Monday Blog 4: Digital Cinema

“From Synthespian to Avatar: Re-framing the Digital Human” by Jessica Aldred.

The controversy around the digital human in films is laid out in the introductory passage of Aldred’s essay. Tom Hanks, the famous actor who casted for director Robert Zemeckis’s CGI edited film The Polar Express, expressed uncertainty about the digital body-capturing technology himself. However, Aldred establishes that The Polar Express is a drastically different from the previous Final Fantasy, a film featuring a completely computer-generated cast as alternative to the conventional star performance. Aldred demonstrates that the flawless digital simulation in Final Fantasy articulates a repression of the corporeal body in an age of digital media, while The Polar Express effectively alters the audience perception of the relation between the organic and the technological by confirming the human mastery over the digital editing. Yet The Polar Express, like Final Fantasy, also grapples with reconciling the indexical ontology of the cinematic medium and the disturbing realism of the digital characters. The production companies of the two films opted for different advertising strategies: while The Polar Express promoted a star-centered campaign before the film was released, Final Fantasy boasted its zilch use of real locations, real pops or real human figures. Aldred claims that the ultimate cause to the failure of Final Fantasy is that its creation of the second-order realism cannot be detached from questions of indexicality and the real bodies entirely. The problem is Aldred refers to “indexicality” several times without defining the term, thus at least to some extent undermining her argument that the new digital media (as represented by Final Fantasy) cannot subsume the old media.