June 25, 2021
Technological advancement has paved the way for an enhanced entertainment experience whether on the silver screen or a television screen. Animation has advanced to the point where deceased actors and actresses can now be digitally placed into a scene with little to no noticeable difference between them and those who are still alive. For some projects, technological advancement has given the audience a better experience, but I argue that in some situations a crisper image actually hurts the quality of an overall work and in other ways visual appeal has become the misplaced priority over content.
The US adaptation of “The Office” is undoubtably going to be one of the revered artistic takeaways of our generation for its originality, side-splitting humor, and quotability. Although many maintain that the show had a significant dip in quality after the departure of Steve Carell as office manager Michael Scott, the show still reigned on the viewership leaderboards throughout its run. But around Season 8 or 9, the cameras for the show were upgraded to a higher definition. While the scenes look crisper, the believability of the plot of a small-grade camera crew documenting a random paper company in Scranton, PA became significantly less believable. At one point, it seemed like it was simply a few camera men with a mic attached to a camera, hiding in corners with some low quality equipment to be able to capture the Dunder-Mifflin workers in their element while remaining undetected but after upgrading equipment (and revealing a boom mic operator as well as at least two cameramen in Season 9 episode 12) the show plummeted in practical believability and to me overall quality despite visually being higher quality.
Although grainy at times, there was an aesthetic to 1990s movies and tv shows that is hard to beat. With blockbuster hits like The Sandlot, The Truman Show, Independence Day, Braveheart, and Good Will Hunting as well as hit television shows like Frasier, Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Home Improvement, Batman: the Animated Series, ER, Friends, and Rugrats, many regard the 90’s as being the greatest era in entertainment history. This is proven further by the fact that today’s studios keep trying to reboot pieces from the 90s and early 2000s such as Beavis and Butt-Head, The Lion King, and Will & Grace. Originality was the key to the decade – not necessarily a stunning visual presentation (although for the time they were in they were monumental). So, while we may be able to say that modern technology could make the shows better visually, there is little to improve on in terms of writing.
Even digitally created content has taken a blow in quality after the apparent shift from focusing on storytelling to focusing on the visual experience. While 3D works may have more of a visual pop, it seems to me like 2D Disney films have a more iconic nature to them than their 3D counterparts. Given the choice between Tarzan, Hercules, and Beauty & the Beast or Frozen, Tangled, and Moana, I am going to side with the historic masterpieces. From a storytelling perspective, it seems as though those films were most substantive (although all of these and most Disney projects are aided by fantastic soundtracks and voice acting). 3D and heavily computerized content has proven to be highly entertaining, but there’s just something about the 2D animated-feel that seems to strike viewers differently.
A common finding nowadays is a movie filled with stunning visuals but low substance. 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong is not the type of movie someone goes to for the plot but rather for the action, but this serves as an example of the common practice of appealing purely to the visual and little to the core. The storyline of AMC’s The Walking Dead was powerfully told and visually masterful for many seasons but the quality dipped over time as mounds of money went into visual effects, but the writing became lackluster.
I am not some fuddy-dud who is stuck in an era long past – dangerously pessimistic about his own generation; on the contrary, I have great expectations for my generation creatively due to our place at the backend of so much history of art to be inspired by. There is a happy middle ground where visual awe and storytelling gusto converge in spectacular fashion, which still happens today. Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Avengers: Endgame, Interstellar, Whiplash, Toy Story 4, and others are recent examples of works that capture a combination of storytelling and visual awe. While I love a good piece of art, the story behind and within it is often what moves and transforms me, and though I am entertained by many modern works, I am often not changed by them even though they have been enhanced by technology. If we only care about the cover of a book while the pages within get put on the backburner, we will never advance in art but only inspire further mediocrity.
Written by: Landen Swain
Landen believes the human experience longs to be expressed; through our art, our labor, our songs, our storytelling. As a published playwright, author, and poet, he enjoys expressing his little chapter of the human experience through his writings and is thankful that the SA blog allows him to do that. He is published in numerous magazines, literary journals, and has several plays published by Off the Wall Plays, an online play publishing house.