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Old 08-29-2012, 03:33 PM   #1
Mithalwen
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If you want good movies....start with the writer and trust him.

This is a "Comment" piece in today's Telegraph I found interesting. It doesn't refer to the Tolkien based films but it made me think of them. My cousin who hadn't read the books but had been obliged to take her children to the films felt they would have been better if they had been made before the SFX got so advanced.

Anyway I agree with a lot of it but that may be my literary bias and demographic

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/f...-the-plot.html
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Old 08-29-2012, 08:20 PM   #2
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Much as I deplore overblown CGI-fests myself, I can't say I'm terribly impressed by the article, Mith. Too much of it just seems to be the writer airing prejudices, rather than speaking from experience. For instance, he makes no specific criticism of Nolan's "Dark Knight" series (the main target). It's just "comic book film = stupid". Now, even if you loathed a film you'd actually seen, you'd have more to say about it than that, wouldn't you?

And again, "You can sum it up in one word: computers." Actually, no. Concentration on CGI at the expense of everything else is bad, of course– but the thing itself is a tool like any other.
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Old 08-29-2012, 11:29 PM   #3
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Well it was, as I mentioned, a comment piece rather than an article so it would be a personal opinion rather than reportage.

However it struck a chord with me (and it may be an age thing) because so often there is literally nothing I would have the slightest interest in watching on offer - and when I lived in France I went to the cinema several times a week so I am not, as I am sure it may appear here, just anti-film. Anyway I thought it was worth posting mainly because it seems Sir Peter has no faith in writers at all... apart for himself
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Old 08-30-2012, 11:25 AM   #4
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… and when I lived in France I went to the cinema several times a week so I am not, as I am sure it may appear here, just anti-film.
Personally, my tastes often change, so at one time I am very interested in a particular kind of music, and then suddenly loose almost all interest. The same goes for kinds of books, drama and films.

And, as I get older, I find less and less in any field that really grabs me. But it seems to me to be a mistake to think that my own tastes indicate that an artistic genre is failing.

The essay says:
Films such as El Cid, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, all starring that great block of wood, Charlton Heston, had at least this virtue; they weren’t made cynically.
These were films that at the time were much blamed by many critics for being made cynically. And looking at them now, they appear to me to be horribly cynical efforts.

Take the story of Moses and throw in a beginning with lots of gratuitous sex and include lots of the most violent parts of the later story. Ben-Hur was also lots of violence followed by a religious miracle. And don’t include anything in either that might offend most of the religious right. Make it totally innocuous and emphasize the special effects.

The high points of both films were the special effects scenes. Alan Massie appears to me to be remembering a time when he was less critical of films rather than proving that films are getting worse.

The statement “… and other such comic book stuff, aimed at an audience with the mental age of a backward teenager and the concentration span of a gnat” is ridiculously exaggerated. Just thinking about it disproves it.

One very expensive blockbuster this summer was John Carter which seemed to be designed by someone who thought that the main thing was special effects and that the story need not be paced to make sense. It bombed horribly.

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Old 08-30-2012, 01:32 PM   #5
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I was fairly omnivorous when I was in France because it was convenient and cheap and there was a lot of choice, but I can't think of many action films among my favourites. I am not so faddy. I seldom find action films hold my attention, not keen on animation, still like a story, subtlety, intelligence, wit. Have adored Ealing Comedy and Jimmy Stewart since childhood and don't expect to stop as long as I breath,

I havejust looked at the listings for my nearest proper cinema (ignoring the community cinemas that show one film a week a month or so after first release). Thirteen films, two with 3D which I am unable to watch.

So have the choice of 4 action films, 3 children's animation, 5 alleged comedy (they include Ted in this) and just one drama Shadow Dancer which I have never heard of but might look at since it has a great cast.

Never sat through Ben Hur or Ten Commandments ...but did see Charlton heston on stage in a Man for All Seasons and was quite impressed but I was very young and he certainly had presence.
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Old 08-30-2012, 04:14 PM   #6
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So have the choice of 4 action films, 3 children's animation, 5 alleged comedy (they include Ted in this) and just one drama Shadow Dancer which I have never heard of but might look at since it has a great cast.
I walked into Ted on a whim and found it very amusing. Of course that doesn‘t mean that you will like it.

The best film I have seen since last Chistmas in Hugo, which won five out of elven academy awards and I felt deserved every one.

The most recent film I have seen in a theatre is Beasts of the Southern Wild (based on a play) which tells the adventures of a six-year old girl named Hushpuppy living on the outskirts of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She lives with her father, without a mother, and the father is fatally ill and trying unsuccessfully to conceal it from Hushpuppy. The father dies, yet the film is magnificently uplifting. None of the actors in this film are professionals. The film has won many, many awards.

There is indeed a large amount of animation films these days that I wouldn’t think of going to. But then there are films by Aardmans and the incomparable Studio Ghibli.

The films available to you depend very much on where you live. I live in Toronto and have a large number of popular cinemas and art houses close at hand, but not so many as some places. Is it possible that when you lived in France that you had more easy access to a larger number of films than now in the place in France where you lived?

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Never sat through Ben Hur or Ten Commandments ...but did see Charlton heston on stage in a Man for All Seasons and was quite impressed but I was very young and he certainly had presence.
Charlton Heston was an incomparable actor and probably did the absolute best that he could in Ten Commandments. But a modern critic who presents Ten Commandments and Ben Hur as examples of uncynical film making is deluding himself.

Since I have been able to read I have come across articles claiming that films in general are going down the tubes and usually providing examples of supposedly tremendous films from the good old days. Now I am old enough to see some of these people listing a examples of the good old days the exact same films that previous writers listed as examples of how bad things have gotten.
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Old 08-30-2012, 05:28 PM   #7
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And again, "You can sum it up in one word: computers." Actually, no. Concentration on CGI at the expense of everything else is bad, of course– but the thing itself is a tool like any other.
I do agree that you can't narrow it down to one word, but I think the author of the article has a point here.

Now, I hope my younger brother does not read this post ever, because I'm going to use him as an example.

He cannot watch calm films, or ones that make you go into philosphical thinking. He likes them straight-forward and lots of action. There's no problem in that, that's just his personality regarding everything, not only films. Sometimes, when he particularly likes something, he would memorize his favourte characters' weapons, moves, attacks, blocks, etc. His most recent obsession is Star Wars (which, by the way, I have nothing against, even though it's 99% special effects), so he goes around saying that Obi-Wan has three cool attacks and Luke Skywalker has a really good block but a bad blaster, or whatever (you get the drift). That's all good and fine - I also used to go around the house and talk about Frodo et al.

However, there comes the time when we sit down to watch a film where you have to think a bit deeper to understand and appreciate it. Sometimes my brother would say something along the lines of "why didn't he do this? It's so easy, he just needs to [insert an 'attack/block/etc']". In addition to memorizing the "attacks" in his favourite movies, he plays lots of games on the Internet when no one is there to tell him not to, so he's quite used to having the idea of a certain number of sure moves one can do. He's the kind of person who would ask "why did they not just use the Eagles?". And he sometimes does not get it that in real life a person sometimes just can't simply do this and that, and that as easy as it is to press a button on the keyboard and win the game it is not easy in real life. He does not appreciate the difficulties beyond the basics and thus likes films that are on a similar level, that spell it out for him.

He is used to having it that way, a film-version of a computer game. What can I say? Computers.


So while I do not entirely agree with that statement (sometimes I don't mind a good effect or two), I can relate to it.




I very much agree with the author that the newer movies tend to be either action+effects to captivate the audience, or elsewise cliches. I prefer a slower-paced and not so fancy looking "old" film that leaves me with something to think about, rather than a shiny new one bursting with the newest miracles of technology that just flies out of your head once you're done watching because there's naught to glean from it. I just don't like how the author argues his point: "this is bad period". I agree that too many special effects often dumb down the film, but I dislike that the author doesn't elaborate or explain properly.
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Old 08-30-2012, 08:59 PM   #8
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My point, G55, is that CGI is just another way of doing special effects– one that can be used, or misused, like any other. Hollywood's reliance on spectacle didn't exactly start with computers.

As for your brother– he just sounds like a typical kid, of the sort who wouldn't have had time for the more intellectual type of film, in any era.

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Since I have been able to read I have come across articles claiming that films in general are going down the tubes and usually providing examples of supposedly tremendous films from the good old days. Now I am old enough to see some of these people listing a examples of the good old days the exact same films that previous writers listed as examples of how bad things have gotten.
It doesn't stop with films, now– you'd be surprised how many people reminisce about early computer games as masterpieces of purity and integrity, before everything was "ruined" by modern graphics.
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Old 08-30-2012, 09:43 PM   #9
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My point, G55, is that CGI is just another way of doing special effects– one that can be used, or misused, like any other. Hollywood's reliance on spectacle didn't exactly start with computers.
Oh, alright. Sorry about that, didn't get it right at first.

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As for your brother– he just sounds like a typical kid, of the sort who wouldn't have had time for the more intellectual type of film, in any era.
That he is.

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It doesn't stop with films, now– you'd be surprised how many people reminisce about early computer games as masterpieces of purity and integrity, before everything was "ruined" by modern graphics.
That's something I haven't encountered before. I have met those people (and am one myself) who prefer old books, movies, lifestlyes, etc to new ones, but I've never seen computer games among the things!
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Old 09-05-2012, 07:36 PM   #10
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It doesn't stop with films, now– you'd be surprised how many people reminisce about early computer games as masterpieces of purity and integrity, before everything was "ruined" by modern graphics.
Not at all. I’ve read such articles. And even earlier articles that said that computer games had been “ruined” by any graphics at all. The height of computer games was the Zork trilogy, text only games.
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Old 09-06-2012, 05:23 AM   #11
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Quite interesting; this shows that the question isn't so simple. Like Nerwen said, it isn't just "computers", special effects had been here even earlier and there were movies lacking depth that were built only on them. I completely agree with the notion that the movie - especially adaptation (which is the thing of essential importance for us, Tolkien fans) - should "start with a word", and I agree that this aspect is often somewhat lacking nowadays, and the CGI really can be blamed, at least partially. But then there are (or were, in the past) also some "pure action" movies with little to no special effects. They may not have good acting, plot, or anything, they just consist of action scenes - which do not have to be "special" in any way.

But I would like to bring out one more point. Theatre differs from book by acting (and sound, but let's leave it out for now, even though it's important, it isn't relevant for this discussion). Movie differs from book by acting and visual aspect (well, theatre as well, but of course movie much more so, I'm sure you agree). So when you are making a movie, you should be aware that the visual aspect is of equal importance (personal opinion - feel free to argue if you disagree) to the acting and story part. After all, it's a movie, not a radio play.

Even before the outbreak of mass CGI use, you could have a movie whose plot was the intelligence of a shoe and the acting of similar quality, but had amazing special effects (I am thinking e.g. Predator - one of my favourite movies in fact, and even there the special effects were present in very few scenes, but maybe that was what made them memorable. It just worked well with the looks and the atmosphere, I guess). The looks and atmosphere is an important aspect - one of film's devices is that it can look beautiful. (For me, the abovementioned example is the case - in Predator you have the jungle with everything that belongs to it, the lighting, the monster playing the invisibility tricks, really nice composition and use of colors.)

I think nowadays many filmmakers forget that the visual image can simply look good, and that doesn't have to mean using gazillion of special effects. To go back to the "less action" movies, recalling e.g. Tarkovsky's films - I think that has exactly the good use of the visual aspect. You can have long, purely visual scenes, but they are beautiful and you can just watch the image of a man sitting in the rain for five minutes and enjoy it the same way as if you were in a gallery. (Of course, you have the philosophical dimension there as well.)

You can use the CGI to create the beautiful scenes, of course. Or, to add something to a natural landscape to make it even more remarkable. Personally, truth be told, I don't like many of the CGIzed LotR scenes. They are sometimes a bit too much. But LotR certainly has many scenes which have the potential of using the beauty of what you see on the screen. Probably the best thing, or at least the one coming to my mind immediately, is lighting the beacons of Gondor. I guess that one is CGIzed, but it is (of course with the music and all) one of the best visual scenes, especially on the big screen it really sends chills down my spine. The opposite can be for instance the infamous Mr. Spotlight looking for Frodo in Mordor. I haven't seen something so sick in ages. Of course, slow motion falling Frodo does not really add to it.

Just a brief remark about the action movies, though. I would actually even go further to say that there are - however I am not a fan of e.g. some Sylvester Stallone breaking necks to random people every two minutes - ways in which the CGI had ruined even the action movies (or the action in the movies, as it is).

I am not an expert on action movies, but I know a couple of "old" action movies with little to no special effects, and they are fine to watch as a sort of "relaxation brainwasher" (I recall it really helped me at the end of my first year at the University when after a week of lying buried in the books I had decided to have a pause for a couple of hours and watch something where I don't need to think at all). But the movies are getting more and more of ridiculous action (made by special effects). Nowadays, even in "normal" - non-fantasy, non-SF movie, even if it is only about cops and robbers, you have to have the main character running up walls and making Matrix-style moves, even though it defies the laws of nature. I don't want to say that Matrix itself is responsible, but... well, maybe it actually is. The filmmakers, I think, nowadays use the CGI not because they can (like in LotR, you can show ten thousand Orcs in one shot - great! Why not), but because they feel obliged to by the current standards.

It is again the visual aspect: Since Star Wars has been mentioned, let me use it as example. Even if I focus on the newer trilogy, if you watch Star Wars Episode I, the final fight with Darth Maul is amazing - the person is a dancer and it is great to watch, just like you may be watching a dancing performance. The CGI are used only to provide the SF-looking environment, to have the iconic glowing sabers (a good example, in my opinion, of the abovementioned "visual" use of special effects), and a few Jedi jumps just to make the poor guys cope with the physically more capable villain. This is a good use of special effects. In comparison, in Episode II you have the Jedi doing lots of Matrix-style moves when falling off buildings and during fights rather unnecessarily, and in Episode III, the final epic battle is practically unwatchable, because it is long, but the moves are uninteresting, and you cannot (or at least I cannot) absorb the moves that fast to pay attention to what the people are actually doing. Simply: boring.

I think optimally (and now not thinking about my personal preferences, but about something that could satisfy even the "mass consumption"), you can have a movie where the depth/action/special effects are balanced. If one wants to use all three of those, that is a good achievement. However, I think very often there is the failure of focusing on one (and that is usually special effects nowadays, yes) too much in expense of the others.

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Not at all. I’ve read such articles. And even earlier articles that said that computer games had been “ruined” by any graphics at all. The height of computer games was the Zork trilogy, text only games.
Last remark - regarding the computer games. Recently, I had stumbled upon a discussion where people were complaining that nowaday's computer games are getting worse, because they "try to look like movies". I just thought it might be interesting food for thought in relation to what has been said here...

P.S. I think I am past apologising for long posts. I hope all of you know me by now and will excuse, or skip it if you find my posts too long
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Old 09-08-2012, 02:45 PM   #12
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Jackson's films are technologically quaint in comparison to much of the mainstream cinema output at the moment. Much of what you see is achieved by camera tricks, and they make the effort to construct those detailed costumes, weapons and sets that you see on screen. Where CGI and other SFX are used, they are done to craft what cannot be crafted by human hands, e.g. the green screen is used to create Gollum (and green screen is very old hat now).

I'd quite like to have seen a 1970s live action Lord of the Rings as it would be exactly like vintage Doctor Who, complete with terrible rubber masks and wobbly sets. But then I like that kind of thing (hey, I still like Blake's Seven, the wobbliest sci fi show of all time!), and I find it very easy to lose myself in an SF film even if it is old and the sets are appalling. This is probably because I am old

Just a couple of corrections and rants now...

John Carter might not have been the mass market success that Disney hoped, crossing over into the non-SF market, but it was lapped up by geeks. I'd have gone to see it myself if going to the cinema was not a virtual impossibility with family commitments to attend to.

Sneery British film reviewers amuse me with their ignorance. There are lots of films out there which are wonderful, and it is their problem if they cannot deal with advances in technology (and SFX are not even an issue in the majority of film making even today). Having a kid I am now learning to love Pixar and experiencing a renewed love of animation and so much of it is utterly beautiful (and animation is one of the UK's cultural strengths - our work is admired around the world). Whether that's the small screen delight of Abney & Teal or Daft Punk's Interstella 5555 or the textures of How To Train Your Dragon. It's lovely.

There are also many amazing stories you simply could not tell without SFX or animation, such as District 9, Watchmen and Spirited Away. Allan Massie does not know what he is missing - or perhaps he is content that way, bringing up the example of Downton Abbey, the second series of which had the most appalling and preposterous script I have seen since Crossroads was thankfully axed in 1988. At least Downton Abbey is not troubled by noisy aliens (it would be improved with zombies).

And to be brutal, cinema needed a ruddy good shake-up. The box office had become dominated by directors' 'me generation' navel-gazing about relationships, divorce and death. Tedious soap opera epics. Usually with Anne Bancroft and Meryl Streep crying or something. Cinemas were closing all over the UK because nobody could be bothered going out to see this stuff. Then it changed at the end of the 1990s with the 'CGI fest' (usually a sneery term used by old fashioned film reviewers for putting down SF or geek friendly films). These reviewers should toss the chip off their shoulders and go and see some SF blockbusters and if they don't like them, I could recommend any number of marvellous British and European films where the closest thing to SFX is the make up on Brenda Blethyn's face.

So many cinemas closed in the 80s and 90s due to the terrible stuff on offer, that we now have a very limited range of cinemas. For most, it's the multiplex. But there are indie screens in towns where there is a market for less mainstream films. We've got one about 15 mins from our house, tonight they are showing: Shadow Dancer; Tabu; Berberian Sound Studio; The Imposter; Lawless; anna Karenina and Homeward Bound. If you build it, they will come...

And anyway, it's not SFX that ruins films these days, it's terrible storytelling. And it also ruins much modern literary fiction. And TV. I can guarantee that this is what will have me walking away, and it's why Transformers and My Own Private Idaho both feature amongst my list of films I Do Not Like.

EDIT - and I've just enjoyed one example of something where the script is everything - the new series of The Thick Of it, and one of this Allan Massie character's "comic book stuff" films, namely The Hunger Games. Both were wonderful, and if he really does like: "Downton Abbey, because it has a literate script" then he is a fool, frankly (not least because the last series of Downton Abbey appeared to be written by a Y11 crammer who had to stuff as many random facts about WWI into his GCSE essay as possible to get maximum marks, and blow whether it's at all relevant).
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Old 09-11-2012, 03:14 PM   #13
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If you want good movies....

Don't let Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh or Philippa Boyens write them.
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