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Top Ten Bizarre Movie Special Effects of All Time

  • Dec 4, 2010
  • by
Some are plain awful, some are inventive, but others are just well bizarre...
The Terminator

Stan Winston, forever the bellweather in movie special effects, skipped the million-dollar puppets and Oscar-winning animatronics for this finale in James Cameron's classic movie. Cue to 1:36 in the clip above, and the image of the crushed terminator head is a $62 million industrial robot destroyed for 3 seconds of film.

Really? No. It's actually some aluminum kitchen foil, a red LED and Stan blowing cigarette smoke into the 8" set. There's nothing like getting inventive in post production when you've blown the budget. Nice work!
Star Wars Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

You could practically fill the list with just George Lucas hacks, but this one stands out in the List of Bizarre mainly because it's completely unnecessary. Replacing a pretty decent puppet with some of the ropiest CGI ever rendered is a decision that fans of the franchise have been questioning for years.

Note the dreadful texture mapping and plating, and especially enjoy some of the "bad physics" of where Harrison Ford is standing in relation to Jabba. Why George, why?
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Oh what the hell - let's throw another Star Wars clip into the mix. Yoda's fight scenes were basically hysterical. Positioned somewhere between a rapid chipmunk and a ferret with a Starbucks addiction, the greatest Jedi knight was reduced to a light saber-wielding blur of CGI irrelevance.

You hear that cracking sound? That's the sound of your childhood dreams being trampled by George Lucas. Again.
Total Recall

Produced before CGI arrived to ruin everything, the head-splitting scene remains a tricky animatronics effect that's just plain strange. Stuck with the problem of having to put an Arnie robot head instead the disguise head, the scene has endless scale problems (watch how many times the head changes size) and they just couldn't make Arnie look real. That had problems making realistic eyes and teeth in other scenes in the movie, but this one stands out as - you know - bizarre.
See the full review, "Pure Ahhhrrnold at his best".
The Mummy Returns (2001)

Following the quality trajectory of M Night ShYamalyan career, The Mummy started reasonably then jumped in the Great Hollywood Abyss with sequel after dismal sequel. But the Lawnmower Man rendering of the Rock is completely out of place amidst other film-grade effects - it's like somebody forgot to do the final rendering pass before leaving the office for the weekend. It's not just strange - it's bizarre!

For extra credit, let's add the abominable snowmen from the fourth Mummy outing. Note to budding computer animators: don't try to get a hair-covered creature right before you figure out how to turn on the computer.
Hulk (Widescreen 2-Disc Special Edition) (2003)

There was much pre-release fanfare about the Hulk and a massive rumor about how the CGI was so incredibly realistic that George Lucas had soiled himself from afar. They hid all the detail from the trailer on the basis that it might cause the audience's eyes to bleed, but the actual secret was that the effects were just unwatchably terrible.

Unfortunately, since he was the lead character, it pretty much torpedoed the film. Well, after the script laid the initial depth charges.
Van Helsing (Widescreen Edition) (2004)

Stephen Sommers, winner of the M Night Award for Producing Unwatchable Sh*t, underwhelms audiences again with a film that manages to disappoint on every possible level. Not content with thoroughly trashing the Mummy franchise, Sommers decides to take on Universal's monster library and jump up and down gleefully on their legacy. Achieving the high holy pisspot of god-awful storytelling, Sommers also manages to simultaneously waste our time and bore viewers spectacularly.

But lest I get carried away with this enormously large and expensive pile of crap, I would submit the "open mouth" effect that you can find at around 6:30 in the clip above. Presumably something happened to this director as a child that makes him fearful of people opening their mouths too wide, as it's the same freaking thing that all Mummy monsters did too. It makes no sense but more importantly this unnecessary and poor effect is just bizarre.
The Matrix Reloaded (Widescreen Edition) (2003)

The much heralded Burly Brawl sequence is proof that you can have too much of a good thing. The novelty of the slo-mo wire work in the first film was pushed the max in the first sequel, suspending our disbelief high enough to give it permanent vertigo.

There was a lot of talk about the multiplying effect of Hugo Weaving and the chasmic leaps forward in CGI - it's all very impressive until you realize that half of the doubles in the sequence really don't look like him at all. And that's bizarre.
King Kong

Also a well-qualified candidate for the Unnecessary Remakes List, I started watching King Kong in 2005 and it's still not finished. The budget for Kong made the bail-outs look like small change, and yet the monster effects are really bad. Mixing Michael Bay-style fast editing with Jerry Bruckheimer's common sense, physics and general disdain for movie-making, Peter Jackson makes the audience wonder what's going on before finally not caring.

I think I was about 5 years old when Tron arrived, and even then I thought it was very un-Disney and couldn't work out what they were trying to do.

Nearly two decades later, Disney has inexplicably decided to reboot this bomb, and given us a more polished version of CGI in a scene that still doesn't make any sense. Is it strange? Kind of. Is it bizarre? Absolutely.

What did you think of this list?

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December 06, 2010
Interesting list and yes I agree tha the Yoda light sabre battle was a let down, it is way to fast and completely lacking in drama and suspense and you put it precisely just a " saber-wielding blur of CGI irrelevance."
December 06, 2010
I think this is the curse of much CGI work. Somehow the limitations of practical effects, puppets and in-camera shots almost force a more realistic shot that involves the audience. I'm not sure why, but I've been through enough Transformers-style CGI editing to take a bathroom break whenever the action starts up.
December 06, 2010
TRON!!! Ha, awesome list! :)
December 06, 2010
Thanks! Wired is really trying to push the new Tron in this issue - I think the Disney lobbyists have gotten to them... squeak squeak.
December 06, 2010
Yeah, a lot of people are making a huge deal out of it. Tickets are already available on Fandango!
December 06, 2010
This was a fun list! I cringe every time I see the "fixes" in the updated classic Star Wars films and all of the CGI in the prequels. As for other films on the list, I actually enjoyed the terrible campiness of the Mummy flicks and Van Helsing. The Hulk was a joke from the word, "Action!"
December 06, 2010
Thanks! Yes, it's amazing how Lucas descended from his position as a pioneer of SFX... so sad.
December 05, 2010
Very amusing and entertaining! Seems like that's your trademark these days. Keep them coming, you are going to make me die laughing one of these days. Now I need to finish that list....for some reason, I can't get back into the mood of list-making. I am with you, I am not sure why # 5 is being remade or rebooted or whaever. You forgot about Japanese splatter-arterial sprays and the powdery blood in Hitman. LOL!
December 05, 2010
Thanks! Lunch is now my low-cost entertainment outlet in the new economy. Good point on the arterial sprays, lol.
December 04, 2010
Very funny, as usual. And I couldn't agree with you more. When it comes to Lucas, I think he has just become so enraptured with technology that he feels he has to use it anywhere and everywhere--whether people like it or not. (I think he may have a bit of a God complex.) With a lot of movies like TOTAL RECALL the effects people were still thinking like film makers and not cognizant of the fact that their work was going to undergo endless hours of scrutiny via video tape. Sommers' 'open mouth mummy syndrome" has carried over to almost all computer generated monsters. Remember the vampires or whatever they were in I AM LEGEND? Same thing. I try very hard not to think about KONG. I really wanted to love it. I even own a copy. For me the only unforgiveable special effects sequence was that dinosaur stampede--it looked like a damned video game.
December 05, 2010
Thanks! I must have seen Total Recall several thousand times now, so I might be getting uber-picky. I'd totally forgotten about I am Legend and how they'd copied the stretchy-mouth thingy - it's really strange why that effect is so popular.
December 05, 2010
Yoou see it so much that it drives me nutso. It would make my list of most hated Hollywood cliches--right behind the hero casually walking towards the camera as some edifice blows up in back of him. I really loathe that one.
December 05, 2010
Yes, or the "closing the bathroom mirror to reveal a ghost/monster/serial killer" shot.... wait, that's the movie cliche list. :-)
December 05, 2010
Oh yeah that's a really tired one too. Do you have a movie cliche list? There certainly should be one. Whenever I see a cat in a movie I count the minutes until it's demise--they just never let them live. And they're always being throw in peoples' faces as they (people) creep down dark hallways.
December 06, 2010
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James Beswick ()
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Lunch.com's "token Brit".
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