Note: This article is about pointless uses of computer-generated effects, not CGI that turned out fugly. So yes, that part in The Mummy Returns where The Rock turned into a scorpion monster was flat-out awful, but you can at least see why they'd want to use CGI for that scene. We're not talking not about the quality of the CGI, but the weird and useless ways Hollywood utilizes it these days.
For examples (some of them NSFW), read on below.
This is a bit of a strange case. From the point of view of the sadists behind Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part Two, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for summoning a demonic CGI baby instead of using a real little fleshbag. In the plot, the heroine Bella gives birth to a wildly powerful vampire/human hybrid and proceeds to name her Renesmee, presumably after one of those fancy shampoos you can't afford. This tyke is kind of a freak -- she was more or less born with adult intelligence, and has the psychic ability to imprint memories on the people she touches. The CGI would, ideally, get the message across that this isn't your garden variety larval poop machine.
But it just doesn't work. You'd think that someone would have seen the Tom Hanks Polar Express movie and realized that making realistic CGI humans was a bad idea, but evidently no one on the production team had ever heard of the uncanny valley. The effect is worsened by the subject in this case being a baby, a being that is supposed to be cute but is instead an off-putting pod person.
The baby grows up at an incredible rate because it's Twilight (there's a whole Wiki page on the matter if you'd like to go spelunking) and they keep going with the CGI augments. It doesn't get any better.
Again, they did this because they wanted a way to show that this child was out of the ordinary. You might guess that animatronics might be a better way to handle that kind of thing, but you'd be so, so wrong.
That's a real puppet they tested out for Renesmee, before everyone gouged out their eyes with rusty bottlecaps and the producers had to hire a new crew. On one hand, you can sort of understand why they wanted to go with a CGI baby after that trollspawn soiled the set, but it also reinforced the idea that fake babies are a terrible idea. Right, American Sniper?
There's a disturbing trend going on in movies these days when it comes to nudity. Back in the pre-CGI days, if someone didn't wanna go naked they just wouldn't go naked, or at least they'd get pull in a stunt butt. But thanks to our new and terrible digital age, we now have a half-measure -- stay un-nude on the set, but use the black magic of computer animation to insert fabricated nudity into the movie. Jessica Alba OK'd this technique when she filmed Machete, the Before and After of which you have no doubt been strenuously staring at above. Somehow it made sense to spend tons of money and man-hours taking the clothes off of an attractive woman but stopping short of actually depicting her naughty parts.
That isn't to say that movies haven't gone all the way with CGI. There are not one but two instances of this in the body-swap comedy The Change-Up.
According to Olivia Wilde, she didn't actually go topless for the movie, as she had prosthetic pasties covering her chest. But when the director got the footage back and some of those prosthetics were visible, they went ahead and airbrushed it out and added a nipple. You know, for realism. If the story hadn't gotten out, you probably wouldn't notice, but the logic is still a bit confusing. If someone doesn't want to/isn't being paid to be naked on-screen, computers allow them to make everyone believe that they were naked with visual trickery. So, what's the difference? Is it a body image issue? Is it about being naked and vulnerable with 26 people staring at you for 8 hours a day?
Whatever the case, it's not terribly uncommon a practice. Olivia Wilde's co-star Leslie Mann gave the go-ahead for the same treatment in the very same movie, though in her case it was a bit less subtle.
We're throwing up a censor bar here because that's the right thing to do, but is it really not safe for work if the boobs aren't real? If that's the case, I know a lot of hentai fans who can sue to get their jobs back.
Nicolas Cage was 43 at the time of filming Ghost Rider, and minus the 90s alternative rocker they shaved for the wig, he looks just fine. But that wasn't enough; if you're gonna be in a Marvel movie about a guy with a flaming skull who rides a motorcycle, your abdomen better be shredded like coleslaw. Nic reportedly worked hard to get fit for the role, but execs thought his abs needed more of a "fleshy action figure" look.
On the left you can see a fine set photo of a manly Nic Cage. On the right is a post-CGI Nic, who looks like he's now sporting a series of flesh-toned gel packs across his stomach. It's even stranger in motion; they try their damndest to draw attention away with Nic's bizarre facial expressions, but it's hard to take your gaze off of that quivering mass of glistening fake skin.
Nobody's saying a Ghost Rider movie doesn't need CGI. Practically speaking, lighting real human stuntmen on fire and rolling them around on a bike wouldn't do a lot for crew morale. But there's a use for this kind of stuff, and it's not "needlessly sexualizing Nicolas Cage."
If you haven't seen the Keanu Reeves thriller John Wick, well, you have at least one thing to look forward to in your life. The action scenes feature fantastic choreography executed with serious style, and the special effects team didn't overdo it with CGI.
Which makes the only iffy technical part of the movie that much weirder. See, at the start of the movie, Keanu receives an adorable puppy, who proceeds to be lovable and perfect in every way. Being a wonderful miracle doggie, she even goes out and poops on the lawn instantly.
If that dog poop seems out of place, that's because it never existed. According to the movie's commentary track, that diminutive dollop of doo cost $5,000 to render. The directors jokingly complained that they weren't legally allowed to give a young dog laxatives, apparently unaware that puppies don't expel their bowels with anything less than explosive diahrrea.
It seems strange that they didn't think about this ahead of time. All you had to do is make a disgruntled intern question their existence by forcing them to go pick up some fake dogshit at Spencer's Gifts. Not only would this save the production about $4,996.25, but any plastic dog poop is probably going to look better than the Dairy Queen soft serve we ended up with in the final product.
But at least that was only on the screen for a second, unlike Nic Cage's jacked abs.
For a sex-focused movie like Fifty Shades of Grey, you need a lot of visual tricks to keep things interesting. A lot of it comes down to lighting, editing, atmosphere and two actors without functioning shame glands. But to prevent an NC-17 or X rating, the lucky couple had to wear discreet prosthetics to hide their lower bathing suit areas. When these apparatuses slip into frame, that's when the CGI gets applied. That vagina shield basically becomes a green screen.
In the case of Fifty Shades, the producers decided to draw in some hair down there. That means there was a meeting at some point to decide if and how much this fictional person grooms their undercarriage. That means it was someone's job to pick out the color, texture and thickness of this stranger's pubes. "Crafting computer-generated pubic hair" is an awkward sentence to read in this day and age -- and it's also a pretty killer bullet point on someone's resume.
David Fincher movies are known for being some of the best-looking big-budget movies out there. From Se7en to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher always utilizes everything at his disposal to make give his movies that trademark tone. He's not afraid to use CGI; it worked very well for Zodiac, which used tons of special effects to create a believable 1970s-era San Francisco. And then there's The Social Network, an Academy-Award winning movie with some of the worst computerized breath on film.
There are only so many ways that you can explain temperature with visuals, and visible fog breath is one of them. But as you can see, the result looks as though both actors have hotboxed their entire mouths. Cold fog breath just doesn't billow out of your mouth like pot smoke out of the Mystery Machine. If they didn't have room in the budget for more than a tween script kiddie with a pirated copy of After Effects, maybe they should have ditched the breath altogether and just settled for a few extra shivers from the dude in the dopey hat.
Okay, they didn't use CGI back in 1939, but superfluous and wasteful special effects have persisted as long as movies have existed. As is the case with pretty much every book-to-movie translation, Gone With the Wind makes a few changes to the source material. Yet, one of the key details that manic producer David Selznick obsessed over was the main character's eye color. Scarlett O'Hara's eyes were described as green in the book, but actress Vivien Leigh had a pair of pearly blues.
Selznick was hellbent on remaining faithful to the book, so the crew went out of their way to use every pre-CGI, pre-contact lens trick imaginable to make sure Leigh's eyes looked green. And this is for a four-hour movie.
Keep in mind, there are vast differences between the film and the novel. Motivations that are explained in the novel are never approached in the movie. An entire sequence of events was shifted around. Whole characters from the source material didn't make it to the screen, including two of Scarlett's own children. But hey, at least her eyes matched the dress.
We could fill 20 pages with pointless alterations made to classic movies, so we're going to stick to just a couple of the most egregious examples. Case in point: there's not much sound reasoning for what Steven Spielberg did to the re-release of E.T. He was probably coming back to the film with a new perspective after having children, but that's no excuse for swapping out the cops' shotguns for walkie-talkies. Thankfully, he repented his decision for the blu-ray release.
The same thing happened to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but this time there wasn't even any percieved child endangerment. All it took was someone looking at this Nazi asshole flying off a cliff and deciding that this matte painting...
...wasn't good enough for the HD broadcast version. So someone whipped up a CGI cliff face.
The only upside here in this ugly, out-of-place computer-generated topography was that it's the last thing this Nazi shitstain ever saw. Otherwise it's a meaningless update that's counterproductive to the awesomeness of one of history's best adventure movies. Spielberg repented yet again in this case, as the blu-ray release reverts this shot back to its natural state.
Star Wars is probably the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to these kinds of revisions, but there's something else even worse about that franchise...
The amount of senseless garbage in the prequels could fill fifty clone factories, and it's tempting to say "they're all just re-colored green screens with no souls," but that'd be unfair. You can't blame George Lucas for using CGI to realize exotic alien races and intense space battles. No, the real crime is Padme's pear.
That pear, the one Anakin Force-floats over to Padme, never existed in the real world. It's a computerized figment of a fruit, made painfully obvious by the way it slides onto the fork. Hell, that "bite" she takes looks like a toddler trying ice cream for the first time. All the team had to do was go down to the bodega on the corner and pick up a pear, hook it up to some strings and clean up the picture later.
This is the worst abuse of special effects in a movie where every single clone trooper is made of CGI. That single slice of pear perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with the prequels and probably also The Hobbit movies. The fruit isn't real, but the anger is.
Most of the time special effects decisions are made in the early stages, but sometimes you get a peek at what could have been. The above shot on the left represents a test of the monsters from I Am Legend. Pretty spooky, yeah? Like, I kind of want to scroll down on the screen a little so it'll stop staring at me. But what we ended up with instead (on the right) were some stretchy goofballs that looked like they belonged in a Zombie Mode of a wrestling video game on PlayStation 2.
At least in that case, the practical effects didn't make it into the movie only to be overwritten by generic monstrosities.
You probably didn't see the Percy Jackson sequel Sea of Monsters, and now you have one less reason to. Despite the fantastic work on this animatronic cyclops, all of that sweat and soul was swept under the rug in favor of the same bland CGI you see in every other movie.
Something like Jurassic Park holds up really well because of the smart mixture of practical and computer-generated effects, but these days Hollywood doesn't want to compromise. When a talented team hands in some ridiculously great work for something like 2011's The Thing, all it takes is an exec to say "Kids won't like this!" and it suddenly becomes an impersonal mass of polygons.
Okay, so 2011's The Thing wasn't great to begin with. Would the original effects have saved the new movie? No. But that's just it -- why in the blue fuck would you take away one of the only unique aspects of your crappy flick? Because some dingus in a suit thinks everything has to be a cartoon? You might go so far as to say that the movie machine has gone... pear-shaped.Tristan Cooper can be found on Twitter