Film There’s a spectacular moment during Charles Kent’s eight minute version of A Midsummer Night Dream which I’m still yet unable to explain. When Oberon tasks Puck to seek the flower which will the source of the night’s romantic farce and his servant says he’ll “I'll put a girdle round about the earth, In forty minutes” (not that the intertitle says this), the nymph is shown floating quickly into the sky then briefly speeding across the spinning earth before landing where the plant must be. Then the action is repeated as Puck makes the return journey.
The incident takes seconds, but even watching the shoddy capture of the film from the Wikipedia page, I’m enchanted. Perhaps the child is being whisked upwards on a wire. Perhaps we’re seeing a double or triple exposure when they’re circumnavigating the globe. But even now, I want to believe. With the rest of the film looking like it could have been filmed in some ancient time, I want to believe that what I’m watching is documentary evidence of fairies even if the effect is about as convincing as the papercuts of fairies at the bottom of a garden.
Special effects are rarely this awe inspiring of late. Watching the average film, even outside the sci-fi genre is to see a screen filled with computer graphics utilised to create the most mundane objects and vehicles. That has the effect of making the viewer assume that everything they’re seeing outside of the actors had their origin inside a computer which means that quite often the film makers then have to release set footage to show that actually a large proportion of what we’re seeing was created practically.
There’s not much which can be done about this now. When the remake/prequel to The Thing is shot with some perfectly reasonable and often brilliant practical effects but the studio orders they replaced with inferior digital effects because it’s what the audience expects (leading to the film being thoroughly trashed precisely because of how awful those intruder effects look) there’s no real chance of going back. I actually quite liked that film by the way and would be eager to see the version which hasn’t been visually bowdlerised.
There are exceptions both CGI and practical. Ant Man’s decent into the micro-verse. The corridors of Inception’s dream sequences. Every part of Gravity. But so inured are we wanting to see something extra special that when Doctor Strange didn’t quite deliver on showing us something we hadn’t seen before or rather that wasn’t simply another painted landscape we were disappointed especially given the hype about the visual leap of what we were about to see. When we see Rogue One, we’re somewhat impressed but quick to say, it’s fine but it’s not quite right. Not yet.
None of which is meant to denigrate the artists who work on something like Gods of Egypt; they’re creating the best work they can within the time and budget, directorial expectations and technological limitations. But I do miss the time when you’d see something happen in a film and be not quite sure how it was achieved, that there wasn’t a catch-all explanation however accurate that was. Say what you like about the remake of Point Break, but did you know that most of those stunts were filmed in actuality? Remarkable.