Matte painting holds a dear place in my heart. There is something other worldly about it, even if it’s a rendering of a common setting. Digital matte art I really don’t have too many qualms about, but knowing the art is hand painted makes it a bit more special.
Matte paintings seem to stay with you more than any other establishing shot probably due to knowing that it isn’t real. It’s an abstraction. CGI strives so damn hard on achieving realism, that it misses the point of film as an art form.
They are at their most effective when placed at the end. Some of the best film endings conclude with a matte shot with the camera slowly zooming out to add to the dramatic punch. Planet of the Apes, Kingdom of the Spiders, Raiders of the Lost Ark and probably one of the last hand painted matte endings, From Dusk Till Dawn are some of the best around.
There is a book out there called The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Paintings which looks like it might very well be the coolest coffee table book ever. If I had $380.00 I would be able to find out.