Defending Maleficent: The Importance Of Visuals In Film


Remakes are also an important source of proof that a movie’s visuals have a more significant role than than they are sometimes given credit for. Whereas the remake is quite often where films go to die, it is much less of a risk when one of the main aims is to improve on previously sub-standard effects. The 1968 Planet of the Apes was well cast and remains a classic, but for as long as the apes themselves weren’t convincing (we’re still laughing), the story was always bound to be re-told once things like motion capture – and Andy Serkis, the greatest genius to work with latex since whoever invented contraception – became available.

The same applies to King Kong (literally, the very same – Andy Serkis provided the motion capture here too), and to Godzilla – although the makers of the 2014 version could have just used a Happy Meal model of Rex from Toy Story and it still would have been an improvement on 1998). Terrible effects simply cannot help but have a terrible effect on a movie. The Anaconda movies are another great example of this; not even registering in the realm of films that are so bad they’re good, all three of the Anaconda films have been so bad that they’re just – well – so bad. Although it would be perfectly possible now to at least improve graphically on the snakes, no-one as yet has braved another attempt at Anaconda, but this is probably because twelve Razzie nominations is the equivalent of being wrong-numbered by someone in a bar – it is usually the cue to give up.

In movies where the visuals are not as integral to the story itself, arresting cinematography is still often an important part of how that story is told. Baz Lurhman’s lavish signature style made glitteringly extravagant marvels out of The Great Gatsby and Romeo and Juliet. Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City utilizes a type of digital editing with which to manipulate each frame into mirroring/reflecting its noir-esque comic book origins. Terrence Malick weaves the deep emotion of his films’ narratives with imagery that is nothing short of sublime. In 127 Hours, Danny Boyle takes the audience through time and across the world, all while filming a story that takes place in a space of about a foot and a half…..I think you get the point.

Animations too have their own sort of visual appeal, especially with the advent of High Definition. If the effect of HD has not exactly been kind to television presenters and news reporters, then animation is their Dorian Grey. The detail and depth of tone in How to Train Your Dragon is as breath-taking as if the mountains and flight sequences were live action – if not more. The iridescent quality of Rapunzel’s hair in Tangled makes it almost impossible to look anywhere else on the screen. Elsa’s conjuring of the ice castle during Frozen’s Let it Go sequence is so hypnotically gorgeous that the scene is just as good with the soundtrack off. No – really.

But this is not to say that DreamWorks and Disney-Pixar have the last word on important standards of animation; the artwork of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli is entirely one-dimensional, but has a beautifully captivating charm that carries the films’ often profound themes in a way that somehow makes them all the more meaningful. The philosophical depth of Spirited Away is obvious, but it probably wouldn’t have had quite the same effect if it had looked like Southpark.