Monday, 7 April 2008

The "real" wow factor.

I'm a big fan of 1960's cinema, personally I love the croaky sometimes hokey feel of 60's cinematography. I enjoy the snappy scripts, and the awkward cut-aways, not to mention the use of zoom and the glorious close-ups thrown in to suture shots that otherwise would jump about like a slinky at a happening. Recently I showed my son "The Italian Job" (The original) and although the remake also features real stunts done on location using real cars, he was suitably impressed by the action simply because it was real.

This made me think that perhaps we are heading for a backlash away from CGI stuff, when the wow factor comes from knowing that actors and stunt people are actually doing what they are doing without a Green Screen or CGI effect to pass us into the world of believability.

Last night I started watching "Night at the Museum", I usually sometimes take a punt at films I haven't seen and probably wouldn't see at the cinema when I visit my local video store, and this film was one of them. The script is fairly poor but what made it just appalling, was the use of CGI. There is one scene when animals such as Zebras and Elephants come bounding down some stairs. These CGI animals wobbling about like Morph the plasticine man seemingly light-footed as the stair banister and floor remained intact. So where is the Zebra shit, the scuff, the Ostrich slipping over on the slippery marble, the cracked steps? My imagination doesn't get hooked, it wants to get excited but it appears like a half-arsed trick. One real Zebra coming down the steps would have done it for me but this pack of wildlife just seemed ridiculous as they managed to successfully navigate themselves around the gleaming interior of the museum. Not a single stack and that stupid expression they put on their faces, it is all just cop-out sameness.

"Night at the Museum" would have worked well as a mood piece, as that is the impression I get from thinking about a museum coming to life at night. Another annoying scene was the skeleton of a T-Rex chasing a bone, as it whizzed past the security desk its tail smashed some lamps but watching it pound across the marble without a single crack and no remnants of the broken lamps to be seen anywhere I thought, you've got to be kidding, I can take fake but that is because fake tries awfully hard to be real and even if it doesn't pull off, at least the effort has been made to suspend belief rather then just this lazy slight of hand produced by funky flunkies with their bendable toys working late in the CGI lab.

Yet another scene that irked me, was one with Owen Wilson on horseback as a figurine in a Cowboy display. The problem here was that they went and did a composite on a fake display background behind him rather then build a portion of the fake display which would have worked better because the background is fake anyway. A picture of a fake set just looks too fake, what is the point of that, even with back projected images used in early cinema, the idea was using a real road projected not a fake road projected as that would be ludicrous.

Anyway, without reviewing too much of a terrible film, I must make my point that if you can achieve real stunts and "real" special effects then you are giving the audience something worth watching. Fine to use CGI where it works but to use it all the time, no way. Although film is different from theatre in the sense of not being live, the actual production is still live, when you are shooting it, it is still live, so why be lazy and cheat everything? Even though your audience is not there during the shoot, your cast and crew still are, and they are an audience all the same. Give them some magic and it will carry on effectively to the cinema going public.

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