Today's fantasy films are very different from those of yesteryears. In their time, they astonished us but today, they seem rather unfinished. There is a reason that fantasy films do so well. We love to be amazed. Movie special effects fulfill the desire to transcend dullsville. When cinema was born in the early 20th century, it was practically a special effect itself. In creating an illusion of the real, cinema is increasingly leveraging high technology to enliven banal experiences with the spectacular. Manipulation of filmed images is the point at which technology and spectacle have converged to spawn a parallel world of uncommon, heightened experience.
Vexed by the monotony of everyday existence, we crave special effects in real life too. But, this may have its downside. In attempting to realize our imaginations, we subconsciously create multi-layered, artificial "what-if "s realities, fooling ourselves into believing what is not. We presume the liberty of desiring the unachievable — instant cash, overnight success, unlimited power, textbook relationships — only to end up burdening ourselves with a sense of non-achievement, and letting our perceived failures govern us.
Unrealistic desires, regardless of whether they are achievable or not, are largely inappropriate because they are self-serving. They entail suffering and unhappiness which, as operational psychology explains, is an "observable negative realization caused by non-achievement or unsuccessful avoidance of a desired or a feared person, thing or event".
Authors like Mark Slouka have already pronounced that we have lost our grip on reality and that with the proliferation of technologies that allow us to immerse in artificially created worlds, the line between real reality and artificial reality is blurring. Soon, he argues, we will be unable to distinguish between the real and the artificial.
Nevertheless, artificial realities in real life seldom evoke the same thrill and elation as special effects in reel life. What drives special effects on the silver screen? The storyline; its intended message and the creator's vision. When are special effects most effective? When they are definitive, applied sensibly and verging on the plausible. What is the guiding tenet of special effects? That nothing is impossible and the end result is directly proportional to the amount of time and resources the creators spend on the effort.
In contrast, our yearning for special effects in life stems from the longing for quick-fix solutions. It lacks a vision because we rarely set objectives for our worldly existence. It is often founded on fantasies about the ever-elusive 'super-achievement', which divorces it from realism. It grows synonymous with the urge to find shortcuts to success, which leave us in awe of the perceived complexity of the tasks at hand and induce the fear of failure.
To realize real-life special effects, we need the definite narrative of an objective. We need to qualify ourselves for the heightened experience that we desire and stop requesting miracles. There's nothing wrong with being impressed by spectacular happenings. But, it is important to understand the difference between special effects and real life. The effects stuff reality into a concept, while in life, as Victor Daniels puts it, we are required to "learn to tailor our concepts to fit reality". The Bhagavad-Gita says, "If one gives up prescribed duties because of illusion, such renunciation is in the mode of ignorance."
The downside of the surfeit and increasingly spectacular nature of special effects is that they have become increasingly difficult to believe. We have outgrown our credulousness and are less emotionally engaged with what we see.
Amazement comes from the unexpected. To renew that sense of being amazed, we must keep reminding ourselves of how little we know.
It takes a child-like mind to remain aware that there is always something new in the banal to explore and experience. The absence of child-like wonder means we lose much of what everyday life has to offer: family, friends, festivals, leisure, hobbies, nature... in sum, the 'real' us. In cinematic narrative, special effects are often used to accentuate or facilitate human pursuits. In real life too, they can be a means to an end but no more than that because there is no substitute for human action.