Today’s movie special effects are terrific, no question. The recent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes evidences that fact. That said, have you noticed that each director of sci-fi action films has to outdo his predecessors? Why? Because once you’ve seen a special effect or once you know how it is accomplished it’s no longer all that special. And because we’ve all become techno movie junkies, producers feel a need to feed the beast by upping the effects quotient. But if all we seek from films is a cinematic rollercoaster high, we may be missing the true special effects movies were once known for.
So what are these special effects I’m referring to? Well, rather than CGI illusions, I maintain that the true special effects in movies are found in story, character and performance. The most endearing films can, like biblical parables, nourish the spirit rather than just throttle the nervous system. A defining moment in a screen character may well outlast any effects wizardry.
I suppose the following selections will be more suited to movie buffs and those who are interested in some day making movies, but knowing movie history helps us all understand our past and indicates where we’re going.
To discover the things that will feed your soul as well as entertain, would you be willing to travel back in time? Are you adventurous, or do you leave the adventure seeking to the Avengers and the Fantastic Four? Ah, come on, take this trip.
Can you imagine a time when there was no sound in movies? How did moviemakers tell a story without sound, you may well ask? Pioneering filmmakers said it all with imagery. More was said with one look than with a thousand words. Examples:
CITY LIGHTS (1931)
Charlie Chaplin’s eloquent masterpiece about a man who finds satisfaction by caring for others was both funny and melancholy. Containing an incredible ending, moviegoers of the day both laughed and cried and were reminded of the truest special effect – love.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (1921)
Rudolph Valentino starred in this epic spectacle about cousins on either side of WWI. This film proves that impressive imagery and the magic of great storytelling far outlast technical gimmickry, because they touch something deep inside us.
Well, the world and Hollywood moved on, but after all these years, award–winning films still use visuals to reveal how much we have in common with folks who came before us.
THE ARTIST (2011)
This fantasy brought back the strengths and imagination of the 1920s silent era, reminding moviegoers of the potency of cinematic imagery. At one point in the story, a person in the depths of depression considers suicide. His dog intervenes. That’s right, his dog. The image of that animal tugging on the pant leg of his despondent master brought a tear to the eye of even the most hardened of cynics. And a moviemaker proved yet again that story and imagery are the necessary foundations for any great film.
Congratulations, you’ve just ventured into a world seldom visited by today’s moviegoers. So, how adventurous are you? Willing to try going even further into a cinematic unknown? If so, then how about renting a foreign film? Do, and you’ll garner a whole new appreciation for film because, in a way, you’ll be part of the adventure. You can’t just sit there and let the actors do all the work. You’ll have to invest more of yourself. You’ll have to read…subtitles!
I know, we all dread subtitles, no one more than me. But one of the magic elements found in a memorable foreign film is the realization that you’ll suddenly forget you’re reading the dialogue. Examples:
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946)
In order to save her father, a beautiful girl agrees to live with a feared wolf-like beast. Time passes and they learn to love one another. This moody, atmospheric rendition of the classic fairy tale is a beguiling and fanciful masterpiece. So, when’s the last time you saw a beguiling and fanciful masterpiece?
This Chinese film concerns a widowed father who sacrifices everything in order to support his teenage son’s gifted musical abilities. The son doesn’t see the sacrifices made on his behalf until the end. Beautifully filmed in the “Forbidden City” of China. Full of humor, drama and insight, Together is a powerful parable every parent and teen should see. (There are other movies with the same title. This is from China and is rated PG.)
Okay, I’m not kidding myself. Most of you aren’t willing to venture back to the silent era or view a movie from abroad. I’m just trying to make a point. We live in a maxed-out, everything-is-changing time, and far too many movies of today contain anti-biblical messages, one-sided political agendas, and PC leanings that disregard Testament truths. You’re missing out if the only movies you’re watching are those found in today’s cineplexes.