Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When Young People Watch Old Movies

In preparation for taking my children to the latest Star Wars movie, we pulled our copies of the original Star Wars trilogy out of storage for the kids to watch. And what did my kids think of them? One main comment: the special effects weren't very good.

Now when I was a kid, special effects were downright awful, and yet I somehow managed to look past them to enjoy all of the classic SF movies of the 50s and 60s. I know this sounds like the typical complaints of a grumpy middle-aged man about how when I was a kid ... a line of argument that goes back, I believe, to the ancient Sumerians.

But I do think that a fundamental change has taken place. Special effects have gotten so good these days that a generation has grown up to expect perfection -- a dinosaur had better look like it just strolled in from the Cretaceous, or the movie simply isn't believable. No close-ups of lizards for my kids! It's a little unfortunate, since it ruins pretty much every science fiction film made before the 1990s for everyone born after the 1990s. Netflix now offers a version of the original Star Trek with "enhanced special effects." Maybe that's the wave of the future -- retrofitting old movies with updated CGI. Goodbye, Robby the Robot, it was nice knowing you!


Kathy said...

I wonder how kids would take the explanation that visual effects should be judged in the context of their time. To me the stop-motion techniques of Harryhausen in old movies are still amazing, considering when and how they were made. And naturally the effects in the original SW were nothing short of revolutionary, and at the time literally awesome.

Yet, if you want an old, old movie filled with visual effects, I suggest Citizen Kane.

Really, it's not a movie one thinks of in regards to effects, but it has plenty (and a cinematographic technique that's unique to that movie), including many cheesy ones that were lousy even for its time (look out for pterodactyls). Welles was a consummate storyteller who used the medium to its utmost. I recommend the version with commentary by the late Roger Ebert. He points out all sorts of technical details.

TheOFloinn said...

I have also noticed that the youngsters, a class which includes a distressingly large number of folks, also cannot "see" a black-and-white film, let alone a silent one. Yet there was a case, back when moving pictures were a novelty, when people ran screaming from a theatrical exhibition that included film of a locomotive apparently headed straight for the audience!

Kathy said...

What's wrong with this is there are many great movies shot in black and white (not to mention many hilarious comedies like "Duck Soup"), even some great SF ones like "Metropolis." And aside from movies, a few dozen excellent Twilight Zone episodes as well.

Bobby B said...

Hi. I don't think this is quite right. For example, the special effects in the Hunger Games were quite sparse and poor by industry standards, yet the movie was very successful. Likewise, if we look at particular kid-friendly sub-genre of film, animated film, most kids still love Snow White (1937), Bambi (1942), and Cinderella (1950) (let's say "almost") as much as Frozen, or Inside Out, yet the quality of the special effects and level of detail in the earlier movies is vastly inferior to the latter. Although, animation artists might argue that art quality is higher in the former, but we could have the same argument about B&W films.

I don't know what version of Star Wars you showed your kids, but it may be that you showed them VHS tapes from 70's and 80's. The print quality of those transfers is simply not good, and and probably hasn't aged well either. It may be that your kids were complaining about special effects when what they meant was that the quality of the film didn't seem that good. Unfortunately, with the reissued Star Wars having revised special effects added to it, you can't get a remastered version without up-to-data special effects added (and other, more odious changes), so for these movies it's difficult to do a comparative test to find out. For older B&W movies, you can see if Criterion remastered versions exists.