In Defence of Outdated Visual Effects

I watched Beetlejuice for the first time yesterday, and, I kind of loved it. Maybe not crazy head-over-heels-let’s-get-married-next-week love, but I’m pretty sure I’d at least take it dancing next weekend.

My favourite part? The crazy awesome visual effects. Oh yeah, the stop-motion fly, the sand worms, the puppetry, makeup prosthetics, I’ll take it all, baby.

The best parts of the movie would never fly in a modern day blockbuster, however. The movie is outdated. The effects show at the seams, they’re old and practical and amazing. I loved it.

I also watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier (perhaps I should do another post about why all movie titles these days are ridiculously long) last week. Those effects were also very impressive. I won’t argue when stuff blows up real good and I get to see something that couldn’t possibly exist in reality… but just maybe. CGI is getting more and more impressive (unless you’re Peter Jackson, come on man, you either can do better than that or you should just know better than that [but I still love Lord of the Rings]) and that’s all good. I don’t mind one bit. But I do wish we could use more practical old-school effects because there’s nothing like them. There just isn’t. Yes, sometimes they are incredibly cheesy, but is that so bad?

Practical effects have a way of feeling so artsy. They give you the impression that someone worked excruciatingly hard on them to make good art.

They’re also a lot scarier in horror movies than modern effects. And a lot more fun. Come on, watching the obviously-fake-blood ooze in Evil Dead is a lot more entertaining than watching CGI blood splatter but then disappear in 300, isn’t it?

Maybe I’m just being a softy for the old times. But I don’t think so, I really think there’s a certain charm to “outdated” VFX now. You can see the craftsmanship that went into them in a tangible way and that helps you understand what making movies really involves. CGI is seamless. It looks amazing and yes, can help integrate you into the movie viewing experience, but you don’t realize it’s there.

I know you’re not supposed to notice the craft of filmmaking when you’re watching a movie. You’re supposed to be caught up in the movie. And that’s fair.

But sometimes it’s so much fun to notice the art that is movie making magic.


What do you think? Do you like older effects or do you prefer CGI? Let me know your thoughts!



  1. I’ve always thought Tim Burton makes a better art/visual director than an actual film director. Couldn’t agree more re: effects… but I’ve never been a huge fan of the blockbuster nonsense.


    1. Yes! Known for his visual style, right? You could walk onto his set, throw a camera in the air, and shoot it however it lands and you would be known for your visual style too. Not to criticize him too much, I am a fan, but he is better at creating worlds than directing them.
      The problem with blockbusters now is that it’s become effects at the expense of story. “Look Ma, I blow sh*t up!” is not a good reason to have effects in your story. The third act of The Avengers does an amazing job of keeping the effects grounded in the characters/story. But that’s so rare.



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