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Dated Special Effects, Set Design or Concepts in Sci-fi

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Pretty much every film shows its age after a while. Often in simple things like fashion, hairstyles, huge mobile phones and structures that no longer exist.

Sci-fi of special effects heavy films can have additional issues. The technology that was used to create the effects can look seriously cheap and dated after even a relatively short time. Sets that looked futuristic will look old fashioned 10 or 20 years down the road and what once was forward thinking now simply looks backwards.

One strange thing is that in even some sci-fi films that are still considered to be great looking, there is one aspects that looks seriously dated, even if the effects and set pieces which surrounds them still look good.

2001, Star Wars (1977), alien, Blade Runner for instance. All films with state of the art effects that still look impressive today, except for their computer displays.

Strange that visionaries like Kubrick, Lucas and Scott spend countless hours and great attention to detail to make their future worlds look spectacular, but in all cases their computer monitor displays consists of a black or greenish screen with monochrome text or graphics, very crude, very out dated. (Kubrick does get points for using plat panel screens, not the usual tube TV type screens)

Not really a sci-fi film, but the 90's film Disclosure features a subplot about a new fancy computer operating system which looks ridiculous now. (maybe it always did)

Jurassic Park! The Dino's still look great. But the computer Lex uses near the end on the film uses an OS that now looks clumsy and silly.

Maybe it's because it's the one aspect of sci-fi that we come in contact with on a daily basis.

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I think the technology in Alien, for instance, looks cooler than it would these days. Star Wars and Trek as well. They are certainly dated, as their futuristic technology was imagined in the past. But the results are much cooler.

The Nostromo still has this believability to it, it may very well exist somewhere, someday. The new Enterprise from Star Trek certainly never will.

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I think in this regard, The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most enduring films ever made. Even the computer displays, the consoles, 'the small blinking lights' and all, look awesome. The set design of the film just never gives away when it was made.

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Funny that Jurassic Park was mentioned - I was only thinking the other day about how well it's ageing. Why? Because I've been watching Twin Peaks recently and just about everything about that production in terribly dated - from clothes fashions, to hairstyles - it's all so nineties. At first it I found it really distracting, until I settled into and accepted the charm it actually added. That show ran from '90-'91. Jurassic Park came along a mere two years later, but you wouldn't know it.

JP's wardrobe and hairstyles are completely era-neutral. There is nothing in the film which tells you it was made in 1993 apart from a few shots of old computer hardware. Everything else (including the special effects) have held up extremely well, which is an overlooked quality the film has, in my mind, and I absolutely believe that these things were by Spielberg's design.

Jurassic Park may well become every bit the timeless adventure for the ages, as did Raiders before it.

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Well there is always the issue of believability versus aesthetic appeal.

The Enterprise, whatever version you take was never meant to look believable. Both the exterior model or interior set designs. It was designed to look striking, identifiable. Nostromo probably is more realistic, but very few people would recognize it's outline.

BTW, speaking of The Enterprise. I noticed something.

The Enterprise D from The Next Generation still looks great. Even though many of the props, special effects and costumes from the early days of that show now look a bit cheap and silly. The USS Enterprise still looks great.

Maybe it has something to do with those lovely round curves.

Ent-D04.jpg

Same goes for Robocop actually, from that same year 1987. The stop-motion effects actually look very dated now. Bit the actual design Robocop still looks great. They can do a new movie, not change the look of the character at all and totally get away with it.

robocop.jpg

I think in this regard, The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most enduring films ever made. Even the computer displays, the consoles, 'the small blinking lights' and all, look awesome. The set design of the film just never gives away when it was made.

And yet TESB never gets the accolades that other sci-fi films received for their design.

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Air Force One has the ending shot of the plane bouncing off the sea and you could tell it's really badly dated.

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Not really. That shot always looked rubbish, even in 1987. It's just bad CGI.

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How about Mary Poppins? The film is like nearly 50 years old but the visual effects still holds up after all the progress in the field.

Not really. That shot always looked rubbish, even in 1987. It's just bad CGI.

Not really. That shot always looked rubbish, even in 1987. It's just bad CGI.

Are you talking about Air Force One? You're 10 years off there.

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Well there is always the issue of believability versus aesthetic appeal.

The Enterprise, whatever version you take was never meant to look believable. Both the exterior model or interior set designs. It was designed to look striking, identifiable. Nostromo probably is more realistic, but very few people would recognize it's outline.

BTW, speaking of The Enterprise. I noticed something.

The Enterprise D from The Next Generation still looks great. Even though many of the props, special effects and costumes from the early days of that show now look a bit cheap and silly. The USS Enterprise still looks great.

Maybe it has something to do with those lovely round curves.

Ent-D04.jpg

Same goes for Robocop actually, from that same year 1987. The stop-motion effects actually look very dated now. Bit the actual design Robocop still looks great. They can do a new movie, not change the look of the character at all and totally get away with it.

robocop.jpg

I think in this regard, The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most enduring films ever made. Even the computer displays, the consoles, 'the small blinking lights' and all, look awesome. The set design of the film just never gives away when it was made.

And yet TESB never gets the accolades that other sci-fi films received for their design.

I think elements of TESB are more dated than Star Wars. To me TESB looks like an eighties sci-fi film. I can't say that by comparison Star Wars looks like it was made in the previous decade - it's aged very well, perhaps the best of the saga.

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Hmmm...no Star Wars (1977) always had that bleak and shabby 70's look for me.

Anyway. Luke's hairstyle and Leia's buns could not have sprung from any other era.

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Hell, even in The Matrix there are some things that became outdated. Like the cellphone designs.

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Yes I noticed that when I saw the movie a few months ago. Those mobile phones now look gigantic.

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Every films that has CRT monitors instead of LCD displays, e.g. Starship Troopers.

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Actually, that Star Wars' 'bleakness' is a contributing factor of that well-ageing I referred to. At times it's an aesthetically stark film; or at least it used to be... bloody Lucas.

The sequels look very grand and polished - much more eighties.

Aesthetically, Star Wars had more in common with The Terminator. Low budget, ahead of its time.

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I always thought SW looked very 70s, mainly due to the cinematography. Empire undoubtedly looks more polished, Jedi even more so, but in ESB the design and the lighting - the photography is the best of the saga by miles - really stands out, from the desolate snow plains to the surreal dreamlike Bespin landscapes. It helps that it barely has any computer screen scenes - only video or hologram, neither of which date at all. The scene where Han and Leia kiss always stands out to me because of the production design - while they get it on, there are dozens of little gizmos and lights going off, and it adds a brilliant sense of realism.

I agree on the Enterprise-D - I never used to appreciate the design as much as I should have - although similarly, the refit/A still stands out for me as a timeless design, which is of course helped by the size of the model as photographed (seven feet I think).

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Maybe we need to make a distinction. Films that meant to look futuristic (Star Wars, Alien, Logan's Run, ...) and those that don't (Jurassic Park, Westworld, Contact, ... )

Most of it is subjective, I love the old school spaceship look of Alien and Event Horizon.

Return Of The Jedi more polished look than TESB? No way! Design and lichting more arty and hi-tech in TESB. ROTJ boring. All brown.

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The set design of the film just never gives away when it was made.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

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Maybe we need to make a distinction. Films that meant to look futuristic (Star Wars, Alien, Logan's Run, ...) and those that don't (Jurassic Park, Westworld, Contact, ... )

Logan's Run really looks silly now. Did it ever look good?

Most of it is subjective, I love the old school spaceship look of Alien and Event Horizon.

The look is the best thing about Event Horizon.

Return Of The Jedi more polished look than TESB? No way! Design and lichting more arty and hi-tech in TESB. ROTJ boring. All brown.

Apart from the scenes in the Emperor's throne room, which look fine, ROTJ has a flat, rather cheap look to it. The muppets don't help...

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I think Star Wars 'suffers' a bit from rather generic, too conservative cinematography and lighting, which was pretty common back in the 60's, 70's and early 80's. At times, especially the scenes inside the Death Star, have that 'TV show' feel to it. There is not a lot of sophistication in the way it was shot. It's all pretty straightforward. Some might say that Lucas was aiming for that, but I think it has more to do with the type of cinematographer Taylor was.

ESB is much more richer filmed, with numerous dolly and crane shots and incredible lighting. I don't feel ESB has that '80's'-feel to it at all; it truly escapes the year it was shot, much more than other films from the same period. It was ahead of its time in many regards.

The reason it doesn't receive the same praise for set design other sci-fi films get is simply because it's not 'hard sci-fi' and has the name Star Wars attached to it. The same reason people tend to value Don Bluth over Disney, just because Disney is associated with MacDonalds and Coca Cola. It's just not 'serious enough' to praise. Just my opinion of course. ;)

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Strange that visionaries like Kubrick, Lucas and Scott spend countless hours and great attention to detail to make their future worlds look spectacular, but in all cases their computer monitor displays consists of a black or greenish screen with monochrome text or graphics, very crude, very out dated.

Actually that can be a healthy way of avoiding Extreme Graphical Representation.

As for spaceships, probably the most timeless one I've seen so far is the Venture Star in the opening of Avatar. Utter perfection, it's right out of a modern hard sci-fi novel. It probably will not age in decades.

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I found it right out of the cover of a 70s hard SF novel, so it dated immediately for me. But I was pretty disappointed with most of the design choices in that film on the whole.

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Which novel? It's a functional design, I've never seen a film take interstellar travel so seriously. It even has the needed massive radiators that Kubrick didn't want in his Discovery! And the rotating modules lean back an forward for acceleration and decceleration, that's brilliant! And I love the beautiful tensile structure, and the shield...

As for the rest of the design choices in that film, probably nothing lived up to the Venture Star.

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Logan's Run really looks silly now. Did it ever look good?

It looked great to me in 1976. And it still does.

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Funny that Jurassic Park was mentioned - I was only thinking the other day about how well it's ageing. Why? Because I've been watching Twin Peaks recently and just about everything about that production in terribly dated - from clothes fashions, to hairstyles - it's all so nineties. At first it I found it really distracting, until I settled into and accepted the charm it actually added. That show ran from '90-'91. Jurassic Park came along a mere two years later, but you wouldn't know it.

JP's wardrobe and hairstyles are completely era-neutral. There is nothing in the film which tells you it was made in 1993 apart from a few shots of old computer hardware. Everything else (including the special effects) have held up extremely well, which is an overlooked quality the film has, in my mind, and I absolutely believe that these things were by Spielberg's design.

Jurassic Park may well become every bit the timeless adventure for the ages, as did Raiders before it.

While I agree that the animatronic dinos and the characters themselves don't look dated at all, the CGI dinos look pretty bad to me. The scene when Grant and friends first see a dinosaur almost looks like a modern day computer game. However, when it comes to the animatronics I'm not sure I've ever seen such a compelling SFX creature. It's even better than the 2005 King Kong dinosaurs.

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I think besides the cut from Ash's fake head to real head, everything else in Alien looks fantastic today.

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No movie looks better except for A Space Odyssey maybe. Fantastic compositions, lichting and amazing sets.

Logan's Run really looks silly now. Did it ever look good?

It looked great to me in 1976. And it still does.

I haven't seen it in a long time but you mean 'great' in a low quality, substandard way, right? Didn't it look as if everything took place in a shopping mall?

Alex

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Jurassic Park! The Dino's still look great. But the computer Lex uses near the end on the film uses an OS that now looks clumsy and silly.

It looked clumsy and silly back then. Back in 93 I was annoyed that Crichton had drawn all those elaborately menu diagrams in his book only to have them replaced with some stupid 3D representation of a file system. Turns out it was a real system they used. But back then I didn't know why anyone would want to use something like this, and to this day I don't.

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Maybe we need to make a distinction. Films that meant to look futuristic (Star Wars, Alien, Logan's Run, ...) and those that don't (Jurassic Park, Westworld, Contact, ... )

Logan's Run really looks silly now. Did it ever look good?

I think the opening model shot from Logan's Run still looks amazing.

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The mother room on Nostromo with the blinking lights is awesome. Who wouldn't want a room of their own like that?

Epileptics?

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No movie looks better except for A Space Odyssey maybe. Fantastic compositions, lichting and amazing sets.

Logan's Run really looks silly now. Did it ever look good?

It looked great to me in 1976. And it still does.

I haven't seen it in a long time but you mean 'great' in a low quality, substandard way, right? Didn't it look as if everything took place in a shopping mall?

Alex

No.

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The Matrix still looks as superb today as it did 13 years ago. And it's because of things like this:

nc4r2.jpg

It doesn't look dated...because they didn't try to predict what the future would look like. You don't stop and think "WTF is she holding?" because that's a phone. End of story.

Even if you were born in 2002 and you never held one of those phones, your mind would still accept it as a phone and move on, because of things like this:

FSyGe.jpg

Also, for those who like Star Trek, they might like these behind the scenes photos from the VFX front:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alba/sets/72157622007016548/detail/

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No.

Sorry, but yes. This is the first review I came across and already they agree with me.

Logan's Run was an expensive production, about $9 million, or nearly the same cost as Star Wars, and yet it still looks cheap and clunky. Opening shots of the dome-enclosed metropolis reveal a vast but patently phony miniature cityscape no more realistic than those seen in Italian sci-fi programmers from the mid-1960s. The film has lots of special effects, but many opticals are poorly executed, such as the matted-in flying clean-up crews that dissolve runners' bodies, and an elaborate sequence depicting Carrousel - with about two dozen stunt people floating upward toward "rebirth" - reveals highly-visible wireworks. (Somewhat better are Matthew Yuricich's matte paintings of a 23rd century Washington, D.C., its famous landmarks crumbling and overgrown with vegetation.)

Many of the film's interiors were shot at various shopping malls and hotels in Texas, of all places, and they tend to look exactly what they are, and are simply not convincing. Though Agutter is fetching in several of Bill Thomas's sexy (and bra-less) gowns, generally the costume design is very much stuck in the Disco Era. Michael Anderson Jr. appears briefly as a plastic surgeon; he wears a silver jumpsuit straight out of Lost in Space.

http://www.dvdtalk.c...564/logans-run/

Alex

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I'd say Lawrence of Arabia is another one of those films that has aged extremely gracefully. If you covered my ears, it could be shot today.

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I'd say Lawrence of Arabia is another one of those films that has aged extremely gracefully. If you covered my ears, it could be shot today.

Agreed, the cinematography of that film can still be considered masterful in our times. A beautiful film in terms of visuals.

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While not exactly a sci-fi film, Dragonslayer (1981) still holds up some of the best especial effects I have ever seen. The way the dragon moves its just amazing (courtesy of the always brilliant Phil Tipett), and some of the practical effects (live the magic and stuff) is very well done. Some of the chroma effects may give the films age away a bit, but apart from that, it's a wonder to look at. Brilliant cinematography, too.

And let's not forget the very impressive score, very reflective of the "grittiness" of the time period.

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Voyage Home is on right now. The cinematography is phenomenal here. The interior of the Bird of Prey, what can I say? It's not the Enterprise, but this sure looks like one of the coolest spaceship interiors to me. They reused these sets later on for other Klingon ships in the series, but it never looked good like this.

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Voyage Home is on right now. The cinematography is phenomenal here. The interior of the Bird of Prey, what can I say? It's not the Enterprise, but this sure looks like one of the coolest spaceship interiors to me. They reused these sets later on for other Klingon ships in the series, but it never looked good like this.

The Voyage Home was the very first Star Trek movie I ever saw in my life, probably before I saw any of the TV series, too. I guess I always thought they gallivanted around in a stolen Klingon bird of prey.

~*~

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