Saturday, 16 May 2009

On The Future Of Cinema

Three people. That’s what really got my juices flowing on this. Three people. Three of the most influential people in the recent history of the medium. In the most recent issue of Empire, pieces of George Lucas, James Cameron and Francis Coppola were featured. Three very different directors, three very different viewpoints. In a nutshell, the three articles encapsulate the crossroads that cinema now finds itself at.


In one corner of this triangle, we have George Lucas; the biggest one hit wonder in the history of any artistic medium. A revolutionary, a visionary and a destroyer of the childhoods of many modern day 20-40 year olds with his Star Wars prequel trilogy and his reanimation and subsequent defiling of the ghost of Indiana Jones. Mr Lucas’ take on the future of the medium is quite simple: ‘Within the next ten years, every movie will be a visual effects film.’ Or, if that doesn’t want to make you slap yourself in the face in anger enough, we have; ‘Art is technology. … All artists have bounced against the ceiling of technology.’ We can sum up Mr Lucas’ opinion in a few simple words: ‘Bigger and better technology is the future of cinema.’


In another corner of our triangle however, we have Francis Ford Coppola; a man responsible for three of the greatest films ever made (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now), yet a man who, after completing his Vietnam masterpiece, pretty much never ascended to such dizzying heights of greatness ever again. Having not worked in a decade (a gap between 1997’s The Rainmaker and 2007’s Youth Without Youth), Coppola is returning this year with Tetro, a film with a budget of $15million, compared to Lucas’ most recent $185million flop ‘Indiana Jones IV: The Rape Of Your Childhood Memories’, could not be more at odds with his close friend’s view on cinema. ‘That we’re talking about now is the ‘big industry’ film – films that are packaged as a certain idea of action, and in many cases violence or thrills or mystery. These films aren’t expressions of the writer, but a compendium of ideas that could work as a blockbuster hit. That’ not Hollywood – it’s just wherever people want to make a lot of money.’ Indeed, Coppola is not interest in 3D or big budget or big events. He wants to make personal, intimate films about stories and people. He wants to shoot and write them beautifully. Whereas the future is purported to lie in one direction, one of the greatest directors of all time believes his own future, and possibly the appeal of the medium, lies squarely in the past.


And in the third corner - or perhaps it might be said – straddling the two above diametrically opposing viewpoints of the San Francisco friends above, is James Cameron. If ever the was a big budget director, Cameron is probably it. His cinematography reads like a litany of some of the greatest celebrated big budget films of all time; The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, True Lies and of course, the highest grossing film in history, Titanic. Cameron is currently working on Avatar, a film that allegedly promises to revolutionise the industry. Cameron firmly believes that 2D is dead, and eventually everything will be made in 3D, and yet in the interview, he has a very telling interesting ‘The key is to be in control of the technology, not let it control you.’ It appears, while Cameron certainly believes that the past is over, and that the future lies in 3D, he, unlike Mr Lucas, does not appear to have any interest in being a slave to it. He does not appear to hold any desire to make every film a technological marvel, rather he prefers to use the technology to accent the film and bring his vision to life, rather than have things in his films revolve around scenes that are there solely to use and show off whatever new gizmo it is he may be using.


So between the two polar opposite opinions of the San Francisco friends, there lies the Canadian. And while he leans towards George Lucas’ technological embrace, he holds back and holds firm towards the Coppola camp in that he soley wishes to tell stories. The difference is he fully embraces only the necessary technology to do so; he has no desire to use the tech for the sake of it. That, in my opinion, is the way forward, and that, in my opinion, is the only thing that will keep 3D technology away from being a fad (like it has been so many times in the past). The trick is to allow the technology to enhance your vision, to suck an audience into the believable world that you are surrounding them with.


This is where George Lucas has proved himself to be completely missing the point. A point which, in effect, he helped create. What George appears to have taken away from the success of his first three Star Wars films is that it was the technological wizardry that made them a success. He is - seemingly – incapable of understanding that it was the fact that this amazing technology that he pioneered fit like hand in glove in the telling of his epic space opera. It made space battles exciting, took you on a journey you had never experienced before and made you believe wholly in his vision. What he saw happening was people saying ‘Wow I’ve never seen that before! Wow look at that, that’s so cool!’ He didn’t get that the only reason that they’re bowled over is because they’re actually involved in the story. So when he remade the original three in the late ‘90s, and then went on to create the prequel trilogy, he didn’t realise that the simplicity of his initial story, the depth it offered to the viewer from its fairly black and white caricatures was what drew people in. He thought – and still thinks – that it was the whizzes the bangs and the booms that made people love it. What we ended up with was the most mishandled telling of a simple story ever written, albeit one that was technologically a masterpiece.


It’s funny to think that the man is so close with Francis Copolla, a man who is resolutely against the technological revolution; an artist who is quite happy to delve into the past in order to carve out his own future. As said, Cameron seems to straddle to two as the sensible influence, yet it remains to be seen whether this new wave of cinema tech will be embraced by audiences. Remember, it was not just whizzes and bangs in Star Wars that made people love it; they had already seen elements like that in other movies for almost a decade prior. It was the stories that the first new wave of tech was grafted onto that helped them be successful, not the tech itself. Up until the late ‘90s it was a tool used to enhance a story. But as it became easier to manipulate, it became something that could supplement, rather than accentuate, the story itself. The result is the wave of films we have seen since around 2002-2003 which have relied so heavily on CGI that their soul has been sucked from the screen (in most cases they didn’t even have a story). It remains to be seen whether there are more exceptional filmmakers like James Cameron out there that understand that cinema has always been about great stories bought to life in a way you could never see in reality or a live setting, rather than being the technological exercise that George Lucas and his techno-ilk wish to doom its future to.

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