Thursday, January 9, 2014

Science fiction on a soundstage

There is an argument out there that CGI effects are the bane of science fiction.

I am not a proponent of this argument but my friend Armando is.  Somewhat.  Armando is an ardent devotee of kaiju films or as we in 'Murica call them, "Japanese monster movies."  In said films, at least half of the action takes place on a soundstage as a man in a rubbery monster suit stomps a model city while toy military vehicles attempt to repel the onslaught.  Even better, sometimes there would be two men in monster suits, duking it out for territorial rights.

"You can see something is actually there," he would defend the style of filmmaking over computer effects.  "There is a real actor that is interacting with and often manipulating a real environment.  Look at the Star Wars Episode IV.  All models and it looked great."

So when I saw this article on io9, I had to reconsider Armando's argument.  The article examined a few of the various science fiction films and television series that lived out the bulk of their time on soundstages.  Why?  Well, for good reason.  As stated:

" There are a few reasons to love a soundstage planet. First, you can get a lot more strange flora, by scattering weird fake plants everywhere. Second, it opens up the possibility for some really beautiful matte shots, which are still a thing even in the age of CG. Third, there's just something otherworldly and weird about an entirely manufactured landscape. Fourth, the sky can be any color you want, without post-processing."
An example of such film would be Forbidden Planet as seen in the above pic.  Almost everything but the actors and their costumes is artificial in that movie but it all looks incredible.  What's more, only scratches the surface of the world shown, leaving you with even more questions.  For example, I remember an interview with Steven Spielberg where he pointed out the diamond-shaped doors in the facility that the long-gone aliens left behind on the planet.  What kind of lifeform needs a door that shape?  Sadly, we never find out but that's a hallmark of good science fiction.  To me anyway.

Here a few of the other franchises covered in the article plus one of my own choosing.

Who can forget the scene where the crew of the Nostromo enters the chamber where they would first encounter the alien?  We of course find out more about this in Prometheus, but it sadly doesn't add much.

Star Trek
That classic show didn't exactly have much in the way of a special effects budget.  And it showed.  This forced the creators to focus on writing stories and characters that would engage the audience and keep them coming back for more.  For the most part, they succeeded.  To help them out, they had gorgeous matte paintings like this one:

Note the shape of the door on the right hand side of the pic. That's the type I was referring to in regard to Forbidden Planet.

Doctor Who
This BBC show found itself in much of the same predicament as the creative staff of Star Trek.  Consequently, they took the same tactic of focusing on quality stories and characters.  They were also quite inventive in how they managed to take a garbage can and a plunger and create the frightening Dalek.  Plus, there were quality sets, such as this one that looks like it should feature He-Man action figures:

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
If you're around my age and share an affinity for cheese, you no doubt remember this series.  Gil Gerard as Buck, the beautiful Erin Gray as Wilma (she got me through puberty...sorry, I shall comport myself), and who can forget Twiki?  Sigh.
I was glad to see io9 include this one as the show often had impressive (for the time) matte productions of "New Chicago" and its post-apocalyptic remnant, "Anarchia":

Space 1999
I'm including this one and I'm sure you've read about it from me before.  This was a vastly underrated science fiction series that I'm hoping to one day catch up on.  All models, all on a stage, and all of it looking amazingly like how actual space vehicles/colonies may one day appear.  In a word, they looked "functional."

I think Armando may have a point.

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1 comment:

  1. On Facebook, JRO said: "Keep em comin Jon. Love it."