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Cervantes: Has CGI gone too far?

BY CHRISTOPHER CERVANTES | SEPTEMBER 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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I am a movie buff. There is a strange joy that I feel when I annoy my friends with worthless bits of trivia that none of them care about. I am also a movie critic. This is just as annoying (if not more so) to not only my friends but my family as well. Be that as it may, I am still invited to my social circle’s weekly movie night, held in whoever’s dorm is the cleanest. It was at our latest movie night that I noticed a strange pattern. This recurring factor became more prominent as the night went on, and the pictures became more modern.

As technology has grown more sophisticated and CGI (Computer Generated Images) more finely tuned, the quality of the writing has faltered. This weakness has proved to be detrimental to several films and caused them fall short of their potential.

Back in the day when the best special-effect creature Hollywood could buy was a Muppet, special effects and environments were severely limited. The technology seldom gave filmmakers any other option, so they made do with what was available. This forced the screenwriter to create her or his specific world, not merely with special effects, but with the characters.

However, production during a time of limited CGI could be utilized quite effectively. For this to happen, filmmakers had to be creative. These ideas led to many innovations, such as the stop-motion skeletons from the classic film Jason and the Argonauts.

Let me clarify by saying that not all CGI is bad. In fact, a great number of movies have used it spectacularly. But what I noticed in many modern films is an over-reliance on the state of the art CGI that we as a viewing public have become accustomed to over the years.

A good example of what I’m trying to say is summed up in 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. The film showcases an abundance of beautiful images that create the world of Oz in a different way from its Golden Age predecessor. Unlike The Wizard of Oz though, the characters of the 2013 prequel are painfully one-dimensional. Every single character had so few identifiable traits that they seem almost neglected.

This came from an overindulgence of technology. For some reason, the film industry nowadays sacrifices character development for more pretty special effects. Big, action-packed battles overshadow any scene that involves emotional turmoil or conflict. When those scenes come out from the shade, they are so mishandled that you want to just skip them to get back to the computer-generated eye candy. When you make it so the characters in your movie bore the audience, then you know you messed up somewhere.

There is a middle ground, though. And much like the child star with a successful adult career, it is a rare feat. And also like most cases, the middle ground is the best option.

So has CGI gone to far? Surprisingly, I don’t think so.

Despite what I’ve said on the topic, I think it’s a good thing. Imagine a movie such as Avatar or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Granted, I am sure that puppets could be used to an extent, but it would look more humorous than dramatic. Second, the amount of detail that can be put into a CGI image can be breathtaking. Certain environments (especially that of sci-fi films) are at their finest when as much detail as possible can be used.

The only limit in this creation is the imagination of the filmmaker. If the same imaginative level used in CGI is also used for other aspects, then it will work out just fine. Only in neglect will things fall apart.


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