C'mon Hollywood: Give us more practical effects!
It’s no secret that CGI has nearly eclipsed practical effects and we’ve all suffered because of it. Gone are the days when the make-up personnel were challenged with creating the impossible. Now, with a few exceptions, filmmakers are leaning towards the corner-cutting of CGI, which is deemed either quicker, easier, or cheaper than actually having sets built, masks made, pyrotechnics set off, or blood squibs explode.
The wow factor of CGI (especially bad CGI) has worn off by now. Anyone who watches movies regularly can spot quality vs. crap when it comes to CGI work. That said, they can often spot practical effects, too, but which is more convincing? There is a fine line between what sells and what doesn’t in terms of effects. You have great examples of CGI (AVATAR) and you have really shitty examples (THE MUMMY RETURNS).
However, I’m not going to argue the merits of CGI. I think we can all agree that when done right, CGI is great, especially when it becomes near seamless. My issue is with the lack of practical effects when they absolutely would have done the film more justice and given it a sense of visceral reality than pixilated fantasy.
There is a bevy of great make-up artists still working in Hollywood today, from Rick Baker (THE HOWLING) to Tom Savini (FRIDAY THE 13TH), etc., but their challenges aren’t the same anymore. Now, they’re either competing with CGI or working around it in order to achieve their results, creating the new problem of blending real effects with CGI in a seamless fashion.
In 1982, special effects guru Rob Bottin worked with director John Carpenter on a new version of THE THING, which featured ALL practical effects that amaze to this day. The creation of the alien creature in all its various forms was pure brilliance, making you feel as if you were seeing something real, rather than an obvious computer recreation. While imperfect, the effects were something to behold, especially when you consider that today Hollywood wouldn’t dream of shooting that film completely with practical effects (in fact, see the re-prequel to find out for sure).
Another great make-up effects artist was the legendary Stan Winston, creator of the Predator, Alien Queen, and Terminator, amongst countless others. Winston died in 2008, leaving behind a legacy of outstanding work that is forever immortalized on film. Go back and watch the final confrontation scene in McTiernan’s PREDATOR. The mechanics of the mask, the subtle twitches, that monstrous roar…all created with real make-up effects, which were utterly awesome and frightening.
Oftentimes, when I’m done watching the original PREDATOR or ALIENS, I find myself a little jumpy walking through the house in the dark. I’m a grown ass man and realize none of these creatures are going to jump out and “get me,” but seeing them in motion, as my eye is trained to see, I can’t help but shake the notion that I witnessed a very real threat. Not so much the case after watching DEEP BLUE SEA or VAN HELSING.
Today, there are a number of filmmakers that make decent use of practical effects, such as Guillermo Del Toro, Robert Rodriguez, etc., all with varying degrees of success. Ridley and Tony Scott are champions of using in-camera effects or blending CGI with reality in the a seamless manner. Ridley’s ALIEN chest burster scene is still and always a classic and as cheesy as Tony’s TOP GUN may be, the flight sequences still amaze. In fact, I often find myself amazed watching these old films just because I KNOW Hollywood would never shoot them like that today. It’s like watching an old episode of Miami Vice and wondering how the f*ck they ever solved crimes without cell phones or the Internet.
Perhaps one of the greatest offenders of CGI that altered the entire film for me was Will Smith’s I AM LEGEND. The film started off great with some very human moments, a realistic-looking apocalyptic world (mostly CGI) and the tease of a terrifying villain. Then, we got our first look at the monsters and the movie took a nosedive. The hideous, cheap-looking CGI of the film’s antagonists was so awful that it took me out of the film completely. Now, imagine if someone like Bottin, Baker, or any talented make-up artist would’ve created those creatures? I imagine we’d have a very different movie.
Being completely reliant on CGI is the route we’re going and it’s a damn shame. I miss the days of exploding blood squibs, freakish and convincing monsters, and seeing real cars and buildings blown up, rather than an obvious computer hack job that is less convincing than the Bad Robot action app on my iPhone. It’s high time Hollywood recognized the value and artistry that has helped lead the charge in the special effects community and take a stand to give us a little more of the real shit and a lot less of the digital garbage.
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|Extra Tidbit:||Rob Bottin, who gave us the awesome effects of The Thing, Fight Club, Seven, Robocop, Total Recall, and Legend (amongst others) is now a real estate agent. Although there isn't a definitive reason I could find as to why he left Hollywood, one has to wonder if the push for CGI played a role...|