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Thread: CGI- a force for good or evil?

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I think PJ is one of those directors who doesn't know when to stop with special effects. I'll concentrate on LoTR but King Kong is another fine example of his over indulgence in effect and is preference to spectacle over substance.

As an illustration I'll start with the first proper fight in LoTR the troll scene in Moria- in the book the troll gets a mention and sticks a foot in the doorway before Frodo stabs it with Sting and it withdraws. Now I'm happy for them for them to have given the troll a bigger role but the resulting CGI scene is longer than the entire climax to the whole Moria sequence. Surely that can't be right.
It also introduces the worst CGI in the films- 'CGI Legolas' (sounds like a cop show!) and his superhuman (elven) antics are the start of the rot for this character for me that continues in surfing shields and one handed dismantling of Oliphaunts.
The entire scene can (and should) have been reduced to five minutes there is no loss to plot or story and its ten minutes spared they could have used on something that's actually in the books. This is not the only example of wasting bags of screen time on spectacle but its a good starting point for this thread.
I think you're blaming CGI for Jackson's lack of self-control, but they are two very different issues. CGI is a tool, and I think it made the fantastic elements look good. Obviously it can be used to create overblown action scenes, but that's not a flaw of CGI itself.

[quote:2w9z2xq4]Now I'm happy for them for them to have given the troll a bigger role but the resulting CGI scene is longer than the entire climax to the whole Moria sequence. Surely that can't be right.[/quote:2w9z2xq4]

I don't see the relevance of that scene being CGI. Amon Hen was turned into a much bigger skirmish and Aragorn got a fairly exciting fight with Lurtz at the end. I don't think there was any CGI there, though. Helm's Deep was [i:2w9z2xq4]largely[/i:2w9z2xq4] physical (though some of the shots with masses of Uruk-hai were CGI), but it was given a much larger role than in the book. The tumbling skulls in the Paths of the Dead weren't CGI (someone made thousands and thousands of little skulls for the shots - see the EE documentaries for details), but they were laughable. Thing is, PJ likes big action scenes, even corny ones, and he'll use the tools he has available to him to make them. If we were to blame CGI for bloated action scenes we'd have to blame a lot of other 'tools of the trade' that can be used for both 'good' and 'evil'.
Perosnally, I think the CGI in those movies are better than anything else I've ever seen! (apart from Avatar, but that doesn't count b/c it was Weta <img src='/images/smileys/bigsmile.gif' border='0' alt='Big Smile Smilie' />) I think the reason for such an "overdose" of CGI was because PJ was making the Avatar of 2000. He had all of this new technology and he used it to its fullest. It payed off obviously, he won the most oscars for a single movie ever! :lol: :mrgreen:
I LOVE film making, so I've watched the behind the scenes videos several times :oops: :lol: and its mind boggling how much effort was put into the movie!!!!! So many techniques were used and created! It makes me compare the making of the movies to the magnifecence of the book. The "magic" from the book rubbed off on everyone who worked on the movie, which made them work that much harder to reach their goal. Everyone wanted to make that magic they were feeling tangible, so that's why I think it may come off as overdone. It was :lol:
CSI Legolas!!! :lol: I can't wait for the pilot. <img src='/images/smileys/wink.gif' border='0' alt='Wink Smilie' />

Needless to say I disagree. I didn't clock that scene, but I think you might be exaggerating the length a bit. Regardless, I thought it was an effective scene setting up Frodo's apparent mortal wounding and subsequent wonder at the power of Mithril. Fellowship doesn't have a lot in the way of battles, so I don't think it was an inordinate waste of time. And the CGI is only used to render a plot point, not the other way around.

Whether or not a film has "too much" CGI or other special effects is relatively subjective. Personally, for me the only reason to see a film on the big-screen is for effects heavy blockbusters, panoramic vistas, or well choreographed martial arts sequences. Anything else is just as effective on the small screen. I only spend money on special effects films. If a big budget blockbuster has a great story and characters, that is a bonus for me. And if the effects are mind-bogglingly good and the [i:3hxzkvhd]action well paced[/i:3hxzkvhd], then I can overlook substandard plotting and characterizations.

A big budget film has to have truly awful acting and dialogue before it bores me. Eragon is a case in point. Jeremy Irons is the only reason it's barely watchable.

But to return to Jackson, the reason his films are so long is because he gives an equal amount of time to character and plot and effects laden sequences. They are well acted, well scripted, and well paced. King Kong was truly moving, and did not seem overlong despite the actual length. One could argue that the "Lost World" sequences were just a means to showcase CGI, rather than illuminate a plot point, but they were so effective, and the rest of the film so good, I really didn't care.

[b:3hxzkvhd]GB[/b:3hxzkvhd]
As much as I share your enthusiasm for Jackson's films Tinuviel, I don't really think "overdone" applies to them. "Just right" if you ask me :mrgreen: .

[b:a69u1uu9]GB[/b:a69u1uu9]
I agree GB, in fact, the more the marrier! But to some PEOPLE, overdone is how they see it
Oh where to start? Especially as you are all so wrong on this one! <img src='/images/smileys/bigsmile.gif' border='0' alt='Big Smile Smilie' />
Right Eldo first- yes CGI is a tool, it is a tool at the disposal of the director- saying PJ is not to blame for the use of CGI in his film is like saying the cameras are nothing to do with him either. His film, his CGI and his company (incidentally how much of the overblown CGI is only in the film as a advertising pitch for future work?-yes I am that cynical).
I used the troll scene because with exception of the tentacles of the Watcher its the first fully CGI monster in the films- and they want to show off. The narrative, tension and plot is left entirely untouched by chopping this scene in half- if you don't believe me try it and you'll see- its only purpose is as spectacle. Incidentally the same is true of the Mumakil in ROTK- why have 20 giant elephants when you can have a 100, or a 1000. Roll up, roll up, come and see a thousand giant elephants charging- surely Tolkiens beloved work deserves better treatment than to be reduced to a base common denominator of a circus? Perhaps PJ should take heed of the maxim;
'just because you can do it does not necessarily mean you should do it.'
I'm not sure why you bring up the skulls as I made no claim to them being CGI, I assume it was to demonstrate that PJ can be just as poor with models as he can with graphics. But that does not excuse him being bad with CGI in terms of not knowing when to quit.
In fairness to your approach to the argument Eldo I should have made the thread title clearer than going for snappiness! It would be better served called "CGI-a force for good or evil in LoTR' as obviously many films use it well, unlike LoTR.

Right who's next? Ahh GB- I can't remember offhand how long that scene it but I do remember when I edited down my copy it was around 7 mins all in (EE)-removing a chunk of it (about half) and chopping the crumbling stair scene vastly improves the Moria section and puts it back towards the pacing used by Tolkien and detracts in no way from the film or plotting.
You appear to be implying that Tolkien's approach of having an orc spear hurled at Frodo was somehow ineffective in conveying the power of Mithril and instead needed nearly ten minutes of troll bashing to get across. Surely not?
You say Fellowship lacks battles, there's a reason for that- Tolkien didn't write any until the skirmish in the chamber of Mazerbul. This is the first big fight in the films and PJ goes way over the top because of it, undermining Tolkien's carefully crafted increases in tension leading up to the Balrog who gets less screen time than the troll. I'd rather have lost the troll altogether if it meant getting the 'Beater of the Drums' back from the book and Gandalf's attempt to put a shutting spell on the door- that would have been far more exciting and suspenseful as well adding to the plot (Gandalf is wearied by it and weakened when he faces the Balrog).
On subjectivity, well its subjective so no point arguing about it. I will however say that I demand more than spectacle alone from a film and especially so when it was LoTR- to find so little substance remaining and so much gloss was a huge disappointment.

Ahh Tin, and I do so dislike being harsh with a lady! However I must first point out I made no comment about the quality of CGI and agree it is of an excellent standard, it just goes on for way to long at the expense of more important things in the films. On your point about new technology please see the above maxim.
I really don't know what to say to the Oscars defence (at least not politely). The misguided belief an Oscar equals quality film need have only one response - 'My Cousin Vinny'.
I too love all the making of stuff and have been fascinated by film my whole life and I agree with your sentiment;
'the magic from the books rubbed off on everyone who worked on the movie.'
But I would add this caveat;
'except PJ and the scriptwriters whose heads were so far up their own backsides even magic couldn't reach them'.
Oh but you are spot on about them being overdone. Overdone turkeys that is.
I call it as I see it and the truth is painful when its something so close to all our hearts as LoTR -we so badly want these films to be good-but those films are largely a mess. And that's a tragedy.
[quote="pettytyrant101":304igswj]saying PJ is not to blame for the use of CGI in his film is like saying the cameras are nothing to do with him either.[/quote:304igswj]

That's not what I said. I said that you can't blame the CGI for PJ lacking self-control. If PJ didn't have CGI [i:304igswj]or[/i:304igswj] self-control he'd just find other ways to make over-the-top scenes. I base this statement on the fact that several of PJ's over-the-top or exaggerated scenes in LOTR were CGI-free.

[quote:304igswj]I used the troll scene because with exception of the tentacles of the Watcher its the first fully CGI monster in the films- and they want to show off.[/quote:304igswj]

How do you know this? I think it's merely a manifestation of PJ's fondness for big fights and/or action scenes, which his LOTR is full of.

[quote:304igswj]Incidentally the same is true of the Mumakil in ROTK- why have 20 giant elephants when you can have a 100, or a 1000.[/quote:304igswj]

This doesn't even make sense as a criticism of PJ since he only had ~20 [i:304igswj]mumakil[/i:304igswj] in his film.

[quote:304igswj]I'm not sure why you bring up the skulls as I made no claim to them being CGI, I assume it was to demonstrate that PJ can be just as poor with models as he can with graphics. But that does not excuse him being bad with CGI in terms of not knowing when to quit.[/quote:304igswj]

The skulls demonstrate that PJ's fondness for big/goofy action scenes manifests itself in many different ways, not just through CGI. You're claiming that CGI is the reason that PJ had these overblown scenes, but I think it was just that PJ wanted overblown scenes, period. The non-CGI examples are evidence of this. CGI is merely one of the ways through which the 'problem' (I use quotation marks because I think some, such as GB, would disagree with us that it is a problem) manifests itself, not the problem itself.
A good example is Peter Jackson's "The lovely bones". Has anyone seen it? I just never pictured giant bottles with ships in them in Susies heaven from the book...Not that CGI is a bad thing but I think PJ is a big fan
Actually Eldo I think you and I largely agree here- PJ overdoes everything- the reason I picked out CGI sequences is that they seem to me, more than any other single thing or technique, to exemplify this tendency.

No I can't blame CGI for PJ's lack of self-control, but I can blame PJ for his lack of self-control whilst using CGI!

I said the troll was a 'show-off' scene because it serves no other purpose, it has nothing to do with the plot (trolls not even needed for that as in book) and as I pointed out it means it takes up time where actual plot from the book with the 'Beater of the Drums' is lost, ((and its far better than a long troll fight).

As to the number of Mumakil- I've not personally bothered counting how many are actually on screen, the point was an exaggeration made deliberately because exaggerate is exactly what PJ does- the hobbits use a ferry, not enough, have Frodo leap onto it pursued by Black Riders, Aragorn uses fire to ward of the Black Riders, not enough, have him set them ablaze, a troll sticks its toe in a room, not enough, have it rampage about for a while etc It's how he ruined the films.

Your point on the skulls is fair enough but only adds to the sense PJ should not have made these films, he has the enthusiasm but not the skill to know when enough is enough (for me that line is when any CGI or action sequence is left in at the cost of plot or character development-effects should support these things not supersede them).

I have not seen 'Lovely Bones' Fimbrethil, I did read a review of it however that said the way PJ used the CGI for the death-world side of things ruined the film (and again apparently paid very little notice of the source material). Seemed quite likely given what I've seen of PJ's track record on LotR and King Kong.

For the record once upon a time I was a huge fan of PJ, in fact he was one of my favourite directors in his days of making b-movie gore flicks-he just not good when he's given a big budget. I think the limits of cost back in the day actually benefited his film making and acted as a natural restraint on his tendency for complete over the top exaggeration- its crowd pleasing but its not LoTR's.
I think we do largely agree, then. I'm not quite as critical of Jackson as you are: I think that overall the LotR films are quite enjoyable if I watch them merely as films and not as adaptations, and while they have cheesy/ridiculous moments, I think the good outweighs the bad. That's a subjective issue though, and not one we can really debate.

Back to the original topic of the thread: 'CGI- a force for good or evil?', I don't see how CGI can be said to be a force for either. It can be put to 'good' or 'evil' uses (as can a lot of other tricks and techniques in film-making), but in and of itself it is neither good nor evil.
What on Earth is a big budget for if not "bloated" special effects sequences!!!??? :x <img src='/images/smileys/wink.gif' border='0' alt='Wink Smilie' />

Sorry...I just find the whole idea of "toning things down" to be incredibly philistine :P . I don't pay good money ($10-$13) to see someone "tone it down" on the big screen...most people don't in fact. I want SPECTACLE. If a scene calls for a troll (and the Moria scene in the book does indeed have a troll) then he should be front and center and made much of, not hidden in shadows like a crummy low budget B-Movie which can't afford a good Monster.

[b:17xrzw4n]GB[/b:17xrzw4n]
[quote="Gandalfs Beard":32k3ozs8] I want SPECTACLE. If a scene calls for a troll ... then he should be front and center and made much of, not hidden in shadows like a crummy low budget B-Movie which can't afford a good Monster.[/quote:32k3ozs8]

I have nothing against spectacle, but I primarily want to see a good STORY. Stories are driven by compelling plots and characters, not fancy monsters or disasters. While having monsters and disasters can add tension and make the story more visually interesting, I see a problem when they start to be inserted for their own sakes. Movies are not exhibitions or showcases.
I didn't really like the CGI in the Lovely Bones but I tend to agree with GB especially in a fantasy movie. The computor animated trolls, monster etc.. I think were great for the lotr trilogy and make it more convincing to me. However LOTR already is a great story to begin with but in general CGI cannot make up for a bad storyline. I guess the merit of using CGI is subjective like Eldo said.
GB its not so much a matter of "toning down" as not "toning up". LoTR is spectacular on vistas and events in the book it didn't need to be made more exciting. CGI was always going to play an important part in bringing ME to life but it didn't have to happen at the cost of story.
I thought the movies were great! As i said in a different thread, they were my first taste of LOTR EVER! Looking at if from a different perspective, PJ really had to make a great spectacle of a movie in order to draw audiences, which he did! And I have a feeling PJ knew he was getting off track, but he also knew he couldn't make everyone happy...
[quote="Tinuviel":1itldy6j]And I have a feeling PJ knew he was getting off track, but he also knew he couldn't make everyone happy...[/quote:1itldy6j]

Out of curiosity, do you use "off track" to mean "diverging from the book", "getting caught up in spectacle as opposed to story" (a separate complaint, and one made by many who don't care about faithfulness to the book), or something else?
Both :mrgreen: maybe a little more toward the spectacle, but it was pretty equal in my opinion
I definitely agree that he knew he was diverging from the book: the filmmakers made no secret of that, despite their claims of faithfulness to the ever-elusive "spirit" for which people can't seem to agree on a definition for (I know you gave one, GB, but I've seen many in debates on various boards).

I would think PJ realized he was adding lots of spectacle, though he seems very enthusiastic for it. It got even more out-of-hand in King Kong; I stopped watching partway through (finished it about a day later after resting) because I was utterly bored by the middle act, consisting of monster fight after monster fight after monster fight with barely any breaks in between (on the other hand, I really liked the first act, and the third was pretty good as well).
Was certainly heart-breaking as in "its heart-breaking PJ could screw up such a classic ending in such a laughable farcical manner." One of the worst bits of films ever committed- really only PJ could mess up something like that. Whatever pathos or emotion was left in that film he killed stone dead right there- the cinema I saw it in erupted in scornful laughter at that point in the film. And rightly to.
You know, when I first heard PJ was doing King Kong I was like...Why? I was actually pretty happy with the late 70s version, still holds up fairly well, and same old story...boring right?

When I finally saw it, I was blown away. The fantastic CGI monster fights themselves were worth the price of admission. But even better, we got a tragic Beauty and the Beast love story that made me cry :cry: , excellent scripting, great casting, great period reproduction, and Jack Black :lol: . Jackson sold me with the definitive version of King Kong.

And same thing goes for LotR in my book. The spectacle was amazing, but what was even more amazing was how great the rest of the films were. Most Special Effects driven blockbusters we're frankly lucky to get more than a passable story, dialogue, and acting (granted though, the quality of such films has gone up overall in the last decade or more as the bar has been set higher by films like The Matrix and Spiderman etc). But in the end, my point is that the films are well balanced between spectacle and all the rest of the things that make a great film and that make Jackson a great director.

So I don't see it as "adding" spectacle, I see it as reproducing the Fantastic imagery implied in such Fantastic stories.

[b:52tgv4s6]GB[/b:52tgv4s6]
Not that this is a King Kong forum but I can't stop myself from saying the decision in that film to have Kong go 'ice skating' between his escape and climbing the building was one of the worst, most laughable things I have had the misfortune to see on film and entirely ruined a classic ending. Although with Kong you have to start at the beginning where PJ wastes twenty minutes in a will she/won't she go plot when everyone knows she will (yawn) he then does a decent stab at the natives but then spends the next hour following one over the top monster fight with another over the top monster fight (double-yawn) before the disastrous 'ice skating' ending- just awful. The 70's version is better and the original stomps all over both of them.
PHILISTINE!!!! :P :x

That was a beautiful and moving scene, heartbreaking even.

[b:188b5e1u]GB[/b:188b5e1u] <img src='/images/smileys/wink.gif' border='0' alt='Wink Smilie' />
I wasn't sold on the romance in King Kong at all. In a single scene it goes from Kong abusing Anne -> Anne sticks up for herself -> Kong pouts and goes away -> Anne chases after him for some reason despite hiding from him 10 minutes earlier. It's like someone tried to write a romance centered around Stockholm syndrome yet all but cut the pivotal moments where the relationship's dynamics change. :roll: If they had taken 10 minutes of monster fights and devoted it to developing the Kong/Anne romance so it actually made sense, I think the film would have been much better (even with the ice skating scene :P ).
[quote="Eldorion":1uurcx5k] It's like someone tried to write a romance centered around Stockholm syndrome [/quote:1uurcx5k]
:lol: :lol: :lol:
I was greatly DISTURBED by King Kong, perhpas because I saw it alone and I'm terrified of being eaten by dinosaurs/bugs :cry: <img src='/images/smileys/vevil.gif' border='0' alt='Very Evil Smilie' /> :lol: I felt there was NO storyline, just fight fight fight fight romance fight fight fight for thier lives fight fight fight ... and then FINALLY! they bring him back to NYC, and I realize, hey! there is a story line!!!!! I think it was muffled under all of the spectacle for King Kong, but certainly not LOTR. I loved everything about the movies, only some of the plot decisions I disagree with, such as the Arwen sequences that never really appeared ANYWHERE in Tolkiens books (or was it? I might be wrong...) I guess I always had a thing for Aragorn and I didn't like Arwen coming in a screwing it up...
But back to the point, let's not compare King Kong to LOTR, they are two completely different movies. One has a reasonable amount of spectacle, the other has an over abundance that makes your head hurt abundance.
[quote="Tinuviel":qe1dip0v]One has a reasonable amount of spectacle, the other has an over abundance that makes your head hurt abundance.[/quote:qe1dip0v]

While I think that in [i:qe1dip0v]some[/i:qe1dip0v] specific cases LOTR has too much 'spectacle', I agree with your point in general. <img src='/images/smileys/smile.gif' border='0' alt='Smile Smilie' />