The worst special effects of the digital age of cinema
Joshua Rothkopf and David Ehrlich
We’re always bringing you the best, so this time, we throught we’d take a look at worst. Here’s our pick of the glaringly, ruinously and hilariously fake special effects of the digital age.
The shark in Jaws, the T. rex in Jurassic Park and E.T. in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – Steven Spielberg’s iconic trio of movie creatures all had one thing in common: they were all ‘practical’ effects. That is, all three of those non-human characters were actually constructed by prop makers and captured on camera just like any of their human co-stars. That’s not the case with Jurassic World, where your favourite dinosaurs from the original (as well as some monstrous new ones) were mostly created by computers and added into the movie during post-production. As today’s summer blockbusters make all too clear, computer-generated imagery (CGI) is still a work-in-progress. We count down ten of the most egregiously awful examples in big-budget movies in which a puppet or two would have meant money better spent…
10. Deep Blue Sea (1999), shark attack There’s a kind of zany fun to be had with Renny Harlin’s ridiculous-looking nautical thriller about genetically engineered sharks: ‘Bigger, smarter, faster, meaner’ went the tagline. But unless helpless laughter was the intended effect, the film fails miserably – never more apparently than in the scene in which Samuel L. Jackson gets chomped mid-rant.
9. The Matrix Reloaded (2003), the Burly Brawl The scene that inspired producer Joel Silver to claim that the Wachowskis had raised the bar for special effects so high that ‘now there is no bar’, the sight of Neo fighting a phalanx of Agent Smiths looks exactly like a man fighting a computer program. While that may have been the idea, the weightlessness of the visuals make the stakes feel so low that the movie can never recover from the silliness.
8. I Am Legend (2007), the Infected The first 40 minutes of this post-apocalyptic spectacle, in which Will Smith plays the only person on Earth who hasn’t been transformed into a sprinting cannibalistic zombie, are actually quite chilling and atmospheric. And then the Infected come out of the shadows. Rather than casting a feral army of human extras to play the undead, director Francis Lawrence defaulted to an endless wave of identically bald CGI baddies.
7. Eyes Wide Shut (1999), masquerade silhouettes This would be Stanley Kubrick’s final film – the director died of a heart attack six days after screening his final cut. Shamefully, the studio decided to alter his last offering, softening some of the risqué masquerade party scenes with black CGI silhouettes that spoil the mood. Roger Ebert famously slammed the manoeuvre, calling the altered cut the Austin Powers version.
6. Hulk (2003), any shot of the Hulk The idea of master filmmaker Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) doing a Hulk movie was rapturously received, and if we’re being honest, his effort, loaded with psychodrama and complexity, turned out to be a lot more interesting than most superhero movies. But persuasive CGI effects were beyond the director’s grasp.
5. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Mutt of the Jungle We happen to think that this maligned fourth instalment of the Indiana Jones saga has a lot going for it, but Shia LaBeouf’s ‘Mutt’ Williams is a major misstep, and the infamous sequence in which he swings above a high-speed chase is downright indefensible. Combining bad green screen, worse compositing and some CGI monkeys for good measure, this is the least believable moment in a movie that ends with aliens using the power of raw knowledge to disintegrate a Russian Cate Blanchett.
4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), the troll All told, the Harry Potter films do a great job of conjuring a believable world of magic, but the series didn’t exactly hit the ground running. The first film – the one where Voldemort is a digital face smushed into the back of a lackey’s skull – bottoms out with a scene in which Harry and his pals fight a troll so fake that it defies any sense of movie magic.
3. The Mummy Returns (2001), the Scorpion King No list of CGI disasters is complete without a nod to The Mummy Returns, which ends with a fight between Brendan Fraser and this hilarious chimera of digital sloppiness that resulted from someone trying to photoshop The Rock’s head onto the body of a giant scorpion. Not even the likes of Sharknado insulted the mind as thoroughly.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1997), young Jabba Released to celebrate the 20th anniversary (of George Lucas’ bank account), the Special Editions of the original trilogy weren’t loved by anybody. But even with those schlocky new droids and the ‘Han shot first’ controversy, the worst offender was a fake-looking Jabba the Hutt, never properly integrated into his awkward scene with Harrison Ford.
1. Die Another Day (2002), glacier surfing The 20th Bond film had plenty that was wrong with it – from excessive product placement and gadgetry to an overabundance of Halle Berry. But its absolute nadir (possibly of the whole franchise) was the sight of then-Bond Pierce Brosnan’s parasurfing over a fake CGI tsunami and crumbling ice glacier. Come on, guys: can’t you do better?