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Special Effects, Ho-Hum

30 May, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

This being a holiday weekend Monday, we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see just how epic a weekend at the box office the last “Star Wars” installment enjoyed. I am sure it was a sizzling kick off to the summer.

I have yet to see Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith, and not being a “Star Wars” fan, I am able to pretty easily resist the impulse to rush out and see it, though I understand it is probably the one of the best of the sequels and prequels to the original, and not necessarily, if you read the critics, because of its special effects.

One of the interesting byproducts of the success of DVD has been that the behind-the-scenes features and director's commentary found on almost every disc has, in effect, pulled back the curtain to reveal the man pulling the cinematic (really, the computer software) levers of today's films. For me, and I wonder for how many others, this has dulled the impact of today's special effects movies, and of the blockbuster epics. When I see trailers for Kingdom of Heaven, say, I know that the army of thousands of horseback are really about 200 guys on horseback multiplied a few dozen times over on a computer to look like thousands. I can't even be cynically impressed by the idea that somewhere in the California desert, thousands of extras gathered to make this film. Indeed, many directors themselves have lamented the making-of features as having this potential on fans.

Films like the “Kill Bill” series or Sin City, which seek to at least partially parody special effects and film violence, leave me with a ho-hum feeling that, although well done, don't have enough of a story to get me to suspend belief long enough to care that the spectacularly spurting blood arcing across the room is coming from the lead character.

This is all by way of leading up to my happy surprise this weekend when I heard some very young filmmakers talk about their aspirations during a end-of-the-school-year celebration for a local high school for the arts here in Orange County, Calif.

They didn't talk about all the cool things they looked forward to doing with state-of-the-art technology, or the filmmaking tricks they learned to put together their short film projects for the year. They talked about the importance of story-telling, of good writing, of trying to make a connection with the viewing audience.

Maybe, they too, have seen enough making-of extras that have taken some of the magic out of films that technology has provided in the past. As with every generation of filmmakers, they will have to create their own new magic to captivate those of us in the darkened theater. We're ready to lose ourselves in a good story. But, at least for me, the previous generation's over-reliance on technology has lost much of its magic.

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