by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, April 28, 2012


An addendum to last week's post, on the horrors of excessive CGI in modern blockbuster cinema.

One of the things you'll notice when watching George Lucas's recent Star Wars prequels is that the guy is clearly infatuated with all the newfangled technology at his disposal. This is certainly one of the reasons why so many people tend to reject The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith on an intellectual level. It's the opposite of what made the original trilogy so special in the first place, when Lucas was basically forced to invent the FX that would kowtow to the stories he wanted to tell.
Especially depressing during Clones and Sith is George's insistence on using digital stuntmen to punctuate his action sequences. Long before the days of Luke Skywalker, apparently, the Jedi had the power to transform into hokey cartoon versions of themselves while doing somersaults through the air. Pretty cool, right? For someone as old- fashioned as myself, however, this is the equivalent of those Adventures Of Superman serials of the 40s, when actor Kirk Alyn would literally morph into a hand-drawn Man of Steel when flying. Which is to say, if you can't make it look right, why bother trying at all?

It makes one long for the days when films employed, I don't know, actual stuntmen to perform stunts. And again I ask: Have we now gotten to the point where computer-generated stuntwork looks any more convincing than actual physical feats of wonder? Have stunts now become so complex and dangerous that human beings can no longer accomplish them?

Now a couple of clips for you to consider. The first of these, from Stagecoach (1939, directed by John Ford), is widely regarded as one of the greatest action beats ever caught on camera in a Hollywood film. If you've seen it, then chances are you'll know exactly what I'm talking about:

That's Colfax WA native Yakima Canutt at 2:46 risking life and limb as the Indian pulled under the stagecoach's undercarriage (in a stunt later lifted by Steven Spielberg for Raiders Of The Lost Ark). It looks a bit primitive today, to be sure, but imagine the guts it would take to perform something like that - to chance getting trampled under an army of horses' hooves while your director films it for posterity.

Also consider this scene from The Mask Of Zorro (Martin Campbell, 1998). The magic moment comes at 1:41 into the clip, which had me literally cheering in the theater when I watched it for the first time:

What's that? An actual stunt performed by an actual stuntman on an actual horse on an actual location? Say it isn't so! I speak, of course, from the enlightened perspective of so many filmmakers today, who no doubt would have resorted to CGI trickery instead. Sure, any computer can do that. But show me an actual flesh-and-blood human being doing the exact same thing, and I'll hardly believe my eyes.

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