Are movies such as Jurassic Park and Avatar Fundamentally Different from Conventionally Produced films? Not Quite!


The technology that is responsible for creating an ‘illusion’ has existed in various forms. Jurassic Park (1993) and Avatar (2009) are examples where various forms of computer technology were used to create illusions of spectacular events taking place in the films.  However, when comparing such films with conventionally made films, there is no fundamental difference at all between them.

According to Howells and Negreiros in their chapter about ‘New Media’, they discuss the characteristics of old media and new media, and evolution. To them, new media in regards to the actual medium which is used to deliver texts, whether they are music videos, films, or information, is basically just a new way of presenting the media and is only a new delivery system.  The act of receiving the information or ‘text’, is not new, but just transmitted through a new delivery system.  However, special effects or what Lev Manovich described as ‘illusions’ can also be examples of text.  The illusion which used to be delivered through conventional means such as constructed models and makeup, are now delivered through computer technology.  In the case that involves conventional films and films that rely heavily on CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) the fundamental aspects are the same because even though the illusion, text, or what is to be seen in the film, in only delivered in a new way, what the viewers are supposed to see is the same.  For example, in Jurassic Park, viewers are supposed to see in the film a modern habit for a variety of genetically engineered dinosaurs that escape and create chaos.  In Avatar, much of the film’s budget was spent on cutting-edge visual effects which included 3D and using technology in order to produce live action in a CG world.  According to a  BBC website, “performance capture was used to record real actors’ movements which were then translated into animated CG aliens called Na’vi”.  However, what has not changed was the main aspect of the film, which was the actual text or special effects that people were supposed to see; as the BBC explained, live actors were used and they are both feature films.  The method of delivery in regards to the special effects were delivered were different.

The new delivery of special effects did not begin with Michael J Fox travelling back in time from 1985 to 1955 in Back to the Future.  According to Richard Rickett in his 2007 book, Special Effects: The History and Technique, special effects were used in an 1895 by Alfred Clark in his re-enactment of Mary, Queen of Scots getting beheaded.  According to Andrei Bazin’s, the technology that creates realism and illusions has evolved.  Therefore, what is needed is to look at how the delivery of illusion evolved throughout the twentieth century which made how we see certain aspects of the text (film) better. What existed for Clark was good, just like CGI is good for the present; what existed for Clark evolved into present day CGI, which has been used on countless feature films.

Whether film producers deliver their ‘text’ through CGI or through conventional methods that require actual physical models that are used for the special effects in films, there is no fundamental difference between the two types of delivery methods of illusion or what was described in Howells and Negreiro’s Visual Culture as the “text”.  Also, if we look at Avatar and Jurassic Park, the only thing that is different is the delivery method; therefore, that the two films are products of a film industry that has evolved and progressed.  However, this is not to say that everyone will be happy with such progress or evolution, even though there have been people such as Jean-Louis Carnolli who regard the advancement of how filmmakers deliver illusion as a way of looking back to see how ‘unrealistic’ special effects were compared to modern delivery methods such as CGI.  According to him, each new technological development, whether it consists of creating the illusions of a spaceship going through a star field or characters interacting with animated backgrounds as if they were physical sets, should point to viewers that previous delivery methods were unrealistic.  However, it must be pointed out that people criticised George Lucas when he abandoned puppetry and practical effects in favour of using GCI to create certain characters in Star Wars and director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy favour using more practical to create the illusion of realness.

In conclusion, there is nothing about conventional or GCI that makes a film less of a film.  The fundamental aspects are the same; no matter what the delivery method is, it is a film to be watched as it conveys a story or a text.  How people accept the film’s delivery methods in regards to realness or illusions is a different matter altogether.






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