Tweet post for The Wall Street Journal to explain just why CGI is rotting sci fi cinema from the inside. For the most part, I'm only too happy to agree with him. If you ever read my post about Pixar, you'll know that I like CGI only if it adds something to a film.
Back in the good old days of Ray Harryhausen (see the photo that accompanies this entry), the effects looked ropey, but at least you knew that somewhere on the planet, those models existed. They had a sense of tangibility, and concrete 'realness' that CGI still can't replicate. Even look at a film like Jurassic Park, and compare it to Titanic. Jurassic Park is older, but it doesn't look quite as dated since a lot of the dinosaurs are animatronic. The actors are working alongside something that exists in the real world. The dinosaurs have weight, texture, and above all, believeability. Titanic, on the other hand, looks laughable. Move further forward to the 1980s, and matte paintings were de rigueur, instead of the contemporary crap that gets splashed across green screen.
We all know why CGI is there. In today's society, where everything has to be faster, shinier and altogether more 'wow' than what came before, CGI is cinema's way of twirling about going "Look at me! Look at me! I'm AMAZING!" It's almost being so fake because it wants you to notice it and admit how pretty it is. But unfortunately it ends up feeling like you're being followed around by an obnoxious six-year-old in a princess costume singing a Les Miserables medley while you're trying to read Wuthering Heights.
I love cinema. I really, really do, and I love big explosive action movies or giant set pieces as much as the next person...but you know what? You can actually do a lot of that without CGI. Just watch the 'making of' feature on the DVD for the latest Star Trek film to see that visual trickery is still possible even when you're using CGI. J.J. Abrams utilised everything from models and miniatures to mirrors and special lighting, and while he also used some CGI, I think the film feels a lot more organic as a result of the more hands-on approach.
It's true that special effects have been part of cinema since its inception (check out the work of Georges Melies for a good example, or the famous 'see through floor' shot from Hitchcock's The Lodger in 1929) but I don't think that an entire film should be one long special effect - they're called 'special' and should be used sparingly, otherwise they're not so special any more, are they?