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Friday, 5 April 2013

E is for Effect - Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

So today I'm going to talk about special effects.

Now I remember watching Star Trek as a child (the original in reruns) and being amazed by the special effects. I think there is something very wonderful about what film makers and TV effects wizards can make us believe with their skills. However, there is also a downside to this wonder and I'd like to talk about that as well.

With each year there seem to be bigger and better special effects. When I was small the special effects were all done with well placed wires and camera effects. Recently I bought The Invisible Man with David McCallum on Blu-ray. Now I remember this on TV, which must have been in repeats, because I was only three when it first came out, and I was always totally stunned at how Dan Weston became invisible.

For the blu-ray they've not done a huge amount to it other than upscaled it and you can tell it was never designed for HD. Now all the floating objects aren't so wonderful, because in HD the wires are obvious, however, I still remember the wonder and enjoy watching it. However, I wonder if a modern audience, used to all the CGI would appreciate the brilliance of the stories simply because the special effects are comparatively bad.

Same with Doctor Who and Blake's 7 - the BBC special effects department did some amazing things with bubble wrap and goo, but the modern audience is used to slick graphics that are often impossible to tell from reality. I think it's a shame that to some modern eyes the stories are overlooked because of the limitations of the productions.

That's not to say I think we should go back to sink plungers and glued on ping-pong balls, but sometimes it is good to see beyond the effects.

I really appreciate good special effects. One film I love is Avatar and I think it is visually stunning. It is also one of the few films where I believe 3D added to the experience.

3D is where I think special effects have gone too far. In every single film I have seen in 3D (usually because there is no 2D showing) except Avatar, the 3D has not added to the experience and in several cases has detracted from it. This happened in both Hansel and Gretel (great film) and Fright Night (not so great film), where the fast action sequences and dark moments were not so well rendered.

I really wish film makers would get over the 3D. I don't need to have things thrown out of the screen at me to enjoy a movie. If you're going to do it properly and simply have the 3D add to the depth, like in Avatar, then, go for it, otherwise, save the money.

Then there are also those films which seem to be nothing but special effects. It is always a shame when the effects seem to be more important than the plot; I'm looking at you Battleship. If I don't gel with the characters or the story, all the CGI in the world is not going to make me love a film.

Of course not all special effects are done with a computer. There are the good old makeup effects, some of which are simply stunning. Pan's Labyrinth immediately springs to mind, along with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. These days makeup is often paired with CGI and it makes for a breathtaking combination.

However, what I find even more amazing is looking back to before CGI and seeing what they managed. Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster is a classic example. The image is now iconic and every other monster draws from the same inspiration.

Simply put, special effects gurus are amazing, whether they work in make-up, bubble wrap and latex or CGI. There is so much innovation and some great cinematic/TV moments have been created on shoestring budgets. Others have wowed us with budgets in hundreds of millions, while some have failed with just the same amount of money.

Special effects are great, but I say, make sure to leave some of the budget for great writing, because that's just as important.

Thank you for letting me prattle on; I would love to hear you thoughts on special effects. What films/TV triumphed, what failed, and do you prefer your watching material CGI'd to the hilt or unadulterated?

If you would like to see what all of my posts will be about in advance, click here to see my theme post.
My twin and I are also doing the A to Z Challenge over at our fantasy erotica blog: http://fantasyboysxxx.blogspot.co.uk/


  1. I'm not a fan of 3D for any movie, although I haven't seen Avatar so I can't comment on that one. I do have to say that special effects have come a long way since my childhood.

    Tales of a Pee Dee Mama

    1. So many people aren't fans of 3D - probably why they make it so hard to find a 2D showing of some movies; they're not giving us the choice. I love special effects and the advances are amazing, but it is most frustrating when they take the place of the plot.

  2. Special effects can be amazing but I also think that too often now the empathise is on what they can do and not on characters or story, sometimes simpler is more effective, I'm pretty much echoing what you've said yourself.

    Wallace and Gromit - stop motion animation, is impressive and far more expressive than cgi people which tend to be unnerving.
    I still rate Thunderbirds highly, half the fun was spotting the strings ;)

    Action films, I saw The Expendables recently; and no I wasn't expecting greatness! At the end of the film I still couldn't name the characters and didn't care, fight scenes may have been good but were too dark to distinquish people. Explosions though? Oh my, even the explosions exploded.

    Pan's Labrinyth - Yes. Creepily effective.

    There needs to be a balance. Independance Day wowed me, but then re-makes of old classic sci-fis have lacked the heart of the original.

    I wish they'd take the view; this is the story we want to tell and we can do it by...., rather than what seems to be; look what we can do, stick some snappy oneliners around this and we have outselves a product!

    But when they get it right, wow.

    1. Directors and producers really need to understand explosions do not a plot make, but if you give us enough plot to enjoy we'll enjoy the explosions as well :)

      I really enjoy CGI, but it gets over used. I think what they can do with it is amazing and I find it's best when you can't tell what is CGI'd.

      A lot of the problem with remakes is they try to modernise and lose the magic. Don't get me started on what I think of the remake of Fright Night, we could be here for hours.

  3. This is interesting, Natasha. I love special effects, but not at the cost of a good story. I love Dr. Who and when I first saw the leap into hyper-space in Star Wars I was breathless. Yet, I saw Silent Movie and was so taken with that simple, cliche-filled movie and it had no special effects--even sound.

    1. It's all a balance, I think, and some directors get is and some don't. I think for too long TPTB believed their target audience was boys and young men and that they only like explosions. I suspect they were wrong on both counts :). They are beginning to wake up though, which is nice.

      I saw Hansel and Gretel a few weeks ago and it is chock full of CGI, and the plot's not complex, but it is there and the characters are brilliant. I think it had the balance. Whereas I also saw Battle ship and had totally the opposite reaction. Too much CGI, not enough character.

  4. I do love well done special effects, but they really shouldn't take place of good writing/acting. Also, I hate 3D, and I refuse to see any movie that only releases in 3D.

    The one thing I hate most about bigger and better special effects, though, is it has killed what I used to like best about horror films. I loved the suspense and the slow build up of terror until the final reveal, whether it be of the killer, or monster, or whatever. I realize not all horror films were like that, but those were the only ones I liked, and finding one now is like looking for a needle in a haystack. As the ability to make more realistic looking gore has increased, good storytelling has decreased. Now, almost every horror movie that comes out is a slasher fest that seems like it's more interested in seeing if it can make you throw up than anything else. And even the ones that do have good plots have too much gore for me to be able to enjoy watching them. :(

    Also, I'd like to think that some stories are so well told, Star Trek, the original Star Wars Trilogy, the original Indiana Jones Trilogy, etc, that outdated special effects can't detract from that. But sadly, the more movies I see that are all effects and no substance that everyone seems to love and dub instant classics (a term I hate, btw), the less likely that seems.

    1. 3D should die a death IMHO. It's okay as a special, but I don't want it on every movie, especially fast action movies - it spoils the movement.

      Have you seen The Woman In Black - oh boy, if you want build up without lots of special effects, that is your movie. It is brilliant. I'm totally with you as well, it's the bit before you see the monster that is really terrifying.

      I'm not sure there's any such thing as an instant classic - if it's still all the rage five years down the line I'll admit people might be on to something, but, especially when it comes to special effect, the next big thing is just round the corner. :)

  5. I love a show with great effects, and like you, I gushed over Avatar for weeks. It was the optimum 3D movie experience--total eye candy. Sure it got a lot of flack for an average story (a la Dances with WOlves) But the story was good enough to work for me and not have the effects distract from it. I wish I could see it in the theatre again.
    A good balance is necessary, and I dont care to see 3D unless it's like Avatar, altho I did see The Hobbit in 3D and it was great.

    1. I really enjoyed the story in Avatar - yes it's a classic, but sometimes I like classics, and classics with that much beauty to watch I can live with :).

      When Avengers came out I saw it in 3D first because they didn't have 2D available for pre-booking, and then I went back and saw it in 2D and enjoyed it even more. I have to say though, I think it's how the 3D works in cinemas - we had to upgrade out projector at home recently because the old one broke, and the one we found was 3D and the glasses are active - it's so much better than cinema 3D.

  6. I love Avitar! But I'm with you. I rather not have 3D. I still enjoy the classics without the CGI, but a balance of both would be nice. I saw the new Total Recall with Collin Farrel. I like the original with Arnold Schwarzenegger and liked it, but the new version was all about the special effects. It took away from the story. I was disappointed. Enjoyed the post!

    1. I have not seen the new Total Recall, but I did see the new Fright Night and I thought they wrecked that.

      I really dislike when they put horror in 3D because 3D reduced the amount of light you see and also interfers with action, so in a dark horror movie where things are moving fast it's a really, really bad choice.

      Thank you so much for stopping by.


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