Richard’s Year of Movies — Becket
May 16, 2010 1 Comment
I’ve never been one of those people who dislikes the very existence of CGI. It’s a tool just like anything else; it can be used well or used poorly, but its mere presence shouldn’t knock a film down.
But there’s something about watching older films where they didn’t have the luxury of just green-screening in a mountain or a castle. They’d build the damn thing. Or go find a real one. There’s a sense of place that even the best CGI can’t match. You can see it in the performances. The actors are in something, and it shows.
The opening scene of Becket has Peter O’Tooler’s Henry II entering the cathedral at Canterbury, walking to the altar, and entering the crypt. And he walks up an actual flight of stairs, strides down an actual walkway, climbs down into an actual crypt. And he’s completely dwarfed by all of it, a foreshadowing of his impotence in the face of Becket’s devotion to the Church. Now a CGI cathedral would have the same visual effect — Henry would seem small in comparison to the architecture — but knowing O’Toole was walking through an actual set makes the size seem more impressive, more foreboding. There’s a later scene where Becket and Henry meet on the shores of France to negotiate Becket’s return to England. And the sight of the two men riding towards each other across the expanse of beach, two specks on horses, is not only a striking visual, but symbolizes the distance that’s grown between the two men.
I don’t think a lot of films have this sense of scale anymore. I mean, the images are big, but they’re too often stuffed with too much stuff. Or unwilling to just let the camera dwell on the scene, to let us take in the scope and size of what we’re watching. It’s as if they’re afraid of dead space and dead air, and need to pack every minute with something to keep us watching. Where in fact a static shot of two men facing each other across a beach can be just as jam-packed as a bunch of frenetic jump cuts.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton at the height of their powers up on the screen. I guess the scenery had to be big for there to be enough for them to chew on.