The impact of a film’s visuals can rest on even just a few key moments. The traumatic sight of people falling helplessly to their deaths in Titanic, bodies crumpling over the ship’s funnels, was far more evocative of the real tragedy of that event than whether or not Jack and Rose would ever go horse riding together. The abundant plant life in Elysium’s slick silver offices creates a stark contrast to the filthy, smoking Earth, that serves as a background warning of what Earth’s destruction could eventually mean for human life. And if there ever has to be a single moment chosen with which to validate the ever-increasing use of 3D, it is the White House kitchen sequence in X-Men: Days of Future Past – a one and a half minute triumph of Phantom camera photography that stupefied whole auditoriums into slack-jawed freeze frames of their own.
In the case of (most of) these movies however, it is the combination of the visual aspect with various other vital aspects of skilled filmmaking that has led to their success. But what is most telling about how much movies can get away with provided they nail the visual side of things are movies that basically rely on their special effects alone. Movies like Pacific Rim. In terms of what Pacific Rim ‘gets away with,’ it should probably be serving a good three life sentences. But – for want of a more sophisticated phrase – who the hell cares? It is difficult to overstate the sheer spectacle that is this film; from its chaotic opening to the staggering finale, and lit up throughout with colour so intense it could stop traffic from your living room window. It is a visual cacophony of hectic joy that can only really be criticized on the basis of its potential to cause an aneurysm. Other attempts at this sort of scale, such as Transformers, often haven’t worked simply because they actually don’t go far enough (bless them though, they will insist on trying). Pacific Rim succeeded through one thing and one thing only – Guillermo del Toro’s enthusiastic commitment to the belief that more is more.
This isn’t the only method through which questionable films are saved from death by Razzie, however. Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2013 thriller Only God Forgives is the other end of the spectrum to Pacific Rim entirely. Its characters often placed motionless and silent at the centre of a vast and empty screen, its long, wide shots hypnotically slow and steeped in dense imagery of hell and vengeance. But for many audiences, Only God Forgives was the movie equivalent of those pieces of artwork that are something like a coloured square on a blank background – apparently it’s art, but we can’t in all seriousness really pretend that there’s any actual substance there. Viewer’s reactions were surprisingly unforgiving considering this was from the director who gave us Drive. Yet the attention to detail in the cinematography is undeniable (the blue and reds of the primary colours motif, for example, appears in everything from the diner’s condiments to the bruising on Julian’s face) and those who love it, love it for its complex symbolism.
1998 romantic-drama What Dreams May Come uses similar devices to deliver its sentimental impact. In fact, the whole experience here is a bit like falling out of an emotion tree and hitting every branch on the way down, but aside from the ludicrous overplaying of a decidedly dodgy plot, the concept of Heaven as a living painting is moving, and for its time almost visionary.