Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
How Did Nicole Kidman's 'Grace of Monaco' Go From Cannes Opener to Lifetime Movie? The Movie's Writer Tweets All How Did Nicole Kidman's 'Grace of Monaco' Go From Cannes Opener to Lifetime Movie? The Movie's Writer Tweets All A.O. Scott on Why the New York Times Changed Its Review Policy A.O. Scott on Why the New York Times Changed Its Review Policy The Best Films of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival According to Criticwire The Best Films of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival According to Criticwire The Top-Rated Movies of 2015 So Far: Addiction Tales and Another Flurry of Docs The Top-Rated Movies of 2015 So Far: Addiction Tales and Another Flurry of Docs 'Aloha,' With Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone: Cameron Crowe's Worst Movie, or Just One of His Worst? 'Aloha,' With Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone: Cameron Crowe's Worst Movie, or Just One of His Worst? First Cannes Reviews: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "The Assassin" First Cannes Reviews: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "The Assassin" First Cannes Reviews: Gaspar Noé's 'Love,' A 3D Art-Porn Mashup First Cannes Reviews: Gaspar Noé's 'Love,' A 3D Art-Porn Mashup First Reviews: Netflix Series 'Sense8' Goes 'Full Wachowski' First Reviews: Netflix Series 'Sense8' Goes 'Full Wachowski' Daily Reads: Why Critics Don't Have to Review 'Game of Thrones,' The Clash of Action in 'Avengers' and 'Mad Max,' and More Daily Reads: Why Critics Don't Have to Review 'Game of Thrones,' The Clash of Action in 'Avengers' and 'Mad Max,' and More The New York Times Is No Longer Reviewing Every Movie That Opens in New York The New York Times Is No Longer Reviewing Every Movie That Opens in New York Meditations on a Mad Man Meditations on a Mad Man Every Shot From David Letterman's 'Late Show' Farewell Montage Every Shot From David Letterman's 'Late Show' Farewell Montage 'San Andreas' Turns 9/11's Tragedy Into Pure Corn 'San Andreas' Turns 9/11's Tragedy Into Pure Corn The Mary Sue Freezes Out 'Game of Thrones' to Protest Yet Another Rape Scene The Mary Sue Freezes Out 'Game of Thrones' to Protest Yet Another Rape Scene Daily Reads: The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, Why Your Favorite TV Show Was Cancelled, and More Daily Reads: The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, Why Your Favorite TV Show Was Cancelled, and More What Critics Are Saying About David Letterman's Final 'Late Show' Episode What Critics Are Saying About David Letterman's Final 'Late Show' Episode Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more First Cannes Reviews: Todd Haynes' "Carol" First Cannes Reviews: Todd Haynes' "Carol" The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World Daily Reads: 'San Andreas' and the Art of Destroying L.A., Why Ferris Bueller is the Real Villain of his Day Off, and More Daily Reads: 'San Andreas' and the Art of Destroying L.A., Why Ferris Bueller is the Real Villain of his Day Off, and More

Retro/Active: Scott Tobias on 'Dead Alive' and The Debate Between Practical and CGI

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire March 1, 2012 at 7:10PM

Do we prefer our illusions effortless and magical or gritty and hard-fought?
3
"Dead Alive."
"Dead Alive."

In the newest edition of his column The New Cult Canon, The A.V. Club's Scott Tobias uses Peter Jackson's 1992 film "Dead Alive" as the platform to broach an interesting discussion about the natural of special effects.  In his early, indie days, Jackson's films were distinguished by the clever and resourceful use of practical gore; these days, Jackson's work contains some of the most impressive use of digital effects in cinema, many done by Jackson's own company, WETA Digital.  But is one style inherently superior to the other?  Tobias says no:

"The important point isn’t that effects have gotten better, and that CGI is somehow superior to stop-motion, but that they’re different, and audiences respond to them differently... Why should we put a premium on realism when it comes to effects? Effects are not necessarily diminished by the audience recognizing them as effects. No one ever mistook Ray Harryhausen’s creations for seamless photorealism or Nick Park’s thumbprint-pocked Claymation wonders for the fluidity of computer animation. And yet they’re pleasing in ways that CGI could never be, perhaps because they’re so handcrafted and personal."

From there, Tobias transitions into his thoughts on "Dead Alive" but there are a whole bunch of juicy questions left open for investigation here. Is one style of effect inherently superior to another?  Should the merit of a special effect be its personality or its authenticity?  Do we like Ray Harryhausen's dinosaurs because all the endless hours labor are visible up onscreen? Or do we prefer "Jurassic Park"'s dinosaurs because they look so good our eyes convince our minds that these critters actually do exist?  Do we prefer our illusions effortless and magical or gritty and hard-fought?

To me this debate, always dissolves into a strange paradox.  Practical partisans often salute analog effects because they have a certain corporeal quality that digital effects cannot replicate (at least not yet).  To use an example Tobias discusses in his piece, we know (or we at least hope -- dear lord, how we hope) that the shapeshifting aliens in John Carpenter's "The Thing" don't exist, but the way they seem to spring to slurpy life in Rob Bottin's puppets and appliances imbues them with a horror that their similar CGI cousins don't capture in the 2011 remake.  So while digital effects might look more realistic, analog effects might feel more real.  But as Tobias notes, it's not even really about realism at all, it's about artistry.  And around and around it goes.

In other words, this is not a question that is going to be answered in a column about a film, nor in a blog post about that column about a film.  The comments section of a column about a film, on the other hand, is surely the place to settle the debate once and for all.  So I put it to you, Criticwire-ers, how do you like your effects?  Practical or digital? Original or extra crispy?  

This article is related to: Retro/Active, Peter Jackson, Dead Alive, Scott Tobias


E-Mail Updates



Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome