“Movies now have, to all intents, an infinite special effects budget. (I was writing a script for Beowulf last year and, worried that a climactic airborne dragon battle was going a little over the top, I called the director, Robert Zemeckis, to warn him. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'There is nothing you could write that will cost me more than a million dollars a minute to film.')"
That bears repeating: There is nothing you could write that will cost more than a million dollars a minute to film.*
So why aren’t we seeing images of such detached grandeur that make everything else ever put on film pale in comparison? If you can do anything, why don’t you? Why aren’t our minds being blown on a routine basis, the way moviegoers minds were when The Wizard of Oz exploded into technicolor, or when Red 5 dipped into the trench to start his attack run, or the first time we saw wire-fu?
We now live in a world where the cinematic imagination can run free, in the same way that novelists and, yes, comic book artists’ can, unburdened with things like impossibility.
I saw Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s low-budget CG-heavy fantasy MirrorMask and, while I didn’t really respond to the material, I was flabbergasted by some of the images. They didn’t have the money to live the million-a-minute dream, but there were still sequences the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
Now, I’m sure that a certain cost-profitability matrix comes into play—a movie that costs a certain amount needs to make back a certain amount—and if you hatch something totally untethered to “reality” you’re cutting down the potential audience.
But fuck it, I go to the movies to see stuff I’ve never seen before, be it spaceships or aliens, Lawrence of Arabia or Escape from New York, The Iron Giant or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I want to see something new. I want to see the cinematic equivalent of The Lord of the Rings books: a whole-cloth story that takes place in a world I’ve never seen, showing me things I never thought possible.
Movies are, first and foremost, a medium of fantasy. Bring it.
* If that figure is legit—and I’ll give Zemeckis the benefit of the doubt—what the hell are they spending $300 million on for Superman Returns?