At the Movies: Hollywood's Overuse of CGI

By Mike on 10:42 am

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You hear a lot of celebrity talk but you never really hear about the movies themselves being discussed. It's an industry that seems to fly in the face of logic. Hollywood has been in a box office slump in recent years. The thing is, they can't figure out why. They usually attribute lack of sales to piracy and illegal downloading, but the real reason is simply the content.

Spider-Man 3, the biggest blockbuster of the summer, so Sony claimed. It has been universally panned by critics. I believe utter disgrace has been used to describe it on numerous occasions. Well, there are several issues that turn potential blockbusters into train wrecks. Spider-Man 3 is a good movie to dissect but you might as well be talking about any major release these days.

Lets talk about the overemphasis on special effects and CGI. While it's possible to create amazingly real special effects using CGI, it has become way over used. Take the Star Wars prequels for example. While the original trilogy has a magic about it, the prequels ended up being no more than a two hours long cartoon with real people superimposed over it. Take the case of Revenge of the Sith. One scene, where Obi-Wan's clone commander take off his helmet, it's Temuera Morrison's head on a CGI body. The scene just ends up looking really weird and unnatural where it probably would have been easier and more realistic looking to just to put Morrison in costume. Star Wars is good for comparison purposes since we can look at how the original trilogy was done in the late 70s and early 80s compared to the prequels of the late 90s and 2000s. Same movies, same director, same writers, but completely different feel. The majority of Star Wars fans do not like the new movies, at least not as much as the original. This has been attributed to nostalgia but I think it has a lot to do with production values. Star Wars Episode IV as a low budget film is way better than Episode I is as a high budget film.

Moving to more recent movies, Spider Man 3 and Transformers were supposed to be this summer's big movies, but they flopped. Once again, we see an overuse of CGI. Critics typically say that while SM3 looks pretty, it lacks plot. The same criticism was leveled at Transformers for being 2hrs or giant robots smashing into buildings, but it only had a very weak, cliched plot. The problem with CGI is that it's become a poor substitute for good story telling. Certain films like Lord of the Rings can pull it off with a lot of CGI use because they have strong stories to back it up. The sad truth is that Hollywood has completely run out of ideas. Writers have no imagination what so ever so they turn to CGI as nothing more than filler. If people just want to see computer generated graphics, they'll just pick up a video game, as they did with Halo 3 which smashed the movie box office.

1 comments for this post

Totally agree. "Special effects films" have been around for a long time. Stars Wars being a good example of when Hollywood was really starting to master non-CGI FX. By the 80's it has become an art. Then suddenly, the shift to CGI and the total abandonment of real, practical FX.
Watch John Carpenter's, The Thing, from 1982 and marvel at the non-cgi effects that blows away anything that could be done today with CGI. Even the famous scene from Alien were the creature bursts from the man's stomach.
I think CGI is 10 or 20 years away from being perfected in terms of looking "like real life" to be used as much as it is currently. As of today, it looks corny and cartoonish unless used in subtle ways.
Then again, the masses lap that shit up, so what do I know?

Posted on 15 March 2010 at 21:01