To my intense delight and disgust, the Cats trailer dropped last week and caused quite the stir online. Based on the long-running stage show and starring big names like Taylor Swift, Idris Elba (save him) and Ian McKellen, you could almost guarantee the film’s commercial success.
Except, the filmmakers have decided to touch the actors with CGI and make them look like actual cats. It’s clear the animators were not given much time to render animation for the trailer, creating quite an… unsettling effect. This aesthetic truly leaves you stumbling through the uncanny valley, screaming upwards for help, only to hear echoes of your voice bounce off the cavern walls. Twitter was very upset and amused by this trailer. There were spooky re-edits, the music replaced with Jordan Peele’s Us soundtrack, comparisons to the iconic Cat in the Hat film, and some troublingly lusty love confessions for the sexy T-Swiz kitty. I haven’t checked up on any furry forums, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this made quite an impact. Meow. (Editor’s note: I have researched Twitter, and the furries want the designers hung for crimes against furmanity)
The use of CGI (computer generated images) can be traced back to 1961, where the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology used a BESK computer to create a 49 second animation of a car travelling down the highway. In 1967, CGI animation of a Hummingbird was submitted to an experimental film competition. Since these baby steps, CGI animation has become commonplace in Hollywood film, usage of the technology exploding in the 90s. Many blockbusters remain heavily reliant on CGI to generate magical, fantastical and completely impossible scenes. This sometimes produces undeniable artistry, giving audiences the opportunity to immerse themselves in the spectacle before them. It also has the capability of ripping the soul out of a script and reducing talented actors to a state of delirium against a green screen. Sometimes the spectacle is enough to distract, but audiences seem to be demanding more from lacklustre CGI flicks. Earlier this year the ‘live-action’ Sonic the Hedgehog trailer dropped, drawing similar criticisms to those of Cats. The much-loved cartoon seemed to resemble a more humanoid figure than the original iteration, which was met with widespread disapproval. The studio have since announced a re-design of the character.
Hollywood elites such as Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg have also expressed distaste at the overuse of CGI, championing an increase in the use of practical effects in Blockbuster films. Though these old filmmakers are getting particularly dusty, they may have a point about upping the use of practical effects. Notoriously, during the filming of Dunkirk, Nolan utilised real explosions and thousands of extras to create harrowing scenes of realism. Actors from the film have expressed their intense feelings of immersion upon seeing the sets for the first time, which is quite apparent in their performances in the final cut. Similarly, Spielberg has backed his reasoning through his filmography. During the original Jurassic Park film, Spielberg utilised both CGI and puppetry to effectively bring dinosaurs to life. Compared to the remakes, The Lost World and Fallen Kingdom, the original films are much scarier and more technically interesting. In some cases, when a director is not relying on great advancements to be made in post-production, the aesthetics and story of a film are improved in quality. Perhaps if Cats had been based on costuming or an appropriately stylised animation, we wouldn’t be so emotionally disturbed.
However, other special effects, like puppetry, have produced emotionally unsettling anthropomorphic images too. In 1986, the film Howard the Duck was released. Based on a Marvel comic of the same name, the film tells the story of a duck alien who is transported across dimensions and romances Lea Thompson. The film brands itself as light-hearted sci fi, but has given me more nightmares than any horror film I have ever seen. Howard is brought to life by animatronic suits, costumes and puppetry, which exaggerate his large, soulless eyes and shift his face in such an eerie matter. This film needs to be submitted for generic reconsideration, there’s no way it’s PG enough for children. Despite this terrifying example, I would tend to agree that practical effects can be a great asset in filmmaking, which CGI seems to be dominating. But I would also ask that everyone stop demanding redesigns. I want to see movies like Cats and Sonic and Howard the Duck, and become submerged in bizarre, surrealist worlds created by producers with such misguided intentions. Honestly, someone needs to check on the furries. They’re not doing well.