Technology is no substitute

This is only slightly off-topic, so I hope you’ll pardon me for discussing it. I had the chance to watch two movies recently, both high-budget Hollywood films featuring a lot of meticulous CGI replete with A-list names and exotic sets and locations. Typical big-budget American films.

However, I’m not going to say the names of the films because neither one impressed me much. In fact, one I just stopped watching halfway through. The other was vaguely interesting, so I finished it, but I’m not a fan.

To me, the fact of the matter is that both films, storywise, were substandard. Their plots were either paper-thin, or in the case of the one I stopped watching, nonexistent. Characters did things for no reason I could fathom, and worse, one movie seemed like a random conglomeration of most fantasy cliches. Anything even remotely “fantastical” got thrown in as part of the story (which may have been part of the book, since it was an adaptation. In that case, I’m glad I never read the book).

I think you get my point. Big name, big budget, plenty of effects … no plot, no story. No movie.

And it’s a shame, really, because the effort put into tertiary detail was exceptional. The sets were beautiful and the editing and directing were strong. Digitized animals were very convincing, and effects for speech were well synchronized. If that’s all you want to see, then I suppose it’s worth watching either film.

But CGI dazzle reached its logical apex a long time ago. It’s not enough to sell a movie on effects any more, because we’ve seen it all. Another monster that can talk isn’t going to impress me. Movies are stories, and without a story, it’s just a hollow shell.

(I subconsciously compare those two movies, with all their effects and big names, with Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which is running in Japan now. Hand-drawn. Simple but interesting plot, reminiscent of a Hans Christian Andersen story, perhaps. Different demographic of course, but Hayao Miyazaki films are exceptional works of art. It’s hard not to appreciate it, just for the amount of work and effort it represents. And yes, I know Studio Ghibli has in the past relied on computer for some animation effects. ;) )

That trend to push away quality entertainment, or just plain quality, in favor of technological advances is disturbing to me. I see it a lot in other arenas as well. CNN-J, for example, runs a filter across the foreheads and cheekbones of its presenters, so minute flaws aren’t visible on high-definition screens. You can see it as they talk; as an example, wrinkles in their faces as they speak fade in and out of view in a way that’s not natural for a normal image.

And how expensive is it, to filter the newscaster’s face in real time (assuming I’m actually watching a live feed, and not something just labeled as a live feed)? Too bad that money wasn’t spent on better journalism.

Either way, supplanting quality with technology won’t work. Either you offer a quality product — whether it’s news or a movie, or for that matter, an operating system — or you don’t. People can tell, and the only way you can push a shoddy product is through promotional sleight-of-hand. In that case it’s not about what you sell, it’s how you sell it.

Except some of us can tell the difference, so we won’t be buying.

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4 Responses to “Technology is no substitute”


  1. 1 susan 2008/08/19 at 10:08 AM

    It’s no fun without the titles. :P

  2. 2 johnraff 2008/08/19 at 1:38 PM

    The frightening thing is that this processed imitation that’s served up by TV and other media is presented as reality and accepted as such by a lot of consumers. So real human beings are made to feel inadequate because they don’t look like TV presenters or supermodels.
    (Is the same happening at the Olympics? I heard some of the fireworks at the opening ceremony were computer graphics.)

    Worse still is the tendency to judge events in the world filtered through the view enforced by our local media, which may be controlled by those in power…

  3. 3 Faelar 2008/08/19 at 8:11 PM

    I don’t go often to the cinema, but I had the same kind of reflexion about video-games. We must understand that everything is mainly linked to the hardware. They want you to buy the latest GPU. I believe they also want you to buy a FullHD Flat TV 3m heigh !

    Visuals effects are also easiest to advertise, you can say “look how this game is amazing !” but how can I show you how great is a story ?

    Don’t forget about what I call “references”, I played a lot of fantastic games like Baldur’s gate, if you only played average or low quality games, how can you say “this one is not really good” ? But you can see how better it looks like.

  4. 4 N.N. 2008/08/20 at 12:16 AM

    Nice read. Not only do I whole-heartedly agree with your point, but, coming from Denmark, I also appreciate your mention of H.C. Andersen :)


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