Fix it in Camera

Over the weekend I watched the BluRay of David Lean’s magnificent epic “Lawrence of Arabia” for the first time. I’d seen the film before of course but with the stunning restoration and remastering work done for the BluRay, it felt like I was truly seeing it for the first time.

It’s a great story, first and foremost, but the thing that is staggering to me is the sheer scale of it, considering the constraints of 1962 filmmaking technology. Thousands of horses and extras, amazing locations and no sign of digital trickery. The logistical task of bringing it all together is mind-boggling to me.

By contrast I also finally went to see “Cloud Atlas”, and whilst I’m sure I could write a whole post about that film as well, for the purposes of this one I’ll limit myself to saying that it was both flawed and brilliant. Maybe I’ll get into why next week… Atlas has a sequence set in Neo Seoul, which is designed exactly like “Blade Runner”. But where the latter shot miniatures for real, the former is a digital wasteland, so perfectly realised that you can’t believe it. When the characters escape a situation by suddenly constructing a highly implausible digital bridge between buildings, I checked out emotionally. If it had been Blade Runner, they’d have had to jump or scale the outside of the building. Something, anything more grounded in a reality we can relate to, even if we’ve never experienced it.

But maybe it’s a question of perspective. I *know* that a film made 50 years ago can’t have digital horses charging with a few real ones, so I readily accept it as reality. Maybe in a hundred years time, people won’t remember when certain technologies became possible and view everything as equally real. But even so, filmmakers would do well to ground their films in the plausible. Watching Lawrence I’m reminded that something done completely in camera is just as spectacular as a digital effects shot, oftentimes more so.

*Although there’s an argument to be made for using the VFX for the safety of cast and crew which shouldn’t be ignored.