NPF: THE LOST ARTS

By now you have probably seen the trailer for the latest installment in the "Hollywood ran out of ideas 25 years ago so here's the 917351st comic book superhero movie but hey, at least it isn't a remake" series, better known as Green Lantern. If you haven't had the pleasure, here you go:

OK.

Look at how stupid that looks.

No, I don't mean the acting, the plot, or the idea of making a film out of a B-squad comic book hero from the 1950s. I mean look at it. The cartoon-meets-Sega Genesis visual effects. The green screened everything. It is all clearly the product of the finest technology available to visual artists and filmmakers. And it's terrible. It's completely awful – fake, sterile, and desperate to make up for its fake sterility by jamming as much crap and kabloom-y effects as possible into every single frame of the film. Now contrast that with another film about people in outer space, one made without the benefits of quad core Mac G5s: 2001: A Space Odyssey (embedding disabled, so click through to see the Blue Danube docking sequence).

That was made with plastic models, a camera, and moving objects held in place with wires. Which one looks more "realistic" to you? Which one allows you to suspend your disbelief and feel like you're watching something that's really happening? Which one looks like what it is supposed to look like?

Sometimes I feel like CGI is killing movies. And sometimes it's so obvious that it ceases to be subjective.

I understand that there's a line between filmmaking as a skill and as a craft. Skill allows you to churn out a product that meets the prevailing contemporary standards, makes a buttload of money, and is immediately forgotten. Five years later it looks painfully, even embarrassingly dated. Craftsmanship produces something that holds up over time. Return of the Jedi was the product of craftsmen. The prequel trilogy is crass, mass produced garbage filmed in an empty warehouse.

Talented directors can do great things with CGI and other visual effects technology. Even in a bad movie, someone who knows how to use it can create a distinctive visual style immediately identified with the film (i.e., 300). It can also be used to seamlessly blend the real world with the director's imagination (Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sin City, Harry Potter, etc). Or it can be used to make Avatar and The Phantom Menace.

The fundamental problem is that CGI, rather that being a tool that allows directors to explore new creative possibilities, just enables laziness. The original Star Wars films were made with thousands of man-hours of tiny models. The scenes in 2001 took months to shoot to create the desired look. The original King Kong relied on the laborious stop-motion technique with its models (and rear screen projections for city skylines, another Golden Era technique that is now all but lost). Why bother now? Just click some buttons, hire some graphic designers, and make the entire movie inside a computer.

The other problem with CGI is that it's too easy. Consider the original King Kong compared to the christawful 2005 remake. In the first film every frame of the ape required hours of labor working with delicate sets and models, which in turn required dozens of hours of work to make. It encouraged the filmmakers to use the titular creature sparingly. If it's all digital, then why not have King Kong in every damn scene? Why not have him knock a few buildings down? Hell, it's all just clicks on a mouse. Another example, of course, is the new-vs-old Star Wars trilogies. If you have to build an enormous Imperial Cruiser model, you're probably going to shoot the scene with ONE Imperial Cruiser…because you don't want to build a second one unless it's absolutely necessary. So the original trilogy had a sense of economy. It was sparse. In the prequels, why have one ship when you could have…(*click click click*)…a hundred ships??? Isn't that way better? See how much it improves the experience to jam as much blinking, exploding shit as humanly possible into the frame?

I understand that a movie like Green Lantern is not intended to be a great work of art. It's a product churned out for the purpose of being merchandised to death. But the annual summer blockbusters are symptoms of the continuous dumbing down of the visual aspects of filmmaking. Twenty years ago even the summer blockbusters required some actual imagination and craftsmanship. Now "special effects" is synonymous with digital effects, and moviemaking treats the human actors as an inconvenience to be dealt with as quickly as possible and plugged into the laughably unbelievable, visually insulting movie that exists only inside someone's PC. The result is ugly. Very, very ugly. As film is a visual medium, producing something this ugly is counterproductive at best.

Be Sociable, Share!

88 Responses to “NPF: THE LOST ARTS”

  1. Jeff R Says:

    Thank you for saying that. The GF and I have been watching the old classics via That Service What Mails Flix To You, interspersed occasionally with newer films. Filmmakers knew what they were doing a generation ago, and told better, tauter stories when they had to economize their special effects. Most modern CGI-heavy flicks turn me off because the effects become overpowering at the expense of the story.

  2. pjcamp Says:

    It isn't just CGI.

    The original Star Wars obtained its reputation solely on the basis of the then eye popping special effects. I know. I was there. It was all anybody ever talked about. The special effects totally overwhelmed the story so nobody at the time ever thought about how shitty it truly was.

    In the years since, as eye popping special effects have become commonplace, people have actually had occasion to focus on Lucas' story writing skills and found them to be kind of idiotic. The common refrain is that the sequels are just not as good as the originals.

    You know what? They're exactly as good. Vaguely racist salamanders are not materially different from feral teddy bears. To be sure, your experience of the sequels does not compare to your experience of the originals but that is entirely due to the fact that way back then you were looking at a spectacle the likes of which you'd never seen before.

    I recall walking out of Star Wars and saying to everyone who would listen "That movie sucked ass." I have been baffled for three decades at how anyone could think otherwise as well as why anyone would think that Lucas could ever write a script worth a second glance. He didn't start sucking with The Phantom Menace. He's always sucked. It just took this long for your eyes to get used to the dazzling glare so that you could see that fact.

  3. prosopopeia Says:

    While I largely agree with your critique, it isn't true that CGI is easy, or cheap, or fast—it's none of the above. Certain things become easier with CG (making dozens of Star Destroyers instead of one or two), but generally it's expensive, laborious and time-consuming. On the whole, movies with extensive CG take as long or longer to produce comparable scenes. As well as it works in Jackson's LOTR, there's at least one scene in each film that's a dud (Troll in Moria, Wargs in Towers, etc.). When it really works, though, it's much better than rear-projection (a technique that always looked fake and forced to me); and as much as 300 ma be a ridiculous film, it looks amazing for it. Green Lantern, less so.

    @pjcamp: Your recollections of Star Wars do not jibe with mine at all—I distinctly remember the film ending and my father saying that it was like an old movie—it had a hero, and he was trying to do good. He didn't mention—or really notice—the special effects. I have since some to think that Lucas made two good films (Star Wars, American Graffiti) largely by accident. I notice you compare the prequels to the universally loathed Return of the Jedi, which is virtually a parody of the first two movies—the "racist salamanders" were bad, sure, but nothing like the robotic acting of all the principals, the inane storylines, the pure marketing at work in every scene, the catering to the four year-olds in the audience… The original movie was hardly Shakespeare, but had adequate acting, excellent editing, a soundtrack that will still be remembered 50 years from now, and a time-tested story: Iowa farmboy meets Italian supermodel, has one chance to impress her…

    One last point: it's worth keeping in mind that Hollywood used to make a lot more movies: the major studios released one a week all year long, sometimes more. Most of them were terrible, but we don't see or hear about them. Hollywood really is bad right now, totally devoid of original ideas and incapable of making a film starring humans talking about real things, like feelings. Still, it often seems unfairly bad compared to the past, where we tend to remember the Casablancas and the Maltese Falcons, and not the eighteenth derivate Biblical spectacular released that year.

  4. Scott Says:

    I'm not sure what Ed's arguing against here. It seems pretty clear that he's not against CGI per se, as he notes several movies that have used CGI well and (presumably) he also enjoys. And it can't be that he's arguing solely for the use of models (or other hard labor) in lieu of CGI, because for every Empire Strikes Back and Wrath of Khan, there are 10 Star Trek: The Motion Pictures and Suburban Commandos (or Plan 9 from Outer Spaces or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians).

    After thinking about this for a few minutes, I think Ed is only arguing against bad filmmaking, which is a pretty pedantic argument. Bad film making is not an invention of the past 10-20 years. Every time a new film making technique is introduced, some directors will use it well and some will use it poorly. If this essay was written 100 years ago, I'm sure Ed would have said something like, "film editing just makes movies too easy to make – and while I'm not against it when used well (like in Battleship Potemkin), it clearly sucks in these examples (insert the titles of 2-3 awful silent movies that are poorly edited)."

    I'm not even sure why Green Lantern is being picked on here (other than the fact that it's topical) when there are far worse examples (Matrix trilogy, I'm looking in your direction). I will see Green Lantern because I enjoy comic books and summer blockbusters. I also predict that I will be attacked because I don't limit myself only to the Dogme 95 movement films like the rest of the commenters here probably do.

    I'm sorry to say, you've done better.

  5. acer Says:

    Lucas owes his career entirely to the philosopher Joseph Campbell. Othello it ain't, but Star Wars succeeded brilliantly as pop-myth, specifically a Hero's Journey narrative for people who don't read old books.

    Again: A mean feat of cannibalism; nothing any clever, semi-literate film student couldn't have pulled. But a remarkable achievement, compared to the creaky, underwritten shit that passes for "action" now.

  6. cromartie Says:

    Lucas could ever write a script worth a second glance. He didn't start sucking with The Phantom Menace. He's always sucked.

    I rather enjoyed THX 1138, thanks.

    And count me in as someone who was befuddled about the appeal of Star Wars. I much preferred the bleakness and imagery of Blade Runner. Still do.

  7. Matthew Says:

    Hey everybody! Let's have a competition to see who can out-snob and out-snark each other! That'll be fun, and certainly won't make us all look like total d-bags!

  8. acer Says:

    @Scott:
    I think the point is: "As quickly as 'tech' becomes unwatchably dated these days, it's pretty stupid to rely on it entirely when making something that's going to be in circulation for awhile." Or, conversely: The shitty special effects of the past hold up because of storytelling and craft. Maybe those are worth embracing again.

  9. acer Says:

    @Matthew:
    You win!

  10. Scott Says:

    @acer:

    You are absolutely right when you say that good stories make for good movies. But you're absolutely wrong that we should embrace the shitty special effects holding up in older movies. The shitty special effects in the original Star Wars trilogy takes me out of the action every time. Why should the fights between omniscient magical ninjas look like a fight between two old men who had 30 minutes of fencing instruction? Or, why should all the monsters in Ray Harryhausen movies look so hurky-jerky when I know they can look better?

    The movies of the past used the cutting edge technology of the time. That doesn't mean they don't look like crap today. They're not better – just different. I take that into account when I watch older movies and I can enjoy them despite of the dated qualities. That doesn't mean we should be clamoring for more stop-motion monster movies, though.

  11. Daniel Says:

    It's hard to do a Green Lantern flick without some semblance of CGI since it is about a galactic character. If you are arguing about how good the CGI is, then that is a valid argument. There was plenty of real stuntwork and location shooting going on with the last two Batman movies, but Batman is a more grounded character. You cite a Kubrick movie early in your post, but that is part of the inherent problem. How many great directors like Kubrick are around?

  12. Nunya Says:

    In case you're wondering where all the jobs went, they disappeared when the M.B.A.s came in and decided that quality was bullshit and customer service was pure folly.

    We're fucked not because movies like this are made and will make metric ass-tons of money but because we expect nothing more.

    Perhaps when we run out of cheap resources, we might again have to look inward and actually use some creativity and imagination but based on the utter shit people consume in regards to media today, I wouldn't bet one cent on the return of quality to entertainment or basically anything else.

  13. Nunya Says:

    After reading the comment from the millenials, I would like to cordially invite them all to eat a bag of dicks!

    Star Wars was, when first introduced, so mind blowingly original that pretty much everyone gave credit not just to the plot line but to the imagination and genius of the creator. It's pretty easy to be smug when you simply improve on the works that others have created.

    Fuck… I'm a "get off my lawn" old man at 37. But seriously you smug little fuckers, you haven't invented shit yet. Talk to me in 10 years when your life's work becomes totally irrelevant and obsolete. It will be a shit talking for the ages my friends.

  14. Fossella Says:

    Looks like it's Andy Rooney Day, again.

    2001: A Space Odyssey has not stood up well. It's actually pretty painful for anyone under the age of 30 to watch. It's slow, the plot is nonsensical, the sets look like a bad shopping mall (why does every scifi movie from back in the day look like it was shot at the galleria?), and like all Kubrick films it's incredibly self-indulgent. I'll take the Phantom Menace over 2001, and a gun barrel in my mouth over that.

  15. Major Kong Says:

    I think what was fun and original about Star Wars is how it gleefully mashed together so many different genres – westerns, King Arthur, Lawrence of Arabia, samurai, pirates, gangsters, war movies, science fiction.

    It's like Lucas couldn't decide on what kind of movie to make and just said "What the heck! Let's do 'em all!"

  16. Arslan Says:

    I have to cast my lot in with the Star Wars Always Sucked(SWAS) crowd. First of all, the original trilogy wasn't exactly original. It was largely inspired by Westerns and a particular Kurosawa film(the title escapes me). To be fair though, inspiration isn't the same as stealing, but it's not as original as one poster claimed.

    Next, unlike the new trilogy, it did at least have character development, as well as a main protagonist we can identify with and care about. The newer series doesn't even get that until we see Anakin as a young man in Episode II(as opposed to that mindnumbingly irritating little boy).

    And of course Ed's point about how more real it looks is true. Even many of the robotic aliens are believable; you really feel that the human character is interacting with them.

    Now the bad side. For this part of the text, imagine the voice of the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons. First of all, in Episode IV, Luke has that argument about going to the Starffleet academy or whatever the hell it is with his uncle. Luke's uncle(yes, I'm pretending I don't know his name) should be commended for how calm he acts. Imagine your kid says, "Hey dad, there's this Al Qaida recruitment center in town and I want to go to their training camp next year." Somehow the Rebels manage to have a formal pilot academy on a planet occupied and surrounded by the Empire. More on that later.

    And what of the Empire and the Republic? The Rebels are essentially supposed to be on the side of the old Republic, for democracy, yet it's clear that the Republic never had real democracy and frankly didn't work. The only negative thing about the Empire was the fact that they occasionally blew up a planet- but would they have done that were it not for the rebels?

    Back to the Empire which lets the rebels run a flight school on a planet they seem to control- they are not particularly intimidating. This is why people note the contrast between the Stormtroopers in the beginning of Episode IV and in Episode V when they actually manage to do some damage. Other than that, the Empire sucks across the board. Remember in Jedi they were supposed to have some of their best troops on Endor, yet they still get their plastic-wearing asses handed to them.

    The newer films sucked more mainly because Lucas had nobody willing to challenge him, or point out the obvious fact that he has the writing skills of an 8-year-old. But long before that Star Wars had shown itself as a merchandising ploy. Just take a look at all the Star Wars products which had been released even prior to the Phantom Menace.

  17. c u n d gulag Says:

    Everywhere I turn, all I see is America as a vast wasteland.

    Years ago we were famous for many things, but let's stick to 'The Arts:'

    -MUSIC – Jazz, Big Band, Blues, R&B, R&R, Soul, Funk, Fusion, etc. And that's just in music. Look at today's music scene. I can't. It's nothing like it was before as far as creativity and delivery. Rap, which I initially loved, is pretty much over. I do hold out some hope for Indie music, and Hip-hop. Just not much…

    – MOVIES – I can't top what you wrote, so I won't even try. But yeah, too much technology, too little character development and plot.

    – TV – Sitcom's suck. They're pretty much a dead art.
    Reality shows have taken over. Why? To save money. You no longer need to hire writers, actors, directors, editors, etc. – you simply point a camera at the nearest dipshit who wants their '15 minutes of fame,' and VOILA ! "Entertainment" for the lowest possible denominator. Maybe there's were some good reality shows on, but I never watched a singe second of any of them. Maybe it's because I believe that there's no such thing as "reality" as soon as you point a camera at someone.
    On the plus side, cable stations like HBO, Showtime, AMC, etc, have taken over from the networks, and have produced some great programs. Unfortunately, people have to pay for them, unlike the networks we all grew up on – or those of us ancient's, anyway.

    -THEATRE – Broadway is pretty much dead. It's all remakes over the last few years. At least the major productions. They're all either remakes of classic Broadway shows, or, worse, adapting movies to the theatre format. Some were good – South Pacific" as a remake. "The Producers" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" were entertaining. But, really, they were just the movie in 3D. Sorry, I'm used to the opposite – a play turned into a movie. It's probably me just getting old… But it loses something when "The Lion King" comes out as a movie, and then goes to Broadway as an expensive 'trap' for visiting kids and parents.
    An adaptation of "Spiderman" was long-awaited, but which, in reality, has NO business being on Broadway in a theatre that's not showing it as a movie. I mean really, what's it all about but a circus high-wire act with special effects? It's almost like they said, 'Well you said it couldn't be done, but we're doing it anyway?' And the body count is starting to rival some earlier mob wars.
    Broadway is now no longer for theatre cognoscenti as well as mass audiences, but pretty much for tourists and rubes (but I repeat myself) alone. "The House of Mormon" may offer some hope. I haven't seen it, so I reserve judgement; but, can it even hold a candle to "South Pacific" for plot, music, and social relevance? I'm not sure – like I said, I haven't seen it – but I doubt it.

    In politics over the last 30 years, we've gone from a "Can Do!" nation, to a, "Nope, sorry, we can't afford that' nation. It seems to me that, with a few notable exceptions, the perfoming arts are following that pattern.

    Well, that's this morning's kvetch.
    It's probably just me getting older and more jaded.
    I look forward to hearing from some of you about how wrong I am. I'd actually look forward to being wrong about all of this.

  18. Tom Says:

    2001: A Space Odyssey has not stood up well. It's actually pretty painful for anyone under the age of 30 to watch

    @Fossella: Please don't generalize like that. Some of us are under 30, and some of us enjoy 2001. The fact that you'd rather watch The Phantom Menace is your own business, and I wish you luck with it. But I'd rather not waste my time.

  19. Tim H. Says:

    Big media never really gets science fiction in a timely manner, episode IV would have been at home in Astounding forty years previous. And it's annoying that the studios finally get the wherewithal to film Larry Niven's aliens, and they won't.
    BTW, it wasn't a rebel academy Luke wanted to attend, you were inattentive.
    And as long as Hollyweird wants to appeal to a base demographic, who has the film rights to "Bored of the Ring"?.

  20. Major Kong Says:

    @Arslan – The Kurosawa film you're thinking of was The Hidden Fortress

  21. Major Kong Says:

    One thing that struck me after watching Star Wars (and most science fiction movies for that matter) is that they exist in some parallel time stream where the hand grenade was never invented.

    How many times have we watched line-of-sight lasers/blasters/phasers be rendered ineffective by someone ducking behind a doorway?

  22. Andrew R. Says:

    Acer, I'm going to be pedantic, but Lucas did *not* base his work on Hero With a Thousand Faces. He based it on a mash-up of samurai, cowboys and Indians, WWII movies, etc. etc. (as Major Kong notes). It was only after Star Wars came out and people started comparing it to Campbell that Lucas then said, "Uh, yeah, I totally based by plot on Joseph Campbell and his work with the hero archetype." That no one's called him on this over the last three decades is something that sticks in my craw.

    @Matthew: Isn't the out-snobbing, out-snarking competition simply the NPF version of the normal G&T commentators discussion of, "How doomed is Doomed America? It's doomed!"

  23. Adam Says:

    Where does Pixar fit into all of this? They use the newest technology and tell quality stories with developed characters.

  24. Marc Says:

    The most fundamental problem with discussions like this is that they take place completely out of context. A movie like Citizen Kane doesn't look creative to a modern eye – until you learn that Welles invented many filmmaking techniques that are so effective that they've become basic tools of the craft. You need to actually know something about film before you can say much about its importance. You need to watch movies in the way that they were intended to be seen, not on a tiny screen (I'm looking at you, 2001 critic) before you can gauge their craft.

    There is also a habit – honestly very common in younger folks, but not universally – to confuse "not to my taste" with "bad". There are things which are technically well done that are in a style that I don't like. That doesn't make them "bad". People who think that 2001 is slow and boring would probably find the 7 Samurai, or the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to be "boring". It's a different style, less frantic and flashy than the norm today, and those two movies are incredibly good at that style. I can actually remember individual scenes from them; the latest disposable CGI thing, not so much. There are things that get praised more than I think that they deserve. That makes them overexposed, or possibly overrated – not bad.

  25. Monkey Business Says:

    First off, I saw Green Lantern last night. The CGI is worlds better than in the trailers. It's actually really impressive.

    Second off, your King Kong analogy doesn't really hold water. CGI has given us the ability to put scenes to film that could never exist in reality. Practical effects are great, but there's no way that you can practically do even a small fraction of the effects in a movie like Green Lantern.

  26. Arslan Says:

    "BTW, it wasn't a rebel academy Luke wanted to attend, you were inattentive."

    It clearly wasn't an Imperial academy; you think they would keep tabs on things like that. And how does he manage to fly an X-wing so well with no prior training, other than slaughtering helpless Wamprats in his T-16 back home?

  27. Arslan Says:

    Oh a little bad news: Movies are going to get worse, MUCH worse. You see, big studios understand that they make far more money overseas rather than at home. And to ensure that their films are marketable overseas, it means the concepts, storyline, dialog, and characters need to be simplistic. Goodbye complex character development, goodbye references to obscure elements of American history, politics, and culture. Those things don't translate as well. It's all about profit.

  28. Sluggo Says:

    @ Major Kong—-

    Speaking of Kubrick……….so glad to hear that the ride down from the B52 worked out ok. I didn't think that it was going to be ok for you, but I am glad that you are still around even though the pickens are slim.

  29. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    Some comic book movies are really good. Some are really bad. Iron Man was awesome; Wolverine was terrible. Spiderman was awesome; Constantine was pretty bad. In the last couple of weeks, I've seen Thor and Priest. Thor was thoroughly entertaining, and I thought the effects (particularly the ice giants) worked really well. Priest, on the other hand, was pretty lame. Also, Avatar was a good fucking movie. Seeing that in 3D on an Imax was pretty mindblowing. And the story was fine! Evil mining company, eco-friendly aliens, weird hair genitals…i was entertained. The estimable Werner Herzog just made a 3D documentary about cave paintings in France, and it was playing for a LONG TIME in my midwest college town! There are still plenty of independent films being made that are more and more easily accessible.

    I do wish there was more variety though. Recently I watched John Carpenter's The Thing on netflix (1980). It was all old school techniques, and I LOVED it. The monster was slimy and gooey and awesome in a way that CGI just wouldn't be able to duplicate. I do miss the more organic look of puppets and robots and raw materials. I can't imagine Labrynth or the Dark Crystal being half as good if they had used CGI. I wish at least some movies would still use those techniques.

    As another commenter pointed out, CGI is actually incredibly expensive. What I don't get is why studios would be so committed to it when/if other techniques would look better and be cheaper. It's odd.

  30. JTM Says:

    I'm onboard with most of the CGI commentary, but I do take issue whenever someone says "Hollywood is out of ideas" – it's not the industry, it's the audience. It's a well-known fact that movies that are based on established properties (comic books, novels, etc) will do better at the box office than 100% original ideas. Sure, there are exceptions, but usually they are rare (Inception being one). Especially when you're talking about big-budget popcorn "event" movies. The public just won't go see something that looks expensive that they've never heard of anymore. A movie like Star Wars could not get made today. I don't know why, but it is what it is.

  31. Elder Futhark Says:

    Nah. It's not CGI. It's the standard "maybe if a lot of shit blows up real good, it will make up for a lack of story, character &c &c" that exists, not just in moviews, but in plays, books, music, art, every creativer human endeavour.

    Remember Sturgeon's Law "90% is crap".

    All science fiction movies are ultimately derived from Westerns, and all Westerns are ultimately derived from the Icelandic Sagas, and Icelandic Sagas, in their sentiment and vision, are ultimately democratic and egalitarian and threatening/challenging to thems what got the power.

    That's why they are good – they nudge the status quo out towards the edge, and the status quo fights back. It's the Enlightenment (edge city) against the dead ass center squares (the conservative peasants who want to sit on their visibly spreading asses and do nothing). Sometimes its triumphal, sometimes tragic, but it's real.

    That's why Star Wars (yes, all of them) suck. Fucking wizards and witches and hokey superstitions. It's why most fantasies suck. It's all about restoring normalcy.

    It's a big pushback against the Enlightenment.

  32. nate Says:

    @Fossella: Holy shit, you might want to keep opinions like that to yourself, or get some education in film. Wow.

    Unfortunately, Hollywood is getting more and more inane and hopeless as time goes on. Witness the development of Battleship (filming right now!!) and Candyland, for two. CGI is just another aspect of the complete and utter creative bankruptcy. Interestingly, a lot of critics blame Lucas and Star Wars for transforming American cinema from the hard-bitten reality of the great 70's films into the overproduced drek we get these days.

    But, then again, America needs its escapism, now more than ever(tm)!

    Lots of non-Americans are making terrific films, though. Head down to your local arthouse cinema and let Green Lantern recoup it's massive investment on the backs of others.

    All that being said, A lot of great stuff is being done on premium and basic cable these days. If you want to see CGI used in a very, very effective manner, check out Game of Thrones on HBO. HBO has given us Deadwood, ,Boardwalk Empire, and The Wire, too. On AMC you've got Mad Men and Breaking Bad (seriously the best show on TV, perhaps ever). FX has Justified and Archer…

    You can bitch about movies sucking now, and you're not even wrong, but it reminds me of people who complain no good rock, for instance, is being made now, when we live in a golden age of musical accomplishment spanning all sorts of genres. You just can't rely on Clear Channel to help you find it.

  33. Elder Futhark Says:

    And they are using the tools of science to do it. That's fucked up.

  34. David Says:

    I think one reason so many CGI-heavy films fail is they throw too much on the screen at once like when California sank into the Pacific in 2012. It can be done right and IMO the new Battlestar Galactica series did CGI right.

  35. Strangepork Says:

    You know what really grinds my gears? How everything I liked when I was younger was totally awesome, and how everything that anyone else likes now totally sucks.

    While I could point to and discuss the several peanuts of reason many commenters left in this giant turd of a thread, I feel oddly compelled to get off your collective lawns.

  36. Major Kong Says:

    @Sluggo

    I really did fly B-52s. I was an aicraft commander on "G" models from 1989 – 1992.

    Of course, I've seen Dr. Strangelove enough times to have the script memorized.

  37. Master of Irony Says:

    Hey Strangeporker,
    Anything worthwhile being used in your generation was totally invented by our generation so put that in your bong and smoke it dude.

  38. EJ Says:

    One thing I think CGI deserves a lot of credit for is that it's allowed TV sci-fi to finally have reasonably decent visual effects.

    In a big-budget film, you can still do wonders with models – but cheap CGI beats the pants off cheap model-work.

  39. EJ Says:

    Also, if you think the type of CGI used in big-budget hollywood films is easy, quick or cheap, you don't know much about CGI, because it's none of those things.

  40. Master of Irony Says:

    "Also, if you think the type of CGI used in big-budget hollywood films is easy, quick or cheap, you don't know much about CGI, because it's none of those things."

    Compared to location shooting and traditional special effects work: CGI is VERY cheap. You obviously don't know much about film making.

  41. Master of Irony Says:

    Fossella: the plot is "nonsense" as you put it or perhaps you were just too dumb to understand it? hmm…

  42. Strangepork Says:

    Hey Strangeporker,
    Thou art truly a Master of Wit, as well as Irony.

    Anything worthwhile being used in your generation was totally invented by our generation so put that in your bong and smoke it dude.

    You totally got me there, dude. My generation finds great use in the wheel…your handiwork I assume?

  43. jeneria Says:

    I think the issue here is this: when a movie is mostly CGI and filmed in an empty warehouse, there's absolutely no synergy between actors, between actors and the scenery, and sometimes no synergy between actors and plot.

    A good story goes nowhere if none of the actors have any sort of ability to relate to each other, the story, or the scene. In the rush to CGI everything, the actors are isolated and it's damn hard to act when there's nothing to bounce off.

  44. Master of Irony Says:

    It strikes me Mr. Pork that it does not take much to "totally get you"; I'm sure you could be pwned by a house finch pecking at the keyboard.

    Do something (anything!) before you slam everything that anyone else has done before you. btw – We invented the dole queue too; I'm sure you'll get a lot of use out of it.

  45. Andrew Says:

    You should check out the movie "Moon." It came out a couple years ago on a small budget and uses mostly models for effects, very little CGI. Very similar atmosphere to 2001 (IMO)

  46. KSE Says:

    Well it's the internet so hey I got opinions here they come hargle arble blaglahal…

    Comparing "Green Lantern" to "2001" is useless and unfair. It's like saying John Grisham's a bad author because he's not Dostoevsky. Fuck that. Grisham may not be to my tastes, but I'm not going to fault someone who wants a beach read or a bonghit movie for not being in the mood for dense, dark, philosophically-driven literature. For that matter, never judge a movie by the trailer, good or bad.

    Also. Jedi? Really? The worst, lamest, cop-outiest cash-in of the original trilogy? The sins of that movie are too numerous to bother listing but really? The one with the Ewoks? That's how you're gonna play this?

    The guy who cites Sturgeon's Law is exactly right. You can definitely do good work with CGI – Pan's Labyrinth leaps to mind. And for every Great Film of ye Olden Times, there's a thousand Laserblasts and Hercules vs. Whatevers that history has mostly forgotten. Hell, just look at the list of Oscar "Best Picture" winners – practically half are barely remembered now, while movies made the same year and not even nominated have become cherished classics.

    Me, I'm well into my thirties too, but I have never and will never buy this "everything was better when…" bullshit. 90% of everything has always sucked. Seek out the good, learn to appreciate the new and different, and let the rest roll off your back. There are people making good new music, new movies, and new books, always have been, always will be as long as there's somebody around to make 'em and somebody else to enjoy 'em.

    (All that having been said, yeah, I have zero interest in this Green Lantern movie, which is kind of a shame. Was one of my favorite comics as a kid, the alien designs in the old Green Lantern Corps were frequently *amazing*.)

  47. mothra Says:

    Twenty years ago even the summer blockbusters required some actual imagination and craftsmanship.

    Oh now. I offer "Smokey and The Bandit" as rebuttal.

  48. mothra Says:

    The House of Mormon" may offer some hope. I haven't seen it, so I reserve judgement; but, can it even hold a candle to "South Pacific" for plot, music, and social relevance? I'm not sure – like I said, I haven't seen it – but I doubt it.

    It's the BOOK of Mormon and it just won 9 Tony awards. Sold out for the foreseeable (and even non-forseeable) future. Yes, it apparently IS just as good as South Pacific (really–South Pacific?). There is some good stuff coming out on Broadway, not all revivals. Maybe you are the one who is out of touch, not Broadway.

  49. Strangepork Says:

    It strikes me Mr. Pork that it does not take much to "totally get you"; I'm sure you could be pwned by a house finch pecking at the keyboard.

    Scintillating, especially your use of "pwn". When you hear it from its typical source, a 13 year old Call of Duty player, it seems inane, but you really make it work here.

    Do something (anything!) before you slam everything that anyone else has done before you.

    This is what we call a straw man (I assume your generation invented these), as nothing in my comment slammed anything that anyone else had done before me, let alone everything. My comment dealt specifically with the cranky-old-man-everything-was-better-back-then-bullshit tone present in many comments in the thread. And a poop joke.
    I do find it remarkable that you use the precise same argument forwarded a dozen times in any thread Ed starts about Baby Boomers…perhaps "Do something (anything!) before you slam everything that anyone else has done before you" can henceforth be known as the Boomer's Lament. No worries, we'll give your generation full credit for it.

    btw – We invented the dole queue too; I'm sure you'll get a lot of use out of it.
    …awwww. Somebody was disagreeable with me on the internet. I bet he's unemployed.
    By the by, old chap, the dole queue appears to have been instituted in 1911 in the UK…I didn't realize you were part of the Lost Generation. I apologize for my monstrous behavior, and hope you'll forgive me. I don't make a habit of harrassing centenarians.

  50. c u n d gulag Says:

    mothra,
    Yeah, DUH!!
    I actually knew that it was "Book of Mormon." I even looked it up to double-check, but saw what I wanted to see, not the actual title.
    This happens when you get older…
    Btw – getting older is VERY over-rated. :-)

    And yeah, "South Pacific!"
    It dealt with racial/ethnic prejudice on a number of levels. It was, and is, still one of the most socially relevant musicals in our history.
    We'll see if "Book of Mormon" comes close.
    It'll be awhile before I can see it – I just saw where tickets for it, and NOT the best ones, were going for almost $500 dollars a piece. That's almost 3 weeks of unemployment money, which will soon go down even more.
    Maybe I can wait until IT comes out in a film!

  51. tybee Says:

    "who has the film rights to "Bored of the Ring"?"

    that was a National Lampoon publication, wasn't it?

    did anyone ever see "Hardware Wars"?

    and kong, a friend of mine's father was crew on a 52 during operation linebacker II (IIRC) back in the early 70's.
    that little excercise kept my scrawny butt from having to visit the brown disney land.

  52. mothra Says:

    It was, and is, still one of the most socially relevant musicals in our history.

    Actually, "Show Boat" was pretty damn relevant and dealt with racial/ethnic prejudice. Better music, too. Not that South Pacific is awful, just not my favorite Rogers & Hammerstein.

    Yes, sadly "The Book of Mormon" is way out of bounds for us with normal incomes–or below-normal incomes. I wouldn't be paying those prices even if there WERE tickets available.

  53. c u n d gulag Says:

    mothra,
    Yeah, I agree about "Show Boat." But I like the music in both about equally.

    But, I've got to admit that I'm prejudiced – I played Luther Billis in "South Pacific" in a touring show back in the early-mid '90's (and got great reviews).

    Also, too – "Porgie and Bess."

    And, who the fuck CAN afford Broadway prices? Rich people, and tourist's who save up for their trip.
    Shit, Off Broadway's too expensive, and OOB ain't exactly a bargain, either. Of course, I'm in Upstate NY, so I'd have to add Metro North and MTA charges to that.
    Which, when you're unemployed, AIN'T gonna happen…

  54. Entomologista Says:

    Movies now may in fact be better than movies used to be prior to CGI. It's just that the way our brains work has allowed you to forget all the terrible movies and only remember the movies that stand out for being really good. So you can say "Wow, Casablanca was awesome, movies back then sure were good!" while failing to remember the shitty special effects and godawful writing in The Brain That Wouldn't Die or whatever. You see, movie makers and screen writers have actually learned and improved their art over time. Most movies and TV from back in the day suuuuuuck because movie making was a new art and nobody knew how to do it.

    Now get off my lawn.

  55. MBL Says:

    2001 may be the most overrated piece of pretentious crap ever set to film. And for the record I think most of Kurosawa's work us excellent, for the guy who mentioned Seven Samurai up there.

  56. Major Kong Says:

    I agree with @Entomologista

    If all movies from the past were as good as Casablanca then Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would never have been invented.

  57. gaderson Says:

    Arslan wrote:

    "It clearly wasn't an Imperial academy; you think they would keep tabs on things like that. And how does he manage to fly an X-wing so well with no prior training, other than slaughtering helpless Wamprats in his T-16 back home?"

    Well, it can be done: 'Gran Turismo' Player Places Second at Le Mans 24 Hour. But, certainly par for the course for the 'hero'.

  58. EJ Says:

    Compared to location shooting and traditional special effects work: CGI is VERY cheap. You obviously don't know much about film making.

    Yet somehow James Cameron managed to spend $237 MM to make Avatar. You can spend a lot of money on CGI and still have it look cheap, if you're not talented, but at that level it's very far from "just clicks on a mouse." Hell, just to render the thing they had to use a server farm that's one of the most powerful supercomputers on the planet, and they've got very smart, very creative people writing the code to make it happen. CGI wasn't selected because it's cheap.

    (also, like clicking a mouse makes it easy or trivial? Do you dismiss the the Sistine Chapel ceiling because it's "just paint"?)

    Now, like I said, where I think CGI really shines is in lower budget, TV series-type productions, where cheap CGI vfx are a vast improvement over the cheap models and guys in rubber suits of days gone by.

    "You should check out the movie "Moon." It came out a couple years ago on a small budget and uses mostly models for effects, very little CGI. Very similar atmosphere to 2001 (IMO)"

    Moon used a lot of CGI, many people don't realize how much because it was well done, understated, and properly integrated with the sets and model work.

    Or take District 9, which on a relatively modest budget managed to mix convincing, fully rendered CGI aliens and spaceships with a gritty, real shantytown.

  59. gaderson Says:

    Nunya Said:

    "Star Wars was, when first introduced, so mind blowingly original that pretty much everyone gave credit not just to the plot line but to the imagination and genius of the creator. It's pretty easy to be smug when you simply improve on the works that others have created.

    Fuck… I'm a "get off my lawn" old man at 37. But seriously you smug little fuckers, you haven't invented shit yet. Talk to me in 10 years when your life's work becomes totally irrelevant and obsolete. It will be a shit talking for the ages my friends."

    I'm also at the tail end of the Gen-Xrs, but, I did enjoy the first Star Wars when I saw it as a kid. But I grew up. When watching the revival before the 'prequals' I was not impressed, other than being amused by R2D2 and C3PO. And, I think that as others have stated, once we got used to FX we could not be distracted by said effects to not see the poor story telling. Check out the Red Letter Media Phantom Menace Critique", especially telling is the little exercise to "describe a Star Wars character without using their 'occupation'". It's fairly easy to do for the 'original' trilogy, but, very hard for the second set. Or check out Everything is a Remix Part 2 where he shows some of the stuff that Lucas borrows, where as I seem to agree that Tarantino steals and re-uses to create something original, or at least Soul.

  60. Nomad Says:

    Strangepork appears to be unemployed. :o)

  61. Chris Says:

    Lucas created Indiana Jones: just saying. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the best films ever. The other three films don't come close (the Last Crusade is pretty decent, though), especially the pile of shit that is the 4th one. But, you have to appreciate Raiders.

    I also think Star Wars and 2001 are both incredible films. One can say that they have outdated aspects or the directors borrowed things from others. However, these criteria don't come close to determining whether a movie is good or bad. These movies have so much more to offer. One could also say James Joyce ripped off Homer: that person would also be an asshat.

  62. Neal Deesit Says:

    More bad news. Things have gone to hell in a hand basket on the exhibition side as well:

    Do you remember what a movie should look like? Do you notice when one doesn't look right? Do you feel the vague sense that something is missing? I do. I know in my bones how a movie should look. I have been trained by the best projection in the world, at film festivals and in expert screening rooms. When I see a film that looks wrong, I want to get up and complain to the manager and ask that the projectionist be informed. But these days the projectionist is tending a dozen digital projectors, and I will be told, "That's how it's supposed to look. It came that way from the studio."

  63. Major Kong Says:

    Just to point out – 2001 is science fiction and Star Wars is space opera. They really are two completely separate genres.

  64. jon Says:

    You know which movies really sucked? The ones where the city of malaise comes together for a hero. Those fucking 70s films that are always cited as "electrifying" and "bold". Where New Yorkers (and it's always New Yorkers) gather in the streets and proclaim themselves awesome after some antihero hero stands up against the insanity of it all.

    Those movies sucked, but the Matrix movies did that with better effects. The result still sucked, but it had chicks in tight black outfits shooting guns.

    Jabberwocky is still the best movie of the 70s.

    And my opinion rules. Also, too. Et cetera, bitches!

    Additionally, I was happy when the schlock of Jurassic Park was made because I knew it was a matter of time before The Hobbit would be filmed. It took a little longer than I thought, but I'm a happy man.

  65. Arslan Says:

    Another thing about Star Wars- I am getting sick of lazy ass writers and jerkoffs who think that throwing a Star Wars reference into something makes it automatically funny. "OH WAIT A MINUTE!!! DARTH VADER SHOULDN'T BE ON THAT CROSSWALK SIGNAL!! LOL!!!" Every time someone makes an analogy to Star Wars when it's completely inappropriate makes me want to reach through my router and strangle them via the internet.

  66. Nom de Plume Says:

    There is nothing quite like the mention of Star Wars or comic books (or both) to generate a record number of comments, most of them the length of a doctoral thesis. For some reason, that is the most immutable internet rule.

    The truth is, the movie industry is pretty much the same as it's always been. I'm an older guy, so you might expect me to have a bias towards older movies (and you'd be right), but "classic" movies are every bit as much of a crapshoot as anything else. Seriously, sit down and spend an evening watching TCM or some other old movie channel, and if you can get past the dazzling names in the credits, you have just as good a chance of seeing brainless mush as you do in a modern multiplex. Sometimes better.

  67. Entomologista Says:

    Ok, The Green Lantern was total shit. Thor was 10 million times better. DC sucks!

  68. Entomologista Says:

    Just to point out – 2001 is science fiction and Star Wars is space opera. They really are two completely separate genres.

    Eh, I'd say space opera is a sub-genre of science fiction.

  69. Daniel Says:

    "Lucas created Indiana Jones: just saying. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the best films ever. The other three films don't come close (the Last Crusade is pretty decent, though), especially the pile of shit that is the 4th one. But, you have to appreciate Raiders."

    Temple of Doom is almost as good as Raiders. Different type of vibe, but it's also one of the greats of that era of movies.

  70. Jason Says:

    For the record, The Phantom Menace used more models and miniatures than the entire original trilogy combined. It really is a matter of how you use the tool.

  71. Atticus Dogsbody Says:

    @Arslan: It clearly wasn't an Imperial academy; you think they would keep tabs on things like that. And how does he manage to fly an X-wing so well with no prior training, other than slaughtering helpless Wamprats in his T-16 back home?

    Actually, it was the Imperial Academy. That's where his friend Biggs went to study but left to join the rebels. Luke learned to fly during the time between the escape from the Death Star and the final battle at Yavin 4, which was much longer than it seems in the movie.

    Lucas had a whole story worked out for the first film, but was unable to fit it all within the confines of the budget, movie length constraints and the tech of the times.

  72. Arslan Says:

    "Actually, it was the Imperial Academy. That's where his friend Biggs went to study but left to join the rebels. Luke learned to fly during the time between the escape from the Death Star and the final battle at Yavin 4, which was much longer than it seems in the movie."

    So the Luke was initially inclined to join the Empire? He couldn't spare one line of dialog to explain that? And couldn't Lucas have thrown a montage in there or something?

  73. cleter Says:

    The Academy was an official government institution, and the government was the Empire. Luke didn't want to join the Empire, he just wanted to get out of his rural shithole and fly spaceships, and the Academy was a way to do that. Biggs was basically the same. Neither Biggs nor Luke thought much about the Empire, because the Empire's presence was not very intrusive on rural outer-rim shitholes like Tattooine. Biggs–like lots of college freshman from far-off rural communities–had a bit of an eye-opener, and he was sharing this knowledge with his friend Luke.

    There were some Biggs/Luke scenes that flesh this out, but they were cut out of the final release. Some of them are on bonus features of the dvd and on youtube.

    Also, what made Raiders good was more Spielberg than Lucas.

  74. Arslan Says:

    Ok but when you want to get into a government-run flight academy why wouldn't you want to alert the authorities after finding a rebel message on a suspicious droid?

  75. brent Says:

    Like someone above noted, there doesn't seem to be much of a point here except something that seems vaguely like "things used to be better." This is the familiar lament of a certain contingent from probably every generation that has ever existed – at least since the advent of language. Its rarely true and, more importantly, its not an especially useful complaint. That is even more true now given that the production and distribution of cultural artifacts is more accessible than it has ever been. Even if one is not creative themselves, its become a trivial matter to find ways to support whatever one thinks is better art.

  76. Xecky Gilchrist Says:

    Why bother now? Just click some buttons, hire some graphic designers, and make the entire movie inside a computer. The other problem with CGI is that it's too easy. Consider the original King Kong compared to the christawful 2005 remake. … If it's all digital, then why not have King Kong in every damn scene? Why not have him knock a few buildings down? Hell, it's all just clicks on a mouse.

    I'm still trying to figure out why this is bad. This whole post has the "tube amps and vinyl were better because warmth!" kind of vibe.

    And I'm solidly in middle age.

  77. Andrew Says:

    "Ok but when you want to get into a government-run flight academy why wouldn't you want to alert the authorities after finding a rebel message on a suspicious droid?"

    His desire to get into the Imperial Academy wasn't out of sympathy with the Empire's philosophy or government, or out of patriotism, but out of a desire to get off of Tatooine and for a poor moisture farmer, the Imperial Academy offers the only route.

  78. Andrew Says:

    Not to mention a great heaping dollop of naviete sort of precludes cool, level-headed, ice-hearted calculation. Remember, he fell head over heels with Leia when he saw her and immediately wanted to *help her*.

  79. Atticus Dogsbody Says:

    Luke was also somewhat annoyed with the Empire when they burned his Aunt and Uncle into crispy critters.

  80. Arslan Says:

    If he wanted to get into that flight academy so bad, what better way than by getting a connection in the local imperial garrison by bringing the evidence to them?

  81. Hazy Davy Says:

    You got featured on Metafilter. (http://www.metafilter.com/104716/I-Have-Seen-The-Future-And-The-Future-Is-JarJar )

    So, not only are you getting Televised recognition for your brilliant analysis and observation of politics…but even your NPF's are getting noticed.

  82. Jason Says:

    Arslan- I don't know anyone who failed to realize that it was an Imperial Academy that Luke wanted to attend. Also, he didn't think to turn R2 in as evidence because, as Andrew said, he was obsessed with helping the pretty girl in the video. He didn't need something special to get admitted to the Academy, his inability to go was based entirely on his uncle not letting him.

  83. John Says:

    I agree that there is an over-reliance on CG to give poorly directed films some oompf, but the real difference with CG is that many more people can now create those illusions (than the small teams in the before-time). It's not easier, btw, just better. The SW prequels don't work because Lucas was never a great writer and made poor casting choices, not because of an over-reliance on CG. They were physically impossible to make using traditional technologies, which is why he waited so long (too long) to make them. Whatever Avatar's failings might be, the CG wasn't the problem. CG makes it possible for those comic book films to look like the comic books they're based on. If that doesn't work for you, maybe it's because the comics had simplistic plots, ludicrous dialogue, and cheesy characters to start with. No, can't blame the comics, because they're part of our childhood too, like practical effects and miniatures in films. Yes, CG is a powerful new tool that can be exploited by the lazy (though it's hellish expensive, so that is one rich lazy person), but blaming CG for poorly made films is just as lazy – too easy a target when one doesn't want to do the work of saying why a film really doesn't work.

  84. Andrew Says:

    If he wanted to get into that flight academy so bad, what better way than by getting a connection in the local imperial garrison by bringing the evidence to them?

    Maybe no better way. But the instant he saw Leia, he wanted to help her *more*.

    That, and he wasn't being kept out for lack of connections; he was being kept out because his guardian wasn't letting him go. There doesn't seem to be any indication Luke was expecting he'd have trouble getting in on his own merits; he hadn't even tried yet to find out if it was going to be difficult to get in!

  85. Chris Says:

    "The other problem with CGI is that it's too easy."

    I usually love reading this site, but you've got it backwards. The problem with CGI is that is ISN'T easy.

    If it was easy, you wouldn't have written this post.

    Some of the best movies you've seen make extensive use of CG. If you've seen "The Social Network" or "Zodiac", then you've probably glanced at amazing CG work and not known it was there.

    The first thing to take away from modern movies is this: computers and advances in technology lower the barrier for entry. it just means you will see more mediocre crap, because the tools and knowledge are readily available to anyone with the drive to do it (good or bad).

    The second thing to take away from it is this: most movies are bad. Every year since the creation of the medium has had horrendous movies. The tools have changed, but talent is still required for greatness.

    *Talent* is rare.

    Mediocre people with large budgets make mediocre movies. Talented people with any budget are capable of greatness – but even then they swing and miss some of the time.

  86. Hazy Davy Says:

    At that MeFi reference I linked to, above, a CG insider gave an informed explanation about his position on "easiness" vs. "control" as the problem. (Much repeats what Chris says, above):
    http://www.metafilter.com/104716/I-Have-Seen-The-Future-And-The-Future-Is-JarJar#3766655

  87. 4jkb4ia Says:

    "The prequel trilogy is crass, mass produced garbage filmed in an empty warehouse"

    :)

    Actually, my husband dragged me to see Symphonic Star Wars or some such thing, with Anthony Daniels hosting. I had mercifully erased all the prequels from my memory, but in that, the prequel excerpts clearly had the best special effects that money could buy. They did not look as cheap as that trailer. But there was no story and no heart. And as my husband said about Revenge of the Sith, there was no strategic thinking. (He also gave up on that movie because in real life Padme would have read Anakin the riot act)

  88. 4jkb4ia Says:

    George Lucas could make those prequels look like what he had had in his head for twenty years, and so could James Cameron. The average CGI movie has to borrow that sort of vision from the comic book.