The 5 Most Pointless Ways Big Budget Movies Blew Millions
Movie budgets have gotten so large that it's almost impossible to imagine just what it is they're spending these hundreds of millions on. Well, as with most Hollywood stories, the reality seems more unrealistic than even the worst special effect.
You can't really examine some of the more interesting expenditures in Hollywood history without bringing up Kevin Costner's $175 million albatross. Cracked's covered some of the VFX work on this shitshow previously (they CGI'd his goddamn hairline?) but the tale of the single most expensive visual in the film is too full of schadenfreude to pass up:
Universal paid $22 million for a quarter-mile long set called "The Atoll," representing the floating junkpile that our piss-drinking, gilled Costner-Mutant finds himself on. Kevin convinced Universal that for the utmost verisimilitude, they had to film on the ocean. But instead of then just filming on the ocean, they built a massive tank...in the ocean, just off the coast of Hawaii.
And then they built a giant set that depleted all the available steel in Hawaii. It weighed 1000-tons, cost $22 million and contained approximately no bathrooms. The crew didn't like the idea of swimming and filming in their own filth, so costs rose as crewmembers had to be ferried back and forth to the island just to use the collection of port-a-potties outside their living quarters, which were old, uninsulated condominiums. By contrast, Costner slept in a villa, complete with a butler, a chef and private swimming pool while collecting a $14 million salary.
When it came time to shoot, they put the set they built in the tank they built. One thing they didn't take into account: Floating cities with no means of propulsion are hard to move. When a hurricane warning was issued in the middle of shooting, they had no choice but sit back while the fucking thing sank. Costner's career followed shortly.
Alan Moore's magnum opus was largely considered to be unfilmable, and the snotty, pretentious negative nancies who went on record with that opinion were proved wrong in 2009: You COULD film Watchmen, if you had 130 million bucks on hand, and the balls of adamantium necessary to absorb the swift kicks from fanboys accepting nothing less than a sweet, slow porkbath from Alan Moore himself.
We can't be sure he wouldn't enjoy doing that.
Of that insane budget, $17 million went towards the realization of Dr. Manhattan. The motion-capture footage of Billy Crudup wearing space jammies was processed and finessed by squads of animators. Brilliant minds set to massaging light scatter algorithms and miniaturizing millions of tiny atomic reactions just under his translucent blue skin. And yes, it's true: There were people whose job it was to ensure Dr. Manhattans dick had proper jiggle physics. When one of your stars is a Giant Blue Superhero who is both figuratively and literally the world's biggest swinging dick, you'd better make sure that shit swings correctly. Especially when all 40-feet of it will be wagging in the breeze up on IMAX screens.
So much money could have been saved.
Maybe it was due to all that focus on tiny dermatological nuclear explosions, or finely calculated dick dangle algorithms, but it seems strange that they spent $17 million alone on Dr. Manhattan and they couldn't get his fucking mouth to work right. Jon Osterman isn't a very emotional character, but Jar Jar Binks's lips flapped more realistically than the Doc's did during most of Watchmen. And since actors tend to do their emoting through their face, rather than their groin, filmgoers probably would have been fine with allocating some of the cock budget towards an increased effort to make Manhattan a little less like an irradiated, well-hung muppet.
Bruce the animatronic shark is one of the most well-known and well beloved special effects in film history. There's even an independent documentary, The Shark is Still Working, that details the impact of that one special effect, and how it transformed Steven Spielberg from snot-nosed film brat to one of the princes of New Hollywood. One of the main focuses of that documentary? Spielberg and almost everyone on set thought Bruce was a fucking piece of shit. And to be fair, he pretty much was.
Bruce never knew.
Jaws wasn't scheduled to be a very expensive movie by modern standards, only $4 million. Spielberg (after being convinced he couldn't use real, trained sharks, a lesson further expanded upon in the unintentionally hilarious Deep Blue Sea) paid for three animatronic sharks, at a cost of $150,000 each, or roughly about quarter of the budget. The delays and repairs he had to make on the sharks, which had never been tested in the water, often sank like great white turds to the bottom of the ocean. In one instance, one of the sharks shorted out and exploded, inciting panic attacks so severe Spielberg would wake up on set completely paralyzed. Bruce ended up doubling the film's budget when it was all was said and done, and only appears in the film when they couldn't get decent free stock footage to replace him.
"Find stock footage of this, assholes!"
It's not as if Spielberg couldn't have seen this coming. The damn thing almost accidentally decapitated George Lucas during an after-hours set visit: While showing off his shark, Lucas stuck his pompadour'd head in between the jaws of Jaws, laughing as Spielberg worked a remote control that operated Bruce's gaping maw. Spielberg, channeling his inner Johnny Knoxville, clamped the jaw shut on Lucas. But the hydraulics broke, trapping Lucas neck-first. Spielberg and John Milius basically beat on the thing until the jaws popped back open, at which point Spielberg ran away from his own set like a little girl. It's a good thing it happened to young Lucas; if this occurred now, Bruce would have punctured George's goiter, loosing a tsunami of failgravy that would have drowned most of Southern California.
Bryan Singer spent a lot of money (somewhere around $175-200 million) on his mopey love-letter to Richard Donner's 1978 classic. Some of it went to creating digital Supermen to throw around Space Shuttles and stalk Kate Bosworth. Some of it went towards making dingy swimsuits with mankini underwear made out of recycled basketballs. But for all the money spent on Emoman Lifts Successively Heavier Things: The Vague Sequel, two of the biggest effects expenditures saw little to no screentime at all.
But they left in all the lifting.
Singer set about five minutes of his two- and a half-hour movie in Smallville, Kansas. Being that he was filming in Australia, there weren't that many cornfields on which to build the Kent homestead. Instead of studying his script, realizing that almost every scene in Smallville was completely unnecessary, and cutting the location out completely, Singer built a four-mile road outside of Tamworth, Australia, and grew a cornfield for four months to shoot on. He then deleted two-thirds of the sequences he shot with the cornfield, because after first viewing he realized his movie was really fucking boring and nothing happens.
"I'm just noticing this scene is pointless. Perhaps if we had you lift something..."
Another sequence he lost was a scene where Superman, in a spaceship (even though they show him meditating in space later in the movie) examines the shattered remains of Krypton. Shots of it could be seen in the trailers, and word was it lent the film a creepy, otherworldly vibe. Since Singer had creepy and otherworldly covered with the introduction of Superbastard, the Dead-Eyed Piano Slinging Asthmatic to the story, on top of the fact everyone knows Krypton exploded, he cut the sequence. He replaced it with white text on black background, which just as effectively brought the audience up to speed on why Supes left, and where he went. Cost of replacement? Maybe five bucks. Cost of deleted Krypton scene? $10 million.
There's usually a couple observances a moviegoers make upon experiencing the orgy of 'splosion and flame that is ID4: 1) There's no way the fucking dog should have lived, and 2) That was some pretty good CGI, wasn't it?
While there were a few instances of computer generated airplanes, and laser beams, most of the $75 million budget went towards building models and miniatures, then blowing them all up with the sort of glee backwoods rednecks take in shoving firecrackers up some poor roadkill's pucker. And why not spend it on the 'splodies? Like they're going to spend it on the script? You only need one line, and it's "Welcome to Earf," which very well may have been ad-libbed since that's just how Will Smith says hello to everybody.
"I think I broke my hand on your exoskeleton."
Basically, if it got blown up onscreen, it actually got built and blown up. The most well-known example is the White House explosion. It cost well over $2 million alone once you factor in the construction of the 1/12th scale model, the nine cameras shooting the explosion in slo-mo, and the footage being turned into a Super Bowl commercial. They blew up so much balsa wood and plastic on set that even the deleted scenes were rigged with explosives, including a sequence where a replica of the bus from Speed crashes through a billboard for Stargate. This scene exemplified Roland Emmerich's concept of "subtlety," which is why it was cut from the final film.
Scene from Emmerich's unreleased remake of Grapes of Wrath.
This seems like a pretty inefficient method of wrecking the world, until you realize that the cost-cutting nature of CGI is largely a myth. Sure, movies like District 9 manage impressive visuals with a budget of $40 million or less, but look at something like Spider-Man 3: They spent about $300 million making Lowell from Wings into talking cat litter, and transforming Eric Foreman into the creamy nougat filling at the center of Venom. Suddenly $70 million worth of cherry bombs and models sounds (and looks) pretty damned good.
Check out Bobby's pop-culture mashups and remixes over at the Geek Remixed page one his site. For more cinematic WTF-ery, check out 20 Baffling Foreign Movie Posters and 7 Horrifying Moments from Classic Kids Movies.
And check out College Humor's trailer for Blue People.