Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Train

The phrase “old school” is used a lot nowadays. Too much if you ask me. It can be used about anything and everything including John Frankenheimer’s 1964 action thriller The Train. You see, it is old school and when you say old school action thriller what you are truly implying is the film has a level of reality in its action scenes.

I hate CGI. I think it—along with other kinds of digital technology—is doing great damage to the art of moviemaking. CGI particularly is used, abused and overused. I admit, CGI does sometimes allow a filmmaker to go to fantastical places but in the long run I think it is harmful to the “art of filmmaking” simply because of the over saturation of CGI in films is minimizing all the tricks and the special knowledge that was used to make audiences believe what they were seeing on the screen was real. Now, when I see some crazy stunt or outlandish scene I just think to myself—CGI. It’s almost distracting to me when I see it on screen. That’s not the case when I see something from a bygone era like The Train.

The problem is CGI is so easy! Anyone with some software programs, an ability to write code and a little bit of cash for the hiring of said people can come up with appropriate and usable CGI. I don’t care if you are shooting a vampire movie, a sci-fi epic, a horror film or even a romantic comedy—they all use CGI. It’s ridiculous. Every genre buries itself in waves of CGI when all the old methods and strategies are so much more fulfilling to the movie watching experience.

What does The Train have to do with this little rant of mine? Easy. The Train has REAL stuntmen, it has real trains crashing into each other, it has real explosions and it has real WW2 era plains flying overhead firing bullets and dropping bombs. When The Train is remade (and it probably will be remade as that’s all Hollywood does now—this is a separate rant that’s been made before on here and will be made again, ha!) all of this will be replaced with computers, green screens and other levels of fakeness. That’s the problem with movies now—they just feel phony to me.

The Train has Burt Lancaster—who does the vast majority of his own stunts and is terrific—as he leads a small band of French resistance fighters trying to stop a train filled with stolen art from being taken to Germany by no good Nazis at the tail end of WW2. Simple premise that Frankenheimer crafts to wring out every bit of tension using REAL filmmaking—not cheapened CGI trickery.

The Train is wonderful. It’s filmed in stark black and white. It’s lean, mean and filled with suspense from start to finish. And yes, I love it for the fact that I’m watching stuntmen, explosions and a film that is using strategies honed and perfected by craftsmen through decades of training and practice—not just the utilization of pro tools special effects software some techie is doing a thousand miles away from the set. Call me an old fashioned luddite, I don’t care, The Train is a refreshing throwback and highly entertaining.

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