Written by Dan Doherty
In Hollywood today, one of the biggest issues with blockbusters is the overuse of CGI. Ever since Steven Spielberg wowed audiences and critics alike with the special effects in 1993’s Jurassic Park, filmmakers have used CGI as a tool to improve their films visually. This started a wave of many filmmakers using CGI in addition to practical effects, to heighten the visual splendor of their films. People like Peter Jackson recognized that CGI was a necessary evil, which is why his Lord of The Rings trilogy used practical effects in the forefront and CGI in the background and for the larger creatures. These advancements proved that using CGI as a blend with models and practical effects could create something very special in a film.
However, as time progressed, directors forgot that CGI was just an extra utility and ended up using it as their only tool. While some films have the appropriate budget for this and are able to show very convincing computer generated effects, other films look truly dreadful and become somewhat cartoonish. Recent films such as Jupiter Ascending and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were so filled up with computer effects rather than real stunts and locations that they turn into live action cartoons. Another problem is that films use CGI to make actors look younger (Young Charles Xavier in X-Men: The Last Stand being one of the worst offenders) or to showcase bloodier moments. Many recent action films substitute real blood squibs with CGI blood shots, as a way to be “safer” even though it ends up looking terrible. If these trends continue, CGI will become the only thing filmmakers have in their toolbox.
Enter George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. A film that has been universally lauded by critics and audiences alike, particularly for the film’s incredible action set-pieces. And what was the key to making these action sequences so incredible to behold? Emphasizing practical effects and death-defying stunts done by brave men and women over CG effects. Being an old school director, George Miller recognized that while CG was necessary in spots, it should not be the only asset being used. Miller utilizes real locations in addition to practical stuntwork and vehicles to wonderful effect, and used CGI as a last resort for the more over-the-top and grandiose sequences. Not only does this make the film’s set pieces an absolute joy to watch, but it also means that the sequences will hold up for a long time, rather than becoming dated within 5 years time.
Aside from elevating the chase scenes in the film and making the action feel much more organic, the importance of this is that due to the success of Fury Road, it could also signal other filmmakers to use practical effects in their films. Now, while some filmmakers like JJ Abrams & Christopher Nolan recognize the benefits of balancing real models with CG, others ignore it and even betray their old techniques for the sake of CG-ing every thing, especially George Lucas and Peter Jackson. In both the original Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of The Rings, practical effects trump the use of CG (granted, CGI was not what it is now when Star Wars was first released, but moving along) allowing the films to stand the test of time. However, with the Star Wars prequels and The Hobbit trilogy, both Lucas and Jackson forgot this, and used as much green screen and questionable CGI as possible, and the films suffered because of this. The prequel trilogy is already beginning to show it’s age a mere 15 years after The Phantom Menace came out, and within the next decade the Hobbit films will undoubtedly start to show age. Even the man who revolutionized CG effects, Steven Spielberg is a victim of this, as Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull suffers from some questionable CG at points(swinging monkeys, anyone?). Hopefully blockbuster filmmakers have seen Mad Max: Fury Road and have learned the benefits of practical effects from George Miller.
In summation, the CGI epidemic in Hollywood has reached its all time high and films are suffering because of it. However, we may be entering a new era of blockbusters, with the glorious return of practical effects and stunts thanks to George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Hopefully the industry learns from this, and our upcoming slate of blockbusters returns to using models and stunt work, and only resort to CGI when absolutely necessary.