Tuesday, 31 January 2017

CGI, a Help or a Hindrance?

(The Jungle Book , (2016), Jon Favreau. Picture found at: http://mozi.24.hu/hirek/20160421/a-dzsungel-konyve-kritika )

Computer generated imagery is still a fairly new and advanced statement upon the film industry, many directors and visionaries opting to utilise it and convey its potential in different ways, and there is certainly a right and a wrong way, as I'm sure most of you know. It's 2017 now, and still we can be plunged deep into a film narrative when out of nowhere comes a horrendously produced CGI - thing. It takes you away from the experience, it becomes a parody of itself and essentially was unnecessary. On the other hand, there are cases where the implementation of CGI characters or effects intertwine and astonish so perfectly fitting to the film that it blows the audience away. I want to look at some cases where it's been nailed, some not so much, and where we're at with CGI in cinema right now in 2017.

Personally, when I hear 'CGI' thrown around I go straight to thoughts on Guillermo Del Toro's cinematic repertoire and his outstanding accomplishments in that field. Pan's Labyrinth (2006), a film that embodies a nightmarish but very real and twisted fairy-tale, follows the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and specifically a young girl named Ofelia. Escaping from her life with her fascist military captain stepfather who tortures protesters and those who challenge the establishment. Escaping from reality is a common theme through many films but CGI opens a whole new meaning to this and perhaps adds to what the fuss is all about as the technology evolves.

 "For del Toro, one of the key moments of horror cinema is in “Alien,” when Harry Dean Stanton “cannot run because he is in awe of the creature when it’s lowering itself in front of him. It’s a moment of man in front of a totemic god.”
-  (Show the Monster, 2011, Daniel Zalewski.)

A more openly criticised use of early CGI,  which didn't tend to seek many complaints, more just awe and spectacle - was George Lucas' controversial decision to add CGI effects and characters to the original Star Wars Trilogy. Avoiding fandom's effects as much as I can, they were perfectly good films before the CGI addition and if anything, the fact they were added post production highlights the forced nature in which they made their way onto the remastered versions of the originals. The prequels CGI effects are a lot more fluent and welcome in comparison - think podracing scene - so at least George learned even if they're not perfect.

( Star wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, (1999), George Lucas. Found at: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Podracing )

Some big hitters in recent years of fairly monumental achievements in CGI come from familiar places like Jurassic Park, Avatar, Avengers, Dawn of the Planet of The Apes, The Jungle Book (2016) and even Transformers. It is in the not so congratulated too that we need to pay attention, I, Robot in my opinion is a great use of CGI in the thriller/horror genre mashup that ensues. Not only does the film boast the ever likeable Will Smith, it actually places him in a solid film which poses many thought provoking questions and attitudes, if you've not seen it consider this a recommendation. Neill Blomkamp's powerful District 9 which with everything going on in America seems to make for a more poignant message on discrimination, oppression and fear is another pivotal and new use of the technology.

CGI is oft times the subject of intense magnification from critics and audiences alike, if it's used it has undoubtedly been discussed whether it was necessary or not. This has certainly come from the fact that with all new technology, a sort of trial and error ensues until someone nails it and when CGI arrived this happened, making audiences even more aware of how ugly it can get. It's natural for audiences to wonder whether something was needed or not. If a film is screaming and slapping you into sensory submission it can become overloaded and just take away from the experience, especially when you consider the purely artificial components like CGI.

 A recent example would be Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's peculiar use of the technology (mild spoiler ahead), as the ending sequences begins transitioning towards the beginning of Episode IV we encounter a young and fresh faced Princess Leia and quickly realise she, just as Moff Tarkin from previously in the film are both CGI representations. I for one was totally sold on the sentiment, although consent for original Moff Tarkin actor Peter Cushing seemes more questionable as he had passed away prior to any filming. I personally enjoy Leia's appearance, and Carrie Fisher herself squealed with joy when she saw her recreation of her younger self back on the big screen. The boldness for me was the director's willingness to engage in close-up shots of these two characters faces which slightly made the CGI additions more blindingly obvious and does take you out of the film for a moment as you consider the entire concept. Nonetheless, it gives you something to think about.

While we're on the topic, another amazing feat to CGI accomplishments is Guillermo Del Toro's take on a Kaiju film, this refers to the kind of early massive monster cinematics like Godzilla and King Kong - each who boast several remakes and advances that provide their own little CGI evolution timeline. Pacific Rim (2013) places the audience in a future reality where Earth has it's own defense systems to combat these massive kaiju monsters, called Jaegers that are piloted by two highly skilled and compatible controllers. The film boasts a very refreshing cast avoiding complete superstars and going for raw yet familiar talents like Idris Elba, Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunnam. There's also a sequel being filmed at the moment featuring John Boyega as the lead, so there's something to look forward to. The important factor to take into account when considering Del Toro's personal brand of CGI influence, is exactly that, it's his own personal brand.

(Pacific Rim,(2013), Guillermo Del Toro. Found at: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/pacific-rim/images/35189702/title/gypsy-danger-striker-eureka-photo )

Each director will have a different use and focus on the CGI aspects of their films. I am definitely of the opinion that CGI is a fantastic help in most cases, but you've got to be careful not to force it too much and attract controversy as the still evolving technology tends to do. With brave advancements like in Rogue One, and even just the generally increasing realism of the images, we can only be set to see further and further improvements and advances.

Liam Biddle

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