Visual Effects: From The Age of Innocence to Inglorious Basterds

Despite the title of the post, I am not going to write either about The Age of Innocence by Martin Scorsese, or about Inglorious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino. To me, these titles, taken figuratively, mean something different: namely, how visual effects in cinema went from the state of the art to the art of farting, to quote Dali. Of course, as we know from the novel and the film, “the age of innocence” was anything but innocent, and hence visual effects have always had something of a travesty about them, but still…

(I would love to provide you with a link to the text, but it looks like only my Russian-speaking readers are lucky to read the full text. The English-speaking readers are welcome to check Diary of a Genius on Amazon or at Copac).

Dali, of course, would be the first who would reassure us that, to make a good fart, one would need to work hard. We shall leave it there, but you can see the point: a fart is something natural yet trivial that we usually prefer to conceal because of its “low” nature. When it comes to film production, money and equipment are pumped into the feature’s bowels, and if we are committed to maintaining that “money doesn’t smell”, then we need to work really, really hard to make the viewer forget the reports about the zillions of dollars. Although the time and money that are put towards producing the elaborate special effects with the help of various computer programs are often publicised, both film makers and audience prefer not to give too much notice to it – or to the fact that the special effects produced at the time when no such money or equipment were available often appear more captivating and “natural”.

I am not a retrograde thinker. For the record, I immensely enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, and of course, as we know, Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett both have normal ears off screen. But while playing with technology Peter Jackson managed to preserve the innocent glee with which generations of readers dive into Tolkien’s opus magnum. Sadly, this is not always the case, and, as much as they keep the audience in awe, the elaborate special effects also become those very “inglorious basterds” that eventually make some film directors claim that cinema has died.

I am sure it has not died, but it surely has forgotten how beautiful the simple things are.

The film list:

1900 – The Enchanted Drawing
1903 – The Great Train Robbery
1923 – The Ten Commandments (Silent)
1927 – Sunrise
1933 – King Kong
1939 – The Wizard of Oz
1940 – The Thief of Bagdad
1954 – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
1956 – Forbidden Planet
1963 – Jason and the Argonauts
1964 – Mary Poppins
1977 – Star Wars
1982 – Tron
1985 – Back to the Future
1988 – Who Framed Roger Rabbit
1989 – The Abyss
1991 – Terminator 2: Judgement Day
1992 – The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
1993 – Jurassic Park
2004 – Spider-Man 2
2005 – King Kong
2006 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
2007 – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
2007 – The Golden Compass
2008 – The Spiderwick Chronicles
2008 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

With thanks to Bengraphics and Jennifer Cisney.


5 thoughts on “Visual Effects: From The Age of Innocence to Inglorious Basterds”

  1. Julie.. you left out one very important film, one very special film, perhaps the greatest film the French ever made.. Jean Cocteau's “Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la bête) in 1946” .. consider it's 1946.. the war was over, France was torn, broken.. not in any condition to do anything but rebuild.. and they made “La Belle et la bête”.. and at it's premire they clapped, they cried.. they stood.. some shouted “bring back my Beast” if you can buy or rent it.. I have loved it since I was a child.. and that's 60 years.. unbelievable special effects…. please watch and enjoy it….


  2. Naukishtae, I couldn't agree more! Jean Cocteau is a genius, and Orphee, for example, is a masterpiece of its own kind. I left La Belle et La Bete out simply because the trigger for the post was the video, and it wasn't made by me. I think, though, your comment just reinforces the suggestion: that in the past when film makers like Jean Cocteau or Orson Welles had to stretch out to make their vision possible the true art was possible, too. They were breaking the ground because they were doing the impossible. Looks like today the impossible is really about getting back to simplicity.

    I will be writing more about Cocteau soon 🙂


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