Those of us who see a lot of movies have a hard time remembering when we did not feel jaded about
CG. We still remember the times it blew us away (Terminator 2, Titanic, The Matrix), but feel much more likely to dwell on its lesser incarnations as it has become inescapable on the cinematic landscape (too many to name).
But what if we never saw anything with CG in it?
That was the experience of my dad on Saturday when he accompanied my younger son and me to Peter Rabbit. I'm reviewing it for ReelGood (link forthcoming), and this was one of those "admit four, free popcorn and soda" screenings that in the past has given us a family's worth of free admissions to the likes of Inside Out, Zootopia and Cars 3.
We admitted only three as my wife, my older son and my dad's wife decided to do different things with their Saturday afternoon. But my dad said he would come, and seemed sort of excited about it. I guess he hadn't heard the reviews.
My dad is traditionally not much of a cinephile, though I think that's changed a bit since he married my stepmother ten years ago (we don't use that term, but continuing to say "his wife" seems a bit distancing as well). She's not a cinephile either, but I do think she sees watching movies together as more of a viable social activity than my mom did -- which is weird, because I think my mom is more interested in movies than either of them. Anyway.
So my dad has been seeing a fair number of movies in recent years, but almost none of the big blockbusters. He'll see more than half of the best picture nominees and other films that tend to be more in the realm of realism. He will see almost no movies like Peter Rabbit.
There were any number of potential obstacles to his enjoyment of the movie. We had to rush to get there, as we'd packed our schedule tightly that afternoon. We didn't have our pick of seats, so to maximize what was available, he sat in the row behind my son and me. (I could have put him next to my son, but having to deal with my son fidgeting all movie, and dole out snacks to him at regular intervals, would have only provided a further obstacle.) The movie is full of slapstick and cliched pop songs. And finally, there was almost a non-stop cacophony of children talking and crying, and since we were in the front two rows before the path to the exit, there was also a non-stop stream of toddlers running around and parents taking those toddlers to the bathroom.
I turned around at the end, fearing the worst. I even had a quip planned as a kind of half-apology for having wasted his time. "A new children's classic, eh?" I said.
But he loved it.
"I thought it was fantastic!" he said.
And that had a significant amount to do with the effects used to generate the titular character and his brothers and sisters.
When I started to backpedal and explain that I was judging the movie more on its humor and use of slapstick, the result of me seeing so many computer graphics on a regular basis, he said he didn't care about that stuff. "It's a movie for kids," he said to me, and of course he's right.
And he was also right about the visual effects. Even as jaded as I am, I noticed how nice they looked. Ever since the way Sully's hair moved was a focus of discussion in Monster's University, and probably before that, I've been noticing how good hair looks in animated movies. And indeed, Peter and his brothers and sisters have that very believable moving hair thing down. My dad talked about the "verisimilitude" (one of my favorite words) of the way the rabbits were conjured, and he's right about that too. It's astonishing the verisimilitude that's possible with modern CG, if you aren't jaded by it.
Let's just say any other criticisms I might have vocalized died on the vine. I wanted my dad to think he'd made a good use of his Saturday afternoon, and he did. No reason to go and ruin that.
And as I said at the start, I too remember those moments when CG expanded my understanding of the type of magic that is possible in the movies. Those were watershed experiences in my development as a lover of movies. If this was going to be one of those for my dad, far be it from me to rain on that parade. What if Peter Rabbit is his gateway drug to a world of wondrous cinematic landscapes he's never discovered?
And because, for a moment, I was able to see CG through my dad's eyes, the movie earned an extra half-star from me. For the ways it resembles other uninspired children's movies with lame pop culture references and too many people getting hit on the head by things, it earned only two stars from me.
But for the way it turned my dad into a child, in awe of the art of cinematic illusion, I bumped it up to 2.5.