Holy shit, CGI has changed the way we look at the world around us. Back in the 70’s if you were waiting for the movie to start and the bucket of popcorn grew eyes and started dancing around the counter top assisted by a reanimated bag of Skittles you’d puke in your hat and call a ventriloquist, a priest, and a burly cop six weeks from retirement to come deal with it. Now we can’t flip through the channels without seeing a seemingly living 2,000 foot robot whipping up a lather in his 17,000 foot shower or a muffin writhing out of some bitch’s grasp as she does a walk-and-talk about menopause being a real pisser. Superman made us believe a man could fly but it wasn’t until The Revenge of the Sith that we could believe that Christopher Lee had both Jedi Powers and Phase-Shift Parkinsons.
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 Renn Brown
THE OFFENDER: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
THE SCENE: Neo has just wrapped up a conversation with The Oracle wherein Gloria Foster has managed to deliver a boatload of exposition and philosophy-wanking with the immeasurable grace and charm that she brought to the role before passing away. As she exits and Neo is complete with a new quest, the formerly exploded-into-megabits Agent Smith returns and manages to dump a boatload of exposition and philosophy-wanking with the immeasurable menace and charm that he brought to the role before sailing west from the Grey Havens.
Suddenly, Smith becomes Smiths and we commence the first of two “hero against a retarded number of dudes in black suits” fight scene of 2003. About midway through, The Wachowski Brothers decide once again that their camera shouldn’t have to follow the rules of physics, space, and gravity, except this time they make everything into a PS3 game (let’s be generous) to escape said rules.
WHERE IT ALL GOES WRONG: The scene actually goes several minutes without even a hint of CGI, presenting a well-covered, cogent fight scene that, despite managing over a dozen similarly-clad dudes, maintains a strict sense of presence and geography. Around the first time Neo goes fucking off through the air though, we start getting flashes of environments and “people” that set off our “that ain’t fucking real” radar. The first few examples are fleeting and cut amongst normal live-action material, but around the time Neo yanks a pole out of the concrete and pirouettes into the air we switch over almost entirely to CGI mode.
From this point on Neo and the Smiths become computerized figures that range from laffy-taffy cartoons to merely shitty facsimiles of Keanu and Hugos with the only breaths of fresh air being short scenes of Agent Smith fingering the locals.
More than once we return to live-action for some hand to hand stuff and the shifts are completely jarring. There was not a human being watching this film in theaters that year who wore more rose-tinted glasses about the franchise than my 15-year-old self (I’m very serious about that- I was fucking INVESTED in The Matrix) and even then I knew these effects weren’t up to par. But here’s the thing- they almost were…
It’s easy to see why the Wachowski’s went with the approach they did for the Burly Brawl… the CGI almost works. Considering the volume of the effects, the ambition of the implementation, and that it was only 2003, these effects could even be called a brave step forward, but they’re just not convincing enough to sell an entire fight scene. In exchange for what the Brothers were able to accomplish in terms of camera movement (long stretches of the fight are covered in impossibly long, well-choreographed shots), it’s almost worth the slightly plastic-looking characters. It just didn’t quite make it across the suspension of disbelief finish line… Add to this the rest of the film which (without discussing the quality of the script or story) is a showcase of incredible effects and stunt work and the Burly Brawl just doesn’t cut it. Whatever progress was made with these effects were at the cost of an entire (very long) sequence, which becomes a video game cut-scene for uncomfortably long stretches of time in the midst of one of the slickest blockbuster action films ever produced. It might not be the qualitatively worst CGI in history, but it has to be one of the biggest offenders in terms of misjudging the application.
HOW IT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE PRACTICALLY: The Brothers are famous for having the idea of literally strapping a goddamn rocket to a camera so they could cover a moment with fluid dolly-like movement while in slow-motion. Once the idea was filtered through sanity and implemented with reasonable yet innovative technology we were gifted with Bullet-Time, which became an easily parodied gimmick but ended up doing a great deal to change our preconceptions of what could be done with a camera. The effects of bullet-time on film grammar have been irrevocably and subtly sown, and even after that feat of innovation it’s clear the Wachowski’s were hungry for more freedom. To watch the Burly Brawl with a forgiving eye is to see a dazzling show of a camera completely un-tethered by tradition yet handled with the skills and sensibilities of action mastercrafts(wo)men.
Unfortunately the CGI landed on just this side of asshole and pretty much killed it.
HOW BAD IS IT? Bad enough to become what you’ll remember about the scene, and possibly the film.
IN SUMMATION: Without getting into a to-do about the vast chasm of quality that lies between the first Matrix and its sequels, it is clear that ambition and technology didn’t quite collide in that fortuitous way for the Burly Brawl that they did for so many pieces of the first film. Eventually the Brothers would again find that middle ground between aesthetic and technology for the delightfully insane and heartfelt Speed Racer, but for The Matrix Reloaded… Rubber-Neo lost us.