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Cinema and Technology: An Essay

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  1. Introduction
  2. The concept of cinema of attractions
  3. 'Cinema is the last machine'
  4. The role of CGI
  5. Conclusion

'The cinema of attractions directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle' Gunning (1990), p. 58. To what extent does mainstream cinema today continue to operate as a 'cinema of attractions'? Illustrate this argument with detailed reference to major SFX-driven blockbusters of the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s.

Nowadays, the term 'blockbuster' has a pejorative connotation. One understands it to denote ?mass entertainment? rather than ?art?. Nevertheless, we can still associate some of these enormous budget movies to film, in its most noble sense. At first, through a flashback to the beginning of the 20th century, with the 'cinema of attractions' and a short study of audiences expectations, we will see the basic lines of the subject. Then, we will focus on The Lord of the Rings trilogy to understand how mainstream cinema continues to operate as a 'cinema of attractions'.

The concept of 'cinema of attractions' was introduced in the 1980s by Tom Gunning and Andre Gaudreault. As Gunning explains: 'The cinema of attractions directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle'. This cinema is based on several principles, amongst which one includes involving the spectator in the action; this can be done by the recurring look towards the camera by the actors.

An example of this is perceived in 'L'homme à la tete en caoutchouc' by George Melies. This famous French illusionist used to resort to various tricks as part of his film-making arsenal to surprise his audience and keep them on the edge, for example, he was well-known for making his actors disappear and reappear on screen. Something usual too, was the spoken commentaries made by masters of ceremonies, or musicians playing on their instruments to accompany the show. The point here, was to make the film more lively, especially as the films were mostly silent, and this called for some extra attractions to maintain the dynamics of the movie.

[...] Compared to the 'cinema of attractions', mainstream SFX-driven cinema is still all about presenting an explosive spectacle, through different modern and less modern techniques. However, because of the change in audience needs, some aspects of the 'cinema of attractions' might have changed as well, like the presence of narrative. Today's world is certainly more about films rather than books, so to pass on ideologies or simply ideas, we are likely to reach more people by making a film rather than writing a book. [...]

[...] But as he gave a very physical performance, Peter Jackson had the idea of digitizing his movements, facial expressions and voice to inspire the animation department artists. What they actually did was use Andy Serkis's features to draw Gollum's figure. Also, they used the motion capture technique to get all his movements digitized into the computer and finally animate the digital Gollum. Of course, this is far from the 'cinema of attractions' as they did not even have the computers to realize such a thing, but the aim here is the same; creating a visual effect, which implies the spectator's wonder. [...]

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