James Cameron's Avatar is finally out, and it dominated at theaters. Everyone I know who saw it said "Definitely spring for the 3-D showings." In a column for the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger recalls some of his favorite special effects from his childhood, and bemoans how easy it is to see through them when armed with a DVD and slow motion. Dave Itzkoff followed up on the Arts Blog, and included video of some of Genzlinger's formerly favorite pre-CGI scenes.
Genzlinger's taken some heat in the comments section — and indeed, in this very office — for ruining his own sense of wonder with the use of slow-mo, and for ever even believing the stunts in the first place. I'll leave that first point, but take the second. As special effects advance, it's easy to look back at old tricks of the trade and scoff. But, as Barrie reminded us today, it's rumored that when people first saw the above film* in 1896, they screamed and ran from the approaching train. Though that may be a gross exaggeration, it was no doubt unsettling... And the turn-of-the-century audience's reaction, though hard to imagine today, cannot be dismissed as "dumb." We've come a long way, it's true. But damning the wonder of yesterday's cinematic sorcery just doesn't sit right with me.
*I think this film's best viewed without sound — any music on these videos isn't original.