Here's the Thing

The Near Miss

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #110. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.

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People sure do love to gripe about the over-reliance on CG (computer graphics) in modern movies, myself included. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes even blood splatter is added digitally during the editing process and just . . . like . . . what?? But here’s the thing: every other cheap (in the payoff sense, not actual cost sense) use of CG in a movie pales in comparison to the Near Miss.

What I’m referring to is that moment in a movie (or moments, depending on what you’re watching) where a character narrowly avoids death or severe injury or whatever other kind of Bad Thing by actual millimeters. Falling buildings, gnashing teeth, outstretched claws, that kind of thing. It’s a common tactic used in movies, especially action movies, that’s supposed to get the adrenaline pumping and shift from the intensity of “will they make it?” to “phew!” quickly enough that it could be likened to a metaphorical roller coaster. Assuming you get into movies enough for that stuff to work as intended, anyway.

But I hate the Near Miss so goddamn much when it involves CG. Not so much because the CG looks fake, because sometimes it looks pretty damn good, but because so much of this intense moment relies on the audience buying into the danger. If the CG is crap, it won’t work. However, if the acting doesn’t sell the physicality of the scene it won’t work either. And that’s the big problem I have with this nonsense.

If the CG is crap, it won’t work. However, if the acting doesn’t sell the physicality of the scene it won’t work either.

In The Abyss, when Ed Harris gets trapped in an automatically sealing hatch as the room he’s in begins to fill with water, that’s intense. Because the door and the water are both real, or at least physically present, which in turn makes it easier for the actors in the scene to sell it. Good Stuff.

Conversely, there’s a moment in the trailer for the second Jurassic World movie where Chris Pratt rolls past the snapping jaws of a T-Rex and there’s zero sense of danger to the entire thing because it’s a digital dinosaur that isn’t actually there. Nothing against Pratt’s acting ability, but all he does is awkwardly jump and roll out of a shipping container – the gnashing teeth were all added in post, and the sequence feels like the Rex’s animation was timed out specifically to make the “bite” look as close as possible. It’s awful and I hate it.

Or let’s consider superhero movies for a second. Most of them are so over the top and the action is so bombastic there are entire sequences where there’s nothing that actually has a material form on the screen. At that point, you might as well be watching a cartoon. Also, blatant side-eye at all of the Star Wars prequels. Shit was like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Close shaves just don’t matter when our brains (subconsciously or otherwise) keep telling us that the danger isn’t real. Like, physically.

Part of my hatred for these cheap attempts at thrills, I’m sure, comes from overexposure. It happens so often in so many different movies that I’ve gotten numb to it all. But I can look past it, or even get invested in the moment, when it’s not blatantly obvious that the monster trying to grab our hero only exists digitally (also see The Thing 1982 vs. The Thing 2011). CG can be effective when it’s used properly and the actors can sell it, but that’s the rub. And very few movies either know how or care to get it right

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Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved video games since the ’80s and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them. The same goes for other nerdy stuff from Anime to Godzilla, and from Power Rangers toys to Transformers. You can catch his occasional rants on Twitter at @RobsteinOne.

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