcry from fans over the 1998 Godzilla movie I have no worries about the design of Godzilla for 2014. The studio isn’t that crazy to put out a multi-million dollar Godzilla movie and have it be where the monster doesn’t look like Godzilla. I don’t think Legendary Pictures will make the same mistake.

Director Gareth Edwards has stated that he wants this to be a serious movie like the 1954 original. He want to portray Godzilla as if these events were happening in real life.  One of the stars of the film, Elizabeth Olsen, described the film as “definitely not lighthearted. It’s kind of going back to its roots of the original Japanese film.” These statements also have me thinking about the tone of the film and my personal expectations. With so many Godzilla films that I enjoy there is a diversity of themes and tones to choose from.

Godzilla 54 is a very dark movie in tone. As the series moved on it also moved away from that serious tone. At one point it moved so far away from that serious tone that movies such as Godzilla vs Megalon are like a Saturday morning kiddie show! In later movies Godzilla did return to a more serious tone but it never would reach the seriousness that the very first movie achieved. It seems that Gareth Edwards wants to be the first to return to the tone of the 1954 movie.

I am very excited about that because in many ways the first Godzilla movie was the best. But I do have one slight concern. Although I think Godzilla, King of the Monsters (and the un-Americanized Japanese version, Gojira) are the best films, they are not always the most fun to watch. More often I am in the mood for a more lighthearted romp through the streets of Tokyo. So I am hoping that this serious tone will also be equally enjoyable to watch. I don’t have too many concerns that it won’t be.

That leads me to my next point. They story. Screenwriter Frank Darabont is on record saying that not only will Godzilla be returning to his roots as force of nature but that the film will add a “very compelling human drama.” I am encouraged by that but I must confess that I am pretty sure that even if the story isn’t that great I will probably still enjoy the movie. First of all, of the 29 Godzilla films already produced not all of them have great human stories to begin with. Yet, I really like ALL Godzilla movies therefore my expectations on the human story are not that high. If we get a real good compelling human drama then that will be the icing on the cake.

Face it, most Godzilla fans watch the series for good monster action and destruction. I am as guilty as charged in that area. Also, if you have been following this blog, I am unapologetically a special effects junkie. We are in a Golden Age of special effects. I know many people complain about CGI and I think good quality CGI is very enjoyable and I love how it can whisk you off to other worlds. Double Negative is the effects company that are doing the special effects. Follow the link and the bottom of the page to see the stellar work they have done. So I am pretty confident we will ge a life-like Godzilla, unlike any we have seen before, with other spectacular effects to go along with it.

So my confidence is high for this movie and from everything I have read I really do not have anything to worry about. If you’re a Godzilla fan I don’t think you should worry either.