Guts Goo & Gore, Why Cheap Film Tricks Will Always Win CGI War

It speaks volumes when in Super 8 the multi-million dollar computer rendered alien is overshadowed by the cast’s use of food colouring, corn syrup and white contact lenses.

Like most film fans I immensely dislike the overuse of computer generated trickery in modern day films. Right now it seems the bigger the production house the more it seems to think that if its blockbuster is lacking in story, substance or a certain je ne sais quoi, it can fill that hollow gaping void made by pointless plots, neglected narrative or trite thespians with a big hulking fifthly wad of CGI. I may be sentimental but I harbor a certain admiration for good old fashioned hand made effects. The kind of effects where it is entirely possible for the cast, the camera and the crew to get coated in a mélange of props, prosthetics, dust and fake blood. Seeing them shattering sugar glass, breaking balsa wood, ploughing through plasterboard, cannoning cars into concrete and splattering the stars with squibs all add a fun playful aspect to a film. It€™s almost a childish fascination and admiration for wanton destruction, but I believe it's something that runs through all of us, as demonstrated in the excellent side story of last summer's most frustrating blockbuster Super 8. The film is set just before, and draws influence from, the era of pioneering low budget effect driven horrors like Sam Rami€™s video nasty Evil Dead, the 80's kids adventure comedy The Goonies and the loveable sci-fi Muppetry of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. It tells the tale of a group of young friends trying to make their own no-budget zombie film using the titular camera. Perhaps a nostalgic vision from director J. J. Abrams & producer Steven Spielberg€™s past, harping back to the days when they themselves were looking though the lends of a Super 8 camera. The plot on many occasions revolves around the group of awkward adolescents shooting the low-fi zombie flick, by far this becomes one of the most interesting elements of the film, watching the young teens make use of the unfolding disaster around them to create a dystopian ambiance for there own indie horror masterpiece. I found myself impatiently fidgeting through the scenes for a glimpse of what was on those 8mm cartages. Like most blockbusters Super 8 sticks to the Hitchcockian principles of building suspense and therein lays the problem that later bogs down the film and truly stops it from being the classic it is setup to be. The film starts off on a strong footing by creating an image of its monster in the audiences mind of a colossal, petrifying, bloodthirsty, electromagnefied, supernatural creature as it carelessly throws around and crushes inextricably dense pieces of metal such as cars & trucks. It abducts and kills people on a whim whilst messing with the polarity of the lighting and interrupting Debby Harris€™ heart of glass. For a shrill-screaming split second it€™s victims are the only one see it before they are violently wrenched off-screen leaving only fingernail marks as evidence. On several occasions the beast intersects part of the storyline to remove a character from the script. At one point it accidentally saves the only girl and the protagonists love interest, Alice from her deranged drunken father, indecently at the same time creating the classic damsel in distress scenario. This all builds to the point where the main character tweenager Joe Lamb and the rest of the cast of Goonies, battle their way through the mayhem of an apocalyptic suburban warzone in order to find the aliens hive/nest/den and save the girl. They find the entrance to the caverns hidden in the foundations of a double garage and courageously enter, only to meet the damned creature face to face. This being the films apex it should be a terrifying moment, pushing the narrative ferociously over the peak to a free-falling adrenaline-burning conclusion, but instead it flops and wheezes over the top and slides down steadily towards the finish on its bottom. The main cause of this slow anti-emetic decent is the visage of the CGI monster, as it ensnares Joe between its talons and tears him from the ground closer to his face. You see the exhaled air from the monsters nostrils ripping through his hair, and yet it leaves us wanting. There is no fear. Something in your mind knows that it€™s not really there. This is not down to the simple fact that the monster looks ridiculous on screen even before the computer added generation Mr. Spielberg was dealing with absurd creatures, but using foam rubber and animatronics to bring them to life. In the 90€™s the now classic fossil-fondling thriller Jurassic Park kept a generation awake at night with the nightmarish vision of being dissected by a group of hungry dinosaurs. The reason such films kept your heart pumping was because you and the actors were reacting to something that was really there. From Laura Dern burying her forearms into a pile of triceratops poop, to Bob Peck uttering those famous last words €œcleaver girl€ shortly before having his body disemboweled and disseminated just of screen by a bunch of animatronic raptors. On that note I recently saw the very same kind of robotic dinosaurs at a natural history exhibit and they still scared the bejesus out of me. There is nothing more pleasing then finding some of the most mind-blowing special effects in modern cinema were actually created. When a wall of fire engulfed the city in Independence Day it was a scale model lying vertically with a camera rigged at the top, they then released a fireball from the bottom and caught it in slow motion as it approached the camera. In more recent times Christopher Nolan has been the trailblazer with such effects form the rotating corridor he had built for Inception to flipping a 18 wheeler for The Dark Knight. The effects don€™t even have to be big budget to be visually satisfying, there's a whole school of low budget directors who pride themselves in creating scenes of unfathomable gore and action with nothing but a camera and a big bag full of groceries. As demonstrated by a young Peter Jackson with his extremely bloody conclusions to Bad Taste & Braindead, elements of which he carried on into the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the Orks portrayed by real actors in prosthetic make-up were one of the best elements of the film creating a terrifying nemesis for the tiny hobbits, who incidentally were made to look small by perspective rather then stinking them digitally. Now the issue of CGI vs low-fi is becoming more prominent than ever with the re-release of digitally re-mastered fan-boy classics like Star Wars on blu-ray format. There has been much ado about the digital replacement of the original puppet Jedi master Yoda, his soft-fuzzy-eyebrowed face being replaced by an all more together sleeker version. This little green man has become the chagrin of many sci-Fi lovers, who consider this replacement as an abhorrent destruction of a classic piece of work, for them it is the equivalent of Banksy breaking into the Louvre and spraying a Cheshire cat grin on the Mona Lisa. This is why I think directors should draw from their skill base they developed back in the days when a shoestring budget was commonplace. Spielberg making his cohorts run across concealed planks of wood buried in the sand to create the illusion of an explosion or an impact near buy. Peter Jackson drowning his cast in gallon after gallon of fake blood. Sam Rami throwing Bruce Campbell around a tiny destructible set. Because no matter how much money is spent on the effects CGI will always be seen as a lazy alternative to live action stunts and props. It speaks volumes when in Super 8 the multi-million dollar computer rendered alien is overshadowed by the cast€™s use of food colouring, corn syrup and white contact lenses.
We need more writers about Steven Spielberg, J J Abrams and Super 8! Get started below...

Create Content and Get Paid


Contributor

An affable but bumbling young chap, currently residing in the West Midlands. With an informal or unsophisticated style of writing musing on film, music, life and other such curios oddities.