In 2009, two movies were released which set the bar for massive CGI-laden blockbusters. Below is a chart documenting the latest attempt to cover up re-used plots and bad acting with loud explosions.
Just The Facts
Special effects, audio and visual, are used to simulate the imagined events in a story.
The first recorded case of effects in a movie was in 1895 to simulate the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, though most who saw the film thought it was a real execution. Thats right, it was the first example of the snuff film!
Its been said that there are more special effects in Citizen Kane than Star Wars.
Like your mama use to say, just because you can pixel the hell out of your movie, doesnt mean you should.
The Cutting Edge of Lying to your Face
It is becoming an unspoken truth in Hollywood that directors are using computers in post production to 'tweak' facial expression from their actors, altering performances to their liking. Jesus, how else would Spicoli have won best actor twice?
Then again, consider this was once the face of an Oscar-nominated actor/screenwriter.
In the case of movies like Forrest Gump or District 9, a good deal of the effects budget was spent on making a few scenes or CG characters extremely polished and unique, thereby allowing their story to become more compelling. And in many cases, great movies have been assisted by cutting edge effects that have now become industry standards, making the once laughably impossible possible.
Blood and guts were always the stomping grounds for young effects and makeup artists looking to break into the industry. It gave us the likes of Ted Savini, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston.
When it works, we get great movies with intense atmosphere and believable situations. Re-Animator and The Thing are seen as prime examples of static, on-set effects that look better as time goes on, and as modern CG gore becomes more hilariously tongue-in-cheek.
And when it doesn't work? In 1977, the same year as Star Wars, The Incredible Melting Man was released with a young Rick Baker being given full control over the melting part of the title. The results were sickeningly revolutionary, but that's about the only incredible part. All the puss and entrails in the world couldn't save a movie with ill-fitting nurse uniforms, roller-skating monsters and the riveting cracker scene.
In fact, many if not most gore hounds and purists prefer the older, cheaper looking effects as part of the charm of the movie, much like the people who prefer the noisy, crackling sound of vinyl (though they're known as douches).
Avatar vs. Transformers
The most discernable difference between Transformers and Avatar is that at least Michael Bay never pretends to be anything he's not, and despite what critics tell you, James Cameron is not infallible because the Bible says so. Both movies are one-dimensional, balls-to-the-wall action flicks that succeed on the blow-shit-up level, but things get hazy when you talk about the 'message'.
For example, is it really acceptable when Roger Ebert gives four star reviews to the ultra low budget, zero-effects driven snoozer Paranormal Activity as well as Avatar? Something doesn't smell right here, and because I'm lazy as hell, I'll leave that for you to figure out. In fact, critics have been complaining for decades that effects cannot under any circumstances carry a movie and whisk it into the annals of history, but thanks to one movie, they have proceeded to completely change their minds, wave thier genitals at the indie loving yuppies and sing 'Na na na na naaaa naaaaa'. The as yet uncalculated number of hipster suicides upon thier arthouse bubble bursting has yet to be released.
In all fairness, those pricks had it coming
Has it suddenly became cool to love nine figure budgeted movies because of Avatar's eco-friendly, anti-war message, even though a laundry list of genre clichés painted in pig's blood across the screen would've been more subtle? Furthermore, since Avatar's declaration that it was filmed 40% live action and 60% computer generated, does the term 'special' effects even apply anymore?
Even Lord of the Rings approaches a 12 hour runtime because they realized "We've created this whole new world, but we have to make sure something interesting happens so people give a shit about it"
I'm not saying Transformers or Avatar were better or worse than each other, I just remember walking out of both theaters feeling like I was watching the Special Olympics. It doesn't matter which film was better, because in the end they were both retarded.
But the thing we can all agree on is that Avatar and Transformers look like total shit on your iBook's 14 inch screen (you yuppie cock) because tons of sleek, ultra-realistic images are servicing the theater experience, and it's one that will never be recaptured on DVD or Blue Ray, no matter how many alien/dinosaur/pirates or spongebob-voiced morphing androids you throw at the screen. Like viral videos and plastic surgery, the industry has again ruined a good thing by overexposing it. And if history has shown us anything, like a boob job, effects look great now, but just wait ten years.