Movie effects are wonderful, but is something missing?

Published 2:02 pm Monday, December 31, 2012

This past week, I had the opportunity to see two movies that are each beautiful in their own special way. On Christmas Day, my family and I went to see the movie version of the famous Broadway musical, Les Misérables, featuring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Then on Saturday, my brother and I went to see the first installment of Peter Jackson’s new “The Hobbit” trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

I don’t usually have the time to see many movies, so it was enjoyable to get the chance to see two better-than-average films. Certainly both movies have some minor flaws, but they were well worth the amount of money I spent on tickets to see them. However, I was a bit concerned when it came to the previews that were shown before both feature presentations.
In most cases, the movies that are coming out in 2013 are loud, effects-laden and full of explosions and apocalyptic chaos.

There was a movie about zombies, movies about aliens, and several movies about the end of the world. Even the story of “Wizard of Oz,” once the domain of bright colors and sing-songy dances down the Yellow Brick Road, will be retold in a special-effects-riddled blockbuster of a prequel, starring James Franco and titled Oz: The Great and Powerful.

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Now I’m not about to pass judgment on a movie just by watching a minute-long trailer. And to be fair, I will likely see some of these movies as well. However, I wonder if Hollywood is starting to forget something important about filmmaking — you need a riveting and interesting story as well.

I was very amused to see an old clip of Star Wars creator George Lucas in his younger years, when he said — and I’m paraphrasing here — “A special effect is just a tool to tell your story. A special effect without a story is a very boring thing.” The irony, of course, is that Lucas eventually released three Star Wars prequels in the 1990s and 2000s, and those films were widely panned as having beautiful special effects but not enough story.

Watching The Hobbit, I couldn’t help but feel ambivalence when the battle scenes began and the heroes began killing orcs and goblins by the handful. Those CGI-created foes simply didn’t always feel real to me, and therefore the drama was lost.

I was much more riveted to my seat by films like Glory, where the battles might not have been as “immense” in number, but featured real actors fighting real actors, and there was a sense of danger and intrigue. I had similar thoughts during Les Misérables, where there were beautiful scenes of huge ships being dragged into port, and large barricades spanning across Paris, and yet I couldn’t help but think: “I was no less impressed by this story when I saw it on a small stage with just a few effects and less-famous actors.”

I believe that CGI and other special effects are indeed a wonderful tool that can help Hollywood entertain us further. I just hope that in all the explosion, glitz, and glamor, they don’t also forget that a little story and a little personal connection to the actors can go a long way.