The Impact of Digital Technologies on Film Aesthetics

In first reading Michael Allen’s I was wondering when he wrote this because CGI has leap forward in technology that this article is in a way outdated. Then I realized what he was pointing out and I think that is extremely important to look at. I never thought to breakdown and analyze the film aesthetics. The question which is usually brought forth in my mind is if CGI and special effects are in the movie to further the story and proved a deeper meaning in the story or just is it there simply because its innovative technology and we want to stun the spectator.

What Allen does is look at how CGI technology changes the aesthetics of shot length, framing, timing and actual shots of the film (placing the live and the virtual) in the same shot. He brings up specific examples from the films Jurassic Park, Godzilla and The Abyss. The CGI creatures had to be given short, fleeting appearances on screen therefore “the spectator could not settle upon them, could not ‘see through’ them” (Allen; 825) CGI images have lead to “changes in editing patterns and scene construction”. When it comes to framing, due to the technologic limitation it was difficult to mix the CGI with live action.  

The changes which I found particularly interesting were with camera movement. The early digital effects immobilized the once again. But shortly after this they were able to overcome this objection and they started finding complex way to use the camera around the CGI creature images. When you’re being taught about filmmaking, one of the standards you learn about is the 180 degree and other techniques designed so the audience doesn’t notice the role the camera plays in the film. The camera is the third narrator which allows us to see only what it wants us to see, but it is not supposed to be recognizable nor disrupt our attention. Allen says that the camera’s “extravagance, their overt sweep and style, are intended to be noticed by the spectator. They are in some sense pulled out of the constant and invisible flow of images that go to make up the scene and allowed to stand apart as moments for awed appreciation”. Bringing us back to the whole idea of the spectacle, and the question I posed earlier about if CGI is used to further the narrative or is it simply there as pure spectacle. What worries me here is also how much we are sacrificing the content of the film in order to accommodate for the CGI technologies.

Right now there is a huge outbreak with blueray, HD TV and 3D. People are so focused on special effects; the spectacle is what they want. Some watch films just for the graphic qualities and not the story. The relationship between actor and audience is moving further away because of this technology, which is not something I’m thrilled about. But I do enjoy the beauty in films with the innovation in technology we’ve had.

But what does worry me was last month when I went to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland I saw it on IMAX 3D and I came out of that movie theater in awe. Then when I thought back on it I couldn’t remember if I liked the movie because of the actual film or if I was just so caught up with the visual. When I re-watch this movie on my T.V. screen I guess I’ll be able to objectively decide whether or not I liked the actual film or just the theatrical effects.

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 7:40 pm Comments (5)

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