The Harbinger Online

Senior examines how advances in technology have improved our theater-going experience

If I’m going to pay $6-12 for a single big-screen movie these days, I want to get an experience that justifies not picking up a replacement at the neighborhood Redbox for a dollar.

One justification I’ve  recently that qualifies a trip to the theater is getting the chance to see special effects that took more time to create than it did to film the actors.Though computer generated imagery (CGI) has been in the movie industry since 1973, more modern techniques like photorealistic motion capture has been especially prevalent in the last decade allowing movies to appear more realistic and appeal to today’s viewers. In particular, recession-affected movie-goers, expect more from their movie experience in exchange for the less-than-comfortable seating and overpriced Buncha Crunch.

Of the top ten box office movies of 2009 given by yahoo.com, eight incorporated extensive, if not complete, use of special effects and CGI. The two that did not make use of CGI found ways of incorporating a bathroom tiger or quarterback-Cinderella-story as an alternate means for entertainment.

Critics lately have been taking stabs at excessive use of the effects because they feel producers are relying too heavily upon computers for the quality of their movies. Sure it doesn’t take a mastermind to see that sometimes effects are used as a distraction for pitifully written storylines, but it’s hard to deny the potential of digital enhancements.

The 12-year development of Avatar used a new 3-D camera created by director James Cameron and his team along with state-of-the-art imagery equipment. If Cameron had made his movie 12 years ago without the technology we have now there might have been floating mountains, but you’d probably still see the strings attached to the top.

“Obviously, CGI in the last ten years has gone through such leaps and bounds that today, people are looking for these kinds of movies to wow audiences with technology,” said Avi Arad, producer of the Spider Man series and Iron Man.

As great as the animations were in the 1988 version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that I loved watching as a child, the cutouts looked like they were from a grade school coloring book. The 2005 version, on the other hand, features a lion representation so lifelike it would send Simba crying to Zazu.

There are just some things that cannot, and shouldn’t be, properly done without the use of a computer. Take Avatar for example. The sense of other-worldliness you get from watching a phosphorescent plants could not possibly be duplicated to the same standards if filmed on a set with hand-made backdrops. In fact, the effects used in Avatar were so noteworthy I would even dish out an extra six dollars to see it again in 3-D. And when it comes to an eight foot tall blue Na’vi alien, I’d bet on the creative abilities of a computer over a makeup artist any day.

Modern technology offers virtually endless possibilities as to what can be created on-screen. By  using technology that used to be primarily for Sci-Fi and cartoons, producers are now able to flawlessly incorporate CGI into virtually any genre. With the advancements that have been made in the movie industry, it seems ridiculous not to use the technology available. If someone’s interested in watching a barely-edited film with minimal special effects there’s plenty of indies to choose from. But when it comes to quality films meant for the big screen, the superiority that special effects can create is indisputable.

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