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Special Effects

Jack Donaldson: Comic-book Movies Have Ruined Special Effects – Entertainment on The Huffington Post

In many circumstances, I’m not a fan of CGI. CGI effects generally have too slick of a look for me. Too pristine, no grunge. And sometimes they lack adherence to physics. I’m not interested in the new Hulk movie mainly because its CGIed anti-hero looks too…cartoony…to me. 

I agree that subtle effects are awesome (David Fincher returned San Francisco’s freeways to their pre-1989 state in Zodiac and you probably didn’t notice).  But some special effects are meant to be a spectacle, and part of the reason that noticeable effects aren’t as impressive is that we’re used to seeing them.  Way back when, the T2000 and the creature from The Abyss were pretty awesome because they had never been seen before.  James Cameron sinking the Titanic had never been done on that scale.  Comic-book movies can be made now (and are being made in profitable droves) because they needed the effects technology to pull them off.  It’s true, CGI can be over-used.  The Star Wars Parts 1-3 are probably a good example of that.  The Lord of the Rings films are a good example of CGI being used well (for the most part).  Comic-book movies are going to tend to over-use it by their very frenetic clash-of-Titans nature.

It would seem that the combination of CGI and practical effects is the way to go, and Donaldson is blind to a whole genre that takes advantage of whatever works to get the job done: the horror genre (and it’s kin).  Pan’s Labyrinth is gorgeous and full effects that are seamless within the movie.  It wasn’t even nominated in the visual effects category, though it won for cinematography, art direction, and makeup.  The Saw franchise uses multiple techniques to pull off the gruesome things that occur, but again, it’s not seen as an “effects” movie.  Horror movies rarely are, even though they’re all about tricking the audience through visual effects into believing that something has happened that obviously hasn’t.  Interesting that two of the bigger directors/producers that are pushing effect technology, Robert Zemeckis and Peter Jackson, have roots in horror.


Writer, publisher. Hobbies include reading, studying magic & illusions from a historical/theoretical perspective, and playing ultimate frisbee.

8 thoughts on “Special Effects

  1. I’m totally with you on this. In fact, one of the best things about renting the DVD for… well, one of the Saw movies was the special features where the effects dudes discuss how they made this contraption or that, how they perfected certain effects. if I’d been smart enough to know what i wanted to be when i grew up when I was in college, I’d have gotten an art degree – I’d LOVE to work in real FX.

    1. When I was in high school, I used to buy Fangoria magazine just for the articles on makeup effects. I always figured that if nothing else worked out, I’m move to Hollywood and stalk an FX guy until he let me get my hands dirty. So, maybe my diatribe is a tad bit biased. πŸ˜‰

  2. I agree as well. Without being over the top, the effects in Pan’s blew me away-especially the faeries. Golden Compass was done well(although not nearly giving the book/story the justice it deserves) but without effects would have been impossible to translate to film.

    The comic book films don’t really grab my eye the way they might have when I was younger. Cartoony was an excellent way to describe what’s been churned out by the massive money makers in LA.

    1. I was really impressed with Golden Compass’s look, though very disappointed in the structure of its storytelling. Why the didn’t just stick closer to the book, I don’t know.

      When comic-book movies can pull off some decent characterization amid the spectacle, they can be really good. I’ve been wanting to see Iron Man again, for example. It was just a really fun flick even though the action bits are not what I prefer.

  3. I just got back from seeing Indy 4, and while I haven’t read the article you linked yet, I think that it had just a bit too much special effects to be true to form for the series. I really loved how they’d brought the series past the early-40’s era and into the fifties (fast forwarding through WWII but mentioning Jones’ service in the OSS was great), but the last, oh, twenty minutes or so of the film was just too over-the-top for me, and I felt that the effects didn’t mesh with what I thought an Indy movie should be; reality with only a light touch of the supernatural.

    On a different note, Iron Man was a CGI-spectacular and it worked well because a superhero movie NEEDS that kind of stuff.

    But I’m not a movie critic. I’m not even a drama student! πŸ˜›

    1. I haven’t seen Indy 4 yet (we’ve been waiting for a friend to get back from Bahrain and it’s tradition to see a good spectacle when he’s in town, well, in country) and I’m kind of dreading it. I hear there are…gophers. CGI gophers. No one needs CGI gopher. Even if they had kick-ass super powers or drove a seriously cool robot…

  4. I think tons of CGI can be appropriate for, like, superhero movies (since over the top is kind of what superhero stories do), but there are many many movies where I think they rely on CGI too much.

    I’m especially disappointed with CGI used in animated films, since with animation you don’t really need CGI. You’ve already got the animated drawings with which to do impossible things.

    1. CGI animation can be kind of cool, but I really hope it doesn’t replace traditional animation. Just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s better.

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