This summer you are probably going to go to the movies to see some huge blockbuster movie packed with lots of explosions, flying robots, maybe a few CGI space ships and probably a monster or two. Unfortunately, all of these explosions, robots, space ships, and monsters – are completely fake.
You moron! Of course they are fake, it’s a movie! Yes yes… What I mean is that the effects are fake.
See, back in “the old days” we actually blew things up with real explosives, built robots, hired make-up artists, and made models of space ships that were bigger than you are. What we are missing from cinema today is a “how did they do that?” factor.
Think about it. Say you go to see the latest sci-fi film “Prometheus” this summer and there is a shot of a space craft flying through space. Are you going to just let it fly by and not let it affect you, or are you going to sit there for a minute trying to imagine how they did that? The answer is you are going to let it fly by and not phase you at all, not only because it’s been done before. But because it will have been done by computer animation. If you grew up during the 1950s through the 1990s, you will remember watching movies like Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Godzilla, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, Blade Runner, Terminator, Apollo 13, Total Recall, Independence Day, and of course Star Wars, just to name a few. These movies are mentioned because most of the effects in these movies were actually filmed, they were not fabricated in a computer.
Remember that shot where the White House is blown up in Independence Day? Of course you do, it was awesome. It was also a model. They built a model of the White House, and then blew it up using real explosives. Win.
Space craft like the Star Destroyer, X-Wing, and Millennium Falcon from Star Wars were all models, and were actually filmed by real cameras and then combined with a star field background using film techniques and optical printers. The Discovery One space craft from 2001, the USS. Enterprise, the Nostromo, and all the flying cars in Blade Runner were done the same way.
You could really appreciate these effects when you saw them because you knew that these things were real, and you had no idea how they did it. Sure it was a model, but why did it shine like that, and why does it look so big? Even today when I watch one of these older films I respect the talent and time required to construct these awesome models, set up miles of explosives, and film these things in one take.
When I watch the Star Wars prequels, or the new Star Trek movie, or even special effects wonder Avatar. I understand that days of work went into making these amazing CGI models, animating them, and adding a bunch of lens flares to make it look more realistic. But I know they are fake, and I know exactly how it was done. Because of this I respect them less than if I saw a 6 foot model flying in front of me.
Unfortunately, it seems as though we may never again see space ships made from plastic models. Real explosions, practical effects like fake blood, squibs, miniature cities and people in rubber suits are becoming less and less used, with Hollywood opting for the cheaper and safer CGI alternative. One day we won’t even have actors, just CGI replicas.
Is this is a good or bad thing? You decide.