December 30, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Notwithstanding Meg Ryan’s immortal orgasm in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally …, certain elemental things in life just can’t be faked convincingly for cameras or microphones. Or can they? Here’s our call on the year’s oh-so-slick high-tech magic tricks.

Digital F/X Magicians With staggering verisimilitude, they brought Forrest Gump face-to-face with three dead Presidents; followed a white feather’s fall to earth; made Gary Sinise, as Gump‘s Lieutenant Dan, look unnervingly like he’d really lost his legs; placed Arnold Schwarzenegger at a warplane’s controls in True Lies; and used footage of the late Brandon Lee’s face to create posthumously performed scenes in The Crow. Computer-generated unreality also amazed in the real-life looney tune The Mask.

Fab Faux Playing a twentysomething John Lennon in BackBeat, Ian Hart never once descended to mimicry, yet perfectly embodied an indelible legend. Of course, he got by with a little help from his friends: He lip-synched to vocals by Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs.

Not-So-Mighty Morphin’ Sporting eyes like high beams and an ever-mutating headdress, Jaye Davidson as the Egyptianesque deity in StarGate helped make the sci-fi epic a surprise hit. But the biggest surprise is how fast the transforming-face morph shot is becoming an F/X cliché, thanks mainly to umpteen TV ads replicating it. Remember when the technique dazzled in Michael Jackson’s 1991 ”Black or White” video?

Arresting Gore In Miami to work on Sylvester Stallone’s The Specialist, makeup artist Jay Cannistraci wound up in the middle of a rocky real-life romance when local cops hired him to fake the slaying of a woman whose husband had allegedly put out a contract on her. The cops say that when shown Polaroids of his wife’s simulated slashed throat, the would-be widower forked over payment for the job — and went directly to jail.

Amazingly, these mind games mark only the crudest beginnings of a brave new digitally manipulable world. Is there a limit to such fakery? Let’s hope so. One sign of resistance was the September derailment of Disney’s America, a historical theme park planned near Manassas, Va. Critics objected to, among other things, the virtual-reality educational attractions that would, in one Disney spokesman’s words, let visitors ”feel what it’s like to be a slave.” Step right up, folks; it’s Mandingo, the Ride!

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