Here at Tech Digg, we like to promote all that’s good about technology, but as journalists, the truth must be told, and sometimes, technology isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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Look at movies, for example. It seems the more advanced we become with CGI, screen graphics and visual effects, we’ve forgotten how to tell stories and create interesting characters. Practically everything you watch nowadays is some sort of remake, spin-off, rip-off, sequel or prequel. Original content has reached an imminent standstill.

Not that there’s anything wrong with remakes or sequels… 2004’s Dawn of the Dead was less violent, and brought us more three-dimensional characters and better performances than George Romero’s 1978 cult classic.

Films like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Army of Darkness fair better than their predecessors, but there’s a pretty big difference between Empire and say, 2015’s The Force Awakens, another Star Wars flick that in my opinion was a bit over-hyped. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking – “How dare you hate on Star Wars!” First off, I’m not hating. I just praised Empire and Jedi, saying they were superior to the original film…

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[More: Review – Beauty and the Beast: Feel Pretty Dry After La La Land]

But hear me out on The Force Awakens. I’d be lying if I called it a bad movie. It wasn’t; it was fun, I enjoyed myself while watching it, and it was interesting to see all the original characters come back, but was it memorable? I don’t think so.

The Force Awakens didn’t introduce us to a unique plot or an intriguing villain the way 77’s A New Hope did with ease and success. The heroes were not as exciting as those in the original trilogy, and a lot of the story elements seemed to be recycled right out of the first film. In typical J.J. Abrams fashion, the project’s primary focus seemed to be about making the creatures look cool and the effects bombastic. It’s interesting for a while, but 20 minutes after leaving the theater, my mind had moved on to other things.

Compare The Force Awakens with Empire. Chances are, you can’t. Now, what’s funny is that Empire did feature special effects galore, but it also had a story with some gripping subplots (i.e. Han and Leia’s romance, etc.) Characters like Luke and Vader were well-developed, while new characters, such as Yoda, weren’t there to look good but to further the film’s narrative. Overall, the flow of Empire is consistent and unswerving, and the result is arguably one of the greatest follow-up stories in cinematic history.

Personally, I blame CGI for the lack of quality in films. We’ve come so far in what we can do with computers, we don’t stop to think what we should do (man, I sound like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park).

Do we rely too heavily on CGI?

It used to be that special effects and CGI were used to enhance the story. Now, it feels like the story is used to enhance the special effects. Directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, once considered the “schlock-artists” of their time have become relatively mainstream, and explosion-fests like Transformers and even 1996’s Independence Day are always guaranteed sequels (even if it’s 20 years later).

2016’s The Jungle Book is a prime example of how far we’ve come with CGI, but how low we’ve sunk in storytelling. For instance, there were many moments where the animals and creatures looked exceedingly real. The way they spoke, the way the moved… It felt as if I’d just stepped into a zoo or menagerie of some kind, and the film was always exciting to look at. At the same time, there were a lot of things missing, Shere Khan’s motivation being a big one.

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For those of you unfamiliar with The Jungle Book (I’m sure there’s very few of you out there), Khan is a tiger who serves as the main villain. His obsession in the film is to bring down Mowgli, who apparently represents all that’s wrong the with the world in his eyes. Why, you ask? Well, you’re going to have to ask the filmmakers. The movie never says!

Maybe Khan knows men hunt; maybe he knows they’re violent, or maybe they’ve even killed a fellow tiger he knew in the past, but unless we can talk to Jon Favreau himself, we’re left in the dark. One of the story’s primary points, the villain’s motivation for committing evil deeds, is left completely out of the film, and the audience is merely left to assume.

I seriously wonder if maybe the filmmakers were so obsessed with getting the animal’s mouths right that they simply forgot to include it. We’ve all been there before; we have so much on our plates that we forget something vital or important, but this seems like a real no-brainer. Furthermore, there were other elements of the film I had serious problems with (I don’t know about you, but a boa constrictor with the voice of Scarlet Johansson doesn’t sound very threatening).

Tech just ruins everything

Technology has birthed special effects, and in this case, technology is not making things better. Movies have indeed suffered from their lack of stories and unmemorable characters, and films just aren’t carrying the same weight they did 25 or 30 years ago. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer films like To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Amadeus over the latest Ninja Turtles reboot any day.

No special effects of any kind, just solid plot lines that rivet and inspire. Are we really able to downgrade a white lawyer defending an African-American in the rural south or a composer driven to madness by extreme jealousy just because there’s no explosions or computerized aliens?

I’ll let you be the judge.

[Review – King Kong: Skull Island Raises the Stakes for MonsterVerse]

3 COMMENTS

  1. Rose colored glasses my friend. There is always, always a fresh crop of bad movies mixed in with the very few good ones we choose to remember fondly years a later. Overall, I’d wager to say that the movies we see now are, on average, of much higher quality than what we saw in the late 70s and 80s. Of course, if you like to complain while things get better and better, nobody can stop you.

  2. I loved this reading, for several things, one is I agreed with most, it’s like the previous computer games, all looks terribly bad, but the story and the level of engagement of the game needed to be extremely high, so the Game as Game needed to be good, not it graphics, the efforts were in the deep and not the superficial of it.

    But as with dynamite, was a great invention misused by many, I think it’s the time to get the best stories never (well) played on the big screen and make it great with all the glory of the story and then, just after that, make them pretty with CGI and more.

    I hope to see Foundation Series (Isaac Asimov) on the big screen well made, don’t you?

  3. Excellent article, but I’m going to nitpick about the Jungle Book story. You said:

    “His obsession in the film is to bring down Mowgli, who apparently represents all that’s wrong the with the world in his eyes. Why, you ask? Well, you’re going to have to ask the filmmakers. The movie never says!”

    There’s a flashback of when Mowgli is a little boy and Shere Khan attacks them. His dad fights him off with a torch, giving Khan the scars that we see later on. We don’t really know what provoked Khan’s attack, but obviously he sees humans as a threat since they possess fire. I’m pretty sure that’s literally the only reason why Khan doesn’t like humans – they’re a threat to all animals.

    But on to the article, you made a lot of excellent points. Avatar is an example that sticks out to me. Amazing visual effects for the time; I remember being blown away when I saw it in IMAX 3D. But I honestly haven’t watched it in years because the story just isn’t very memorable (see: Dances With Wolves or Pocahontas).

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