Locus Online
November 2006, page 2

Readers respond to Cory Doctorow's essay How High-Definition Is Bad News for SF Flicks (earlier letters here)

received Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Dear Locus,

Hopefully this will force the development of better plots and characters -- aspects that can thrive in sci-fi just as well as in any other genre -- and production budgets for sci-fi films can drop as technology reaches a "good enough" point. Then maybe we'll see more sci-fi, better sci-fi, and consequently more mainstream acceptance.


Dear Locus,

Your point is a good one, Cory, and is, of course, grounded in the concept of resolution. Technology marches on and we adapt, improvise and ultimately, prevail. It is worth remembering though, what makes any movie truly great is the story. A poorly-executed or revealed-due-to-better-resolution special effect will have far less impact on the suspension of disbelief than an implausibility or 'hole' in the story. Story is process and logic, even when displaying irrational behavior, and engages the theater of the mind even when presented in the visual medium. I can still watch some pretty old movies with some pretty raw effects on some pretty new gear as long as the story is compelling and 'tight'. On the other hand, no amount of visual candy will fix a broken story, ever. It's just icing on my frontal lobes.

Shane Adams

Dear Locus,

Then why does Brazil never seem to get old? and how do the original Star Wars movies remain more powerful than the new ones?

Maybe it's the stories and the storytelling that is finally going to come under studio scrutiny here as special effects no longer such a fetish.

Just a thought,


Dear Locus,

Your article points out the downside of computer-generated special effects. But there's some very good news, too.

The good news is that the studios have lots of footage of actors working against a green screen, talking to thin air, or, in some cases, footage of actors that has been carefully, digitally edited to remove unwanted live actors (as they did in the Lord of the Rings trilogy).

All of this live footage can be combined with new CGI footage and re-issued in whatever high-def format is in vogue at some point in the future, with a minimal amount of effort for the studios. And with the way copyrights are being changed, I doubt the original artists will be able to do much to stop them.

One other point. As sharp and clear as High Definition standards are in comparison to good old Standard Definition TV, they're still not as high resolution as the original film stock used in most theatrical releases. So if the CGI looked good on the movie screen, it will probably look fine on the HDTV set, too.

Alan Bruce

Dear Locus,

Cory, wouldn't your argument support the development of and market for higher resolution effects, cameras, and post-processing work?

Also, what are your thoughts on Lucas' re-re-releasing titles into newer formats (for a fee of course)? Are we to expect additional time and work for a Director, say Jackson, to release higher-resolution movies?

I am not in the movie industry, but I would think that current movie production requires working in ultra-high resolution, and then scaling down to fit on media. Sort of like shooting a photo in raw mode, and then tweaking in Photoshop prior to outputting for web, flickr, etc. Is this a bad assumption? Have producers not thought about the feasibility of their work on future releases, or are timelines and budgets just as strained that this sort of forethought is not applied to their projects, or are you mainly speaking about current generation movies/DVDs being played on HD hardware?

Eric Nakagawa

Dear Locus,

So how it is possible that 1950s Ray Harryhausen and George Pal movies sell millions of DVD copies? I'd rather watch The Wasp Woman than any recent SF blockbuster.

Francisco J. Torres

Dear Locus,

It's all true, but there is another part of your cars to computer comparison. This is off topic from your point, but when you say: "If Moore's Law applied to cars, you could replace your $12,500, 10-year-old, 39 miles/gallon Toyota with a $50 car that weighs 200 pounds and gets 500 miles to the gallon today", there is another part that relates to computers: A car for basic transportation is rarely enough. If you bought the $50 car you could only run old difficult-to-find gas in it. Then the car wouldn't be easy to get onto the highway, nor would it negotiate well in traffic. In order to really wheel around you would find you need to get a much more pricey car which would wind up costing you about what you paid for your last car.


Dear Locus,

I wish you would have given some good examples of how bad special FX look on a hi def screen. The LOTR thing you mentioned did nothing, they used pretty much the same techniques for creatures in part 1 as they did in part 3... just more of them.

So lets see some comparisons/examples?!?


Dear Locus,

Here's an idea... Make the movies about the stories and the characters and they'll outlive any shift in the special effects paradigm. See: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Fahrenheit 451, for example. Hello Hollywood producers... Anyone listening? (Cue crickets)

No Name

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