Dark Side of the Sun

Monday, May 7, 2012

That you can, doesn't mean you should

John Hammond: I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before... 
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.
Most of you will recognize that quote from Jurassic Park, a movie which, when it came out in 1993, revolutionized the world of cinema visual effects, and in many ways defined what good, modern visual effects should be, not just in their technical quality and realism, but also in regards to serving and supporting a story.

I saw the movie again a few months ago. I didn't know what to expect, carrying with me the memories of the first time that, in a cinema, it struck me with awe as a teenager, and watching it again this time through the eyes of a professional of cinema and visual effects. Not only was I surprised to see that some of its CG work still holds amazingly well, but also found a little pearl of an insight, loaded with irony, hidden within its theme, and clearly distilled in the above quote.

What Dr.Malcolm states about the scientists of Isla Nublar, can very well be applied to the film-makers of our day. Breakthroughs in the art and science of visual effects, many of them brought forward (and here comes the irony) by a few amazing leaps forward of which Jurassic Park is a great exponent, have brought us to a point where anything is possible. Nowadays, anything can be made to appear on the cinema screen. Absolutely anything that anyone can ever think of, up to a level of realism limited only by budget, time and artistic talent. Don't get me wrong: it is very far from trivial, in most cases. But it is possible. Sadly, this also means that many of the film-makers of our time, like the very bright minds that Hammond gathered for his jurassic venture, because they can, forget to stop and ponder if they should.

Can you remember an instance where you were suddenly distracted from a film's story by some gimmicky VFX shot? Impossible 360 camera moves or kilometer-long zooming camera travelings? moving through solid objects or people? I am sure you've experience this more than a few times. Feel free to add your comments below, or likewise let me know about instances of well-used obvious VFX shots that still served and reinforced the narrative and its theme.

Edit: In episode 7 of the "Spot Cast" podcast (min. 27), in an interview with Stu Maschwitz, he discusses an interesting example of an occasion where, working on "The Spirit", he saved Frank Miller from making the mistake of doing such an impossible flying camera shot through the streets of Central City.

1 comment:

Sinuhe said...

Great reflexion. You proove that you are a true creator, thinking of the entire result and meaning of a film, instead of thinking just in your own specific parcel (effects, etc...).
This global vision and approach is what makes the difference between a simple technician and an artist.