by Laurent Kelly
The art of visual effects in cinema is dead and it is ironically advancements in technology which have killed it. Money is now carelessly thrown on the screen for the instant gratification generation. Heads turn, people are entertained but the visuals don’t stay with them in the hours after the end credits have appeared over the screen. This is because so many modern filmmakers seem to have forgotten or are too lazy to realise that the true power of visual effects exists before a single camera has started rolling. They are instead born from the imagination and developed carefully so that the story works in perfect unison with the visuals on screen to create something that truly takes the audience’s breath away. The following list is dedicated to five films which use visual effects to inflame the imagination of the audience as opposed to just treating the device as a souless gimmick.
5.) JURASSIC PARK (1993)
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the thrill of watching this film as a young boy and just being enchanted by the magical arena of the Jurassic Park. One particular moment that took my breath away time and time again was the scene in which the lead characters view the larger than life dinosaurs for the first time. In an astonishing visual we watch the incredible beasts sip water and climb out of the lake with movements that feel entirely naturalistic and which immediately absorb you into the heart of the adventure. The sequence is perfectly accompanid by sweeping, pulsating score and guided by the awestruck reaction from the lead characters which lets you know that like them you are watching something quite special.
4.) THE BIRDS (1963)
Just sheer brilliance as an impressive technical feat is combined with expert staging and the striking use of dramatic irony to provide an amazing visual spectacle. The pacing of the scene is immaculate as we see just a couple of birds followed by another… and then a few more. All the while this goes unnoticed on the female protagonist who sits smoking on a bench with the harmonic singing of the schoolchildren juxtaposing nicely with the growing threat emerging in the background. The transition from calm to panic through the use of carefully drawn out visuals is what makes this sequence so unsettling and iconic to this day.
3.) BLADE RUNNER (1982)
In a truly spellbinding opening to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic a title card informs us that we are watching LA in 2019 before the launch of fire in the air makes way for dozens of bright city lights. Suddenly a space shuttle comes flying before the camera before some big bright spotlights light up the sky in the background. The plethora of dazzling colours immediately generates intrigue surrounding the film’s unique arena but the film is also careful not too indulge in too much detail. Rather we are given time to soak everything in for ourselves and the experience is all the more rewarding for it.
2.) LA VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (1902)
The special effects in A Voyage to the Moon, a film which is over a hundred years old, are used to build to a completely unexpected and hillarious pay-off. During a serious mission a rocket is sent into space to attempt a moon landing. Then in one of cinema’s most iconic moments we see the situation from the disgruntled moonface’s perspective as the rockets lands right in its eye.
What is striking about this early feature is that though the use of technology is impressive marking the first instances of double exposure, split screens and stop motion, what has made the film endure is that these impressive technical feats are used to assist the humour and creativity of the storytelling. The innovative change in perspective and the comic nature of the visual itself means that the the film have stood the test of time for over a century. That’s pretty darn impressive.
1.) 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)It does not surprise me that some people believed and perhaps still do believe that Stanley Kubrick was responsible for filming what some sceptics see as a fake moon landing. After all to watch 2001, you are in awe of a visual master who just completely sucks you right into the heart of his hypnotic and achingly beautiful vision of space. Accompanied by the evocative sound of the blue danube his carefully executed shots of the future arouse several simultaneous emotions making you feel both alive, empty, scared, thrilled and fascinated all at the same time.