So before we start, please check out this trailer for the upcoming movie Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart.
So – what do you think? It’s got an All Star cast, what looks like constant action and a very patriotic concept that the American people at least are sure to love. Sure, I noticed all of those things. Let me tell you what really caught my eye though. What I noticed first and foremost, was what appeared to me to be some of the most horrifyingly bad, cartoon looking special effects in recent memory (at least for a movie of this stature and what I’m sure is at least a reasonable budget).
From the car falling in the water to the plane crash. The horrible explosions on the white house, to the icing on the cake in my opinion, the computerized American flag falling gracefully from the top of the President’s humble abode. It’s all just bad. Bad, bad, bad. Word on the street is that the special effects for the movie were outsourced to Bulgaria, for reasons that I would assume to be financial. I don’t know enough about Bulgaria’s special effects industry to know what that means exactly, but I think in this case it’s safe to say you get what you pay for.
My question, however, is why? The film’s director Antoine Fuqua, is known mostly for his fantastic, gritty, crime thriller Training Day that garnered Denzel Washington his well deserved Oscar. Some of his other work, such as Shooter and Brooklyn’s Finest have lived in that same vein, with relatively minimal frills, but instead concentrating on the quality acting and gritty, hard nosed atmosphere. So that makes me wonder, simply, why?
I would like to make it known, that in no way do I consider special effects to to be at the top of my list of importance when it comes to my view of a film. More often than not, the best movies are those that tell a great story with fantastic acting, regardless of big names, and big bangs. However, I have to admit that I am of the attitude that if you choose to do Special Effects, then by goodness, do them well. Or at least make them decent for God’s sake. Great examples would be Jurassic Park, or most recently, The Dark Knight Rises, which in my opinion contained some of the most seamless, fantastic and realistic special effects ever filmed. I understand, that sometimes it just isn’t possible, and that is the nature of the beast, but in an ideal world, if you are able to tell it is a computerized special effect, then quite frankly it isn’t “special” at all, and should not be in your movie. This rule is waived for low budget films perhaps, but in the world of big bucks, either get it right, or tone down the screenplay a little!
Historically we have seen a wide of special effects quality, and some bad special effects can truly ruin what may have the potential to be a decent, or even great movie. Now, comedy movies and to SOME extent, super hero and comic book movies may get a pass here. Comedies, it really doesn’t matter and comic book movies can’t really help it. However, the biggest crime is when you want to present something that appears remotely realistic and you make it look like a cartoon. Let’s think about some of the worst special effects moments in recent movie memory, and I don’t know about you but for me when I was done with the film these moments were really all I could remember.
Deep Blue Sea
There is something very, very scary about sharks. They are terrifying to many people, and for good reason. But these odd, darting computerized creatures are completely absurd and took any thrill or realism out of a movie that already was on the borderline or being a stinker. The worst moment – well….
I Am Legend
Will, you know I love you, and this wasn’t your fault. In fact, most people loved this film. I loved the first 45 minutes or so, and it was shaping up to be a dark, gritty, emotional and somewhat thrilling movie. Then these guys showed up….
Die Another Day
Perhaps my all time favorite moment in horrible special effects history, is Pierce Brosnan parachuting/surfing to escape an ice cap on the ocean. Now, this is a difficult one to film and obviously, it is going to require some special effects and I accept that it will not be perfect. What really, really, REALLY irritates me though, is that they just had to add in a close up. I honestly believe I could have “video-shopped” Pierce into a background and created a better effort than this one. YouTube it if you get a chance, this image probably doesn’t do it justice.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Okay folks, it’s hard for me to believe that this one doesn’t take the cake, but there is one worse. However, this one cut me really deep, due to my immense love for the Indiana Jones series. This was really unforgivable, and for anyone who has seen the episode of South Park where Harrison Ford gets, well, yeah…. this was the reason that scene was made. Shia Labeouf swinging through the jungle on vines, with a group of monkeys. Stop it!! Just, stop it. Oh and a car bounces off some tree branches too. What gets me is that it just wasn’t necessary, or vital to the film. It wasn’t even a good scene. (There is actually a worse violation in this film, but it would spoil the plot and in case you haven’t seen it, I will leave that one alone!)
Winner: The Mummy Returns
Well, this wasn’t a fantastic film as it is. But, I mean, come on. It wasn’t THAT bad. The Mummy was an entertaining film. This one was a guilty pleasure sequel, and it had some fun moments. But at the end of the day, what this film did within the realm of special effects was truly, utterly and completely ridiculous. I’m not even going to say any more. Just consider that what you are about to see, the abomination in front of you, was moving around and interacting with real life human beings on my movie screen. That’s all I’ll say. Lord, forgive them, as they know not what they do.
Well, does it get any worse than that. Oh boy.
Now, let’s remember, it can be done. Films like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy did an unbelievable job. Granted, the they had their moments, like the tree creatures for instance, but they were at least respectable. Avatar set new standards, but they did have a budget the size of the fiscal deficit in the United States, so that doesn’t really count.
The gold standard for me was set by The Dark Knight Rises this past year, blending real life action, with scaled models, amazing sets and a little sprinkling of flawless CGI.
Truly a visual masterpiece. Please, film makers, take notes. If you can’t make it look real, don’t make it look at all. Find an alternative, and make that work instead. In some cases, I truly believe that by including what sounds like a fantastic scene into your film, using poor special effects, you can hurt your film drastically and more than you can possibly hurt it by not including the scene at all.