They Just Don’t Make Em Like They Used To

Yes! This is exactly what I’m talking about. Even though they had tighter budgets they had more creative freedom, which is how we ended up with so many films from that era ranging from charmingly original and fantastic to….well, some of our more entertaining MST fodder! I would say this is also why a lot of your so-called “cult classics” came out of the 80s-90s. An earnest creator with a low budget who actually cares about the story they’re telling will always beat out a Di$ney committee being handed an oversized budget and tasked with recreating a classic favorite that no one wanted to see redone.


I mainly miss special effects that weren’t generated on a computer. I don’t think CGI has yet scaled the heights of 2001 or Forbidden Planet or Star Wars or even Ghostbusters. I love a good matte shot, a clever in-camera trick, a well-crafted model.


Wasn’t Star Wars the first movie that incorporated CGI?

No, Tron was as far as I know.

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Apparently the first use in a major picture was in 1973’s Westworld, followed by its sequel Futureworld. Star Wars used CG for the trench run briefing scene. Tron was the first to use CG extensively rather than for brief shots.


I too am a fan of “Roadside Picnic,” and “Stalker” is one of my very favorite movies of all time. It’s one of the very few instances where I can say the movie is better than the book. It’s a must-see for anyone who hasn’t caught it yet.


CGI is painfully obvious in the early days because they would start with something computer generated then go to animation, which was about a million times better looking. Heh.

Last night, I watched Stargate for the first time in years. I was pleasantly surprised that a movie almost 30 years old (how did that happen?) still has amazing special effects. And what made it work, in my opinion, is that they didn’t rely on CGI. There was some of that, of course, but so much of it was real, physical objects and because of that, it still looks really cool today.

And for me, that was the perfect movie. Scifi combined with Egyptian mythology. Two of my favorite topics.


I briefly studied computer animation and I royally suck at it; it’s actually quite difficult and I found myself having a lot of respect for people who get really good at it. I don’t think it’s all bad, it can be used well (I would cite Jurassic Park as a movie that not only utilizes CGI well but also is very restrained in its use of it, so much so that it holds up amazingly well even by modern day standards), but over-reliance on CGI, I think, is something that people have been complaining about for years. I haven’t watched The Mandalorian (I’m pretty burnt out on Star Wars at this point and I don’t feel like paying for Disney+), but when I found out that scenes of Baby Yoda/The Child walking were done with CG but animated to move as though it were a puppet, it looked far more believable than it would have if they’d animated him more fluidly. That really surprised me and it seems like such a cool way to use it with the actual puppet.

I do wonder how much of the backlash had to do with the prequel to The Thing, which got a ton of criticism once it was discovered that the practical effects studio that worked it and made these amazing puppets had all their work replaced with subpar CG that looked worse than the props they’d made for the movie. I feel like that was sort of a breaking point, and some filmmakers realized that hey, people actually like practical effects and animatronics. I myself am a big Jim Henson fan and was delighted that the Dark Crystal prequel series actually got released and used puppets… and crushed when it got cancelled. RIP.

As far as matte paintings go, sadly, I think they’re a lost art. I suppose they exist in some form digitally, and tend to be the most subtle CG element in most movies to the point where many people that watch films with composite CG backgrounds won’t even notice that it’s CG unless it’s of something that cannot possibly exist in real life. It would be neat to see a version of matte paintings for movies done in such a way that they are painted digitally rather than being rendered or combining pre-existing assets, since a lot of artists work digitally these days because it’s easier to edit and share online. And while there’s plenty of digital artists who could probably replicate the feel of a matte painting, there is something to be said about seeing one in a movie and knowing it was a huge canvas one or two guys worked on for weeks to get it to look the way it looks.

As for things I miss personally in movies, I miss how gritty movies from the 70’s and 80’s looked, especially in places like New York. I never got the chance to experience pre-Giuliani New York, but watching films set there from the 80’s just gives it this feel that I don’t really see much of anymore. The closest I’ve gotten to experiencing it IRL was finding an gentrified section in Manhattan, some ways away from Times Square, where there were still adult video stores there and it was sleazy and gross and it felt like I was in C.H.U.D. or Basket Case or Street Trash. Also, I miss movie punks. Punks in movies back then looked so goddamn cool.


Following the development of CGI in the late 70’s-90’s was fun:
Star Wars: Cool, computer graphics!
Tron: Oh hey, now they can do solid shapes!
The Last Starfighter: Ok, now everything’s more solid and shiny.
Captain Power: ShiniER!
Beast Wars: OK, not everything has to be shiny.