Casey Affleck’s ethereal figure in “A Ghost Story” may be the hokiest costume in modern screen history.
It’s on purpose, though.
Affleck (as well as a stand-in) appears under a large billowy sheet to portray a ghost visiting a widow in the film. It’s a complicated treatise on grief that’s earning raves in critical quarters. One reason why? That sheeted ghost is remarkably effective.
Sometimes lo-fi effects serve a specific function. And think of all the money saved on expensive CGI!
That isn’t the case for these films. The following five movies tried, and failed, to deliver state-of-the-art special effects. In each case they failed in spectacular fashion. You can’t blame the FX of the era. These movies couldn’t match the very best effects technologies of the era. Or they were too cheap to even try.
The results can be hard to watch.
“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (1987)
The 1978 original promised, “you will believe a man can fly.” The not-so-super fourth film in the franchise dialed back significantly on the budget.
That left little cash to make star Christopher Reeve’s flights look convincing. That’s hardly the worst part. The villainous Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) looked like an extra from a kiddie’s birthday party, down to his silly golden nails.
Audiences weaned on the series’ superior special effects recoiled in horror. And for good reason.
“Mac and Me” (1988)
Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” cast such a long pop-culture shadow it took six years before its most embarrassing clone hit theaters. The 1988 dud “Mac and Me” followed a wheelchair-bound lad and his friendship with a space alien.
Not so original, right?
Despite six additional years to tinker with FX improvements, the producers skimped on the budget. The result? The most laughable puppetry of any film that year.
“Total Recall” (1990)
Taken as a whole, the FX bringing this Arnold Schwarzenegger hit to life aren’t awful. The film still pushed too far, too often. Technology wasn’t ready to convincingly create a three-breasted alien or some of the shape shifting our Austrian hero accomplishes in the film.
The results? The story’s limitations popped off the screen more than the otherwise solid action sequences.
“The Hulk” (2003)
So much went wrong with director Ang Lee’s take on the classic Marvel superhero. The dark tone. The lack of slam-bang action. A laughable villain. Those silly split panels meant to conjure your average comic book page.
Most of all, the FX simply weren’t ready for prime time.
CGI brought Eric Bana’s Hulk to life. It underwhelmed then, and today it looks even worse in comparison to flawless FX creations like the headliners in “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Not to mention Mark Ruffalo’s green alter ego in two “Avengers” films.
Perhaps Lee and co. should have waited a year or three until the technology caught up with their vision. As is, the film is tough to watch when the title character lumbers on screen.
“Jaws 3D” (1983)
The 1975 classic “Jaws” proved an old saw in so many artistic fields. Less is more. Perhaps if the robotic shark dubbed Bruce had behaved as intended we would have seen more of him in Spielberg’s thriller.
Bruce didn’t do as told, so the director cut back on his scenes. Bruce’s loss proved our gain, even if the FX were crude and unreliable.
By the third film in the franchise, the suits felt a bit friskier about the title character. They shouldn’t have been so bold. The FX particular in a sequence where the shark invades the SeaWorld complex is aggressively awful. Just like the rest of the movie.