In this day and age you can do anything with special effects. But can you do it well? I believe that you can, but Hollywood doesn't seem to be in agreement with my belief. Studios continue to put out movies with special effects that disappoint, and I think it is disrespectful to audiences. Either figure it out, or leave it out. Every time I see a bad effect in a movie, I know it could have been done better, or more imaginatively, and it frustrates the heck out of me. The worst is when I see a bad effect in a movie with mostly great effects, such as in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
A visual effect doesn't have to be great or even realistic as long as it works with the story and is believable -- I'll take Harryhausen or Henson over most of the CGI attempts lately. Unfortunately, Hollywood seems to half-heartedly strive for greatness and realism with every movie, and more often than not it fails to achieve either. In my thirty years I've seen some terrible visual effects, some only terrible in retrospect, some only terrible in perspective with what else has been done. I'm not usually surprised by bad effects, though, because I've developed a cynicism about effects, particularly about CGI, that causes me to expect the worst. Nonetheless, I've picked seven movies that did actually surprise me -- a lot.
1. King Kong (2005)
In The Return of the King, Peter Jackson has some bad effects shots, but at least they're just shots. In his next film, King Kong, he has bad effects sequences. And as with The Return of the King, they are all the more apparent and all the more frustrating because there are actually some great effects shots and sequences in King Kong (it did deserve the Oscar). The worst example in Kong is the dinosaur stampede. At first the sequence is tolerable because the dinos are rendered beautifully and the weak green-screen compositing is not any worse than what many of us grew up with. But as the sequence progresses, the interaction between the actors and the computer-generated dinos looks too fake, too much like something made long ago, before computers were even used. Both the part on the cliff and the part where the animals fall over each other are sloppy and unacceptable. It is a completely ironic sequence, too, since it begins with an exchange about movies looking real. At least someone thought to score the thing sped up with "Yakkety Sax" or it wouldn't be completely useless.