Amazing Movie Special Effects

How did they do it? 5 movie practical effects that were just the most extra

It’s officially Spooktober, the month of Halloween, that most wonderful time of the year. So put on a horror flick, grab your popcorn and watch on in awe as buckets of good old fashioned practical effect gore cover the screen.

It’s not just horror movies that go for broke on the practical effect front though. There’s loads of famous movies that come to mind where the production team really earned their bacon: here’s five of our favourites.

1) James Bond’s jetpack in Thunderball

Ok, this one’s easy right? Build a prop jetpack out of cardboard boxes and tinfoil, strap it to a stunt performer, pick them up with a crane and wobble them about a bit. Done.

Except, when EON Productions came to make 1965’s Thunderball, that wasn’t good enough. No they needed the real thing, so after a quick call to the US Army, one prototype jetpack was on its way. Yep that’s right, it’s the real deal.

Used by Bond for a quick getaway during the film’s pre-title sequence, the Bell Aerosystems “Bell Rocket Belt” (AKA the “Man-Rocket”) could achieve 21 seconds of flight and had a range of 120 metres. When you watch the film, you’ll notice that Bond is even safety conscious and pops on a helmet before his short flight. That’s because the actual jetpack operator refused to do the stunt without one (despite protests from the film’s producers). Seems like a sensible choice, we’ll be sure to follow suit when personal jetpacks are eventually made available to the public.

2) The rotating hallway in Inception

joseph gordon levitt inception GIF
Seems safe enough. Image Source: Giphy

So, you want to make it look like a hallway is rotating while your characters have a good ol’ scrap for one of the fight scenes. How are you going to do it? Maybe with some invisible wires, a generous helping of green screen CGI and some clever camera angles?

Not if you’re Christopher Nolan. Nope, instead you build a hundred foot hallway on eight concentric rings, strap it to two massive motors and chuck your actors inside while you spin the whole thing around. Honestly, it sounds fun, like a fairground funhouse turned up to eleven. Sign us up for a go. 

3) Getting the Millennium Falcon’s chess game just right

“Let the Wookiee win.”

Most Star Wars fans are familiar with the holographic chess game that Chewbacca and R2-D2 play aboard the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: A New Hope, but did you know that this game actually has a name? ‘Dejarik’ as it is known (thanks to a 1995 Star Wars roleplaying game supplement of all things) features a host of colourful and strange monsters that players get to command. So when it came to building the Falcon’s interior for The Force Awakens, recreating the now iconic game accurately was important to the crew.

Stop motion maestro Phil Tippett (who worked on the original 1977 chess scene) was called in, and after using scans and photogrammetry of the original models to create new silicone versions, the real work started. Since Tippett’s studio had other projects on the go, apocryphal accounts say that it took almost a year to complete a sequence which became a short easter egg, where John Boyega's Finn accidently activates the board. Plus, it wasn’t just the pieces and stop motion animation techniques that were true to the original - the pieces even show up in the exact same position they were left in during A New Hope, making for probably the longest game of dejarik ever.

4) Watch out for the Polecats in Mad Max: Fury Road

So we’ve got this idea for these bandits on bendy poles that reach out to attack our protagonists. Oh and the poles are attached to cars that are pelting it through the desert. Shall we use CGI for this maybe?

Not if you’re making the epic two hour car chase that is Mad Max: Fury Road. Instead, action unit director Guy Norris had a Cirque du Soleil performer train his stunt guys in what is known as “Chinese pole routines” on specially designed poles with a high fulcrum. Norris apparently based these poles on “old fashion water duck statue(s) at people's desks.” You know, those toys that bob down and drink water. Not exactly what we think of when we picture the concept of sturdiness.  

However, under the expert eye of the Mad Max: Fury Road stunt team, and with assistance of laser beams to make sure the poles were manipulated at exactly the right angles, this amazing stunt was pulled off without any CGI. Hmmm...does that make it a practical “effect,” or technically just a really, really ballsy, adrenaline pumping stunt? Either way, it’s amazing, so it stays on the list.

5) The Chestburster from Alien is practical effect royalty

Alien
Surprise! Image Source: YouTube/Movieclips

We mentioned “good old fashioned practical effect gore” up at the top, and what better example of that than the Chestburster scene from 1979’s Alien. It’s said that all director Ridley Scott told actress Veronica Cartwright before the scene is that “its head will move and it’s going to have teeth.” That’s all she knew about the now iconic baby beasty.

So when the cast arrived on set to see John Hurt strapped to a rig, and a geyser of gore burst forward and hit Cartwright in the face, her scream and her look of terror were genuine! At least they got the take, right? Workplace horror aside, one of the other reasons the effect worked so well is that the production team used real chunks of meat obtained from a local fishmonger and butcher shop. Gross. Timeless, effective and iconic...but really gross.

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Regardless of whether you're getting ready for a horror-filled Halloween, or if your movie nights are a more subdued affair, we hope we've got you pumped to rewatch some of your big screen favourites - or maybe even some classics that have slipped through the net.

Film, James Bond, Retro, Star Wars, TV, Weird & Wonderful