The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Effect: Yoda.
Practical Magic: Jabba The Hutt? ET? Everything in Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal ? Anything Jim Henson has hand in?
It’s easy to forget how big a debt cinema owes to puppets. Arguably the greatest of them all, Yoda doles out wrinkly parcels of wisdom from whatever was wrapped around Frank Oz’s forearm. Need any more proof that practical effects are better than CG? Compare his performance in The Empire Strikes Back to his silly Xbox acrobatics in Attack Of The Clones …
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Effect: The truck flip.
Practical Magic: Practical effects in modern movies sometimes go unnoticed or, worse, they’re assumed to be fake.
Not so with Nolan’s truck flip in his Batman Begins sequel – a ‘trick’ he pulled off by, well, flipping a truck. Driving a real lorry over a pneumatic lever, Nolan’s stunt crew upended the vehicle in the middle of Chicago.
The Effect: The chestburster.
Practical Magic: Not to be upstaged by the full size xenomorph, the baby Alien gets the best entrance in the film. Famously, none of the actors stood around John Hurt (rigged up with a prosthetic torso, stuffed full of pig blood and a puppet on a stick) had any idea what was going to happen – making the grisly eruption all the more horrific.
Jurassic Park (1993)
The T-Rex attack
Sure, JP is best known for the landmark steps it took in the field of CG, but most of the really iconic scenes were made the old-fashioned way. Most impressive is the moment a giant (life size, fully operational) animatromic T-Rex head crunches down on an upturned car – the real weight, spit and gristle all selling the illusion more than an entire army of digi-dinos ever could.
An American Werewolf In London (1981)
The Effect: Man becomes wolf.
Practical Magic: Still help up by the industry as the greatest ‘transformation’ scene ever filmed, Rick Baker’s creature work on John Landis’ ultimate were-movie has never been bettered.
A mix of prosthetics and robotics are used to get the effect – looking about as painful and horrifying as turning into a wolf is meant to look. Computer graphics have their place, but they’ll always be trying, and failing, to beat this .