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Why Special Effects No Longer Impress 532

brumgrunt writes "When an advert for toilet roll now has a CG dog in it, have we come to the point where special effects have no lasting impact whatsoever? As Den of Geek argues, 'Where we once sat through Terminator 2 and gasped when Robert Patrick turned into a slippery blob of mercury, we now watch, say, Inception and simply acknowledge that, yes, the folding city looks quite realistic.'"
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Why Special Effects No Longer Impress

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  • Cars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:35PM (#34551540)

    When was the last time you gasped at a car driving next to you? Yeah, people get used to technology.

  • Poor Michael Bay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dominion ( 3153 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:35PM (#34551546) Homepage

    Does this mean that directors actually have to focus instead on character development, plot, and pacing?

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:38PM (#34551586) Journal

    "Where we once sat through Terminator 2 and gasped when Robert Patrick turned into a slippery blob of mercury, we now watch, say, Inception and simply acknowledge that, yes, the folding city looks quite realistic."

    Right and we also used to sit and stare in awe as a person used a phone from their car to make a phonecall. Now if a call is dropped we curse whatever carrier we have even though the sheer concept of what that signal is going through is borderline witchcraft. And so help me god if that signal drops to one bar. I act as if that communication capability is some inalienable right.

    Any technology developed for one generation can now be taken for granted almost instantly instead of taking several generations for gratitude to ebb. Seriously, you could build a machine that extends life indefinitely through five minutes of use each day and people will complain that one model tingles more than another. And if it stops working, they'll flock to the internet to complain that their life was shortened. And if their internet isn't working, some company just violated the Geneva Conventions.

    As computers (both general and special) become more powerful, you'll see this is in movies more and more. It's going to be like sound recording. Decent recording equipment is so cheap you can record a passable album in your basement. We expect decent CGI now that it's relatively cheap. Terminator 2 was the most expensive movie to make when it came out. Wouldn't be the same price today. I could sit here thinking of comparisons all day.

    I guess I would question the author with simply: "Where did you draw the line and why?" He talks about 30 years of special effects but, yeah, 30 years in any lucrative field or market would see some drastic progressive changes like this.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:38PM (#34551608) Journal

    No, it means directors have to focus on 3D. That's still new enough.

  • by gilesjuk ( 604902 ) <giles.jones@NoSpAM.zen.co.uk> on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:41PM (#34551658)

    My biggest problem is not the masses of CGI, it is the insistence of directors or photography directors that the camera has to fly around all over the place.

    I would much rather have nice composed shots, nice panning shots. I don't want millions of different angles and machine gun edits (lots of edits per second).

    So many films seem the same due to the above.

  • Ubiquity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eepok ( 545733 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:47PM (#34551758) Homepage

    It's called ubiquity. Once something, ANYTHING, is ubiquitous, it is then assumed to be normal, common, and easy.

  • Re:Cars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:51PM (#34551818) Homepage

    I posit that special effects are like other kinds of art, now. No one is really "amazed" that you can put together some oil paints and come up with a picture. However, Starry Night is still widely recognized as some mighty fine artwork. It's what you do with it.

    The folding city in Inception looked cool. No one was surprised that they could get it to look cool. For that you'll still need to look at things like Avatar et cetera. (Also very shiny, by the way. Total eye candy.)

  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @04:58PM (#34551938) Homepage

    I've been modding in this thread, but forget it. I want to post on this.

    This is my big problem. I recently saw Indiana Jones & The Crystal Skull. I knew it wasn't going to be very good, but I was still amazed at two parts of the movie.

    The first is when he was first being lead into the warehouse where all the artifacts are being stored. They have a show showing him walking in through the big doors, and in the background is a 20-30ft piles of boxes, made in CGI. Did you not have the budget in your $100m movie to buy boxes? Wait! You did. You piles of them 5 minutes later. I get you don't want to recreate the whole warehouse, but a single pile of boxes? It was pathetic.

    At the same time the 'crystal skull' in the movie not only does not look like the real crystal skull but in fact looks like someone balled up palstic wrap and then poured resin around it. You couldn't have a few pieces of high quality glass blown? You couldn't have used the CGI for the skulls?

    The CGI is applied in so many of the wrong places. The final scenes are very well done, as were the ants, but why keep spending the budget on making groundhogs look at Indy or troupes of monkeys playing Tarzan in a scene that TOTALLY breaks any suspension of disbelief.

    I'm used to CGI. It takes a ton to impress me. But a good motorcycle chase that isn't all CGI and blue-screen will go a lot farther because I can tell they actually did it.

    Heck, I suppose I'm lucky the quicksand in KotCS wasn't pure CGI. Stupid Lucas.

  • by andyr86 ( 1942246 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @05:02PM (#34552020)
    The only really impressive technique in film making these days is the 'long take' where a whole scene is shot from end to end without a tone of edits. Hard Boiled has a great long take right at the end. Personally i think photography has gone down hill in the last decade, no one seems to care about colour, light and shade anymore. Why bother when you are going to screw it all up in post anyway.
  • Re:Cars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beardo the Bearded ( 321478 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @05:07PM (#34552130)

    Special effects aren't special when they're in every scene.

  • by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @05:14PM (#34552268)

    Robert A. Heinlein, in his 1950 essay "Where to?" mentioned as a law of nature that a nine-day wonder is taken as a matter of course on the tenth day, and Frederic Brown, in his 1954 story "Preposterous" told of a man who lives in a future so advanced even we haven't gotten there, and that man took for granted things like the "Fourth Martian War" and the "Immortality Center" who ridiculed science fiction and at the end of the story, "he quirtled."

    Consider this: I was born in 1949, the year the transistor was invented. A few years ago, I realized I had on my person 1. a cell phone. 2. A PalmPilot and 3: a 60Gigabyte iPod. I suddenly realized that all of that represented more transistors, more raw digital storage, and more raw computer processing power put together than existed on all Earth the year I was born, and probably for several years after that.

    What surprised me wasn't that I took these items for granted, but that, essentially, I was wearing them as part of my clothing.

  • crapy movies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cuby ( 832037 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @05:19PM (#34552344)
    Lately, movies seem like an excuse to show special effects with no regard for plot.
  • Re:Cars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theIsovist ( 1348209 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @05:27PM (#34552490)
    I'd also argue that inception was impressive because several of the special effects rely on physical techniques. The spinning hallway really was spinning during filming, which might not seem that important, but it means that we have a real system in place for rules. Gravity is never lost during that shot, which often happens in pure CG special effects. everyone's movements happen as naturally as we'd expect them to in that situation. When you replace with CG, you're likely to forget to add small details that the audience will notice consciously or subconsciously, breaking the experience.
  • Re: Mod parent up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @05:32PM (#34552594)

    how is it the VFX that are ruining movies?

    Allocating all the funds towards "yet another explosion" instead of ... well virtually all other expenses.

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @06:16PM (#34553340)

    I'm used to CGI. It takes a ton to impress me. But a good motorcycle chase that isn't all CGI and blue-screen will go a lot farther because I can tell they actually did it.

    There are a couple of other posts that make essentially the same point. It's a variation on the theme of the cults of personality in the art world and the disdain that some people have for a work done in Painter versus a work done with oil paint. To me, that has always seemed like mistaking an art object for a performance.

    If I'm going to see a musician perform live, as opposed to just buying a recording, then it had better be one heck of a performance, especially with today's ticket prices. But if I'm going to look at a still image, I don't give a rat's ass how it was made because it simply doesn't matter. If I like it, I'd also like to know the name of the artist so I can search for more of his/her works, but other than that, the artist might as well be dead -- most of them are, anyway. My appreciation of van Gogh's "Starry Night" has next to nothing to do with van Gogh and everything to do with the way the experience of seeing the painting interacts with my nervous system. If it was revealed that "Starry Night" was a forgery or the output of a machine, it would make no difference to me.

    The same applies to movies. A play in a theater is a performance. A movie is not a performance; it is a finished art object like a painting or a sculpture. It is exactly the same every time you look at it. How it was made is entirely irrelevant, and arguably meaningless, since the past does not exist. What matters is the end result: do you like it or not?

    [...] why keep spending the budget on making groundhogs look at Indy or troupes of monkeys playing Tarzan in a scene that TOTALLY breaks any suspension of disbelief.

    In a series of films about an archaeologist who fights Nazis, Thuggee cultists, and Soviet psychics, and keeps unleashing vast supernatural powers stored in antiques, the monkeys are what struck you as implausible?

  • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @06:21PM (#34553426) Homepage Journal
    I am much more impressed watching Jackie Chan do nearly superhuman stunts than watching other actors on wires doing actual superhuman stunts. I cannot stand watching martial artists flying hundreds of feet into the air while kicking the crap out of each other or swordfighting. I'd much rather watch Jackie Chan scale a 12 foot fence using only his own power.
  • Re:Cars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gknoy ( 899301 ) <<moc.smetsysizasana> <ta> <yonkg>> on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @06:24PM (#34553476)

    More importantly, often the best special effects are the ones that are NOT visually glamorous. For example, in Forrest Gump, they did some awesome stuff to make Gary Sinise look like he'd had his leg(s?) amputated. It was amazing. It was nearly invisible in the movie. If I hadn't known that Gary Sinise had both his legs, I'd have thought they had hired an actor without legs.

  • I must be confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @07:10PM (#34554080) Homepage Journal

    I don't watch movies to "be impressed by special effects." I watch them to enjoy the story. The better the effects get, and the more they can use them whenever they need them, the more latitude they'll have in telling stories. I've seen the insides of huge spaceships (starship troopers, various treks, star wars), ancient cities (various movies have shown Egypt as she might have been), whole planets (avatar)... dragons, aliens, and who knows what I've seen that I didn't even know were CGI... geez, what's not to like? If I never see another TV-show class "alien" with an obviously glued on nose and caked-on makup, that'll be just fine with me. And when the time comes, as I hope it will, to put Niven's Ringworld on the big screen -- or even just a General Products spacecraft hull (or a Puppeteer!) -- I'll be expecting some faaaaabulous CGI. Likewise the next time someone seriously does a WWII naval or air battle, or a martian landscape, or magic, or... Why *would* you use real stuff these days, even presuming "real stuff" applies to the story at hand?

    If people are watching movies to be impressed, I guess they must have some motivation really different than mine. Not to say that sometimes I'm not actually impressed - but that's not what I lay money down for, that's for certain. Tell me a story. Do it well. Convince my eyes; convince my ears; do it so well that I don't have to suspend my disbelief, just go around it and immerse me in what, as best I can tell, is some kind of reality, Please sir, may I have another?

    Bitching because CGI is too good, or widespread? Incomprehensible to me.

  • Re:Cars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @07:29PM (#34554346) Journal

    That you use a horror film in a discussion of CGI effects demonstrates just how thoroughly fooled most people are.

    CGI appears in far more than horror and sci-fi genres. It shows up in dramas, comedies and everything in between. It's used to take age lines off a thirty-something actress. It's used to brighten daylight and make rain look real. It's used to enhance the look of water and it's used in practically every shot that takes place inside a car. It's used to change scenery and to add or remove extras from a crowd scene.

    I still maintain that you miss most of the CGI effects that you see.

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