Movie Mettle is a weekly column for moviegoers with weak constitutions. Wish you had the balls to sit through the goriest of horror movies? Want to build up your resistance to weepy rom-coms? Each week we’ll give you a range of five movies that will test your limits, you cinematic thrillseeker, you.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle associated with Sunday’s Academy Awards, with the folks behind Visual Effects feeling that they got shortchanged in relation to all the Best Actor/Actress winners. I too believe that non-actor nominees should get just as much time to thank their loved ones before the Jaws theme ushers them off the stage.
However, while this week’s Movie Mettle addresses VFX/SFX, it’s not about the kinds of people who get nominated for Oscars. Oh, no. I want to highlight the worst, laziest, most inexplicable examples of special effects in film. The kinds of stuff where you figure there was no budget, or the visual effects supervisor was on something. This week’s spectrum will start you off easy with the kind of retroactive CGI enhancement that’ll make your eye twitch… going all the way to a completely ridiculous action sequence that should never have come to fruition.
Strap in, kiddos.
Warm-Up: Star Wars: A New Hope[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-ufJAp6meU&hl=en_US&version=3]
That is, the Special Edition I’m talking about as your first travesty of CGI. The initial impulse was good: George Lucas always envisioned the giant sluglike Jabba the Hutt confronting Han before the Millennium Falcon leaves Mos Eisley, but he lacked the proper effects in the ’70s. However, they did shoot the scene with a portly actor and, for one of the early-’00s releases, tinkered around with the existing footage. There were two problems:
1) Jabba looked cartoonish, nowhere near as intimidating as he did in Return of the Jedi.
2) They didn’t account for Jabba’s actual bulk, so Harrison Ford is walking around and alongside another human. The only way to rationalize it with the CGI Jabba? Have Han step on his tail in a cheesy little bit. Sigh. They should’ve just scrapped this scene.
See also 2011’s The Green Lantern. Maybe we could’ve stood behind Ryan Reynolds’ literal green-screen costume, but the weirdly flat magical realm of Oa? 2-D is what computer graphics are supposed to move away from. Not to mention these alien Green Lantern Corps members are supposed to be engaging and inspiring, and instead they look like puppets with awkward frozen facial expressions.
Novice: Die Another Day[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NWihcuU_MI&version=3&hl=en_US]
I always remember the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies as being unforgivably cheesy. Obviously they’re still fun, but it’s difficult to take James Bond seriously when you’re laughing at how implausible his chase scenes are. TotalFilm detailed everything wrong with the scene where Bond escapes a melting ice cap using a canoe and a parachute: It’s so bad that you can see where the canoe is connected to the water. Where’s the sense of danger we associate with Bond?
There seems to be a trend of not being able to find the videos for the sequences in question, but this other chase scene from Die Another Day — involving Bond’s “invisible car” and the villain’s ice palace — is pretty indicative of the quality of the effects.
Intermediate: Escape from LA[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_E9ebt1a_s&version=3&hl=en_US]
It’s not news that we were willing to accept Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975 because of how sparely the filmmaker actually used the animatronic shark. We mostly relied on suspense and that great score to carry our fear of the deadly shark. Twenty years later, Escape from LA could’ve taken that lesson to heart. Instead, they give us an underwater Los Angeles and a shark that inspires more giggles than gasps. And yet, because it’s such an enjoyably over-the-top movie, it hits the halfway mark on our list.
In lieu of the cheesy shark video, here’s a 45-second clip that makes me want to rent this movie immediately.
Expert: The Mummy Returns[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYHaarxQTFk&version=3&hl=en_US]
Now this is just plain offensive—to The Rock and to moviemaking. I know this was early in his acting career, but the CGI to turn him into the Scorpion King makes him look like an eerily smooth-faced action figure. The worst part is when this computerized monstrosity almost approximates The Rock’s infamous eyebrow arch. The man is one of the more expressive actors of his time! Let him shine!
No wonder they released The Scorpion King a few years later. They had to redeem him somehow.
BAMF: Atlas Shrugged II[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCTvfBqHDzM&hl=en_US&version=3] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM-0Ywc7wNY&hl=en_US&version=3]
Movie Mezzanine’s Danny Bowes recently braved this unnecessary second installment of Ayn Rand’s novel. The usual thematic issues aside, especially upsetting was a ridiculous train scene. You wanna know why the shot of a train grinding to a halt with sparks flying everywhere seemed out of place with the rest of the film? Because it’s not from this movie! The folks who made Atlas Shrugged II got permission from 20th Century Fox to cannibalize footage from Unstoppable. Yes, the action flick starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. This definitely beats expressionless humans and ridiculous water stunts.
Have a genre of movie, specific trope, or actor that you wish you could sit through? Leave your request in the comments and I might take it on in a future column!