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 Elisabeth Rappe

THE OFFENDER: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

THE SCENE: “There’s a troll … in the dungeon! Though you should know.”  Thanks!  But I’m not too worried about him since he’s made entirely of piss poor CGI.

Let’s back up. I love the Harry Potter series.  I can nitpick like any fan who owns a replica of Voldemort’s wand (it sits on my bookshelf, in easy reach should I need to cast an Avada Kedavra) but there’s little I can really fault about this epic series of adaptations.  The costumes, the set design (there’s no substitute for really filming in the Oxford library), the casting, the music — this is the stuff we bookstore Potter pushers dreamed of.

But there’s no doubt the first one was rushed a little in post-production.  I remember reading an article in The Onion titled something like “Fans Debate  Unreleased Fantasy Films Will Be Better” where two fanboys argued about and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone based entirely on message board hearsay.  I heard the Mines of Moira sequence was totally lame!”  “Well, I heard the effects in the Quidditch scene sucked ass.”   Believe it or not, this article came to me the moment the Hogwarts freshmen took their first flying lesson, and revealed they were made entirely of rubber:

But as bad as the Flying Lesson was, it’s relatively quick and painless. It seems to have loomed larger and uglier in my mind than it was, as I discovered when I tried to screencap it. The above image is the result. Poorly done? Untextured? Unfinished? Yes.  But the troll in the dungeons is far worse … and he gets a close up.

WHERE IT ALL GOES WRONG:  From the moment our friend wearily drags his bulk onscreen, knowing no one over the age of ten will believe in his menace.  The scene is actually beautifully done — real cubicles and sinks are smashed, the lightening plays beautifully against Gothic arches, the kids are properly terrified.  I remember when I saw the scene previewed on television, and was impressed at how dark and threatening the scene appeared to play out.

But then you actually saw it, and all the good tricks  were outweighed by the bad effects.  The troll wasn’t great looking (his design is fine, but there’s not nearly enough texture to his skin or vest), but the lighting and cutaways could disguise the flaws. The moment Harry becomes the boy wizard on the troll’s back, the scene
becomes silly and devoid of basic physics. Harry snaps back and forth, a slippery and spineless being in desperate need of a bottle of Skele-Gro.

HOW IT COULD  HAVE BEEN DONE PRACTICALLY:  It needed a real troll.  Compare this troll with the other cave troll of the year in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  He too was CGI, but as I understand it, he was laser scanned from a model.  WETA painlessly added digital details of skeleton and muscle.  Their care shows in the final product.  Harry Potter and his troll exist only on a computer, and this too shows.   Imagine if they’d done something similar!   Better yet, they could have done the scene with a combination of CG and practical effect. I believe they could have built a very basic animatronic troll, put young Daniel Radcliffe on his shoulders, and bucked it around.  With the magic of computers, they could then layer the model with CG effects.  But this was the glory, heady days of “We can animate people!”  Filmmakers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could animate kids battling trolls, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

HOW BAD IS IT? It dated the movie almost immediately upon release, and especially when contrasted with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that very same year.  I know that WETA was probably keeping their new technology relatively close to the chest, but that’s not a very good excuse for Chris Columbus. They spent so much care creating everything else that this just looks even worse in comparison.

IN SUMMATION:  When in doubt, go practical.  Don’t pretend no one is going to notice because we’re all so excited about a Harry Potter movie. Don’t count on younger kids peeking through their fingers and not noticing bad effects. Eventually, those kids grow up. And then they write articles like these.