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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.

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Dredd…a review

Oh the irony!! Just after doing a post on excessive violence I watched one of the most violent movies I have seen in a while. It is even more violent than the recently reviewed Looper. Like Total Recall this is a remake of a movie produced in the 1990s. The original movie, called Judge Dredd, starred Sylvester Stallone as the dreaded Judge with Rob Schnieder providing comic relief. The 1995 film did pretty well at the box office despite poor reviews from the critics. The remake did much better with the critics but was a gigantic bomb at the box office bringing in only $13 million domestically and $19 million in the foreign market for a total of $32 million worldwide. This was far short of recapping the $50 million budget which is a small budget for this type of film.

Judge Dredd is based on a comic book character. The premise of both the films and the comic book is a dystopian future where the policefore and judiciary system is combined. The judges dispense justice on the spot. I guess lawyers are not needed in the future. Another aspect of the character is that Dredd is never seen with his judges helmet off. The helmet covers almost everything except the mouth and lower jaw. The eyes are covered and are not seen.  Stallone takes his helmet off many times and is seen throughout most of the movie with the helmet off. This was one of the major complaints from the fans of the comic book against the 1995 film.

Here is my review. I almost shut the movie off! This is very violent and down right depressing! The majority of the movie takes place on one day in a dilapidated highrise building in Mega-City One. Dredd, who is training a female for a Judge’s position, when a drug bust goes bad and the criminals lock down the building and try to hunt down Dredd and his partner.

There is not much of  a plot but there is tons of graphic violence shown in slow motion. The drug that these people are on gives a sense of slowing down time so we the viewers are treated to graphic carnage and bloodshed in order to experience the violence those that are on this drug are experiencing. No thanks, I’ll pass.

Karl Urban (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings Trilogy) plays the iconic judge. I think he did well overall. The problem isn’t completely in his performance, some of the problems are in the script. Judge Dredd is supposed to be a legendary judge with a brutal and feared reputation. The original 1995 film made this clear with the performance of the larger-than-life Sylvester Stallone. I don’t think Urban as an actor can pull off that the larger-than-life persona that Sylvester Stallone can. I also don’t think the script showed the Dredd character as larger than life or a judge that all feared. He seemed like just one of the many judges out on the streets of Mega-City One.

Plus, other than Arnold and Bruce Willis no one can deliver over-the-top one liners like Stallone. That was part of the fun and joy of the original. While both versions were rated R the original was fun to watch, Stallone was a larger than life Judge Dredd who gets set up by his twin brother, played by Armand Assante, and is exiled and must find his way back into Mega-City One to redeem himself. While that movie was serious it also had fun moments and never took itself too seriously.

As I said in a previous post the Batman movies has led to many comic book movies to take a turn toward gritty realism. While in the Batman franchise that is done with success, with Dredd the gritty realism fails miserably. There is no joy in Mudville.

One positive, or semi-positive aspect of the movie is Olivia Thirlby as Judge Cassandra Anderson. her psychic abilities make her a good candidate but she is on the shy and insecure side. Watching her test her skills in the make it or break it day on the job is a highlight in this picture. Without her there really isn’t a story at all. My one complaint, and it isn’t too big, is that she goes from shy-wallflower to cold-hearted judge to quickly.

I really cannot recommend this movie. I suggest you watch the 1995 original if you’re in a Judge Dredd type of mood. I only recommend this movie to those who have stomachs. One final good point is the movie is 95 minutes long and it went by real fast!