I've been meaning to start this thread for a long time and a discussion of the FX work in the THIS ISLAND EARTH thread finally prompted me to do so.
Some people there think the FX are awful while others think they're fine. I'm sure that we've all had disagreements with folks over the SPFX in
various movies. Since it seems to often be in the eye of the beholder, i.e. only a matter of opinion with no objective viewpoint, I've thought it would be
interesting to try and arrive at some aesthetic judgments regarding FX. What exactly constitutes "good" SPFX. Let me throw out some thoughts.
I'd say that the best special effects are the ones that pass for reality. When we see them, they are so convincingly real that we don't notice they're special effects. But if we can't identify them as effects, then how are we to know they ARE special effects in order to critique them?
But, we often classify SPFX that we CAN identify as such as "good," the shot technically failing the reality test, as "good" or "excellent."
Therefore, reality isn't a necessity for an SPFX shot to be judged good. Actually, the tolerance here is extraordinary. Not only is the illusion of reality NOT a necessity, we often accept fx that are patently false. There is even a perverse enjoyment of "bad" effects, a whole other category with it's own set of distinctions. In the most abstract sense, some of these fx succeed only because they get the idea over.
Obviously, context is an important factor. In some cases reality IS a necessity, in other cases it is far less important.
So, there is another criteria at work here, some aesthetic not entirely related to the technical accomplishment, in judging the attractiveness of an fx shot. We can appreciate them for their beauty and artistry.
By the standard of reality most special effects have failed. Whether it's KING KONG (1933) or KING KONG (2005), two films displaying state-of-the-art, cutting edge special effects for their time, no adult believes for one minute that Kong is real (though he lives on the screen). But the idea is captivating, and seeing something that resembles a 3-D rendering of the idea play out is also captivating. The imagination and a sense of wonder are sparked by the images and begin smoothing over the sense of disbelief.
Some of these fx may have fooled audiences in their day (such as the tales regarding the 1925 THE LOST WORLD). The more sophisticated audiences of today, and the numerous fx fans, can now spot fx much easier. In some cases, people begin to question whether the image before them is entirely real. Deductive reasoning leads them to surmise "that couldn't possibly be a real [set][location][prop][monster], so it must be a special effect. At any rate, the total illusion of reality isn't necessary for a fx shot to be interpreted as successful.
"How did they do it?" is a large part of our fascination. This the field shares with the world of Magic. Both are domains in which illusion is paramount. Perhaps some of us are intrigued by the cleverness of the shot and take pleasure in the technician conquering the challenge of depicting an idea in a script or a drawing.
Some view stop motion animation as the herky-jerky stumbling of puppets. No argument or philosophical slant will enable them to see the works of the world's great animators as anything but toys. For those of this opinion, these effects will always look "fake." Others see beyond the technical limits of the form and discern an art. When dealing with living things, the process brings the inanimate to LIFE, the skill of the animator judged by the smoothness and delicacy of the movements that capture reality as artists in other media do.
We make allowances for some things but not for others. And it changes from person to person.
Also, is it fair to judge the accomplishments of the past solely by the standards of today? Techniques and technology have enabled filmmakers to create more lifelike illusions. Advances in CGI can provide some truly astounding images. KING KONG (1933), no matter how you cut it, is still an amazing accomplishment, even when held against the very convincing CGI work in KING KONG (2005). Which is "better?" What are we judging? The 2005 film fails completely as a stop motion effort, while the 1933 film fails as an example of CGI. Are we looking for what appears more realistic, more spectacular, smoother, more state of the art? Is trying to compare the two like trying to decide which is superior, sculpture or oil painting?