Friday, August 21, 2015
The Death of Practical Effects Work
Very recently, footage of some amazing practical effects work done on the unnecessary 2011 prequel to "The Thing" (which for some reason was also titled..."The Thing"...huh, I guess originality is bankrupt even in creating the titles of needless prequels) surfaced on the internet. The outcry from horror fans has been deafening, mostly because this is some truly amazing effects work...and just about none of it was seen in the finished product, and replaced with thoughtless CGI effects. I've personally never seen this 2011 prequel, mainly because John Carpenter's 1982 film (which in itself is a remake of "The Thing From Another World") is fucking perfect and probably the best horror film of the 80s.
Trust me, go watch this footage.
Anyway, seeing these practical effects, as well as the CGI effects shots that replaced them, got me thinking about something that I've thought about many times in the past, and all this does is re-affirm that thought: practical effects are a dying fucking breed.
I remember going to see "The Devil's Rejects" in 2004, and realizing that the gunshot wounds were CGI. I realized this because they blatantly look totally unbelievably fake. Was it really cheaper to do this than to use traditional squibs? Or was it more time and shooting effective to do so? Probably a mixture of both. Now I'm not knocking the work that goes into making CGI shots of any kind: it's something I know I'd never be able to do...but for me, any originality or craftsmanship that would go into practical effects work gets totally lost in translation.
Recently, makeup legend Rick Baker retired from the industry, more or less citing that as CGI has become the norm, his services and the services of many of his contemporaries and others in the practical effects business, are going the way of the dinosaur. CGI does make some otherwise impossible effects become possible, that's true...but it takes away that sense of realism that practical effects could always conjure up. Remember Rob Bottin's disgusting effects in the 1982 "The Thing" that were frightening and brilliantly crafted? Or Baker's iconic werewolf transformation in "An American Werewolf in London"? We don't see things like that anymore these days, and that's a total goddamned shame.
I know I may be sounding like an angry and out of touch old man again, but in this case I feel totally justified in being so. One of the reasons the 1982 "The Thing" is revered so well is because of its iconic effects work. Virtually no one remembers anything about the 2011 prequel, and there's good reason for that. It may not be all because of the cruddy CGI effects, but at least if the film itself sucked, you'd still be able to say "those practical effects are awesome" and get some amount of enjoyment out of it in spite of itself.
There's still practical effects wizards like Greg Nicotero that pretty much run what's left of the practical effects business, but despite that, it can't help but feel like that era is rapidly closing. Some may think that's a good thing because it may be cost effective and faster, etc., but to someone like me, it's a damn shame.
Long live ingenuity, practical effects, the art and craftsmanship that went into making those old moments so damn memorable.