PopWatch Duel has a return engagement this week. You remember how this works: We ask two people fortheir picks on a certain topic. You decide whose list is better bycasting avote in the comments section. They try to tell themselves that theydon’t care who wins.
In honor of their new two-hour MythBusters: Shark Special (kicking off Discovery’s Shark Week July 27, at 9 p.m. ET) — and the run of 11 new MythBusters episodes beginning Aug. 6 (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET) — we asked Adam Savage (pictured, left) and Jamie Hyneman (pictured, right) to suspend disbelief long enough to name The Five Best Special Effects Scenes.
Class is in session after the jump.
This is a hard list to compile, being as I’ve loved special effects in movies since I was “no” years old. But here it is, and though I can defend the order, I can’t stand behind it as absolute. It may shift from time to time. Funnily enough, even though I’ve worked in the effects business for the better part of a decade, I don’t think my answers would have been much different if I hadn’t. These scenes and shots are selected for the totality of the craft: where the effects support the film rather than overshadow it.
1. Deckard and Gaff’s landing on the Police station in Blade Runner: This shot is pure visual poetry. Never before or since has an entire world been so perfectly and beautifully realized as in this shot. The background noise, the sound of the traffic control, the music, the rain, the multiple elements, the futuristic noir feeling. Nobody’s done a shot this good before or since. No lie.
2. Hoth Snow Battle from The Empire Strikes Back: From the moment you see the AT-AT’s coming through the snow, you know you’re in for a treat. This is hands down the best complete sequence ever filmed. No suspension of disbelief is necessary, it’s all there. The environment feels 100% genuine, and when Luke fires the cable and trips up the AT-AT — that shot still thrills.
3. Slicing of Jack Nicholson’s nose in Chinatown: Dude, this shot messed me up. I was 17, and I literally jumped out of my seat. I rewound the tape and framed-by-framed through this shot like 20 times. Later I found out that it was a simple sprung tip and a squeeze bulb full of fake blood, but what an effect it had on me! One of the quintessential things about noir is the threat and implication of sudden violence, and it has rarely been so perfectly realized as in this scene.
4. Every single scene between Kong and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) in King Kong: Not only is it some of the most compelling acting I’ve ever seen (Andy Serkis and the animation team SHOULD have been nominated for this role!) but the digital rendering of Kong is without equal in movies. So much emotion, so much character. I’ve rarely been so compelled by a character, let alone a digital one. It gets me every time.
5. Twelve-minute shot in the car from Children of Men: This shot is a masterpiece. So much so that I didn’t even perceive it was a single shot until it was over. The technique, while virtuoso, enhances and amazingly doesn’t overshadow, the incredible narrative, which draws you in with an intense vitality. The camera spinning around inside the car as the inhabitants laugh with each, then are attacked, and then escape, you feel like you’re there.
When I watch a movie I don’t really care too much about the plot — not that it isn’t important, but what I remember is the visual imagery, something that happens in an individual scene. When that happens with special effects, and when it is done really well, it can bring you into a whole different world, where the constraints we have in our normal lives don’t apply. It captures the imagination, and can be magical. For me, this is what will qualify a film as one of my favorites. They may not be great films overall, but I don’t care. When effects are done well, they are not cheap technical tricks, they are transcendently imaginative.
1. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen — Horse Runs Out of Window: Terry Gilliam has directed some of the best examples of what I like to see in a film — one of them being Baron Munchausen. Three scenes come to mind. The first: a horse runs out of a window in a tower maybe six stories up, and lands safely on the plaza below, to gallop away. Not that complex, but a fantastic and dashing piece of brilliance that is beautifully done.
2. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen — Fast Legs: The second from this film: one of the characters in the movie is capable of running fast. REALLY fast. He occasionally loses it, with his legs whizzing out of control. At one point he outruns a bullet to save someone from being shot. Very funny.
3. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen — Torture Organ: My #3 is the organ that the Sultan plays as a torture device, where pressing on a key pokes or otherwise gives pain to the victim, who is confined in the organ and who makes some really bizarre music.
4. Dune: There are a couple of scenes in David Lynch’s Dune that I loved — again, small things but inspired and elegantly done. The first is where Beast Rabban is having a snack. This involves carving a mouthful of beef off a live cow, which is kind of hanging handily by in the room, with a bandage or two attached here and there from the last meal.
5. Dune: The second from this film is the Baron Harkonnen, who is a floating fat man with an anti-gravity device attached, and who is covered with pustules which he appears to cherish for some kind of thrill he gets from his doctor when the sores are probed. These scenes are so twisted, so out of control, and yet not overly complex as there is not that much to them.
6. Legend: I love Tim Curry as the Devil in Legend; the prosthetics that are on him are so over the top sensually evil, and Tim takes full advantage, is just oozing with the role. The makeup and prosthetics, and his character are seamless.
OK, so there are three, or six, however you look at it. Who’s counting? I could go on. The point with all these is that there is this exuberant playfulness behind them, a joy of the medium. The creative people behind these scenes are wallowing in their freedom to invent, to let their imaginations fly. The actors involved are totally saturated in their roles. The execution is flawless — although Tim Curry’s horns can be seen to wobble a bit when he moves quickly. I don’t think any of these films ever did that well with the critics by the way, and I would not call them great films either, but have I watched them over and over? You bet!
Who wins the Duel? Adam Savage or Jamie Hyneman? Vote now! (To get even deeper inside the guys’ heads, check out our Q&A, which celebrated their 100th episode.)