In two words I will sum up how too much CGI can destroy a movie: Michael Bay.
|Transformers: Dark of the Moon|
Considering how far we've come with regard to technology, I was surprised to learn that there's a movement to return science fiction back to it's original, pre-CGI state. Take Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier for example. Van Gorder and Stockmeier are in the process of creating a science fiction film completely without the use of CGI.
According to Wired, "their movie C, which follows the story of an idealistic flight officer who hijacks a spaceship during an interplanetary cold war, aims to 'create a dynamic science-fiction film using classic, in-camera special effects.' That means their space ships are cobbled-together bits from plastic models and other junk, and cemented together. They are physically moved across a star field — in this case, a stretched-out piece of black cloth poked with holes. The production is about as low-tech as they get. Just like...ground-breaking SF movies, before the computer age, back when they made movies with things, not pixels."It's not as crazy as it sounds. Ever hear of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jaws, Star Wars, or Blade Runner--just to name a few? (See my top 15 scifi movies without cgi below). Admittedly, it's hard to remember a time before CGI and it's easy to focus on it's heavy-handed use, like in the following films:
- Transformers (and all it's sequels)
- Clash of the Titans (2010)
- The Thing (2011)
- Twilight (all of the sagas)
- The Scorpion King
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- The Matrix Sequels 2 & 3
- Green Lantern
- And lest we forget one of the worst offenders against CGI, Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (ugh Jar-Jar Binks), etc.
- Tron (2010) (I'm referring primarily to the Jeff Bridge CGI character, instead of using good-old fashioned makeup).
The list goes on and on. That said, I disagree with the purists because it's oh-so rewarding when CGI is done right, like in:
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes
- District 9
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (one of the first true uses of CGI in film)
- Jurassic Park (it would have been difficult to pull this off without CGI)
- The Matrix (not the sequels!!)
- And the original The Lord of the Rings.
Admittedly, the list of "just right" is less than the "CGI gone wild" category, but if there's one big budget director who has found the perfect mixture of real stunts and CGI, it's Christopher Nolan. Everything I've heard about Nolan indicates that he only uses CGI when absolutely necessary, which in my opinion is a good rule of thumb. One example of Nolan's brilliant filmmaking is the cafe scene in Inception, which was primarily done without the aid of CGI.
|Cafe Scene in Inception (Ellen Page and Leonard DiCaprio)|
"To generate those explosions, the film's special-effects supervisor, Chris Corbould, rigged up a series of air cannons that launched debris into the air. To achieve the right slow-motion effect, Pfister made use of a specialized camera.
'We shot it with super-high-speed Photo-Sonics cameras to get that material floating in the air,' Pfister said of equipment that can capture 1,500 frames a second, in contrast to regular film's 24 frames a second. The extra frames allowed the filmmakers to slow the frame rate to a virtual crawl.
Paris folding in on itself in Inception
Then in came Paul Franklin, the film's visual-effects supervisor, who employed computer graphics to extend the debris and create more of a floating effect." MTV.comThus, CGI was used to compliment, rather than create the scene. Unfortunately, some filmmakers think that CGI is a suitable substitute for good dialogue. What do you think? How much is too much? Or do you care?
Movie Trivia: Total Recall (1990) is one of the last big budget films ever made using large scale miniatures, rather than CGI. The only CGI sequence in Total Recall was the 42-second sequence in which commuters walked through the giant X-ray machine. That was it. Total Recall was a good science fiction film largely absent of CGI, as were the other films I've listed below. The fact that some of the greatest science fiction films of all time were created without the aid of CGI should say something.
Top 15 Science Fiction without the use of CGI.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Blade Runner
- Superman: The Movie
- The Thing (1982)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Forbidden Planet
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Planet of the Apes (1968)
- THX: 1138 (1971)
- The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Clearly not the Keanu Reeves remake!
- The Andromeda Strain (1971)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
- Escape from New York (1981)
Barbarella (1968)Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Invaders from Mars (1953)
It Came From Outer Space (1953)
It Came From Outer Space (1953)
Logan's Run (1976)Omega Man (1971)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)