Annoying Hollywood Trends #1 – Unnecessary CGI

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News has recently emerged that the iconic suit to be worn by Ryan Reynolds in the up and coming Green Lantern movie will be created entirely with CGI animation. This shockingly stupid decision inspired me to highlight Hollywood’s infuriating tendency to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on unnecessary digital effects!

From the god awful CG monkeys of Crystal Skull, to phony looking Clone Troopers of the Star Wars prequels – Hollywood has developed an unhealthy fascination with this idiotic concept.

Take the example mentioned above – in the comics, the Green Lanterns suit comprises of nothing more than a simple white logo, slapped onto green and black spandex. That’s it!

This is not Iron Man we are dealing with here. His costume doesn’t move, change shape or fire missiles. All that is asked of it, is that its stays on the actor’s body. A couple of hundred dollars should do it. But no – Warner brothers are happily going to waste god knows how much money digitally painting in the Lanterns costume over a specially made body suit that can be edited out in post production.

What a waste of time and effort!

This decision simply does not make sense – financially or practically. If Reynolds is going to be wearing a spandex suit to begin with,  just make that suit look like the suit you are going waste time painting in afterwards! Job done right?

The physical suit worked fine for Spiderman, Superman and Batman. Can you imagine how terrible The Dark Knight would have looked if Warner Brothers had decided to add-in Batman’s cape digitally in post? The effect would be jarring and distracting, hindering the reality of the picture. Something that the new Batman movies have won much acclaim for. The Dark Knight was a global sensation, and undoubtedly the blue print for Lantern – so why mess with a winning formula?

Sadly this  ridiculous example of Hollywood splashing out on effects just for the hell of it is not an isolated incident.

I Am Legend (2007) was universally praised for its tense atmosphere and Will Smiths powerhouse performance. One thing it certainly was NOT praised for was its monsters!

For some reason, director Francis Lawrence decided that bald guys in rags would be far to complicated to pull off practically, and that computer effects were the only to go. No, No, No!

The CGI Vamps of I Am Legend are infamously one of the biggest mis-judgements in modern movie history. Legends atmosphere and tense sense of foreboding is completely destroyed the second these quite horrible (but not as intended) looking villains make their appearance. The vampire/mutants unnaturally smooth skin, and floaty physics took both myself, and the movie going public in general out of the picture. The threat was no longer real, and the movie had lost its sense of danger. Smith was no longer running for his life, he was running away from NOTHING – and it was painfully obvious.

IMO the creatures would have looked far more frightening if they had of just been some creepy looking bald guys in robes. Especially with some minor CGI embellishments layered over the top. Take the Reapers in Blade II for example. Both creatures have a similar look, but the Reapers in Blade are a far scarier bunch thanks to their physicality and excellent make-up work. The CGI assisted facial appendages are just the icing on the cake – there to simply help sell the practical effect and not replace it. This is how CG should be implemented – to enhance, not to over power.

Ok, I can at least kind of understand the film makers thinking that a un-worldly mutant might have looked better in CG. These creatures do not exist in real-life afterall,  at least not yet. I don’t agree with the decision, but I at least understand it…

But what is the thinking behind rendering existing animals like Deer and Lions? These animals actually exist here and now, and (by Hollywood standards at least) easily obtainable. Plus by default, they will always look far better on-screen than the work of even the very best CGI artists and animators. Reality should always be the preference. This lazy habit really gets my computer enhance goat!

Another example of damaging CGI abuse can be found in the Star Wars Prequels. George Lucas is surely the poster child for bad and un-wanted CG – single handily ruining both of his beloved franchises with the practise.

First off – Star Wars. The prequels effects (while semi-impressive at the time) now look no more cinematic than your average video game cut scene. Almost every shot in the movie has been filmed in front of green screen, with digital matte paintings filling in for actual sets. And we are not just talking about large other worldly landscapes here –  almost every set in the picture is computer generated – no matter how minor. Hell, even some of the supporting cast were added in later. The prequels have a cartoony, false look that lacks realism and gravitas. Lucas doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that the lived-in feel of the original trilogy’s physical sets, props and wardrobe combined with the special effects, is part of what made those movies so memorable.

Digital sets aside, my biggest peeve with Lucas was his decision to create all of the Clone Troopers entirely with CG. How much is some white plastic, and black body suits really going to set you back in the big scheme of things George? I can understand using CGI to enhance the number of troops in the big battle scenes, but why does every trooper have to be computer generated? Even shots of a single Troop speaking to a cast member has been digitally created. There is a reason why the Storm Troopers of the original movies are iconic, and clone troopers of the prequels are not.

I can’t even bring myself to write too much about the swinging CGI monkey scene of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. How distressing that moment was – even more cringe worthy than Indy surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge!?!  BTW – if that really works, then we should all stop worry about nuclear war because almost everyone has a kitchen these days.

Anyway – the Indiana Jones movies are fondly cherished because of their impressive practical stunt work and set pieces. The kind of effects both Spielberg and Lucas were promising during the build-up to Skulls release. Luckily for us, their words were simply cover for what they knew we really wanted to see – CGI Monkeys, Gophers, Ants and Shia La Beouf dicking around in front of a green screen pretending to be Tarzan. Thank you George! You were right – that was better!

Everything mentioned above could have been done for real on set/location, and that is what bothers me. Lucas simply decided not too – and I imagine it comes more from a place of laziness, than creativity.

Lucas personifies Hollywood’s naïve view that we as an audience will feel cheated if a big movie DOESN’T have CG. What they don’t get, is that it is how real the effect looks within the context of the movie that matters, not the method of its execution. It doesn’t matter whether the effect is CG, an animatronic or even sock puppet – if it looks and feels authentic, then we will be impressed. The amount of money spent on it is irrelevant.

Weirder still is the phenomenon of CGI human beings. The rubbery Neo of the burly brawl in Matrix Reloaded, and the bad CG Peter Parker in Raimi`s original Spiderman come to mind. Despite what Avatar purist may preach, we are not even close to perfecting photo realistic humans (or hominoids) yet, and so should be avoided at all costs. This is one of CGs biggest crimes, and a topic that I will delve deeper into in a future post.

So in summary – don’t get me wrong, I know there are some things that have to be done with CG. The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, or the Auto Bots of the Transformers movies for instance. If there is no practical way of pulling off the effect without it, then fine, go nuts! Just please Hollywood, no more CGI Gophers or body suits. That’s just plain lazy…

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One Response to “Annoying Hollywood Trends #1 – Unnecessary CGI”

  1. James Says:

    Green Lanten CGI suit? The real stupidity is making this film at all

    Green Lanten?

    Who?

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