Monday, October 1, 2012

WILL HD BE THE DEATH OF PRACTICAL FX?

Before I continue any further with this article, let it be known that I am in no way an AV expert, nor have I ever claimed to be one.  I DO NOT KNOW THE PROPER TERMINOLOGY FOR ANY OF THIS HD/LCD/FPS/OPP NONSENSE.  I do, however, know when something looks like garbage. This article is a reflection of an opinion gathered by my own personal experiences. 
 
In the wake of the uproar tied to The Hobbit's release trailer in 48fps (frames per second), fans and critics have been in a constant debate on whether or not this sort of filmmaking is necessary.  Some are claiming that this is the way of the future, that we need to bite our tongues and accept the fact that sooner or later, all films are going to be in this clearer than the naked-eye format, while others are finding it difficult to watch with a jarring clarity.  48fps is dramatically quicker than what our eyes are used to and while the picture quality in still frames look monumentally better, the clarity does not come without a price. Even if the film is shot in the more standard "cinematical" format, film companies are upgrading to a higher picture quality.  While the picture quality is undoubtedly gorgeous, it enhances flaws just as dramatically as it does perfections.  Wrinkles that we wouldn't see in person are now glaring at us in the face, and hairs beneath pores are now seen on an insanely large scale. Without going into the details about these enhancements making everything look like a Daytime Soap Opera, I'm concentrating on the one thing that will affect the world of horror movies more than any other film genre.  Practical FX. 

Ever since films fell in love with the quick and cheap process of using CGI effects, the incredible art form of practical effects in films have taken a back seat.  Blood and guts have gone digital, and movie monsters look faker than your sister's prom date.  People have become so absorbed with their new fangled hi-def flat screens, that we're globbering up enhanced films quicker than they're coming out.  That's not to say that I'm not for the progression of film quality, because I'm completely for it.  However, comma, enhancements aren't always for the best.  Have you ever looked at your skin under one of those 15x mirrors?  Suddenly you're spending hours prodding pores, plucking hairs, and applying more makeup. HD and higher FPS formatting do somewhat of a similar thing when it comes to film.  It takes something that already looks pretty good, and enhances absolutely EVERYTHING.  I mean EVERYTHING.  It's nearly impossible to hide imperfections in these formats because we ourselves cannot see these imperfections with our naked eye.  It's only after things are enhanced that we think "Christ, do I really look like that?"  For practical effects, this is a death sentence.

As someone who only recently stepped into the HD scene, I've never really noticed the issue.  This past May was the first time I've ever owned a flat screen TV, and it was also the first time I've ever had a blu-ray player.  Call me behind the times all you want, I prefer "broke-ass college student," if I may.  Moving on, the past week I have been finally able to experience Netflix Instant Watch (again, broke college kid) on a 52 inch LCD flatscreen with amazeballs picture quality.  Forgive my ignorance, but as I am not an AV girl, I'm just going to refer to the hyper-realistic clarity as "super HD".  I first watched Pontypool in "super HD" and it was a walk in the park.  The only real special effects were vomiting blood and I didn't have any gripes with it.  Looking at a man's five o' clock shadow in HD however, a little strange to get used to.  Simply out of pure boredom, I watched the final installment of the SAW franchise.  I was curious to see how such an effects driven film was going to do in such a HD setting, and my worst fears were realized.  I commend the people behind SAW 3D for the amount of practical effects used in the film.  Seriously, there were a butt load of practical kills and I was pleasantly surprised to notice.  I never noticed them when I saw the film in theaters, probably because the theater didn't look like this.  It's a theater. It looked cinematical and in a completely different format.  When I watched the film again in "super HD", everything looked so...fake.  Everything looked completely unrealistic and the already over the top kills weren't scary, they were distracting.  The worst was by far the "skin grafted onto the car leather" scene, but every single practical kill looked horribly amateur.

At first I thought it was a fault of the FX artist, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized...it's not.  It is absolutely, 100% not the FX artist's problem that their work looks fake in HD.  Now, before anyone starts to badger me about this, let me explain.  You see, these clarity enhancements make pictures crisper than what our eye can see naturally.   The visual enhancements are done in post-production, after the FX have already been completed and shot.  How can we hold an artist accountable for something completely out of their control?  It would be insane to blame an FX artist for bad coloring when it's physically impossible for them to see their work any clearer than what their eye can give them.  If the FX look fake, filmmakers are going to opt for CGI.  Not only is CGI much cheaper, but if practical FX look as tacky as CGI, filmmakers are just going to go for the cheaper route.  This is a tragedy.  An honest to goodness tragedy.  The only real practical FX that seems to break the mold is The Thing, but that film defies all logic and reason on its own.  Again, let me restate that I'm not against the progression of visual quality, but maybe, just maybe we don't need to get this clear with EVERY film.  In the same sense that we're never going to have a need for What To Expect When You're Expecting 3-D, I don't think we need horror requiring practical FX in 48fps or in ridiculously high picture quality.  It could always just be my special eyes, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I've already heard people telling me that this issue can be fixed by changing a setting on the television, but even after making this change, the HD still made some practical FX look like muff cabbage.  Tell me what you think and comment below!

3 comment(s):

Laci Rich said...

I agree with you, totally. I don't own a Blu-Ray and so, none of my movies are in that format and I will hold off as long as I can on it. I get digital copies, but even then I won't buy an HD copy if I can avoid it. I just don't like how they look. I'm saddened by the CGI bandwagon and I have a feeling that's why I don't like a lot of the newer style horror that's being released. I was much more "scared" by horror when CGI was just some guy's wet dream.

I think HD and CGI are totally destroying the industry. When you have a CGI Hulk in your movie, because you're too cheap to go look up Lou Ferigno who would probably be more than happy to reprise that role - yet you still have actors playing the other roles - you're destroying the industry.

Just wait. Pretty soon....we won't need actors either.

evl keith said...

There are quite a lot of films that look convincing on DVD and look really ropey on Blu-ray, The Mist springs to mind, HD shows up the deficiencies in CG too. I watched Centurion recently and was surprised how terrible the CG blood looked. How hard is it to spray some blood about the place? In defence of HD, North by Northwest looks stunning.

I bought a HD telly and Blu-ray about 2 years ago. A week after I'd bought it, 3D TVs were brought out. Now I can't say that I'm interested in 3D, it all seems a bit of a gimmick, but technology seems to be outdated very quickly. Perhaps filmmakers need to concentrate on story rather than technology to get our attention. Then we might see some half decent films. (Saying that, I've just watched The Avengers and that was great, but Joss Whedon knows the importance of story and good writing.)

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