Friday, November 20, 2009


Above: A high point in the history of bad computer graphics, 2002's Hulk.

You know, I used to really hate bad CGI in the late 90's and early 00's. But somehow, something has changed. I don't know why, but I find it very easy to really appreciate some really poorly-done CGI at present. It's the "good" CGI that irks me nowadays. That whole Lord of the Rings/Dark Knight school of high-budget, hi-tech SFX is what inspires my rage, not the 8-bit hacky stuff that was featured in my 'Knockbuster' post last week. I think that sort of stuff is actually pretty great. I mean, if you're going to give us giant, rampaging robots from outer space, shouldn't they actually look sort of fake? Maybe it's just me, but I sort of feel like "well done" CGI effects are kind of trying to pull a fast one on me, and at least the super-shitty looking stuff is being honest. I'm not 100% sure why, but I've gotten to a certain age and point in my life where I find terrible computer graphics to be supremely entertaining -- maybe it's nostalgia for my formative years in the early-to-mid 90's. Maybe it's my innate belief that the film industry peaked at Road House and Point Break and has been on the decline ever since. Maybe I'm just getting old and senile.

Right: Another bad-CGI classic, Tobe Hooper's 2000 release Crocodile.

But the entire history and evolution of bad computer animation/special effects can be traced back to one man: STEPHEN KING.
For some reason, television and film adaptations of King's books have ALWAYS featured the very WORST CGI effects available, from the humble beginnings of the art circa Jurassic Park to the present and beyond. Something about the shocking fakeness of some really terribly-rendered computer animation seems to be sublimely conducive to King's work, although a coherent explanation for this phenomenon doesn't seem to be readily available.
Let's take a look at several examples, and see if we can't get to the bottom of this puzzling quagmire once and for all...


Stephen King's first venture into the realm of awful computer animation was also the only film that he entirely disowned. The film version of The Lawnmower Man (starring Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey) bore absolutely NO resemblance to the King story of the same name, which led to a lawsuit in which King demanded his name be removed from the film.
But Lawnmower will always be remembered as a King endeavor, and it marks the beginning point of his career in bad CGI. I mean, take a look at this shit:

I fucking LOVE this movie, and my love is based almost entirely on the horrible Tron-meets-Lazer Tag-meets-the Crayola drawings of a drunk kindergartener special effects.
This movie was made to cash in on the whole "virtual reality" craze of the early 90's, but it works on so many more levels than that. Get a load of the 3D-rendered computer sex scene (right) if you don't believe me. This is the future as seen through the eyes of a wristwatch calculator, drenched in neon and played on an Atari. Virtual Reality RULES.


Also released in 1992 was King's Sleepwalkers, a really terrible movie starring 90's it-girl Madchen Amick. Sleepwalkers took full advantage of that whole "digital-morphing" technology that was so popular right around '91/'92, using it in several transformation scenes of people turning into cats (or cat-like creatures). Michael Jackson was pretty fond of this particular effect as well, if I'm not mistaken.
Another bad CGI triumph for Mr. King. Check out the trailer, paying special attention to the car-and-face-morphing that take place at 1:00 and 1:05:

Bonus points for this scene:


While the TV-miniseries adaptation of The Tommyknockers didn't contain a whole lot of CGI, it is notable for both its earliness and also the very, very poor (aka "TV quality") nature of said effects. Rather than just using green lights, the producers opted to use CGI to produce lots of the eery green glow that permeates this film, and the results are catastrophic. In a good way.
Also of note is the scene in which Jimmy Smits shouts "You... You and your precious Tommyknockers!" Truly chilling stuff.

Go to about 1:35 for Jimmy's timeless line. It will be immediately followed by some pretty terrible CGI.


Another made-for-TV goody, this one starring Bronson Pinchot and Dean Stockwell. It's actually hard to believe that CGI effects this BAD were still being produced in 1995. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any video footage of the laughable "monsters" from this one (left), but watch the trailer and pay special attention to the "airplane" scenes in the first 20 seconds and then again at about 0:38. This is some truly groundbreaking made-for-TV-movie fail:


All in all, a pretty "blah" movie.
But it carries on the tradition/evolution of bad CGI in King adaptations nonetheless.
Take a good look at the "animation" on the bad guy's cane at 0:45 and 1:06. Subtle, but Stephen King was obviously still on top of his game in 1999, which meant he was at the bottom of the heap CGI-wise:

THE MIST (2007)

After several years of relative dormancy, the King legacy struck back in 2007 with the release of The Mist, an effects-driven psuedo-monster movie that left just enough lacking in the CGI department to be completely AWESOME. Heavy on the gore, dinosaurs, giant mosquitos, and sappy melodrama, Mist's strongest point was the confusing nature of its graphics, juxtaposing live action actors with CGI monsters in a complete mish-mash of absolute cognitive dissonance. Check it out:

King once again proves that he is not only the Master of the Macabre but also the Master of Computer Animation Gone Wrong -- a position that he has held for almost two decades. This clip is basically ALL of the bad CGI in The Mist boiled down to just a couple of minutes. Astonishing:

So what can we expect next from Stephen King adaptations, and what will it mean for the evolution of bad CGI in general? It's hard to say, but I'm willing to wager that the PET SEMATARY remake, coming in 2010, will be an integral element...

Here's another fun fact: Did you know that the only film or TV adaptation that Stephen King EVER had an issue with (besides The Lawnmower Man) was Kubrick's The Shining? It's true. Not even the made-for-TV remake, but the original. It was a personal issue -- Kubrick felt King was a hack, and in turn Stephen talked shit on his movie.

For another uncanny "Evolution of Bad CGI" film paradox, see also:

ANY Batman movie made in the 1990's.



Erik Del Tigre said...

This article had to be written. You've done the world a service, son.

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Anonymous said...

Would 1994's The Stand and the CGI Godhand at the climax also count?

Unknown said...

Hey! I LIKED Sleepwalkers! It was its own cheesy way. Especially the scene with a younger Ron Perlman getting his hand bit off by mama-cat! Brilliant, I say....Brilliant!!