We’ve all had movies that impressed us visually, but all too often years later when we revisit them, the special effects just haven’t held up very well and leave us wondering why in the Hell we were so enamored with it before. Every now and again, however, there are films with VFX that can stand the test of time and still look great even amongst the newer and technologically advanced VFX films of today. Today, I’m presenting you with the 7 VFX films that have managed to do just that.
To be quite honest, Jurassic Park (the first one in particular) was the main inspiration for this article. While watching the recent blu-ray of the film, I was amazed at how well these 18 year old special effects had held up. I mean, this movie was one of the pioneers for CGI use in films, yet it impressed me more than some of the other effects-laden films I’ve seen recently.
Considering that HD normally exposes more flaws in the VFX of a film, I was doubly surprised at the level of quality in the film. Sure, it’s not perfect, but considering it’s age it’s quite amazing to look at. The dinosaurs still have a level of depth and realism to them, that keep the scares and impact of the film intact. The blending of animatronics and CG feel seamless in some scenes (mostly the T-Rex by the jeeps), and never once did I feel like the degradation of the effects took me out of the story. And let’s face it, that’s the most important thing. VFX should assist a film’s story, not be the story or detract focus from it.
Star Wars - Original Trilogy
Forget all the Lucas touch-ups and CGI enhancements, the visual effects from the original Star Wars films are still incredible to watch. When they releases back in the 70s and early 80s they were completely out of this world amazing and the revolutionized how VFX were handled in films, and what people thought was possible.
Even today, I have to say that seeing the Star Destroyer fly onto the screen in the first moments of A New Hope, and even the epic space battle at the end of Return of the Jedi are a visual treat for the eyes. Sure, it’s easier to tell these are models matted onto the frame, but all things considered, they’ve held up incredibly well and can still fill you with that sense of awe.
The Fifth Element
I’ve professed my love of many movies on this site over the years, but I’ve rarely had the chance to do so for Fifth Element. It’s a great Sci-Fi film that hits just about all the right notes. It’s a film that gets regularly watched at my house and age hasn’t seemed to hurt it’s visual appeal at all.
I think the main reason is that the filmmakers relied so heavily on practical effects to make the futuristic world feel so real. Yet when they did integrate the CGI, they did so in a way that felt natural with the rest of the visuals and they blended together pretty well. With all of the vibrant colors and outlandish styles presented in the film, it made the shinier CGI constructs fit in a lot better, and helped ensure the that effects would age well.
The Lord of the Rings
I really debated on putting these movies in here, mostly because it doesn’t seem like there’s been enough time for them to have aged at all. On the other hand though, I have to say I haven’t really enjoyed how the effects on the trolls and stuff like that have aged. However, Lord of the Rings is making this list for one crucial reason: Gollum.
It’s hard to deny how incredibly well they brought the creature to life, and even to this day, he feels like a real character interacting with the world, instead of being digitally inserted into it. A lot of that has to do with the motion capture performance, regardless it’s still a visual treat that remains impressive.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
I know this one doesn’t immediately pop up into everyone’s mind when they think of big effects films, but it’s hard to deny the impressive blend of cartoon animation and real world characters. While it’s not the first or last film of it’s kind to blend the two mediums together, Roger Rabbit remains one of the finest examples of it to this day.
Solid acting from the ‘real’ cast help sell the effect, but the detail and effort that went into the animation itself is worthy of note and praise. The best that I can say for this film is that it made the idea that our world and a cartoon world could actually co-exist, believable. Considering how preposterous that must have sounded on paper, it’s an amazing feat.
I can already here the grumbles...but save it. Regardless of what you think, or any macho bravado you have that keeps you from admitting the film is actually pretty damn good (it’s James Cameron, come on!), Titanic did a lot of things right. One of the biggest things this movie nailed, were the many visual effects used to bring the massive ocean liner to life...and then sink the hell out of it.
The ship looks real. The sinking looks real, and it getting torn in half looks just about as good as you want it too. While Cameron famously used overlarge sets for Titanic, his blend of practical and visual effects are still impressive to this day.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Visual Effects aren’t everything when it comes to movies. In fact there are times where too much can actually hurt the film. The one thing that all of these movies have in common (and why I believe they’ve held up so well against the years) is that the VFX were used in a way that assisted the storytelling. They weren’t in there just because they could do it, they weren’t superfluous. They served a purpose in telling the story and were thus integrated far better into the overall film.
Only time will tell how the new technologies hold up over the next decade or so, but let’s hope that in ten years, we’ll be able to still enjoy these modern VFX films without be distracted by how crummy the effects look.