The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film
Computer-generated effects are often blamed for bad Hollywood movies. Yet when a critic complains that “technology swamps storytelling” (in a review of Van Helsing, calling it “an example of everything that is wrong with Hollywood computer-generated effects movies”), it says more about the weakness of the story than the strength of the technology. In Digital Storytelling, Shilo McClean shows how digital visual effects can be a tool of storytelling in film, adding narrative power as do sound, color, and “experimental” camera angles—other innovative film technologies that were once criticized for being distractions from the story. It is time, she says, to rethink the function of digital visual effects.
Effects artists say—contrary to the critics—that effects always derive from story. Digital effects are a part of production, not post-production; they are becoming part of the story development process. Digital Storytelling is grounded in filmmaking, the scriptwriting process in particular. McClean considers crucial questions about digital visual effects—whether they undermine classical storytelling structure, if they always call attention to themselves, whether their use is limited to certain genres—and looks at contemporary films (including a chapter-long analysis of Steven Spielberg’s use of computer-generated effects) and contemporary film theory to find the answers. McClean argues that to consider digital visual effects as simply contributing the “wow” factor underestimates them. They are, she writes, the legitimate inheritors of film storycraft.