January 24, 2002

The Daze Rant

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Like $228 million worth of other moviegoers, my friends and I saw Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring over Christmas vacation. As we sat around waiting for the blood to return to our legs so we could exit the theater, one of my friends turned to me and said, “That movie was cool because the scenery and battles were better than I ever could have imagined.”

Granted, my friend doesn’t have the most fertile imagination, and what creative power he does have is generally devoted towards fantasies involving himself, the girls of Charmed and a can of whipped cream. Yet even the most hardcore, cynical Tolkien-o-philes have been joyfully singing like a pack of sloshed elves over director Peter Jackson’s visualization of their favorite book, as are critics around the world. So it’s probably safe to make the conclusion that the movie is indeed a stunning piece of eye-candy.

Something about my friend’s statement bothered me, however. Whenever I would sit myself down in front of the television to watch cartoons, my father would start into one of his paternal speeches about TV rotting the brain. He’d then shove a book in my hands, say I should develop my imagination instead of castrate it, and promptly change the channel to football as soon as I shuffled off to my bedroom. I would usually mumble something suitably witty about my dad being a poopy- head as I went, but here, 14 years later, was my friend admitting that a movie was better than his imagination. What if my dad was right? What if years of slavish addiction to television and video games have left our generation with withered, shriveled lumps where our imaginations should be?

While some people might be Crewlled by my friend’s comment, I think it’s an expression of something monumental. What I see in it is something more spectacular than even the girls of Charmed. We now have tools that can fully express an artist or director’s vision. Special effects are so advanced you can visually reproduce anything you dream of. My friend’s comment doesn’t sound the death toll of human imagination. Rather, it signifies cinema and graphic technology finally catching up to the human imagination.

Things have come quite a way from the early days of cinema, when UFOs were little more than pie-tins dangling from fishing wire. Older special effects could be distracting, their obvious unreality jarring the viewer from the world the movie tried to create.

Today’s computer effects are bordering on being so lifelike that they blend seamlessly with live actors and surroundings, allowing directors to produce incredible scenes once thought impossible to create.

Some people argue that special effects are nothing more than a shortcut for lazy directors. For Rings, Jackson commissioned a computer graphics program called Massive (which took over two years to perfect) to produce the movie’s, well, massive battle sequences. Jackson definitely shows how computer graphics can be used to enhance scenes, making them more believable or intense — anyone who remembers the scene where Bilbo asks Frodo to view the Ring one last time knows what I’m talking about.

So rejoice over the advent of increasingly lifelike special effects and their use in movies. My friend definitely is. The girls of Charmed might not be getting into whipped cream bikinis anytime soon, but it might not be long before their lifelike computer-generated copies are. But that’s the topic of an entirely different Rant.

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