Notes on CGI and Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

What they have today —please, is very watered down. Non-human.  It’s all digital.  It’s one big machine. It’s not people.

—Robert Evans, Producer

Recently, I watched the new 007 film Skyfall (2012).  It’s a well-crafted homage to Bond of old. 007 has his Walther PPK and a radio transmitter. We even see the Aston Martin DB5 and 007 jokes about ejecting M from the passenger seat.  The stunts are terrific, the villain is nefarious, the girls are beautiful and Bond saves the day.  But here is one of my few quibbles: Did we really need the digital Komodo dragons?  Back in the day we would’ve got stock footage, a few closeups and an animatronic Varanus head chomping down on the bad guy’s calf.  In 2012 we get CGI.  I know, it is faster, more efficient and economical (and safer) compared to shooting live monitor lizards. It also looks fake.  However, I’ll give credit to the Skyfall team.  This film was basically old school and it’s perhaps my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond outings, even with computer-rendered lizards.

In the new Criterion release of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) there is a supplemental documentary Remembering Rosemary’s Baby, where Mia Farrow, Roman Polanski and producer Robert Evans reflect separately on the film and the film’s influence.  I agree with producer Robert Evans. Films today are one big machine. They are processed. Sean Connery commented that his last film, the awful The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (2003) was a cartoon —or something to that effect.  I’m glad Ben Affleck elected to shoot Argo (2012) on Kodak (REAL FILM) Anamorphic 35 and 2-Perf Super 35 (Sergio Leone’s choice).  He also made a film about people.

Criterion’s Blue-ray print of Rosemary’s Baby reminds me just how influential this film was. It created a sub-genre of possession films, beginning with The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), that culminate in entertaining but crappy found-footage films such as the Paranormal Activity (I through IV) series.  Polanski focused the film on people, but emphasized the spaces and alienation around Mia Farrow’s Rosemary. That creepy old apartment complex is a central character. It’s a monster with winding staircases, windows everywhere, places to see outward, yet the film is so claustrophobic.  Polanski was at his creative pinnacle in this film.

Reflecting on the movie, Polanski notes that he had no intention in showing the baby. There is a single reference to the new-born’s eyes.  I swear I can see the visage of a child with glowing red vertical pupils, but it is all suggested.  Can you imagine adding a CGI devil baby to Rosemary’s Baby?  I don’t know.  Maybe I fail to understand the modern film audience.

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

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