6 Special Effects Flaws You Never Noticed (And Can't Unsee)
There's a fine line between special effects that make you think you're soaring through another galaxy and special effects that make you realize you're staring at a dude in front of a green screen who's counting the minutes before lunch. Nothing ruins a gripping story or an intense firefight quite like bad special effects, which is why we're here to point out a whole bunch of examples for you. Enjoy the list, because you'll never enjoy these movies again.
Zombie Hands Are Perfect
We all just accept that the survivors of the zombie apocalypse in The Walking Dead (or in any of 8,000 other zombie stories) are attractive and have great skin and hair, even though they've been mucking around in zombie guts and the ruins of civilization for years. It would just be too long and tedious to ugly our heroes up for every shot, only to clean them up again so they can interact with polite society. Besides, not a lot of viewers want to tune in every week to watch dirty, dirty people. But if you're going to go through hours of painstaking effort to make the zombies look like nightmarish creatures ...
... can't you also hide the fact that they're all perfectly manicured?
Come on, that zombie has nicer nails than we do! You could watch dozens of episodes without ever noticing, but as soon as you do ...
... you realize that the zombies are just people who have to get to a hostess or bartender job once they're done playing undead. Did they think no one would ever notice, or was no one willing to take a few cracked nails for the sake of realism?
It would honestly be less weird if they also had perfect teeth and hair -- that the nice nails are the only detail they overlooked draws your eyes right to them. There are other weird reality-jarring moments too, like the fact that every time our motley gang of survivors strolls through a neighborhood that's been abandoned for years, all the lawns are freshly cut. But the nails seem like an easy fix. It's 2016 -- you can't tell us "Nail Dirtier" isn't on some makeup artist resumes.
Directors Mutating Their Actors With CGI
One of the biggest problems directors face is that their actors aren't robots designed to perfectly replicate human emotion while experiencing absolutely none of their own. Luckily, picky auteurs like ... ugh, goddammit, Lucas. Seriously? Uh, directors like George Lucas can use CGI to merge different takes of the same shot together, ensuring that every single frame is displaying the perfect expression, at least until you notice the glue sloppily holding the scene together and it all falls apart like a house of cards built from four different decks. Pay close attention to Anakin as he tells Senator Palpatine about what it feels like to feel, or whatever this dumb scene is about.
Can you see it? As one take merges into the next, Anakin briefly shimmers through the bounds of reality. It's especially noticeable in his hair, which shifts like he's a T-1000 trying out a new style. Here's Lucas explaining the process during a pivotal moment in Episode I where a dude sits down.
To be fair to Lucas, he's far from the only director to use CGI to get around his actor's flaws and, in doing so, accidentally creating new and far more unsettling flaws. In 2001's The Score, which is either about a heist or one sports fan's desperate attempt to find out how his hockey team is doing, an elderly Marlon Brando had completely run out of fucks to give and proved less than cooperative during filming. And so, struggling to coax a smile out of the surly septuagenarian, the director manipulated one onto his face and made Brando look like an alien attempting its first mimicry of human emotion.
Then there's Blade: Trinity, whose production could generously be described as troubled, or less generously described as a movie where both Wesley Snipes and the director went mad with power and then wasted their power on trivial bullshit. At one point they needed a shot of Snipes opening his eyes, but he refused to open them for reasons that have been tragically lost to history. They had to CGI the shot, and so what should have been the film's easiest scene instead makes Snipes look like one of the hideous creatures of darkness he's supposed to be purging from the Earth.
You may have noticed a trend here, in that it's kind of a hail Mary for movies that are falling apart at the seams.
"Dry For Wet" And "Day For Night" Scenes
Filming underwater is expensive and time-consuming. You need to give your actors and crew special training, waterproof your equipment, and make sure you don't come within moments of accidentally drowning James Cameron or his actors. It's way easier to throw your fucks aside and shoot "dry for wet." That's when you stick your cast in a smoky room full of fans, tint everything blue in post-production, and hope no one notices the pretty obvious effect. Here's Sam from Lord Of The Rings flailing around in front of a fan, with some bubbles added later to draw attention away from just how unusually unwaterlike the rest of the water looks.
And here's the crew from The Spirit explaining how they got Eva Mendes to wave her hands around in front of a green screen like a beached mermaid. Unfortunately, they don't go on to explain why they made The Spirit in the first place.
Then there's "day for night," where, rather than shoot in the dark because that's hard and stuff, night scenes are filmed during the day. And then, you guessed it, they later have a filter slapped on them so they look like they're applying for a spot in the Blue Man Group. This isn't just a cost-saving measure for cheap and/or lazy productions -- multiple Oscar and Cracked "Holy Shit Did You See How Awesome That Movie Was, You Guys?" Award nominee Mad Max: Fury Road did it. You probably didn't notice in the theater because of your intense sexual arousal, but it's more obvious when you sit down and watch it at home.
Because that's what night looks like, right? You go outside and everything's just ... blue? That's why you can catch characters squinting like they're overwhelmed by the harsh light of the moon -- they're actually looking into the sun.
Jaws did the "day plus blue equals night" trick too.
We're not saying they should have sent her out into the water at midnight and just prayed that nothing bad happened, but man, it's one of those tricks that's totally convincing right up until you notice it, at which point you'll never be sold again.
That Moment You Realize They're Interacting With A Dummy
You can see poor Cooper try to give the baby some life by moving its arm with his thumb. Their excuse is that their baby was sick and their backup baby was a no-show, because obviously at that point you just give up, buy a $10 prop from Toys "R" Us and hope the freaking Academy members don't notice.
It's not always that obvious. Here's Mary Jane being swept away by Spider-Man in some movie, possibly Batman Begins, and if you look close you'll note that ol' Spidey appears a little stiff.
It almost seems like more effort to construct and use a dummy. You couldn't slap an extra in the suit and have him bob his head a little so he looks like a normal spider-human being? We half expect that scene to cut to Mary Jane hugging a department-store mannequin and tripping on acid. But hey, at least the dummy's saving her. In Aliens, poor Ripley has to bust her ass to save a prop.
Using The Same Effect Multiple Times
We've told you before that Michael Bay took a chase scene from The Island, slapped a couple giant robots into it, and threw it into One Of The Transformers Movies, We Honestly Don't Know Or Care Which.
But we shouldn't have been too hard on him, because lots of other directors are guilty of the same trick. Like, uh, Michael Bay again.
But seriously, it's a common tactic. Blowing up spaceships isn't cheap, so Star Trek Generations: The One Where A Bridge Falls On Kirk recycles an exploding enemy vessel from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Which makes sense, because you know how Trekkies are the sorts of casual fans who wouldn't pick up on that kind of detail or be bothered by it if they did happen to notice.
Making science fiction isn't cheap, even when you discount Shatner's girdle budget. At the risk of ruining George Lucas' reputation, the Star Wars prequels also did this, copy-pasting Jedi council scenes into multiple movies. It's like they knew we'd be so bored by them that we wouldn't be paying attention.
Sarcasm aside, we see the logic -- it's all the same characters meeting in the same room, so you might as well save a little time and money. Other examples are weirder. Noted historical drama Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure has a scene where the titular characters Excellent and Adventure travel back and encounter Napoleon on a battlefield. Because movies about slacker high-school students time-cheating their way to a passing history grade generally don't have the budget for a giant battle, the shots of marching European armies were lifted from 1956's most mediocre War And Peace.
Back when Disney was just a small, friendly empire instead of a globe-spanning monolith, they too reused footage. That doesn't mean you can see Sleeping Beauty shoot Bambi's mom, but if you watch Robin Hood you'll see some dance scenes where the characters have identical moves to the dances in The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, and Snow White. They just took old animation and traced over it, meaning some of the greatest animators in history used the same technique that you used to emblazon Batman on your Trapper Keeper and convince your classmates that yeah, you can totally draw like that.
Even Citizen Kaneborrowed from The Son Of Kong to cut costs. They reused background footage for a picnic scene, which is why the greatest movie ever made suddenly has freaking pterodactyls soaring through it like it's someone's goddamn fan-fiction.
Shots That Are Obviously In Reverse
Running shots in reverse has a range of legitimate uses, whether it's for comedic effect, artistic storytelling purposes, or ensuring that your student film achieves maximum pretension. When it's effective you don't even notice, but as soon as you do pick up on it, it's like the movie's been thrown into a weird alternate reality where up is down and Internet comments are nice. Take the closing scene of Carrie, where the sole survivor of prom night walks to Carrie's grave. In reality, she walked backwards and then they ran the footage in reverse to create the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere, but if you keep an eye on the red car going backwards in the background, it just ends up looking goofy.
For a more obvious example, check out the waterclimb, the rare opposite of a waterfall, in this clip from Anaconda.
While the shot is of the boat backing up, presumably it was easier to film the boat moving in and then run it in reverse, with the logic that viewers would all be too busy drinking, getting high, or making out to notice the water's casual defiance of gravity. Uma Thurman taking a needle of adrenaline to the heart in Pulp Fiction was run backwards too, presumably because not even Quentin Tarantino wanted to see one of his actresses stabbed in the chest.
This has been a special effects trick forever -- in The Ten Commandments, when Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea by threatening to shoot if it didn't do as he demanded, they just filmed a bunch of water pouring into a trough and then ran it backwards.
And in The Big Lebowski, when the ringer suitcase is thrown out of the Dude's moving car, the portly and not particularly competent Walter manages to throw it in a surprisingly majestic arc. That's because, after a bunch of attempts that realistically resembled someone throwing a suitcase out of a moving car (that is, badly and boring to watch), they just had the driver back the car up and stick his hand out the window while someone off camera whipped it at him in a nice, graceful arc. And once you see it, you'll never un-see it.
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