Suspension of Disbelief in Film Dysmorphia

Suspension of Disbelief? Sit through this annoying video up until the 5:00 mark.

The fan boy “host” in the above video talks in attention deficit tweets. The video uses jump cut “hip” editing to spill out unabashed respect and love for the CGI technique that brought Peter Cushing back from the grave in “Rogue One.” He spends the first five minutes elaborating on the incredible work and effort it took create this digital feat. The “host” proclaims, “I think they pulled it off.”

Then, being a true “fan” he takes a swipe at all of the work done by Industrial Light and Magic, effects artist, John Knoll and director Gareth Edwards. “Now Tarkin didn’t look a hundred percent authentic,” the “host” whines, “especially the movement of his mouth, but…he looked better than any other time this has been used.” What movies has this guy made?

What has happened to film audiences? In the never ending quest for “realism” in special effects, it’s the scripts that have gotten fake. The industry magicians allowed their secrets to be told in endless hours of DVD extras, “spoilers” and “making of” specials. Nothing is special anymore.

We have been reduced to picking gnat shit out of pepper. We are destroying our own entertainment through its systematic deconstruction and we don’t even know why.

Martin Scorsese recently declared cinema dead. There is simply too much content. Nothing is special any more. He says this and so much more HERE.

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Have we become so cynical that we can no longer appreciate the craft of filmmaking? Is there so much content  that it means nothing? I sound like the old man who wants kids off his lawn, but when did we lose the ability to enjoy something? So much attention is paid on the smallest of details and as a result it often seems to come from those who could never come close to achieving anything close to what these people are criticizing.

We have been reduced to picking gnat shit out of pepper. We are destroying our own entertainment through its systematic deconstruction and we don’t even know why.

Ships don’t explode in space. Diving tanks don’t explode. Cars don’t maneuver like they do in “Fast and Furious” and Bruce Willis would have died from just one of the many hits, smashes and throws he received in the original “Die Hard” alone. Just look at Screen Junkies nifty little piece here:

What are we looking for when we say “that didn’t look real?” What exactly does that mean anymore? Those who understand Japanese Kaiju films know that realism wasn’t the goal of the filmmakers. The giant monster films of the 60s had a certain aesthetic that the Japanese filmmakers were going for. When they were originally approached decades ago about making a “realistic” Godzilla film, they turned America down. They didn’t want that.

Look below, does the 1954 suitmation “Godzilla” look any less real than the 1998 CGI crapfest with an animated beast dry humping a building?

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Is the CGI work in the 2014 “Godzilla” that different than the stylized suits and sound stages of the original films? We know what we are seeing was created by a computer. Our eyes know how the programs simulate muscle action and body movement through motion capture. Is that any different than spotting the zipper up the back of a monster costume? Why do we care if we are being entertained?

I propose a new disorder: “Film Dysmorphia.” We have become conditioned to CGI that we believe this is the new normal. Our minds tell us that it doesn’t look right, often we reject it outright in big budget spectacles like the “Star Wars” prequels or disaster garbage like “2012.” It’s a detailed cartoon, mostly lacking in style, but we have come to believe this is what looks good.

The original James Bond films had healthy budgets. However many of the driving/road scenes were done with a rear projection technique for a stylized feel for the film. To be clear, the filmmakers had the money to shoot their scenes on real roads with real cars, stunt drivers and real backgrounds. It was a directorial choice. A STYLE. Because film was still seen as art and a craft.

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Tell me the back green screen work in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” is any better than the rear projection Bond car work:

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It is clear this is on a stagnant sound stage in front of a green screen. None of this has any of the impact as the first film’s incredible live-action stunt work. Yet, this film had a budget of over $100 million and therefore it is to be accepted.

Who are these people that call films and their effects “dated?” If they are so “dated” why are they remade into inferior, more expensive films? The original 1984 “A Nightmare On Elm Street” had a small budget with limited effects as a result it was remade in 2010 into an inferior film. The remake was largely shunned by fans and did not find the new audience the studio hoped for.

englundWes Craven wrote a smart, scary screenplay that relied on story, mood and suspense. The remake had excellent CGI effects but nothing else. It was lifted from Craven’s original hard work. Like “Psycho” aside from a few tweaks, it was a shot for shot remake. It was devoid of the issues of the original’s time and was made as a cynical cash in and nothing more.  The original was “dated” because it was made in 1984? So why did the update fail?

Something happened in the last twenty years to movie audiences. They want the flash of fancy effects and they demand “quality” but they have lost the ability to appreciate good films because of some “film dysmorphia” and their view of perfectionist realism. Don’t believe me? Look at my analysis of “Independence Day 2” HERE and the “Fright Night” original and remake HERE.

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Look at the stills from two disaster movies over fifty years apart. Does the destruction of the Japanese Diet building in the 1954 man in a suit on a stage “Godzilla” look any less real than the animated, CGI destruction of New York City in “Independence Day 2? ” We waited 20 years for these “IDR” effects, according to director Roland Emerich, because his ideas were just so grand. A shame the script wasn’t. So while “Godzilla” has been remade a number of times with almost 30 sequels  since 1954; I suspect “Independence Day 2” will never be up for a remake let alone a third installment. Fake is fake, no matter how many dollars are behind it. However one of these films had a damned fine script and story. Guess which one.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK

John Carpenter shot his classic, “Escape From New York” on less than two million dollars. He used East St. Louis to substitute for the “once great city of New York.” He utilized hand-painted mattes for the city skyline and cleverly utilized vector graphics for aerial shots of the city from Kurt Russell’s glider. Take a look:

escape-from-new-york-skyline-glass-shotIs this fake? Is it perfect realism? It doesn’t matter. “Escape” was a damned good story with iconic characters and star turns by Kurt Russell, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau. It was a fresh post-apocalyptic romp that would likely not make a Sy Fy Channel premiere today. I can hear the online “trailer reviewers” and other web-based “hosts” tearing it down, knocking the matte effects and the “cheap” look of the film. This fuckin’ guy (James Cameron)  HAND PAINTED that skyline and old school matted it right into the frame. The amount of work that went into this is staggering, and it cost a fraction of what CGI costs and still, I say this yields an equal if not greater effect than present computer technology.

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Here is a still from “The Walking Dead” of the Atlanta skyline. This episode alone had a budget greater than “Escape from New York” and with state of the art technology. Tell me this looks any better than the hand-painted matte job you see above for Carpenter’s film. Yet, modern “fans” will claim it does. No. It doesn’t. Your view is distorted. The buildings are clearly digital mattes as well as the shoddy traffic jam out of the city to the left. Where are the critics, the YouTube nit pickers talking about this?

JAWS

“The shark looks fake.” There was talk of updating the film with erasing Bruce the mechanical shark and replacing him with a CGI new one in some Lucas-style special edition. You know, like how Spielberg erased the guns from “E.T.” and replaced them with walkie-talkies? Because that was a good move, right?  It has a fantastic story and screenplay. “Jaws” has terrific characters and performances and topped off with ground-breaking special effects. That’s why “Jaws” is a classic.

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As Spielberg would go on to do with “Jurassic Park” he INVENTED technology for his monster.  Bob Mattey and Roy Arbogast did what couldn’t be done and consequently made film history. Universal considered everything from Disney animating the shark to trying to train a real Great White for the shark action scenes. Mattey’s robot shark was robbed of the Oscar for best visual effects to “The Hindenburg.”  “Jaws” created a new technology.

The ending of the book is different than the film. Spielberg wanted a big bang ending. When someone pointed out the impossibility of an air tank exploding in the shark’s mouth, Spielberg replied “If I have them [the audience] this long, they’ll buy anything.” It’s called SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF. This is something an audience affords a film when they are engrossed and invested. Spielberg was right because the “Smile you sonofabitch!” ending made history.

Bruce the mechanical shark is a piece of art. It was created and utilized in film as an integral part of the story line. To erase it and replace it with a digital equivalent is censorship.To call the shark “dated” is to apply the same “thinking” to the Mona Lisa, the Statue of Liberty or anything by Warhol.

If you’re going to bitch, then be consistent.

For all of you gnat shit pickers, I officially declare the following films “suck” and here is why:

GREMLINS and CRITTERS

Why? Because it’s clear the Gremlins are puppets and animatronics They even used stop motion to show the groups of them in the street in Gremlins. The ending street shot is one big matte painting and doesn’t look real. The department store is a set and the snow all looks fake.  DATED

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GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

It’s very clear Slimer is nothing more than a superimposed puppet. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is just a guy in a big suit walking around a big set filled with models. The laser beams coming from the Proton Packs are clearly animated and the ending fight is on a stage. I can often see the matte seams and the Ghosbusters themselves projected in front of a screen. Looks cheap, hence DATED.

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FRIDAY THE 13TH (ALL OF THEM EXCEPT THE REMAKE)

It’s so obvious these are cheap, old school effects. Jason some times looks like a puppet and it’s clear this is just a big guy in latex. I mean, in Part IV it’s dummy head slid down a machete. The blood looks fake. Tom Savini and all those makeup effects artists are just hacks. DATED

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THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS TRILOGY

The ships are models and you can see they’re matted in, especially on home video. Many of the creatures, including Yoda and Jabba the Hutt look like…Muppets. Much of the Hoth location looks like a sound stage and the AT AT Walkers are stop motion animation models. The entire Bespin planet looks like a matte painting and cheap. You can see the post Luke slams into at the end of “Return of the Jedi” wobble, clearly cheap effects and stage design. All three films are DATED.

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KING KONG (1933)

Kong is clearly stop motion animation and Fay Wray is held in a giant ape hand prop. The island is just a giant stage set and they used rear projection on just about everything. You can see Kong’s fur ruffle here and there from where they moved him with wires. The dinosaurs look fake. The Empire state building fall is just some monkey doll thrown down the side. DATED

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Get my point? If any reader took the above examples seriously, then you are not seeing things properly.

Did we look at these films and so many more with such eagle-eyed criticism? Or do we remember them fondly for the fantastic stories or thrills that they gave us?

All of these films, and more opened the way for the movies that thrill us today. When some man-child You Tube “star” or wannabe tells us that the hard work and artistry put into films can be dismissed as “imperfect,” we have an issue. All of these films worked with what they had, but they all worked with great minds who used imagination, art and style to tell their tales.

The word “dated” is a term of ignorance. The opening video is blathering…digital noise in an age that makes its judgments toward the vapid, shallow importance of “expense.”

Enjoy a film for what it is. All of the smarmy, fast-talking hip “critics” who have never made a thing should take a lesson on appreciating a film instead of just “reviewing” it and looking for every imperfection so they can create some lame “look how cool I am” video or blog. Appreciate the work that went into bringing the story to you instead of “reviewing trailers” and trying to draw conclusions on 30-60 seconds of footage. That’s just stupid.

For the record, I can see the makeup lines on Kim Kardashian, the plastic surgery effects on Kylie and the stupidity of celebrity idolatry.

We started with “Star Wars” and we end with the following…because a picture is worth a thousand words:

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