An plea for Real Things

Last night we half-watched a charming silent Harold Lloyd movie, Speedy, on TCM. It was filmed in 1928, a time after Babe Ruth was in New York (in one scene, Lloyd drives Babe Ruth, really Babe Ruth, to Yankee Stadium in his taxi) but where being a trolley driver meant that you drove the horses.

At one point, a series of wacky misunderstandings leads to an enormous brawl. Terri noted that to film it, they actually had to use real people.

It was interesting. Because they were trying to actually hit each other with real planks of wood and real flowerpots, they actually reacted to these objects and to the other people, who were actually in the same room. The effect was quite novel and very convincing.

Indeed, as recent as about five years ago, it was actually common to use real people in movies. When there were dangerous physical actions involved, stunt people, often expendable orphans or gypsies, were employed so that there was less chance that the more valuable actors would not be hurt. (Note that Harold Lloyd did his own stunts, living in a time where horses were used for locomotion).

My question to George Lucas is that would it really have been that hard to just hire an extra, dress him up in an outfit cleverly cobbled together from a thrift store to look futuristic? He did it before. It seemed like Revenge of the Sith used every tiny opportunity to use computer generated objects, even when real objects would have been easy and cheap to film. There should be some sort of Occam’s Razor rule here: never use CGI when real things will do.

Because of a lack of this Razor in Hollywood at the moment, I dread, dread, dread the upcoming film version of The Golden Compass. The book is so fantastic, and I just know it’s going to end up being made thin and forgettable from CGI. Please, please, send a real camera crew to somewhere really cold. Please make a real zeppelin. Please film some real animals to use as daemons. (I recently reread The Golden Compass, so there may be a fuller His Dark Materials review coming.)

5 thoughts on “An plea for Real Things”

  1. hrumph. much as i love the Golden Compass, and much as i’m happy that it will (presumably) gain some popularity with the Potter-lovin’ crew if it’s filmed, I’m not happy to hear it’s a film project at all, much less a CGIfied film project. I can’t imagine all three books could be filmed (at least as “kids’ movies”) without losing their thematic heart, and would hate to see the material watered down.

    although, hey, at least it won’t be a sequel or an inferior remake. who was the author who had the line about how his books hadn’t been ruined; they were right on the shelves where they’d always been? i can never remember.

  2. Please note that it’s only my assumption that they’re using CGI, but honestly, I think it’s a pretty safe one. I can’t imagine, for example, any movie project this decade bringing the armored bears to life with people in enormous armored bear outfits.

    I also can’t imagine some of the Golden Compass on film; it would honestly be way too violent.

    Even Tom Stoppard’s name on the project gives me little solace, since he’s rumored to have script doctored some of the dialogue in Revenge of the Sith. I have to say, this was not evident in the finished product.

  3. Well, that’s how I felt about the Harry Potter films. I resisted seeing them as long as possible. I still think the first two films stink. The third film is better, but the first two sort of ruined me, so it’s hard to have perspective. The books and my imagination did a vastly superior rendition.

    One note about early films… while I totally agree with you on basically all of your points, and while you know that I adore old movies, I feel I should acknowledge that filmmakers sometimes hurt animals in those early movies. Some of those horses didn’t fare so well.

  4. I didn’t know they were making a movie of The Golden Compass. I don’t think I’ll see it – don’t need to, already read the book.

    What one hopes is that the movie will send those kids of today in search of the book, and they will enjoy how much more they can get out of it. It’s excellent for distribution of the book, and for the whole series. I am in favor of this, though I wasn’t as enthralled with His Dark Materials as I was told that I ought to be.

    (I did like them very much, and I was engrossed, and I do appreciate my friends giving them to me, but I can’t help but be contrary when I am given books and told how amazing they are, and how much better than Harry Potter. I loved the bears and the beautiful descriptions, but I thought the religion was a bit heavy-handed. And they weren’t anything _like_ Harry Potter, so it was a unfair comparison based in my friends’ own contrariness – “these books came out at the same time as Harry Potter and Harry Potter gets all the media hoopla, and these books are real and meaningful and imaginative and deep and Harry Potter is nothing more than a marketing empire.”

    You know, I liked the first two Harry Potter movies quite a bit, but I thought the third one was too compressed and rushed. Plus I got sick of looking at Hermione’s boobs.

  5. Sarah, I never wrote my full review of His Dark Materials, but the abridged version is that I loved the first, and was profoundly disappointed with the next two. I have very little stomach for fantasy books as a genre, but every so often, some fantasy book will get me more excited and stick with me more deeply than the vast majority of the more “serious” stuff I read. So I’ve thought a lot about what separates what I like from what I don’t. And I think the difference is that in good fantasy, the world seems discovered rather than invented, and it illuminates the real world in a way that would be difficult or impossible without the imaginary element.

    In the second two books of His Dark Materials, I definitely agree that the religion gets heavy handed. In general, I think the world(s) of the second two books stop seeming ‘discovered’, stop having the grounding in a real imaginary world; it all just degenerates into an axe-grinding polemic. The idea that consciousness categorically changes with puberty also bugged me a lot.

    I’ve heard it compared to Harry Potter, too, and I don’t get that either.

    I still think the 3rd HP movie was the best of the lot. I see your point that it felt rushed; the edits were really quick and there was a lot of overlapping dialogue. The one thing that bugged me most was the weird sepia-toned coloring. I didn’t mind Hermione’s boobs, but I do think whats-her-name is a bit cute to be Hermione. Why I think I really liked it… I was going to say that it captured the spirit of the book, but I don’t think that’s quite it. It actually did take some liberties with the book, not just in plot but in the characters and in the whole spirit of the thing. But that’s part of it; I think it was a good movie, not just the literal, canonical movie version of a Harry Potter book.

    I also tend to have the same reaction when someone really wants me to like something, so I’m sympathetic to a fellow counter-contrarian. At least when I’m not the one being the contrarian. My life as a contrarian sounds like a good post for another day.

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