Special Effects Porn is Dead

Just like hard-core cheapies, movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park aren't really "movies" in the standard sense at all. What they really are is half a dozen or so isolated, spectacular scenes - scenes comprising maybe twenty or thirty minutes of riveting, sensuous payoff - strung together via another sixty to ninety minutes of flat, dead, and often hilariously insipid narrative.

- David Foster Wallace

So I'm knee-deep again in all things David Foster Wallace and I come across his 1998 essay "The (As It Were) Seminal Importance of Terminator 2." The gist of it is that there exists a genre of Hollywood mega-budget film that relies on a handful of eye-popping action and special effects scenes to get an audience to fork over ticket money. The sheer spectacle of these scenes - as in porn - is enough to make up for the shallow and unsatisfying story-lines connecting them together. The "Wow!" is what gets the butts in the seats.  

In the fifteen years since this article was written, this trend has only accelerated. Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, John Carter, The Lone Ranger, I'm literally reading down the list of most expensive productions, all over the $250 million budget mark, all made in the last eight years. And don't forget about the 3-D!


But have you seen these YouTube videos [1, 2, 3] of the guys with GoPro's strapped to their heads, dangling off high-rises and cliff faces? I don't know about you, but sitting in my office chair staring at my little computer screen, I feel a sense of fear and awe shooting straight from my amygdala that I can only assume is the same feeling that Hollywood is chasing with their big, expensive, IMAX-sized productions.

The lesson? Dudes with cheap cameras, an internet connection, and a death wish can be more compelling than anything a producer with stacks of money and an army of visual and sound effects artists can conjure. You can now get "Wow!", and a whole lot of it, for free.