Robert Zemeckis and Change in Cinema

Over the past 15 years or so cinema has undergone some dramatic changes, be it through the development of CGI, 3D and motion capture technology, or the elephant in the filmmaking room that is shooting on digital video. Though some filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), see digital technology as cinema’s “death rattle”, there are those who have embraced change, for better or for worse.

Robert Zemeckis, director of the Back to the Future series is one of these filmmakers, a man who has not only accepted change, but embraced and harnessed it over the years. After all, his 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with its mix of live action and animation was groundbreaking at the time, as were the visual effects in his 1994 classic, Forrest Gump. Since then he’s gone on to be a driving force in the advent of 3D and motion capture technology, with the likes of The Polar Express (2004) and Beowulf (2007). His later film, The Walk, saw him shooting in 3D, with a heavy use of CGI to recreate the World Trade Center towers. Green. Green everywhere!

The Walk
Shooting The Walk (2015).

On the subject of shooting digitally, and those who are against it, Zemeckis once had this to say on the matter:

“These guys are the same ones who have been saying that LPs sound better than CDs. You can argue that until you’re blue in the face, but I don’t know anyone who’s still buying vinyl. Film, as we have traditionally thought of it, is going to be different. But the continuum is man’s desire to tell stories around the campfire. The only thing that keeps changing is the campfire.”

But he does also have a cautionary side note as well:

“From where I sit I see the digital cinema creating sloppiness on the part of filmmakers because they know if they really get in trouble they can fix it later. So they don’t pay that much attention, and of course it costs a lot of money.”

For his part in the continued evolution of cinema, his films have seen both sides of the coin, pushing boundaries, but also at times held back by the very mediums he’s tried to forge ahead with; in particular motion capture, which he adopted at a time where the technology had more than a few issues still. Regardless of the pros and cons of his filmmaking approach, he has yielded results over his career. Who could argue that Back to the Future isn’t more or less the perfect family film? He is at least seemingly against using digital technology to make changes to his past films, unlike George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, for example.

Change in cinema is inevitable. It is after all, relatively speaking, not a particularly old form of art, ever changing and adapting along with technological advancements. It might not always be smooth sailing, but you can be sure that with Robert Zemeckis at the helm, the evolutionary journey of cinema will at the least be interesting.


For more on Robert Zemeckis, CGI and animation, check out “CGI, Animation and the Push For Reality”, here on Flicks and Pieces.

In response to the Daily Post Challenge: Change.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jay says:

    I definitely think that art of any kind has to reflect the changing time, or it doesn’t stay relevant. I think it’s cool how we can use modern developments in technology to make films have that sepia, or aged quality, while still maintaining high definition. That said, it breaks my heart to see a set entirely green, and it must be harder for actors to have nothing real to react to. I see we are going back to embracing more practical effects for this reason, and that’s been nice and refreshing as well. CGI has its time and place, but I don’t understand why they’re making a live action remake of the jungle book, when in fact it’ll still be 90% computer generated. What’s the point?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luke Kent says:

      Don’t even get me started on the Jungle Book remake lol. It’s really bizarre, from the trailer it seems that they’ve taken a realistic approach to the design of the animal characters….but then they’re going to be talking? At least in Paddington, he’s heavily stylised, it’s a fantastical bear in a fantastical version of the world, and in Planet of the Apes when Caesar speaks it’s with a guttural, animalistic voice, hence why it works….but in The Jungle Book, is there just going to be a realistic bear/monkey/tiger prancing around singing and talking like humans? It all seems a bit odd to me!

      The photo of the set of The Walk is a little disheartening, but as you say at least there are movies like Mad Max and Mission: Impossible where they’ve used practical effects, achieved incredible stunts, all without using an entirely green box – hopefully practical effects are alive and well! Not that CGI doesn’t have its place, it just needs to be used as a tool for enhancement, rather than a catch all for everything 🙂


  2. jaythreadbear says:

    Interesting piece. Zemeckis makes a fair point in his campfire analogy, but he seems to ignore the real danger of over-zealously embracing modern movie magic. Isn’t it actually that the complete freedom of cgi to create any and everything causes artistic damage?

    A good case in point is probably the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies: after being vindicated by the success of Fellowship Peter Jackson started solving more and more narrative problems with excessive cgi in each successive film (culminating with an underwhelming wave of ghostly green at Pelanor Fields). Not only did the overall film quality decline with each picture, but the box office took a hit too.

    Having no limits on what can be achieved using cgi can actually make films worse. Pushing the digital envelop is great, it’s given us classics like Jurassic Park, Toy Story, and Gladiator (as well as making this golden age of superhero films possible). But the thing to remember is that it’s an artistic tool that ought to be used as one of many, not as the first response to every creative challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luke Kent says:

      Really well put! Already the Hobbit movies are starting to look a bit tired in comparison to the Lord of the Rings films visually, Jackson and co. certainly went overboard with the CGI!

      It is at the end of the day a film making tool, and like any other tool in the film making process, the success of its usage is often determined by the talent, and/or the approach of whoever is calling the shots. So long as it’s not used to cut corners, it absolutely has a role in allowing greater, more expansive worlds to be created for the big screen, just so longer as practical effects aren’t forgotten I’ll be happy, but thankfully Mad Max seems to have reminded a few people that pretty amazing things can be done the old fashioned way!


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