CGI is an amazing tool that many filmmakers wield like a digital Mjolnir, creating worlds and creatures that take our breath away. Unfortunately through the years some have used it as a scythe, slashing our dreams and severing that muscle that connects our sexual pleasure organs to the muscle that tells our mind we’re really good at using our sexual pleasure organs. The result is oblivion.
So with that we bring you CHUD’s latest glorious list. The twenty worst instances of CGI in movie history. In no order. Well, except the order we decide to do them.
Brought to you by Elizabeth Rappe
The Offender: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial: 20th Anniversary Special Edition (2002)
The Scene: Just one? Well, the most grievous offender has to be E.T. in the bathtub. You just can’t go back and add a CGI character to an older film, not even one you digitally upgrade. It sticks out like the shiny, computerized monstrosity it is.
But let’s not kid ourselves. If the bathtub scene was the only thing Spielberg had tinkered with, it would be no big deal. It’d be easily skipped with the push of a remote button. But there’s not a single “enhancement” of E.T. that works in this 2002 revision – not the CGI walkie-talkies (the fake hands are visible on any HD television, and computers just can’t erase the FBI posture of “clutching a rifle”), not a rubbery E.T running through the forests and cornfield, and certainly not the scene where he screams at Gertie. I’m sure there are more I’ve forgotten. I can’t make myself watch this again, and my memory is still trying to bury that one and only viewing. Wolverine’s selective memory has nothing on mine.
Where It All Goes Wrong: Spielberg’s kooky revisionist imagination. There was nothing wrong with the original E.T. Children had been happily watching that film since 1982, and never questioned the reality of the gentle alien. I will never understand how Spielberg convinced himself no modern children could love and believe a character that wasn’t created by CGI. In this, he’s no different than his good friend, George Lucas. We like to think they’re wildly different – that Spielberg is pure and still in touch with things like “story” and “character” – but this proves he had lost touch in exactly the same fashion. He couldn’t understand that people still liked E.T. and that it was his personality that made him real, thus allowing us to always suspend our disbelief even after encountering Woody, Buzz, Gollum, Dr. Manhattan, Neytiri, and all the other pixelized people we have yet to meet.
The E.T. Special Edition also falls victim to the same hyperactive enthusiasm that plagues the Star Wars prequels: More is better! The original E.T. works on the same principle as Jaws — the limitations served the story and titular character. For the first 20 minutes or so, you don’t see E.T. He’s just this weird shape running away from everyone. You don’t know whether he’s friend or foe. When Elliott first shines his flashlight into E.T.’s face, and he screams and runs, it’s actually pretty terrifying. Some kids never even made it past that scene for years.
But now? Now you see E.T. within the first five minutes. The suspense and magic is gone. And he’s suddenly able to run as opposed to the waddling puppet E.T. who can barely shuffle down a hallway.
How It Could Have Been Done Practically: It was, and it worked! It worked so beautifully. The Special Edition is a textbook example of how “outdated” practical effects can be more effective than of-the-minute CGI. One scene, you have a very believable puppet E.T who fits with the world around him. Seconds later, you meet an E.T. who isn’t really there. He has no weight to him.
How Bad Is It: It ruined a classic. I feel for the kids who encounter the film in its corny revisionist state. E.T. is no more real to them than Shrek. Possibly less so. It’s so bad that a regular, unaltered version quietly accompanied it’s re-release. That limited 2-disc set is still a hot sell on Ebay. I still watch my battered VHS. It has sentimental value anyway, it’s the first VHS I ever owned.
Even today, the 20th Anniversary trailer seems desperate to convince itself and anyone watching that this new E.T. is better. Really, please God, we spent so much money….