‘It’s exactly as they’d have done it in the 1910s’: how Barbenheimer is leading the anti-CGI backlash

  • July 27, 2023
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Old-school practical effects date back to the silent era and are created with artistry and care. Is the novelty of CGI green-screen action wearing off in favour of craft models?

For the past 12 months, Hollywood has been facing a serious case of CGI fatigue, with critics tearing into would-be blockbusters for their over-reliance on it. In the New Yorker, Richard Brody wrote that heavy effects work in Ant-Man 3 “instead of endowing the inanimate with life, subtract it”, while Ellen E Jones wrote in the Guardian that Little Mermaid was “rendered lifeless” by CGI. The Netflix rom-com You People, starring Jonah Hill, made headlines when it was revealed that the final kiss in the film was done with CGI and the actor Christian Bale didn’t mince words when he said working exclusively in front of green screens on Thor: Love & Thunder was “the definition of monotony”.

As if in response, 2023 has delivered a buffet of practical-effects-driven films to the multiplex. Greta Gerwig used techniques dating back to silent film and soundstage musicals to bring her fantastical, hot-pink vision of Barbieland to life, Christopher Nolan reconstructed Oppenheimer’s Trinity test using miniatures, and Christopher McQuarrie hoisted a train carriage 80ft into the air in order to film Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’s stomach-churning final stunt. Indie films have been getting in on the fun, too: Wes Anderson turned a piece of Spanish farmland into a real town, complete with plumbing and electricity, for Asteroid City; the “penis monster” in Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid was made entirely with prosthetics; and the buzzy horror film Talk to Me has been praised for its gory and “disturbingly real” prosthetics.

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