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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

The late 1800s/early 1900s gave birth to a number of science-fiction special effects that are worth noting.

Reverse Motion was used to frightening effect in the creation of Frankenstein's monster in 1910s Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Contrary to the more popular conception of Universal's lightning-strike laboratory, in the original movie, the monster is a result of strange alchemy. The body self-constructs from a vat of dust through Viktor's arcane arts.

At around the 3 minute mark, the monster takes shape.

That same year, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz premiered.

Of note: although it was a silent film it was based on the 1902 stage musical of the same name, which was, of course, based on the Baum book. You may notice that the famous arm-in-arm "skipping" dance between Dorothy and her friends did not originate in the now more famous MGM musical from the 1930s, but in its silent predecessor (and, before that I would bet, in the earlier stage adaptation.)

I like two of the three special effects employed in this version: the flying witch and monkeys use stage rigging, but are done at such speed over a short space (and duration) that my eye falls for it better than the now elaborate flight scenes from films like Harry Potter.

The second one is the use of actors in costumes to portray live animals. In contrast to the flying bits, this is completely and obviously unbelievable to the eye, but, in terms of f/x being used to advance characters, it works. This now completely discarded art reached its height (or depth, depending on your aesthetic) with the "rubber suit monster movies" like Godzilla.

Even as a six-year-old in a dark matinee, I could tell that Godzilla was a dude stomping on a toy set, but also knew that I cared about the "fakey-looking" characters more than I would ever care about their latter-day, better designed, "more realistic" counterparts.

The third effect in Oz which was crummy, even for the primitive film standards before The War, was its stop-camera "disappearance" effect, so the less said about that, the better.

What's one (or two or three or eight) of your favorite sci-fi special effects, and how has its use changed (or not) over time?

More importantly, is that change a good thing, or bad?

Let the arguments begin.
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