Sunday, April 27, 2014

We're bored with special effects. Now what?

Comedian Nick Swardson has a terrific routine in which he makes fun of "jaded movie friends" who don't appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making impossible things happen on screen. "If you showed [Transformers] to people fifty years ago," he jokes, "their brains would explode. Everybody would lose their minds." When you hear stories about audiences fleeing in terror during The Great Train Robbery, this seems almost plausible. Nowadays, it takes something with the magnitude of Gravity to impress people or make a dent in the public consciousness. But why have we become so jaded?

Drew McWeeny of HitFix takes a stab at this problem in a recent column on what he calls "casual magic." McWeeny believes that visual effects have become truly spectacular and allow impossible events to unfold onscreen, but that this has contributed to our increasing fatigue with big-budget films. Even the truly spectacular special effects and scenery no longer wow audiences. Our threshold for what will amaze us is constantly moving up, and anything below that is considered boring. It's not just that special effects are dull now; worse, they're obligatory. We pay $15 for movie tickets, and we're expecting a sensory barrage.

McWeeny is understandably upset with this jadedness, but he suggests a solution. If outlandish and impossible worlds are our new baseline, the author suggests that we explore those to their fullest and stop creating films about superheroes or the battle of good and evil. We have reached an unprecedented point at which filmmakers can depict seemingly anything they want, and if that is now our bare minimum requirement for seeing a movie on the big screen, the next generation of blockbusters should explore those impossible ideas. More Inception and less Spider-Man, basically.

It's not exactly groundbreaking to argue that special effects should be used to more exciting ends, but it's always spiriting to hear a major movie critic tackle our increasingly apathy to media. Maybe there'll be something worth writing home about this summer. After all, summer movie season starts on Friday!

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