CGI bloodies the storyboard and screen

by Victor Rodriguez / Columnist • September 13, 2012

Films begin with a storyboard that is strikingly similar to comic books. It is no coincidence that, as of late, the adaptation of comic books to film has become a popular trend. Graphic adaptations, which we now take for granted, turn violence in film into a visual spectacle.

Thinking back, some earlier adaptations of comics to film like Superman in 1978 and Spawn in 1997 are remembered for their inefficient and unbelievable uses of special effects. They are incogitable in a literal sense, since technology had not advanced enough to create filmic sequences that matched the imagination of the comic book strip. It was not until the release of Spider-Man in 2002 that the aesthetic saw drastic change. Spider-Man could now climb skyscrapers, swing from the buildings of New York City, and save Mary Jane and a tramcar full of children while fighting the Green Goblin. Action sequences were tremendously boosted by the green screen, and a genre was successfully introduced through believability. 

With this came a change in artistic taste, from the advancement of film in terms of special effects to the corporeality of violence, for savagery could now be made as graphic as in the source material.

When MPAA’s ratings specified the type of violence when it was graphic, graphic violence suddenly became a “thing”. 300 (2007), shot in digital film using the green screen and blue screen technologies to their full potentials, captured the setting and light of the original graphic novel written by Frank Miller in 1998. 300 was revolutionary in its use of CGI and special effects, which, in turn, made it an extremely violent and bloody film. It is because of their unrealistic nature, yet absolute visual believability, that graphic brutality finds success with viewers.

The first Batman comic came out in 1939, and adults and children read it. The first attempts to re-create this iconic work suffered from the unvarnished technologies that were unable match the original story’s  imaginative plausibility. Jack Nicholson’s interpretation of The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was, frankly, unrealistic. The Joker’s permanent smile and plot to control people by chemically altering hygiene products draws a fine line between reality and fiction.

When Christopher Nolan directed his Dark Knight Trilogy, it established Batman as a realistic character in a city that could be any city and a logic that corresponds with our own. This change was aided by CGI and a rendition of Batman that seemed to be more candid. His costume is bulletproof and strikingly modern, avoiding the obvious cliché of the bat on his chest. He is a character that uses strength and technology to defeat his rivals. 

Sin City (2005) is a notable film because it was a direct translation of the novel into the film. This example is especially useful in the analysis of graphic violence and its aesthetic. Clive Owen slits the throat of his enemy, yet his corpse talks to him, acting as his subconscious; Bruce Willis dismembers a rapist with his own hands. Whether or not violence is logical, it is frighteningly imaginative and, thanks to CGI, we can appreciate a kind of violence that viewers have not been able to see before. With the future releases of Dredd 3D (Sept. 21, 2012), 300: The Battle of Artemisia (Aug. 2, 2013), and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (Oct. 4, 2013), CGI and the aestheticization of violence are sure to progress to more bloody extremes. To make the impossible possible and the unbelievable believable is one of the many gifts of film, and graphic novels.