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– Under the Skin

Man, there are so many things I could rant and rave about when it comes to what I can’t stand concerning the world of film. Clichés run rampant in most of the schlock served up during the summer, and audiences eat them up like they’ve never seen these tired devices before. Product placement is also a big problem, turning what is supposed to be an escapist experience into nothing more than a prolonged advertisement for GMC Jeeps and iPods (I’m looking at you, Blade: Trinity). If I had to pick one infuriating element of Hollywood over all the rest, however, it would have to be the excessive CGI effects used in recent blockbusters.

There was a point in time when filmmakers had only a small set of tools when it came to creating the fantastic or impossible. Steven Spielberg had to create an actual, working shark for his beloved Jaws, a heady task which involved a lot of effort and expertise. As a result of his and the film’s team being creative in making this fierce creature, the movie was made all the better.

Can you imagine a re-release of this masterpiece where the shark was replaced by a computer animated beast? Oh sure, you could make ol’ Bruce do so much more, but at what cost? Audiences would lose that palpable sense of fear which stems from their seeming ability to reach out and actually touch the source of their fear. The mechanical shark could very well come at you, whereas the animated fish might as well appear in a DreamWorks parody of The Godfather.

To play the blame game might come off as unfair in this discussion, but nevertheless I’m going to point a big finger in George Lucas’ direction and say it’s his fault for this deluge of CGI in today’s films. His effects-laden Special Editions of the Star Wars films are more than responsible for flooding the market with splashy shots of monsters and supposedly realistic star ships, and because they made so much money I’m sure more than a few directors thought CGI would boost their box-office receipts as well. Now we’re forced to share theater space with such junk as Van Helsing, a film which might as well have been fully animated.

Another casualty of the CGI invasion is the wonderful world of puppetry. Again, using puppets to realize your visions of the fantastic is so much more effective than the efficient but sterile computer effect. Films like Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal are a feast for the eyes because they ooze sheer artistry and craftsmanship. The characters inhabit the space and interact with it instead of merely being added in post-production. If we had more films like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which used puppetry extensively, then perhaps audiences would once again realize that effects don’t necessarily equate a realistic atmosphere.

Unfortunately, I see no discernible end for the wave of computer effects in its constant flow over the land of filmmaking. Along with 2D animation, traditional devices such as puppetry appear to be dissolving in the wake of new technology. Some might say I should get with the times and accept this new way of making movies, but I refuse to stop complaining. On a final note, a sequel to the The Dark Crystal is apparently in the works, and it will be a combination of puppets and CGI. In a word: Blech.

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