Many of the younger generation simply don’t appreciate classic film effects.
One not-so-special evening, I happened to be watching excerpts from monster movies. Soon, an excerpt from the classic 1935 film version of King Kong appeared on screen. All of a sudden, I heard a snicker from my younger sister who happened to glance up from her book in time to see Fay Wray scream her head off as the infamous, huge, grinning ape approached her. My initial reaction was to take the cushion I was cuddling and throw it at her and proceed to say something very rude. Instead (because I feared a backlashing from her quick tongue), I stopped the video and asked her what she found so funny.
“Nothing,” she said. “It’s just so primitive; I can’t help but laugh.”
She then drew her attention back to her book and I, simply not wanting to start an argument, quietly resumed the video.
Classic Film: A Trip to the Moon
When mentioning science fiction movies, the first vision that comes to the minds of many film buffs is one of the most iconic film shots of all time – a space capsule landing in the eye of the face of the moon. For those who don’t know, this scene is from the first-ever full-length feature film, A Trip to the Moon, directed by Georges Melies and released in 1902. This sixteen-minute piece was instantly popular and made a nice change from the ordinary two-minute reels that were being dished out by aspiring filmmakers of the time. More importantly, it was the first-ever science fiction film. Now those who have a very tender spot for science fiction movies, especially the classic old ones, have to gain tolerance in the hardest ways imaginable.
The Benefits of Computer-Generated Effects
When constantly overhearing people make comments about how awful the special effects were in films made when our great-grandparents were still alive, it would be hard not to understand where they are coming from with their points of view. Film techniques have grown and developed particularly over the last two decades with certain benefits. Computer-generated effects enable directors to create massive epics with perfect landscapes, gigantic castles and massive battle scenes consisting of ten thousand men. When looking behind the scenes, we very quickly find that the perfect landscape is a sound stage. The gigantic castle doesn’t exist and the army of ten thousand men actually consists of ten men that have been computer-graphically multiplied. At a time when there is an economic crisis, computer-generated effects are a welcome necessity and film studios have never looked back. And, sadly, neither have we.
So, one would have to ask people who are quick to criticize: what makes them experts? Do they know how much effort and time went into making these “atrocious” effects? Do they actually realize that before computers could run our lives everything had to be done by hand? Do they realize that instead of creating a large spaceship by using computer graphics and special effects teams, sometimes directors would spend weeks building a miniature scale model of a spaceship? And they actually pulled it off!
1960 Film: The Time Machine
To put it simply, the ability to create visual film effects without the use of a computer is a lost artwork. One might have an inkling to giggle when watching the 1960 film version of The Time Machine but keep in mind that the creators of those visual effects spent weeks, maybe months, trying to achieve the most realistic single effect possible, even if it was only on the screen for three seconds. And why did they do this? To be laughed and snickered at fifty years later?
No, they did it to push the boundaries of creation, to create something that has never been seen before and, most importantly, to create a sense of excitement and awe within the audience. The ordinary middle-aged waitress would save up her nickels so that she and her gas-attendant husband could go to the nearest drive-in on a Friday night to see and love every minute of how Rod Taylor was able to travel back and forth in time and destroy the evil Morlocks. “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences” was pretty impressed and, in 1960, The Time Machine won an Oscar for Best Special Effects. Impressive? It was for the time.
So one has to ask the public: are you frightened when you watch a black and white b-movie where a gigantic tarantula is slowly, menacingly crawling along the streets of San Francisco, with its black spindly legs crushing skyscrapers and humans in its path? Not bloody likely! But if you were sitting in a darkened bioscope in 1956 you’d most likely be pulling your hair out in terror. And why? Because it would be so real…as real as the film effects could possibly make it in 1956 and you as the audience would have believed everything you saw. And while we might forget that visual effects all started with a space capsule in the moon’s eye, we never seem to forget that the wonderful world of Disney was all started by one small black and white mouse.