Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Questionable Jones No. 14

Sometimes, special effects aren't so special. But sometimes they really are!

Question: "What was the best and the worst effect in the series?"

Andrew's Answer: Worst is an easy one. It's in Crusade, when the fighter plane crashes and slides through the tunnel, on fire, next to Jones and his father, and the pilot looks at them stupidly. That moment alone takes me out of the film so badly that it almost ruins the entire movie for me. Best effect was in Raiders when the wall of fire sweeps up the Nazis, moves the clouds, and seals the Ark. Awesome.

Scott's Answer: The best effect might be the face melting scene at the end of Raiders - a good mix of state-of-the-art technology (for 1981) and some old school tricks. Honorable mention goes to the mine car chase in Doom, which was shot using modified still cameras - I'd put it against any chase in a movie today. Worst effect goes to anything in Crusade involving the zeppelin and the biplane - there is some really bad bluescreen compositing here and it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don't know if it was a logistical thing or if all of ILM's resources were devoted to another movie that came out the same year.

Those were "best" and "worst" - in the "unforgivable" category is the jungle chase in Crystal Skull. For a film that came out in 2008 to have such shoddy bluescreen work is ridiculous. I'd forgive it in a low-budget indie flick but this is Spielberg and Lucas: two kings of modern day movie tech. I remember watching the making-of featurette on the Cloverfield Blu-Ray around the same time and I asked my friend, "Why does Cloverfield have better effects than the Spielberg movie?!"


tryanmax said...

For me, the best and the worst come only minutes apart in Last Crusade. The "saw blades" in the first trial--the penitent man--looked fakey and cartoonish even by contemporary standards. But something about the third trial--the leap of faith--was just so believable. I realize it's not the most spectacular, but it just thoroughly convinces me.

Nothing in Crystal Skull deserves to be called "special" except derogatorily.

AndrewPrice said...

FYI, We're coming to the end of this series. In September we're going to change Tuesdays to be Toon Tuesdays.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

Yeah, the "leap of faith" is pretty cool, both in concept and execution.

The saw blades never looked good, unfortunately. I have to assume that all of ILM's "top men" were devoted to this particular project that year.

KRS said...

I realize we'll be talking technical effects, here, but I'll cast an early vote for old school. The bit at the beginning of it all where Indy is escaping at a dead run through all the traps he had so carefully avoided, only to be chased by a giant granite ball - that alone told me I was going to see something I had never seen before.

Also, respects to the stunt man getting dragged under the Nazi truck - no blue screen there. It was all testosterone and marvelous masculine stupidity. Great work!

Anonymous said...


Not to get too nerdy but work done in post-production (bluescreen, etc.) is referred to as "visual effects" whilst work done live on set is known as "special effects" or "practical effects." And it's all very technical.


I've always had an appreciation for the practical effects guys and it's nice to see some filmmakers nowadays (like Christopher Nolan) who still have that appreciation, too.

And it just looks like a lot of fun!

KRS said...

Scott - Thx!

Also, it occurs to me that maybe the balance between visual and special effects tipped very much in favor of the former as the series continued and I think it contributed to the air getting let out of the tires.

Indy should be gritty and no matter how good the visual effects are, there are times when no amount of "post-production" is going to replace the spectacular drama of a stunt man cracking a rib for the cause in a really well executed special effect.

Anonymous said...


I'll agree with that.

The one thing that bugs me is CGI blood. Nowadays, filmmakers think, "Why use blood packs when we can do it in the computer?" After all, with CGI blood there's no clean-up or continuity issues to worry about. And you can simply delete it for the edited-for-TV version.

David Fincher's Zodiac is the only movie IMHO where the CGI blood looks good. But it still pales in comparison to, say, the original three Die Hard films which used practical blood packs to great effect.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I totally agree. The opening of Raiders is fantastic. It tells you that something really special is coming. It also strikes me that something like that would have been the climax in most other films, so seeing it right up front tells you that they had a ton of ideas.

That truck stunt was fantastic too.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott and KRS, I agree. I think that the more you rely on CGI and blue screens and whatnot, rather than things that have to be filmed live, the less heart a film begins to have.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I can't think of any good effects in Crystal Skull.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

The other thing re: Crystal Skull is that it was shot much differently than the previous three films. In pre-release interviews, Spielberg and his DP Janusz Kaminsky said they would honor the work done by Douglas Slocombe, the man who shot the first three... yet I'm not sure they did.

The color palette is toned down and the lighting is downright bizarre in some scenes, resulting in shots like this which looks like it was shot in a studio in front of a backdrop... except it was shot on location for real!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's interesting. I assumed a that was in the studio. A lot in that film feels like it was shot inside and they are just faking the background. The one part of the film I like, the motorcycle chase, is also one of the few parts that feels to me like it took place in the real world.

KRS said...

It's not that I don't care for visual effects at all, nor am I saying that anything other than a real actor or stuntman looks fake. I think there's a real artistry to it that directors too often fail to appreciate. For example, I thought that in Jurassic Park, once we see the dinosaurs the CGI gets overdone. Whereas in Dragonheart, it was more conservative and the story more engaging and intimate. And, even a well done animation can accomplish that connection - I still get choked up a little bit when I watch Iron Giant.

I think way too often the CGI and bluescreen gets done to distraction, as in Avatar - although in that instance I was so fascinated by the marvelous complexity of the CGI world that I barely noticed there was a story going on. There was a story there, right?

Anonymous said...


There was something going on. Whether it was a story or not remains to be seen. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, The key is to not overuse the CGI and to use it wisely by not trying to do more than it can.

No, Avatar had no plot, just a bunch of leftist propaganda.

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