There’s a great blog post on The Guardian from Phelim O’Neill extolling the virtues of the “old-fashioned, miniature model work’ done for Moon. As anyone who listens to our podcast will know, Tom and I are luddite-esque on our anti-CGI attitudes, something pushed to a mass-extreme over the summer from Wolverine, through Terminator: Salvation and Transformers 2 and ending with GI Joe.
We are not wholly luddites in our view on using CGI. The belief here is that CGI should be used very sparingly, only ever to allow filmmakers to achieve visual aesthetics and objects which simply cannot be done any other way. The problem with many films now is that CGI becomes the dominant technology on screen, overtaking even using actual landscapes which could so easily be found and would be so much more tangible on screen. CGI can never, ever, replace actual, physical objects and beings. Beings most notably. I Am Legend has become our go to for films with terrible CGI which completely ruins the experience. Those ‘vampires’ in the film are useless, there is just nothing interesting or frightening about these things because they are not there, they are not standing next to Will Smith.
Moon is a wonderful example of how to use CGI. The effects are used only to prevent the miniature work from looking too much like Button Moon, to further the overall aims of the filmmaker rather than substitute any sense of imagination or ingenuity in the process. O’Neill notes that CGI has killed such a significant amount of problem-solving amongst filmmakers. They can rely so much on computers to create what they want that they simply give up on trying to create worlds with any sense of reality. The expectation is that, taking GI Joe as example, a massive underwater base with obese shark-like fish swimming around it will be awe-inspiring. It isn’t because, although you certainly would struggle to build something like that, it looks so wildly unreal that the only visceral reaction to that reveal is one of laughter at the utter ridiculousness of the creation.
We have questioned whether studios may start to cut budgets for filmmakers amid the recession, something which does not appear to have happened at all. If this happened, I would argue this would produce a rise in filmmakers trying to solve problems through a little lateral thinking, or pairing back on overblown CGI creations to create tangible worlds and beings. A man in a suit will always be better than a prancing sprite.
McG has given a revealing interview to Film Journal in which he discusses the involvement of James Cameron in Terminator: Salvation, his own chops as a director and what lies ahead for the franchise under his control.
Commenting on his relationship with James Cameron over the making of the film, he describes a meeting between the two during which mutual ground was established, noting a joke between the two that Cameron would reserve the right to dislike Terminator: Salvation and that McG would reserve the same right to hate Avatar.
Further to that, McG compares himself to Cameron in terms of the lack of films the latter had under his belt when he took on Aliens after Ridley Scott’s classic original. He says Cameron “went on to talk about how when he was making Aliens, everyone thought he was full of shit. Like ‘Who does this guy think he is, following Ridley Scott?’ Remember, he had only made a few films by that time”.
Encouragingly for the Terminator film though, McG acknowledged the view of him in the wider film world and goes on to talk about his desire to use practical effects in the new film.
On the perception of him:
“…if you look at my body of work, I fit into a box that’s not conducive to a great take on Terminator. So I can’t expect people to cut me any slack. But I know in my heart these are the films that are closest to me. I was raised on films like Terminator, Die Hard and The Road Warrior. I think intelligent action films represent the magic of movies at a very high level and I’m thrilled to throw my hat in the ring and be part of it. By now, I feel like I’ve pushed enough film through the camera to take this one responsibly and deliver. And with the help of Christian, Jonah and Stan, I think we’ve done it.”
On his use of practical special effects for the action in Terminator:
“I wanted all of the action based in reality with a respect for physics and I wanted it to have a tactile reality for the audience. That’s why we did so much practically, to really convey the difficulty of a world under duress. I didn’t want clean, shiny Logan’s Run Terminators. I wanted Children of Men/Mad Max Terminators.”
What has set things alight online however is his discussion of plans for future instalments in the series if he gets his way. On this, McG says:
“I strongly suspect the next movie is going to take place in a [pre-Judgment Day] 2011,” McG reveals. “John Connor is going to travel back in time and he’s going to have to galvanize the militaries of the world for an impending Skynet invasion. They’ve figured out time travel to the degree where they can send more than one naked entity. So you’re going to have hunter killers and transports and harvesters and everything arriving in our time and Connor fighting back with conventional military warfare, which I think is going to be fucking awesome. I also think he’s going to meet a scientist that’s going to look a lot like present-day Robert Patrick [who famously played the T-1000 in Terminator 2], talking about stem-cell research and how we can all live as idealized, younger versions of ourselves.”
Everything still sounds pretty encouraging for this at the moment and, after his warming desire to use practical effects over CGI and blue-screen, I can’t help but want this to succeed. The ideas all seem right, let’s just hope his execution is spot-on too.