The release of this year’s biggest tentpole movie Man of Steel raised a super-sized question that’s been niggling in my mind for months. Read any film blog in the wake of Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot and you’d think there had been an on-screen tragedy of Al Qaeda-sized proportions inflicted upon audiences. Now that the dust and rubble of a freshly leveled Metropolis has settled, it’s time to address an important issue facing the way modern moviegoers digest their entertainment: Have CGI effects transformed us into spoilt little brats?
When I was a child I had a few VHS tapes, each complete with battered plastic casing and those amazingly cool cover-art images that digital photography all but killed. Peruse my scant collection and you’d find titles like Masters of the Universe, The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters, Gremlins – all those movies that seem to be issued to every new homeowner along with their brand new set of house keys. It wasn’t much but I loved my little video hoard. School holidays became one long back-to-back screening of the same five or six movies. My lack of options made me truly cherish what I had and I still hold those movies in high regard today.
But today things are very different. The history of modern cinema could probably be boiled down to three crucial turning points: sound, colour and Jurassic Park. All are game changers but that last one is by far the most important. It welcomed a new era of CGI movie magic that changed everything, and it may be the sole factor responsible for spoiling today’s audiences rotten. Even some critics are falling victim to this digital overindulgence. Motion capture and pin-sharp 3D photography has raised the bar unrealistically high, setting standards in the minds of viewers that ultimately are never met. I’d argue that the bulk of today’s movie fans are like round little Augustus Gloops, sniffing at the eye-watering Avatar effects and jaw-dropping Avengers digi-destruction that’s stuffed into their brain like Wonka Bars in a hungry mouth. They’re spoilt for choice, basically.
Snyder’s Man of Steel is a perfect case in point. The biggest gripe of Bryan Singer’s then-failed now-reconsidered Superman Returns was that it was without teeth. In the years since its 2006 release the Internet has picked apart its, admittedly many, flaws. After all, Singer’s was a Superman movie where Superman doesn’t even throw a punch. By hiring Snyder, DC looked set to create a reboot that really kicked ass. And kick ass it did. And buildings. And jets. And skyscrapers. Those who have seen Man of Steel will know that its final 40 minutes are all out CGI destruction-porn. Fans should be overjoyed, right?
Wrong. Years of building up a tolerance to the decadent nature of CGI effects seem to have rendered us extremely fickle and hard to please. What was clearly intended to be a smash-happy set up for part 2 (you can almost hear Luthor addressing worried citizens now, “Trust him? The man who destroyed Metropolis?”) instead rubbed movie fans the wrong way. Now, obviously there’s a time and a place for lavish effects and a correct way to handle them but perhaps it’s worth stopping for a second to appreciate just how far we’ve come. Maybe even allowing ourselves to indulge in that guiltiest of guilty pleasures – succumbing to pure entertainment. The 10-year-old you would be pant-wettingly appreciative.