All art relies on tools— from animal hide drums to symphony orchestras, ground pigments for rock paintings to acrylic for canvas. Or, from basic binary input to 3D graphics.
Each manner of expression builds in complexity across time, experimenting with colours, techniques, and sounds. We overlap mediums to discover new ways in which to express ourselves. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the art of movie-making where filmmakers use photography, music, writing, painting, dancing, acting, and a host of related skills.
And just as in a museum where there is a responsibility on the viewer to focus and to pay attention there is an onus on the filmmaker, and the artist to use the tools at their disposal to the best of their ability in telling their story.
AI in Film Storytelling and How It Impacts Narrative
One of the questions to be asked today is whether the use of algorithms computing vast amounts of data for photorealistic CGI(Computer Generated Imagery), increased production efficiency and enhanced viewer experiences and have negotiated a space wherein filmmakers and audiences are willing to sacrifice narratives, acting and dialogue for a cool render. And does this bargain erode the essence of storytelling as well as the ambition to do better?
One and a quarter century ago, a hundred and twenty-six years to be precise, the Lumière brothers delighted the audience in Paris with the Cinématographe, giving the world its first taste of storytelling pleasures.
Yesterday, I watched Avatar: The Way of Water in IMAX 3D, and boy, did it disappoint. Without going into any spoiler details, I can tell you for a fact that if you’ve seen the last movie, you’ve seen this one.
Accepted that in this age of 'content', the avid consumer is resigned in what to expect from mass appeal franchises. We are now used to films where the tech wizardry of CGI is seen as separate from the actual tale. I had already expected the bare minimum in terms of a plot.
I was only there for the new underwater motion-capture technology and CGI. It’s amazing how we have taken to cherry-picking the qualities we expect from films—this one may have a good story that one has good effects, yet another has great music. Rarely does one expect the whole feast anymore
And so, what got my goat, was the fact that during the three-hour moviethon, the frame rates per second (fps) kept ratcheting up and down, even in the middle of scenes, from 24fps to 48fps, totally undermining the outstanding graphics.
CGI In Films: Aesthetic Enhancement Or Overkill?
I was constantly taken out of the movie with images suddenly registering as if from a video game. In the scenes with the Na’avi big birds, each beat of their wings felt jerky as if there was no air resistance. Apparently, the fluctuating frame rates were a directorial choice which Cameron explained as “an authoring tool”.
What it really felt like was a technological overkill to compensate for a disappointing script with mid-range performances. But it’s still going to be a commercial success because even though it's awkward, the CGI is still better than before.
With so much technology, talent and money at the industry’s disposal, it should be easy enough to fulfil the three requirements of a decent movie--good camerawork, acting, and dialogue. With the rise of streaming, there has been a staggering increase in content. But most of it is mediocre or less, quite complacent with the fact that it will be consumed by some metric of society via recommender systems and subscription platforms.
It doesn’t really matter if the film fails to absorb the viewer, or what emotions it evokes (if any at all). The cash register will ding, and the view numbers will ping, so that’s a job well done. But is it?
Are Tech-Manipulated Strategies Crunching Potential of Content?
It’s gotten to the point where consuming mainstream content feels like being in a neglected ice cream shop where one is running from one ill-conceived, theatrical flavour to the next hoping to taste a simple, well-rounded hot fudge sundae. There is a nagging sense of something missing, and as the 21st-century audience engulfed in cinematic content, we should ask—are we getting what we deserve?
For example, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (and don’t get me wrong, I am a fan) now functions on the idea that all the movies together tell a great story. Individual movies may or may not be rubbish.
My favourite example of a spectacular movie franchise undermined by thoughtless technological advancement is Jurassic Park. The original film was made at a crucial juncture of art and technology that produced very satisfying results. But while the technology used in its production has only gotten more advanced over time, each succesive release has been less interesting and less awe-inspiring.
Jurassic Park: A Case Study of a Well-Made Film Spiral Downwards
Michael Crichton’s story is also an evergreen microcosm of the world, in fact, his books specifically deconstruct humanity's constant struggle to match technological ambition with nature and reason.
What Corridor Crew highlight is that the original Jurassic Park relied heavily on physical production— large sets, big animatronics, crews of puppeteers and artists to create the dinosaurs whereas the later ones used VFX to create the animals.
Even up against more detailed graphics, better rendering and algorithms to ray trace light across every pixel, Spielberg wins because the physical shots though less complex, are psychologically more pleasing.
Spielberg’s effort also benefited from a better script. The screenplay written by Crichton and Koepp used material directly from the book. And anybody who has read the series will agree that the former's thick treacle-like world-building and thoughtful dialogues were crucial to the success of the movie.
Movies that came after in the franchise slowly began to discard all the things that made the first one so good. Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park: Lost World' struggled to match the pacing and tone of the first movie and although based on the book, for some reason, it lacked its depth and clarity.
In its sequel too, dinosaurs were still large on the screen created and filmed by relying heavily on physical effects. But the audience stayed loyal, still charmed by the first film.
And then fourteen years later arrives Treverrow’s ‘Jurassic World’, bringing us the era of Chris Pratt, arbitrary dialogue and a VFX (Visual Effects) first production. Dinosaurs leapt across the screen as we panned around them from far above, with motorcycles racing and velociraptors roaring. But the magic was gone.
Can Filmmakers Go Big On Retaining The Magic Of The Medium?
At the end of the day, movies are emotions. Million-dollar endeavours to trigger chemicals in the brain. We love them, we spend a good chunk of our time watching them.
Filmmakers, especially for the masses, should aim to tell good stories that are well-rounded and coherent. And as an audience in the attention economy, we should expect more from every blockbuster because 'Big Movie' already has our time and they damn well have the resources.
The fact that mainstream films have unparalleled reach should also mean that they try harder to be more than a gimmick—forgotten in the time it takes to walk out of the theatre.
(Kartikeya Saigal is a tech, business, and economics expert with a Masters degree in Digitalisation, Surveillance and Societies from Erasmus University Rotterdam and a Bachelors in History from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. When not working, he loves making music, trying out new recipes, traveling, and photography.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)