• Joshua Buck

Spectacle and Immersion in Cinema

Technology changed the way we viewed moving image. Cinema is heavily reliant on technological determinism – the idea that a society’s values are driven by technology. Since the introduction of the of the Lumière brothers innovative Cinématographe technological advances have shaped cinema. Unlike the first motion capture of a horse running which required a multiple camera set up Roundhay (1888) was the first ever footage captured by one camera change to more recent times with technological change coming in terms of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) filmed on the Red Epic cameras 5k with a high frame rate to bring a new look to offer a new spectacle to cinema and its audiences.

Spectacle is a critical part of cinema that not only drives the audience to go see the new technology in action on the big screen but for the industry it provides new ways to tell stories and new ways for technology to be used to create or enhance the stories. Avatar (2009) is ‘inciting a visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle – a unique event… that is of interest in itself’ (Gunning 1990: 58). James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) where the majority of the movie used motion capture and was the first film to use motion capture on the face to capture the detail of facial features and facial movements such as the change in the shape of the actor’s eyes with expressions. It therefore sets the bar for cinema to use Avatar (2009) as a base layer of what technological innovations should be and we have seen this with the increasing use of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) in the industry. This will further enhance spectacle element of cinema creating a more immersive experience for cinema. However, this does not come without its disadvantages. If used incorrectly it will stand out like a sore thumb and will break the immersion of the audience with the narrative spectacle of the screen. An example of poorly executed spectacle in cinema is Warcraft (2016). This film although had global financial success didn’t achieve financial success domestically (See picture attached below) you could argue flopped domestically not even achieving $10million. You could argue that this could be due to the fact that the CGI was poorly executed and stood out and stood out like a sore thumb. This breaks the wall of the immersion as the audience is drawn to the spectacle meaning they are taken out of the film and getting distracted by the production of the movie rather than being immersed in the narrative of the story.

Spectacle can come in many forms however, not just CGI but in the forms of digital effects, 3D, IMAX as a format or even the example that I previously used in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) which ‘Jackson is clearly suggesting HFR, at 48fps will [offer] an enhanced theatrical experience’ (Turnock 2013:42) suffered backlash for offering spectacle that was not seen as delivering ‘an aesthetic… in which the look of HFR too closely resembles high definition television’ (Turnock 2013:31). I therefore theorise that the audience aren’t immersed in the nature of the film as it resembled television more than film so it didn’t look right on the ‘big screen’.

To conclude, technology is the driving force of the film industry and will continue to push the boundaries of cinema meaning that technological determinism is the driving force between film and its audiences. Therefore, creating a more of a ‘blurring of the line between what is real and what is virtual’ (Joe Kosinski). However, it has to be used correctly that carries the story forward and the audience doesn’t realise it much creating a more immersive experience.


1. Gunning, Tom. 1990. “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-garde.” Wide Angle 8 (3/4), Fall 1986. In Early Cinema: Space, Frame Narrative, edited by Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker. London: British Film Institute

2. Turnock, J. (2013). Removing the pane of glass: The Hobbit, 3D high frame rate filmmaking, and the rhetoric of digital convergence. Film Criticism, 30-59.

3. Mottle, J. Interview with Joe Konsinski (Director of Tron: Legacy). Cgarchitect. 20.2.2011


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