For movie audiences, "cheap" has become a synonym for "bad." If you read about a sci-fi action flick made for less than what you paid for your car, you'd assume it looks like a high school drama club production that a Baldwin brother wandered into. But if they spent more than Micronesia's GDP on one film? Shit yeah, sign us up!
That's why it's ironic that some of the coolest special effects in famous big-budget Hollywood movies were done with stuff you could go out and buy right now (without going bankrupt, we mean). For instance ...
7The T-Rex Walk From Jurassic Park Was A Plucked Guitar String
What makes the original Jurassic Park so freakin' great is the incredible level of effort and attention to detail that went into the visual effects. Steven Spielberg filmed most of it with animatronic dinosaurs, puppets, and Jeff Goldblum's actual chest hair, relying on CGI a mere five times to continue and improve upon his legacy of scaring the hell out of children for huge sacks of money.
It's thanks to that attention to detail that Spielberg and crew managed to turn a shot of a plastic cup into one of the most ominous and memorable moments in movie history. We're talking about the iconic scene in which the cup of water in the jeep ripples, signaling to the audience that it's time to clench up, because Big Mama T-Rex is about to stealth-stomp her way out of a nearby thicket of trees and eat someone whose name didn't receive top billing.
These cups have more personality than Jurassic World's leads.
Turns out that this effect owes everything to the sick bass line of '70s pop supergroup Earth, Wind and Fire. The story goes like this: Spielberg was driving along in his car one day, grooving to a tasty jam, when he noticed that his rear view mirror was vibrating with the bass. Because Spielberg is Spielberg, he thought, "Hey, this would be a great way to let people know a big-ass monster is coming." Blasting "Shining Star" at full volume next to a glass of water wouldn't cut it, though -- they tried that. In fact, hey tried various methods and talked to different sound experts, but nothing could get the perfectly circular ripples Spielberg was looking for. Even Kubrick would have said, "Bro, it's just a water cup. Let it go."
Or, alternatively, terrorized the water until it reacted accordingly.
Michael Lantieri, head of special dinosaur effects, eventually noodled around on his guitar until he figured out the precise note necessary to make the water ripple. That's right: While actors were doing their best to look scared beyond all rational thought in the heart-pounding T-Rex scene, there was a guy lying under the jeep, strumming a guitar string over and over. That's acting.
6The T-1000 In Terminator 2 Was Mercury And A Hairdryer
As a result of a long-running interdimensional pay dispute between James Cameron and The Singularity, Terminator 2 wasn't able to feature real killer liquid metal robots from the future, as the storyline demanded. So, as we've previously covered, they had to make do with the next-best thing: a shitload of terrifying models and animatronics, and surprisingly little CGI.
And an off-screen existential crisis by Robert Patrick.
We've already mentioned how the "opening up Arnie's head" moment was done with Linda Hamilton's twin sister and a faked mirror -- but even by those standards, the famous foundry scene at the end was impressively low-tech. Remember when the T-1000 explodes into pieces of liquid metal, only for the droplets to start converging into the stern-faced embodiment of the phrase "smug dickhead"?
Ah, this is where the T-1000 merges with Saddam Hussein's dog, right?
It's easily one of the most gut-wrenching, hope-sucking scenes in the movie, and totally embodies how unbelievably impossible this whole "killing murderbots from the future" thing really is. And all it took in reality was a blow-dryer and a beaker of mercury. What you're seeing above is a rewound shot of a pool of mercury being blown outwards by the dryer. Here's the same shot, but how it would have originally looked while being filmed:
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We don't know what health and safety standards were like back in the early '90s, but we'd argue that splashing a quart of mercury around the set would have been more dangerous than anything we saw in the movie. It's certainly more dangerous than the pool of molten steel that's present in pretty much every shot -- in reality, it's a mixture of oil and sugar. On the plus side, this made the pool shine with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. On the down side, it kinda makes Robert Patrick look like he's having a major sugar rush in his dying moments.
Or like he disobeyed Willy Wonka's orders during the factory tour.