“It’s About Fuckin’ Time…” will be a blog dedicated to pouring out my reviews, thoughts, and comments on the classics. This isn’t for the more obscure films that are great and everyone should see, this is for the heavies. It will be where I remark on films that I have no right to not have seen by this point. The purpose will be to try to find something to say more interesting than…. “Well yeah, I guess they were right.”

Ben-Hur

I’ll get to this idea in just a minute, but I think I may be a little desensitized to wonder.

I can only imagine what it must have been like, sitting in a theater watching a movie like Ben-Hur. The beautiful matte paintings, evoking Rome in a way that had likely never been done to that scale before, were probably breathtaking. The naval battle was likely jaw-dropping with epic and harrowing adventure for the viewer. For me though, they were quaint. By no fault of their own, the mattes were obvious, the sequences at sea antique. I don’t mean to be condescending, the craft even today is obvious and praise-worthy. Crippling my suspension of disbelief though, is the inflation of imagery in the succeeding half a century that makes it hard to find that “wonder” in the spectacle of old films. It sometimes has the unfortunate result of making a movie feel like a relic rather than a work of art.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Ben-Hur (a fucking great time at The Fox in Atlanta, shout-out to Chewer, El Gray). I think it is bigger rather than better, but very classic in it’s sensibilities. Nobody needs me to tell them that it is fucking immense, and better critics than I have commented on it’s writing, direction, production design, etc. Whether you determine it to have merit through ambition, or find it to be Charlton Heston’s Forrest-Gump-like ride through the tale of the Christ is entirely for you to decide. I personally can’t begrudge the filmmakers the use of Christ as the ultimate deus ex machina, but it was a little easy.

Back to the topic though, I was unfortunately unmoved by all of the movie’s spectacle, save for the Chariot Race. My God, what an amazing sequence that. Worthy of any list it could be put on, that baby is a classic for a reason. The chariot race is a grand example of something so rare from an industry of plywood backdrops and digital compositing… just fucking doing it. How do you shoot an ancient chariot race with dozens of horses, thousands of spectators, and perilous danger for anyone involved? How about you just stage the whole fucking thing for real and film away? The scene is directed to exhilarating perfection, and the sound design is staggering. Sound is often the enemy of older film’s action but I don’t think Skywalker Sound’s best crew with all the time in the world could do a better job. Perhaps it was just hearing it in an actual theater, but the horse-hoove rumbling, spectator screaming, and chariot crashing was as fun and exciting to listen to as the race was to watch.

I can only think of a few times that I’ve gotten that tingle in a movie, the one that comes from epic or completely novel imagery. I’m just a touch too young to remember Jurassic Park properly, it’s more The Matrix and Fellowship of The Ring that had the first chance at widening my eyes (both which did that admirably). You have to keep in mind, for someone my age, even a home photograph has never been able to be taken at face value. Manipulation of the image itself, as opposed to the staging or faking of the content of the image, has always been a possibility/likelihood. In other words, I’ve never been able to take an image for granted anywhere*, much less at the movies.

This new found reliance on computer imaging happened as I became an active movie watcher and since CGI has really come into it’s own, it’s allowed filmmaker’s the ability of bringing more ambitious imagination to the screen. Ever since then, we’ve seen more massive battles and digitally enhanced stunt work than you can shake a stick at. The aforementioned inflation of imagery has (somewhat) diluted the power of these images with increasing speed. Seeing a sweeping helicopter shot of a battlefield just doesn’t pack the same punch that it first did. Filmic spectacle seems to be locked in a somewhat self-cheapening cycle like that of video games, to constantly top itself purely in the advancement of the quality of the digital imagery.

The ultimate goal is of course, photo-realism and I have no doubt we will reach it (for most things) sooner rather than later. Already there are digitally created or enhanced shots in films that we wouldn’t know came out of a computer, even if you told us. I just wonder if there might be a generation of films that are labeled as “transitional.” Obviously there will always be innovation in SFX, but will we reach a plateau (subtle or distinct) where CGI will truly display, rather than evoke, like it often does now? Even the masters of CGI (Del Toro, Jackson, Wachowski’s, Spielberg) are limited by the skill of their animators and texture artists. Will there ever be a plateau where effects settle? Could there be a point at which innovations become so minute that they are unnoticeable? Probably not, but something to think about.


Thanks for Reading!

*For a little perspective, consider that the first
development of Photoshop was occurring the year before I was born, and
that Photoshop 1.0 was released when I was 2 years old.


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