Humour Technology

The Cinema Conspiracy

Caroline Munro was definitely bustier too

Have you noticed how quickly special effects become dated now? CGI that was revolutionary when a movie came out seems crappy even before it reaches TV. Golum, once character animation perfected, already looks fake. And when I finally saw Beowulf I couldn’t believe it ever impressed anyone, it looks like it was made in someone’s bedroom. Parts of it especially. I’m not going to bother ever seeing Avatar. At this point it’s going to be about as impressive as Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

There’s something wrong here. Look how long earlier generations of special effects lasted. As a child I was wowed by the stop motion work of Ray Harryhausen in films like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the original Clash of the Titans, or – well, about every film I wanted to see. But so were my parents and even grandparents when he did King Kong Mighty Joe Young¹. OK, show it to a child now and they will actually yawn between the frames, but that work lasted for generations rather than weeks.

So things are getting better faster than they used to, and by a sad but inescapable logic that means they get worse faster too. I accept that, I just don’t think it’s sufficient to explain what’s going on.

When the film is released for TV the effects sequences included will actually be reduced in quality from the versions you saw in the cinema. Same again when the DVD comes out. And it doesn’t look worse in HD because the picture is better. How the hell did they ever trick us into believing that? It looks worse because it is worse.

They do the same with old TV programmes too. When I was a kid, Thunderbirds did not have the visible strings I notice now, I’d swear to it. Or Space 1999… Oh all right. But the rest, they had to downgrade.

Why? Because CGI progress isn’t fast enough to meet public expectations. We go to the cinema expecting every new film to be an astonishing quantum leap forward, and that’s just not possible. Look at Pixar’s films. Yes they’re brilliant – but they started brilliant. So the only way to keep blowing our minds is to keep reducing our expectations.

Just like governments do with recessions.


  1. Argh, stupid mistake. Stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien did King Kong. Harryhausen learned under him on several films, including the less iconic giant gorilla feature.

2 replies on “The Cinema Conspiracy”

I don’t think Avatar was looked that impressive when it came out. It certainly wasn’t convincing. I still think all the people praising the ecosystem were a bit too eager to believe the hype.

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