Motley Staff Writer Kane Geary O’Keeffe tries to answer the question of why movie audiences are growing tired of the overuse of CGI.
Since its release on July 18 of this year, Universal’s deeply unsettling trailer for its upcoming film adaptation of popular musical Cats has been bombarded with equal parts ridicule and horrified curiosity. Audiences all over the world found themselves unable to make heads or tails of the baffling use of computer-generated imagery to impose feline bodies and features onto its star-studded cast. The overwhelmingly negative response to this furry fiasco (296k YouTube dislikes as of this writing) brings to light the question of whether audiences are beginning to reject the overwhelming and sometimes morally ambiguous use of CGI in Hollywood productions.
CGI is in a tricky spot in 2019. It seems that for every visually dazzling blockbuster like Avengers Endgame that is released in theatres, audiences are left scratching their heads over a terribly animated Sonic the Hedgehog trailer or Will Smith’s enormous blue CGI muscles in the recent Aladdin remake. Why is it there is such an inconsistent level of quality effects in our day and age when films like Avatar were released over a decade ago? With today’s resources at production crews’ fingertips, public backlash such as that seen with Sonic and Cats shouldn’t be happening. It seems that as the use of CGI has become the norm for movie-going audiences, major studios are taking these expectations for granted, producing products that greatly vary in quality in the hopes that fans will just accept with open eyes.
However, as CGI has continued to develop, although seemingly backwards at times, so have its many uses for presenting life-like imagery onto our screens. Many of these are now starting to cause very real arguments over the moral validity of CGI as a substitute for the real thing. CGI has enabled studios the ability to ‘resurrect’ deceased actors through imposing their likeness onto a living double. This is not a particularly new practice, seen as far back as the nineties to allow the production team of The Crow to complete scenes after the tragic on-set death of star Brandon Lee. These days allow for more advanced effects and applications. This controversial use of computerised effects came to the fore upon the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016. The film used this digital process of imposition to ‘resurrect’ long dead actor Peter Cushing to bring back his character of Grand Moff Tarkin for a number of scenes. While the effect was undoubtedly impressive, many viewers found this application to be disrespectful to the late actor’s memory, while simultaneously being unnerved by the ‘uncanny valley’ effect of seeing a digital recreation of a deceased human being that seemed ever so slightly off being lifelike. More debates arose after the release of a 2014 ad for Galaxy chocolate that featured a digitally recreated Audrey Hepburn as the star. The use of resurrected stars in advertisement opens a whole new question about non-consenting endorsement: How are we to know if the late Ms Hepburn would in fact have endorsed Galaxy chocolate, were she alive?
As CGI continues to develop, it will be fascinating to see in coming years if this rising trend of audience scrutiny and rejection of computer effects and their applications starts to impact its use and quality in major Hollywood productions. The backlash to the Sonic The Hedgehog trailer has already pushed the creative team back to the drawing board for an effects redesign. While this can be seen as a landmark moment in audience input affecting a film’s creative control, it also leads us to wonder if other studios will take heed and start to give us more consistent, high-quality computer effects more in line with what 2019 has to offer. Hopefully that means less furry Jason Derulo cats in the future.