The most pointless uses of CGI in movies

Henry Cavill promoting Justice League (Warner Brothers).

If a film script requires a ruddy great dragon or giant space station, then CGI effects are obviously the best way to go.

Since CGI became possible and affordable for movie studios in the late 1980s though, it’s also been used for the most random and minor reasons.

From groin bulge reduction to making water more… watery, these are the special effects the world could have lived without.

Green Lantern’s costume

We’re not entirely sure why Warner Brothers decided to give Ryan Reynolds an all-CGI superhero costume in 2011’s Green Lantern, surely it would have been cheaper to just – we don’t know – make one?

If they were worried about a proper costume looking silly, then that plan spectacularly backfired – we’d take basically anything over the weird floaty mess they ended up with.

Thankfully, Ryan Reynold got to wear a proper super-suit in Deadpool, even sneaking in a reference to his previous outfit – with Deadpool insisting his costume shouldn’t be “green…or animated!”

Henry Cavill’s moustache

World Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ Justice League – Arrivals – Los Angeles, California, U.S., 13/11/2017 – Actor Henry Cavill. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

When Warner Brothers brought in Joss Whedon for extensive Justice League reshoots, he was faced with the task of completely redoing the film’s Superman storyline.

Usually, that would be a difficult enough job – making sure that reshoot scenes fit seamlessly with what’s already been shot isn’t easy.

What made Whedon’s reshoot plans just that extra bit tougher to execute was the fact Henry Cavill had grown a rather impressive moustache (for his role in Mission Impossible 6) since finishing his work as Superman on Justice LeagueJ. And Paramount refused to let him shave it for the reshoots.

Thus began the saga of the most pointless CGI effect of them all – removing Superman’s moustache (oh, how we want to see the unadjusted footage from those scenes of Superman fighting Steppenwolf looking like someone’s dad) from all of the reshoot footage. That’s despite the fact it would clearly be easier (and cheaper) to make a stick-on version from stuff found on a hairdresser’s floor than it was to – badly – render out Superman’s top lip.

If you’ve seen Justice League, you’ll know they weren’t entirely successful, leading to the world’s first case of the ‘uncanny-valley effect’ being caused by someone’s mouth, and making all of the reshoot scenes really easy to identify.

Never has such a small patch of face-fuzz caused so much difficulty. As it turns out, Superman’s greatest weakness isn’t Kryptonite after all, it’s a contractual moustache.

Waterworld’s water

One thing 1995’s Waterworld has lots of, apart from script issues, is water. Apparently not enough though. CGI blue stuff was bafflingly added to fill out backdrops and improve splashes.

Your Highness’ pants

Your Highness’ Natalie Portman gets a CGI pants change (Universal Pictures).

Despite the medieval comedy featuring more than its fair share of less-than-subtle innuendo, when marketing the R-rated movie to audiences too young to see it anyway, Natalie Portman’s derriere was deemed too cheeky for the “green band” trailer. Digitally shape-shifting the star’s thong solved that problem.

Blood Diamond’s tears

Jennifer Connelly before getting CGI emotional in Blood Diamond (Warner Brothers).

When reviewing the heartbreaking phone-call scene at the end of Blood Diamond, it was decided Jennifer Connelly just wasn’t distressed enough. The CGI team sliced up a few digital onions and added tears to her face.

Superman Returns’ bulge

The Man of Steel has it all: super strength, ability to fly, x-ray vision… and a distracting bulge. Or at least that’s what studio bosses decided whilst filming the 2006 series reboot. Fearing it might affect younger audiences as well as toy sales, actor Brandon Routh suffered some digital reduction surgery.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi’s wounds

Before and after Darth Vader CGI (20th Century Fox).

If anyone loves CGI, its George Lucas, who tinkered with his classic space yarn several times. For the 2004 DVD re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy nothing was sacred… even eyebrows. In the scene where Luke unmasks his dying father at the end of Return of The Jedi, Darth Vader actor Sebastian Shaw had his eyebrows removed to match Hayden Christensen’s burns injuries in Revenge of the Sith.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’s creepy baby

The scary CGI baby from Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Lionsgate).

When Edward and Bella first unleashed baby Renesmee into the world, not only was she a vampire-human hybrid (or dhampir), she wasn’t even real. Rather than accept that most babies change as they grow up, producers created an “uncanny-valley CGI moppet” – as the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called it; an awful attempt at reproducing child actor Mackenzie Foy’s face.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s guns

Steven Spielberg used CGI to remove guns from the 2002 ET special edition (Universal Pictures).

When a 20th anniversary special edition of E.T. was released in 2002, CGI was used to make alterations to the original that had bothered Steven Spielberg since 1982. These included the spaceship designs and E.T. himself, but more controversially he also removed shotguns from FBI agents chasing the escaping Elliot and replaced them with walkie-talkies. Apparently he did it at the behest of parent groups, but backtracked in time for the 30th anniversary Blu-ray release this year.

The Thing (2011)’s practical effects

The Thing (2011)’s practical vs CGI effects (Universal Pictures).

John Carpenter’s ‘80s classic The Thing is probably best known for its brilliant practical effects. So, when 2011’s remake / prequel was put into production, one of the first things the producers made sure to do was to get a team building some similarly next-level practical effects.

However, despite building a LOT of expensive animatronic monsters – and even shooting with them – the studio made a last-minute decision to replace them with CGI. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know it was a bad idea.

“Well, the initial plan – slightly naïve, maybe – was to build everything practically,” director Matthias van Heijningen Jr said afterwards. “Although we shot the film practically, at the end of the day, it didn’t hold up. It looked a bit like an 80s movie, actually, which for some people is really special, but perhaps not in 2010, 2011. So we enhanced it with CG.”

The Hobbit trilogy’s orcs

Practical vs CGI Orc from Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy (Warner Brothers).

Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy was a masterclass in how to combine practical costumes with CGI effects. In Gollum, Jackson created arguably the greatest computer generated character of all-time.

So, we have no idea what happened with his Hobbit trilogy, a prequel series that didn’t just look like it was set before LOTR, it looked like it was made before them too, with the CGI characters looking like they came from a PlayStation cut scene.

What’s especially annoying for Rings fans is that, as with The Thing, they’d actually make an (amazing) real-life version, which was pointlessly painted over with CGI.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ haircut

Tobey Maguire got a CGI haircut in Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (Universal Pictures).

Tobey Maguire’s contract demanded $15,000 to shave his head in this small role, so director Terry Gilliam opted for a bald cap and CGI instead. In the end, it was more expensive.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s guns

More guns go away in Speilberg’s CGI Crystal Skull tweaks (Paramount).

The trailer for the 2008 Indy reboot was deceptively decent; there were car chases, exploding warehouses, angry Russians and lots of guns. Too many, in fact. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) doesn’t allow guns to be directly pointed at a person in its green band (i.e. ‘Suitable for all’) trailers. Rather than use a different clip, the studio turned to computer boffins, who lowered all the weapons and gave Ray Winstone a weird-looking new jacket.

Ghost Rider’s abs

Nicolas Cage admires his CGI abs in Ghost Rider (Columbia Pictures).

As well as keeping his agent busy, one of Nicolas Cage’s pastimes is staying in shape. Unfortunately the then 42-year-old wasn’t shapely enough for this daft comic adaptation; producers made his abs bigger in post-production.



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