We all love explosions. Don’t deny it. It’s a big reason why Transformers made $709 million, why its two sequels nearly made a combined $2 billion, and essentially how Michael Bay makes a living (boxofficemojo.com). But, aren’t we all a little phased out by excessive amounts of computer generated explosions, robots, and little green men?
Cutting the Bay jabs, in recent years Hollywood blockbusters have been rife with focus on computerized graphics. The first images that come to mind are the Na’vi and their homeworld in Avatar, Voldemort in Harry Potter, and Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but these are simply fantastic examples of a portion of film technology that has made great strides since The Mummy in 1999. However, when you take a peek at the vast, uninspired end of Hollywood’s special effects, an angel slaps a baby in the face at the acknowledgement of such horrors.
The magical realm of Oa and its inhabitants in Green Lantern, Yoda in The Phantom Menace, Garfield in… well, Garfield. All three are examples of special effects that just don’t seem like they exist in the same universe as the cast, and therein lies the problem with much of the oversaturated use of CGI: credibility. Most viewers aren’t in a theater to watch an 80% live-action film, 20% video game. Sure, we expect the excessive explosions, the graphic of Shaggy staring blankly at an overly shiny Scooby who’s obviously not really there, and the volcanoes that are only slightly more impressive than my 6th grade science project, but where has innovation gone? Why have film productions put so much stock into CG that viewers are numb to when there is so much opportunity to wow us?
At the dawn of the creation of motion capture, film was a spectacle; a cinema of attractions. The simple notion that viewers could see real people moving on a screen that were not actually there was breathtaking. Why can’t we find ways to use this spectacle in hand with our special effects imaginations? We can, and we have; or should I say, Christopher Nolan has.
The New Action Film
Christopher Nolan has tackled some of the most complicated filmic ideas in the last few decades: a realistic twist on a fantastic, unrealistic world; a retroactive exploration of an amnesiac’s story; and possibly most intricately of all, a cinematic depiction of the ever-changing dream and those that wish to steal from it. Inception is the epitome of how CG and live-action should co-exist. Nolan constructed a dream on screen, one that had the potential to use as many wacky computer effects as desired. However, the director chose to use little-to-none, except for slight moments requiring altered physics. Those avalanches? Real. The giant train blasting through scenes? Real. That floating fight scene in the hallway*? Real. All action-packed scenes that were done with zero CG and brought the fantasy of the film into the realm of the credible. These scenes brought such credibility to Nolan’s world, in fact, that the (albeit, brilliant) computerized effects of Ellen Page altering the dreamscape and limbo fit right into the believable.
With Inception, Christopher Nolan created one of the few action-packed blockbusters of this millennium that revived the cinema of attractions, and innovation in special effects. What surprises the auteur holds in store for us when he moves from the dream to space in Interstellar are unknown, but prepare to be amazed.
Will Interstellar hold the same punch as Inception? Was Nolan really even that innovative? Answer in the comments below.