Computer-generated imaging, or CGI, is one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of filmmaking technology, allowing artists and animators to create films that never would have been possible otherwise. It’s become an essential tool in pretty much every filmmaker’s arsenal, but like any good tool, it’s susceptible to misuse. Creating convincing CGI requires an overwhelming amount of time, money, and talent; naturally, not every film production has all of these factors in substantial supply. Instead of using CGI as an enhancement tool, the following 10 films, regardless of their overall quality, made the mistake of replacing practical effects with CGI. The results speak for themselves.
10. The Hobbit Trilogy
You can debate the relative merits of Peter Jackson’s divisive Hobbit films until you’re red in the face, but one thing that’s tough to argue with is that the films suffered from an overreliance on CGI. Gone were the impressive, highly-detailed sets and miniatures of the far superior Lord of the Rings films, replaced by bombastic effects and a gaudy sheen over everything that only emphasized how fake it all looked. Granted, a lot of work went into the visual effects of these films and some of it looks really good (the villainous dragon Smaug is a testament to how far CGI technology has come), but when these films had three times the budget of their predecessors and look three times worse, something is wrong. You only need to look at the cartoonish goblins to get an idea of how far off-base the CGI direction went with this overstuffed trilogy.
9. Tron: Legacy
The original Tron from 1982 was a technical marvel, a film that imitated CGI before it was even available. As such, there were enormous expectations placed on the film’s long overdue sequel, Tron: Legacy, which finally came out in 2010. The film was a visual marvel, bringing the fictional computer setting dubbed “The Grid” to life in ways the original film couldn’t have imagined. As impressive as the film looked and sounded (the Daft Punk soundtrack was easily the best part), it dropped the ball hard when it came to the visual design of the film’s villain, Clu. As series star Jeff Bridges was almost 30 years older than he had been in Tron, Clu was made entirely with CGI, including his face-mapping based on a younger Bridges. As impressive as the technology is, Clu’s dead eyes and odd expressions put him firmly in the uncanny valley realm, proving that this technology is far from the point of accurately mimicking a human actor.
For many, Jumanji is a cherished childhood classic and for good reason — it’s a fun, thrilling adventure film anchored by the late, great Robin Williams. One of the film’s main visual showpieces are the various computer-animated animals that frequently stampede through suburban neighborhoods. As cool as it was to see a herd of elephants crushing and turning over cars in 1995, the impact of these scenes has greatly diminished in the intervening years. In particular, the film’s troublesome monkeys look like terrifying aliens from the real planet of the apes; their maniacal gaze will haunt your dreams.
7. Star Wars 1997 Remaster
When Star Wars was originally released in 1977, it was at the forefront of special effects technology at the time. When George Lucas revisited his trilogy in the late 90s, CGI technology was becoming the norm in blockbuster filmmaking. Lucas, deeply fascinated with the technological side of filmmaking, couldn’t resist adding CGI enhancements to his old films. Unfortunately, while some of the cosmetic additions actually improved things (the lightsabers looks much better), Lucas largely bungled things by going too far. Chief among these awful-looking additions is the added scene between Han Solo and a CGI Jabba the Hutt, who actually looks worse than the character puppet used in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. It doesn’t help that the scene really doesn’t add anything valuable to the movie.
This live action adaptation of the popular comic book character received mixed reactions from critics and fans when it was released in 1997. There are aspects of the film that hold up — Michael Jai White and Martin Sheen both turn in great performances — but one area where Spawn really faltered was in the special effects department, as some of the CGI even felt dated for 1997. Any of the scenes set in Hell look atrocious and would have looked bad for a video game at the time. Spawn’s armor looked pretty impressive and comparable to the comics, but his trademark billowing red cape was another story. It was all computer animated and has not aged well at all. This was one area where the film’s producers should have just let the costume department handle things, as a real cape would have looked much better.
5. Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Part of the reason the Indiana Jones series is considered one of the greatest blockbuster franchises ever made is that the films’ various action set-pieces are masterful creations. Think about it: the classic car chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark is so memorable because of the sequence’s visual design and live action stunt work. You can feel every bump in the road and punch Harrison Ford dishes out because it was all done with practically. Fast-forward to 2008, where Steven Spielberg and George Lucas seemed to forget everything that made Indy great and replaced it with CG gophers and outlandish, fake-looking rain forest vine-swinging. There were a lot more problems with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than just its garish looks, but watching Shia LaBeouf swing like Tarzan with a gaggle of tropical monkeys is not something that’s not easily forgotten (or forgiven).
4. Van Helsing
A film of pure cheese, Van Helsing is one of those big budget trainwrecks you just can’t look away from, and part of that distinction has to do with some of the horrid visuals on display. This 2004 monster-hunting romp starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale is overlong, cheesy, and full of questionable CGI. Dracula’s female vampires look pretty in their human forms, but all bets are off when they transform into jaw-dropping grotesque flying creatures (their jaws are literally stretched to inhuman lengths in some scenes). Jackman’s wolf transformation also looks like it was ripped out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. For a film so heavy on CGI, it doesn’t seem like Van Helsing‘s $160 million budget was spent very well.
3. King Kong
Peter Jackson’s three hour long epic take on King Kong (2005) is the kind of film that lives and dies on the quality of its visual effects. Thankfully, the titular giant ape is an impressive technical marvel, but with the sheer amount of CGI put on the screen, there were bound to be some scenes that didn’t quite achieve the same fidelity. The thrilling dinosaur chase scene is an impressive visual feat, but on close inspection, it doesn’t hold up very well. The main problem with this scene is that, while the dinosaurs look pretty great, the placement of the human actors never quite looks believable and reeks of green-screening.
2. Green Lantern
DC Comics is currently attempting to get their stable of superheroes onto the silver screen in a big way, beginning with next years crossover film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but they’re going to have a hard time making audiences forget about 2011’s incredibly disappointing Green Lantern. Starring Ryan Reynolds in the title role, Green Lantern suffered from CGI overload, with even Reynolds’ suit being computer animated. The suit in particular received a lot of criticism for looking terrible (which, to be fair, it did), but the film as a whole is like one big cautionary tale of the dangers of using too much CGI.
1. The Mummy Returns
It’s difficult to think of any other film with a large budget that commuted such a gigantic CGI sin as The Mummy Returns. Prior to the film’s release, there was considerable hype for wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s role in the film, as he was still in the very early stages of his movie career. Other than the film’s prologue, The Rock doesn’t appear until the end, but it’s likely that no one was anticipating the reveal the film had in store. For some inexplicable reason, The Rock’s character — the Scorpion King — was turned into a computer-generated half-man, half-scorpion monstrosity. Even in 2001 the character was absurd-looking and time has not done the film any favors. The Rock can’t possibly be proud of this one.