2016's remakes, reboots and sequels show how special effects have evolved
Posted July 21
The expression “what’s old is new again” applies these days when it comes to Hollywood’s big-budget tentpole movies. This weekend’s release of “Ghostbusters” is just one more example of the Hollywood remake/reboot/sequel machine working overtime to revisit anything and everything old enough to possibly be considered a classic.
Later this year, audiences can also look forward to the Justin Lin-directed “Star Trek Beyond,” a reimagining of “Pete’s Dragon,” a modern “Magnificent Seven” and an action-blockbuster take on “Ben-Hur,” all of which look to past decades in the hopes of making beloved films fresh — not to mention profitable — again.
Equally appropriate for movies such as these, though, is another common expression: “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to” — quite literally, in fact.
The advent of digital special effects completely changed the way movies such as “Ghostbusters” are made.
Here’s a look back at a few examples of remakes, reboots and sequels of older classics from just this year and how special effects have changed from the original to the modern versions:
“Ghostbusters” (1984)/“Ghostbusters” (2016)
The original “Ghostbusters” was arguably the first of its kind: less a comedy with special effects and more an “effects movie” with comedy. Remarkably, the whole thing was completed in just 10 short months with a special effects budget of only $5 million, according to effects supervisor Richard Edlund (via tested.com). In order to bring the movie’s variety of ghouls, poltergeists and Sumerian gods to life, the effects team used an equally varied bunch of “old-school” techniques ranging from foam latex puppets (such as Slimer) to miniatures to matte paintings and anything else they could think of. The vast majority of it, however, was done in-camera, meaning that it didn’t require postproduction tweaking.
While the tools have changed drastically, the new “Ghostbusters” carries part of that tradition into the modern age, according to a lot of early reviews, as a splashy effects-driven action-comedy that, unlike most 3-D movies, might be worth ponying up the extra cash to see with the funny glasses.
“Independence Day” (1996)/“Independence Day: Resurgence” (2016)
Anyone old enough to remember seeing director Roland Emmerich’s first foray into multimillion-dollar cinematic destruction will no doubt remember the movie’s signature special effects shot: the White House getting blown up by a giant blue alien death beam.
“Independence Day” earned its effects team, led by Volker Engel, an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. In his acceptance speech, Engel said, “This is movie magic,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
It may be hard to believe given today’s CGI wonderlands, but according to Engel (via The Hollywood Reporter), 95 percent of the effects for the original “Independence Day” were done using miniatures with motion-control cameras. That includes the White House shot, which Engel said was staged using a 15-foot-wide-by-5-foot-high model complete with individually detailed floors and custom miniature furniture.
This summer’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” shows just how much visual effects have changed in the past two decades. Compared to the original film’s 430 visual effects shots, the new movie boasts a staggering 1,750, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Engel, who once again oversaw the film’s special effects, said they still used things such as props and models, but now they’re all done digitally inside a computer.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990)/“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” (2016)
Before computer-generated imaging made it possible for the heroes in a half shell to have humanlike lips, the only way to get their mouths to move was through animatronic heads worn by actors in full-body costumes, according to denofgeek.com.
The 1990 movie crew turned to Jim Henson’s legendary Creature Shop, which used animatronic technology originally developed in the early 1960s by Walt Disney and the Disney Imagineers.
The characters’ shells came in handy for this as they were used to house a lot of the gadgetry, including the facial motors and computers, which were connected with a nest of cables to the head, according to an article on triviahappy.com. Because of this, according to the article, the original movie’s costumes weighed as much as 70 pounds each.
This summer’s sequel to the Michael Bay-produced Turtles reboot, on the other hand, relied on cutting-edge motion-capture technology, according to a YouTube video about the show's production, which allowed the filmmakers to shoot on location and the actors to have full range of expression while wearing gray pajamalike suits with dots all over them.
“Superman” (1978)/“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016)
“You’ll believe a man can fly,” as the movie’s tagline famously said, and while the techniques used to make Christopher Reeve soar through the sky like a bird (no, a plane … no, Superman!) might seem primitive by today’s standards, they were downright revolutionary circa 1978.
According to fxphd.com, the film pioneered, among other things, a brand-new technology known as the Zoptic front-projection system to capture the effect of Superman flying toward the screen.
A special “cape-fluttering” device was also developed that used remote-controlled poles like one might find in an umbrella.
“Superman” was also the first movie to feature a computer-generated title sequence, in the sense that the “streak” photography used for the titles involved a camera controlled by computer (but not CGI), according to filmsite.org.
By contrast, in the character’s latest cinematic outing, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” it’s apparent just how much the use of green screens has developed — everything from the backgrounds to the pounding rain to Superman’s cape and even Batman’s armor, in many instances, are CGI, according to batman-news.com. (No need for mechanical cape-flutterers here!) This allows for filmmaking to be more visually dynamic than 1978’s "Superman" director, Richard Donner, likely ever could have dreamed.
Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.