Friday, January 25, 2013

The Arrogance of CGI

If you’ve been watching the latest movie trailers, you know that Hollywood has ramped up its use of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) to create incredible and bizarre worlds and every manner of fantastic creature. In one sense, this is quite an accomplishment, but in another, it’s a kind of arrogance. Because CGI has, in the hands of some movie producers, tried to pull back the veil on the sacred wood. And I’m fighting back.

Let me back up. This observation began within me like a little kernel, planted there after re-reading Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories” a little over a year ago. Tolkien said that of all stories, fantasy was least successful as drama (i.e. theater), because the magical parts of the story come off looking ridiculous and unbelievable. At the time I thought (as you might be thinking), “Yeah. But that was before CGI.” Nowadays, a good graphics team can simulate very realistic fairy worlds, believable ogres, fabulous magic smoke, and transformations that would rival the ones that you see in your head when you read.

Aha! (he says, melodramatically)

Intentionally or not (let’s go with it, though, and say intentionally), CGI has come on the scene to lay bare the fairy wood to the all-seeing camera. Now any lover of things fey knows that all-seeing human eyes, close-ups and slow motions, do not mix well with the fairy world. Those who peer into the mysteries do so to their own doom. Pandora: don’t open that box. Young maid: don’t look at the wolf when you enter the castle. Narcissus: don’t look in the water.


When I peer into the computer-generated world of fairy, what do I see? Is it an image of myself, meant to enthrall me to my doom? Is it an illusion that will sidetrack me from the true path, which would lead to the unmaking of the spell that holds me and mine in thrall? Is it a false wisdom that will cost me no end of trouble?

But there’s more. Perhaps old professor Tolkien was right. Maybe even with CGI, the all-seeing stage—the screen—still makes a mockery or a monster of the mysterious realm. Maybe fairy continues to elude us, because we want to ravage its secrets. We’ve lost sight the peril of treading there, and we’ve made the sacred groves into theme parks.

Better yet, maybe seeing the magic wonderfully enhanced (with digital sound) leads us to disbelieve in it, robbing us of the very thing we enter the fairy wood to find: something beyond ourselves.

Perhaps allusion, which is by nature more elusive, is necessary to create the illusion.

(or have I gone too far ...?)

What think ye? Am I just playing here? Is this just a way to plead for the richer experience of reading, of seeing the fairy world in my own head, experiencing the transformations in the words of the storyteller? Is it, worse still, envy at the skill of CGI? At its capacity to make clear the thing I only imagine?

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