Quentin Tarantino once said something that I let happily drift into my thoughts from time to time. “This CGI bullshit is the death of cinema,” Tarantino quipped. “If I’d wanted all that computer game bullshit, I’d have stuck my dick in a Nintendo.”
I think I’m right in remembering that the sentiment was voiced during the press tour for Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 and was in no small way directed at the similarities and dissimilarities between his film and the two Matrix sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions, which were all being released in the same year.
Tarantino was right to a certain extent and from a certain point of view. Not right about the undoubtedly tricky endeavour of getting his penis inside a Nintendo console but right about his perception of Computer Generated Imagery achieving the death of cinema. The cinema that existed in 2003 is dead. Regardless of how you feel about Hollywood filmmaking in 2019 it’s impossible to argue that the industry and the work that it brings about is the same as when Tarantino made the remark. Computer imagery has a lot to do with that simply because it has changed the way in which people make and regard films.
I was reminded of the quote when watching Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s The Lion King. The original came out nine years before Kill Bill and the Matrix sequels but one year after the release of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Although CGI had been a significant element in filmmaking before Jurassic Park, no film Hollywood or otherwise had used the tool so prominently or successfully. One year after the release of The Lion King, Pixar’s Toy Story became the first feature length CGI film. Jurassic Park and Toy Story are hallmarks in the lineage of CGI.
A remake of The Lion King in 2019 using state of the art computer imagery suggests an increasing reliance on the format in our ability to ingest film as an entertainment experience. Can we not still appreciate the magic of the original in its two-dimensions? Favreau’s interpretation of the story is actually more reiteration than interpretation because it is almost identical to the 1994 version in everything but the animation. And scene for scene I couldn’t pick a moment in the 2019 film that improved upon its 1994 counterpart.
As Gus Van Sant persuasively demonstrated with his shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, direct emulation does not beget corresponding excellence. Favreau’s The Lion King may not be shot-for-shot but it’s pretty darn close. The film takes something really special and adds little more than computer imagery. I understand why Disney wanted to remake The Lion King (though I disagree with their incentives) but struggle to understand Favreau’s reasoning for wanting to do something like this, and wanting to do it how he has. The film is ultimately creatively bankrupt.
The decision to interpret the story with computer imagery is a burden to the film beyond its superficial redundancy. With almost-photorealistic images at his disposal, Favreau has made the decision to jettison some of the original’s more visually fantastical set pieces, such as the colourful but realistically impossible sequences that are animated to ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ and ‘Be Prepared’. Everything in Favreu’s The Lion King is doggedly grounded in reality. There’s something seriously disheartening about an animated children’s film that ties one creative hand behind its back.
I would suggest to anyone wanting to revisit the The Lion King to do just that. Watching the 2019 remake I found that my overwhelming response was how much I wished I were watching the original. This remake is sterile, succeeding solely thanks to the virtues of the original. Disney won’t care because they’ll be rewarded by our increasing inclination to reward repetition. The movie will make a lot of money. The cinemas of a decade ago and a decade before that are dead.