The Bad CGI of The Mummy Returns


You'll recall that I recently did a post on the Top 10 worst CGI effects. At the top of the list was the horrible Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns (2001). Then I thought to myself, maybe I should give the film another chance? That scorpion thing had tarnished my recollection of the film to such a degree that I couldn't remember anything else from it. So, to make a long story short, I watched it again.

Oh my god. OH MY GOD. The film was.... well, clearly inferior to the first one, but the effects... Man, I had forgotten just how bad they were. When I was finished, my notepad was full of raving scribbles about bad CGI shots.

Now, I don't care if the visual effect studio ran out of time during post-production. Even if they did, it can only be part of the problem. If you compare with the effects in the original film, The Mummy (1999), the "old stuff" is superior on every level. I think the visual effect guys got cocky. And I think they were in the hands of a director, who had been given the keys to the candy store, and didn’t know how to stop eating.

That kind of thing happens often in Hollywood, and the only thing you and I can do, is tell anyone who'll listen about it. So without further ado, I present to you a list of the worst effects in The Mummy Returns.



10) The map bracelet thingy

This is mostly just badly designed, especially the beams when the map first appears. I'm reminded of the hand-drawn laser beams in old science fiction films, they are just as believable, and the poor kid struggles with the proper line of sight.

9) CGI armies of CGI beasts

Admittedly this marks one of the first attempts at crowd simulation. They get away with the human armies earlier in the film, but when the time comes for those "beast" armies it goes horribly wrong. Not only that, but every time a damn CGI creature is on screen it has to roar at the camera, exposing every flaw in a juicy close-up. Sigh.

8) Imhotep's warriors

Come on! You did it SO well in the first film. The warriors were just a little bit more agile than real people. They moved just a little more perfect than regular soldiers. This time they jump around like crazy, and crawl on the walls, unaffected by gravity.

7) The partially regenerated Imhotep

Once again this is a case of "worked better in the first film". Perhaps it's because the first film was better at hiding things in the shadows, perhaps it's because those shots were SO difficult to do that they only used them when they absolutely had to. On this one, though, the computer animators felt the need to stuff their inferior creations right into our faces every other minute. With predictable results.

6) The Palace Island thingy

Actually you have to see this shot in motion to truly appreciate how bad it is. It looks like they shot a giant turd and a swimming pool separately, and had a drunk intern put them together.

5) An oasis in the desert

Once again, this shot works best (erhm.... worst) in full motion. The animation of the growing plants is just completely off. They're going for a kind of time-lapse look. They achieve a "this is fine, let's break for lunch"-look.

4) Imhotep’s face in the water

In the first film they did that "the dust cloud has a face", so of course they had to top it here, with the sequence where our heroes are chased by a wall of water. This time the face looks HORRIBLE! Like it's some sort of temp animation, or pre-viz shot.

3) The zombie pygmies

The concept is probably mostly at fault here. The creatures shouldn’t be there. They add nothing to the film. But on top of this, they're badly animated. Really badly. Are we supposed to believe these are real, physical creatures? It's stuff like this that gives CGI a bad name. Anybody with balls should have looked the director straight in the eyes and said: "Zombie pygmies? Really? You know, you can't go back once you go there..."

2) The green blender

Screenwriting 101: Never end a film with a climax where everything gets sucked into a giant whirlwind, and all problems magically go away. It never works. If you think that's how Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) ended, think again. There was real drama in that final sequence, there was a story to tell, this - what we get in this film - just sucks, literally.

1) The Scorpion King

Well, unsurprisingly the Scorpion King takes the prize. I've said enough about this already. Just look at the images and tell me that's not the worst thing you've ever seen. Oh, and check out the effect featurette on the DVD, where the visual effect supervisor explains how great and realistic the sequence is!


Sorry for this rambling post. I just had to get this off my chest. I'll write something proper soon, I promise.

And now we return you to the regular programming...



One for the price of seven

- Buying your favorite movies again and again


If you are a film geek you inevitably buy the same film more than once. I did that recently and it got me thinking about which films I've bought the most times.

That's right, it's time for another list!

First, though, let's look at the primary reasons behind the multi-buy:



1) Aspect ratio

Back in the late VHS days this was the main reason for an upgrade. When films were re-issued in widescreen format I HAD to have them. My old pan/scanned VHS tape was laughing at me.

2) Director's cutses

Blade Runner, Aliens, and The Abyss were some of the early films that were upgraded to a longer version. Nowadays I'll go out of my way to obtain the original theatrical cut! How times change.

3) Format change

Speaking of change... The most common reason for multi-buying these days is, of course, the upgrade to a new format. I was there for all of them. VHS to LaserDisc. LaserDisc to DVD. DVD to Bluray.

4) Special features

The presence of an audio-commentary. An exclusive featurette. There's a Korean special edition with a 2 minute deleted scene? Where can I get it?! Once you get that nagging feeling that your collection is incomplete, you're lost.

5) Look! It's got a thing!

A cool new box. Post cards included. A testicular hologram cover (that's what they're called, right?) Sometimes you've got to buy a film again, just because of the packaging. Admittedly this happened more often in the old VHS days. This problem has all but disappeared from the DVD marked, and it's even less prominent on Bluray.



Keep the reasons above in mind when you read the following, and try not to judge me too hard.

The Abyss (1989)

We kick it off with The Abyss.

First buy was the standard VHS edition. Pan/scanned to hell, of course. Second buy got me the Special Edition of the film, still on VHS of course, but now at least in widescreen. Third buy happened quickly after this, when I stumbled over a limited box set version of the very same tape I just bought. This included the "Under Pressure" documentary, which I don't think the unlimited version did. Fourth buy: The LaserDisc version. Gorgeous, huge, box set, with all kinds of extra goodies. Fifth buy was essentially the same version, only this time on DVD. It's worth noting that the DVD is NOT in anamorphic widescreen. Hopefully a Bluray version will come out soon. I'm ready with my money Mr. Cameron.

Alien (1979)

Next up: Alien.

First buy: VHS. Theatrical version. Pan/scan. Nothing groundbreaking here. Second buy: VHS in widescreen. One of those flicks that were upgraded just for the correct aspect ratio. Third buy was the EPIC Facehugger box set, featuring all the Alien movies (back when there were only three). High quality stills! Badges (I wore those)! An extra tape featuring one of those generic EPK making of programs - the same ones we complain about now, when they are included in a special edition - and a T-shirt! I slept with this box for several weeks. Fourth buy was the LaserDisc box. Oh man, those box sets were the coolest thing ever. They cost an arm and a leg, but who needs 'em, when you can have nerd heaven in a cardboard box? Fifth buy got me upgraded to DVD, with a very impressive 4 film collection. But the really impressive version came with the sixth buy, a 9-disc DVD collection, featuring all 4 films in both standard and extended versions. I slept with it for a week.

Star Wars (1977)

Here's to you Mr. Lucas. I put your kids through college.

First and second buy was the usual VHS combo of pan/scan and widescreen versions. Then came the VHS box set as the third buy, and then I started making my own money. Good thing, because the fourth buy cost me a month's pay. The original LaserDisc Definitive collection weighed as much as a small truck, it came with a hardcover book about George himself, and featured all 3 movies with epic special features.

Then came the shiny new special editions, where Mr. Lucas started to mess around with the films. Fifth buy was the first DVD box. Sixth buy was the second DVD box, where he attempted to correct fan outrage by once again tampering with the films. We didn't care, though, because the second disc for all three films in this 6-disc box set included the original unaltered version, the one we had on LaserDisc basically! Does that mean we've come full circle? Is it safe now? Is it safe? No, we still need the Bluray.


So these are the three titles I've purchased the most times. All three have (at the time of writing) not yet become available on Bluray. Needless to say I will need to buy them again. Die Hard (1988) and The Godfather (1972) came fourth and second, but they have already been upgraded to Bluray, so they'll have to make due with just pictures.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) almost made the list (twice on VHS, twice on DVD), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is another favorite. I thought about including So Close (2002). Due to my Shu Qi fansite (shuqi.org) I've purchased four DVD copies of this, but since they're identical, except for the cover, I don't think they count.

In the words of Casey McCall and Dan Rydell, from the TV-series Sports Night, which I've bought twice on DVD...  "It's a vicious circle." "Just keeps going round and round." "Never ends." "That's what makes it vicious." "And a circle."


I'm sorry if you have read this far thinking that I had some sort of solution to this problem. I don't. There's absolutely nothing you can do. You WILL have to re-buy all your favorite films until the end of time. Even if everything becomes "download" (spit on the floor), or "streaming" (curse the sky), or perhaps crystals, like they got on the sci-fi shows, you'll still need to upgrade every so often.

It's a battle you have already lost. Just be zen about it. And clear some shelf space.



Remote Killer Movies


You know the situation all too well. You're watching TV, just flipping aimlessly through the channels. Suddenly you come across a film you have seen a million times before. It's already in progress. You're thinking "I'll just watch the next scene, then I'll move on." An hour or two later, when the credits roll, you suddenly snap out of your hypnotized state, and realize you have seen the whole rest of the film.

You have just been subjected to a Remote Killer Movie.

If you got it really bad, you'll also realize that your arm is hurting, because your hand was poised with the remote ready to zap, the whole time you were watching.

Remote Killer Movies are a special breed of movies. They are not necessarily your favorite movies (though they can be), they may not even be movies that you like particularly much. That's the strange irony of the concept.

Let me give you some examples:

The complete opposite of a Remote Killer Movie for me would be my favorite film, Se7en. I would never watch a frame of it out of context. I want the whole experience when I watch it, and don't want to delude any particular scene. I will cover my eyes with my stuffed penguin until I manage to hit that "next" button, rather than see any bit of this masterpiece on TV. On the other end of the spectrum we find a film like Contact. I don't even like this film all that much, and yet I find some of the scenes impossible to zap away from. (Then of course we hit the fluffy beach scene near the end, and suddenly the film has no power over me anymore, which is why it's not on this list.)

So anyway, I sat down and thought carefully about this, and came up with a top 5 list of my own personal worst Remote Killer Movies. Films I find it absolutely impossible to zap away from if I happen to come across them on TV.

Here goes...



1) Where Eagles Dare (1968)

"It was riddled with machine-gun holes. British machine-gun holes. But what the hell, a hole is a hole is hole, as they say."

A team of Allied soldiers must travel behind enemy lines to the impenetrable Schloss Adler, ostensibly to save a captured US general, before he reveals the plans for D-Day to the Germans. The reality, however, is far more dangerous and complicated. So complicated that the whole thing doesn't really make any sense by the end, but who cares? This is precision film-making at the highest level, and Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood are brilliant in the leads.

Must-watch scene(s):

Almost any scene, but particularly the almost wordless sequence where Burton and Eastwood set up for their eventual escape, meticulously planting bombs and getting equipment ready, without a hint of an explanation to the audience.

2) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

"You just read that report? Took you this long to steal our secrets?" "How long does it take for your people to steal ours?" "Same amount of time."

A followup to Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), written, directed and shot by Peter Hyams. Roy Scheider plays the man responsible for the first film's failed mission, who must hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft, to figure out what the hell went wrong. The film ditches almost all of its predecessor's mushroom-induced metaphysical elements, in favor of a straightforward science-fiction action approach, and is all the more enjoyable for it.

Must-watch scene(s):

The Aerobraking scene. The moment where the Russian technician crawls into Roy Scheider's bunk, so he can hold her, while the spaceship enters the atmosphere using an experimental technique. Also, the opening dialogue between Scheider and the Russian representative (played by MacGyver's boss Dana Elcar).

3) The American President (1995)

"We had a nice couple of minutes together. She threatened me, I patronized her. Didn't have anything to eat, but I thought there was a connection." 

Michael Douglas plays a widowed president, who courts an environmental lobbyist, played by Annette Bening. A situation that begins to threaten his political future. A smart and funny, but also poignant, dramady from director Rob Reiner and writer Aaron Sorkin.

Must-watch scene(s):

Michael Douglas' speech at the end. Almost makes me cry, and I would SO vote for that guy. Also, all the scenes with the president and his staff, played by Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen, and David Paymer, among others.

4) Apollo 13 (1995)

"Let's look at this thing from a standpoint of status. What do we got on the spacecraft that's good?"

This is perhaps the best example of a Remote Killer Movie, because I don't really like the film. Director Ron Howard has put together an effective and precise film, detailing the events surrounding the space catastrophe that was the Apollo 13 mission, but it's so mechanic and soulless. It's too American, and there's nothing new under the sun if you're familiar with the real story...

Must-watch scene(s):

.. And yet any scene in mission control on Earth can kill my remote, but one in particular: The "square filter, round hole"-scene where the technicians have to get really creative to give the astronauts something to breathe. Also, Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) trying to put together a start-up list for his buddies in the simulator on earth.

5) Runaway Train (1985)

"You're an animal!" "Worse! Human!"

What starts as a prison movie quickly turns into something quite unique, as hardcore criminal Manny, and a young inmate who idolizes him, escape from a remote Alaskan maximum security facility, only to find themselves trapped on a massive train with no driver! Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca De Mornay deliver career-best performances, and the sight of that steel beast thundering through the snow-covered landscapes is beyond breathtaking.

Must-watch scene(s):

Every scene from the moment the train-driver dies to the cold and bitter end. Ironically, when I get on that train, I just can't get off.



I believe this is an accurate list of my own worst offenders, in terms of Remote Killerness. I considered a few other titles as well: The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, F/X Murder by Illusions, which I've seen a trillion times, Life of Brian or The Holy Grain by Monty Python, and the previously mentioned Contact. Perhaps you've got some suggestions of your own? That's what the comments are for.

Before we wrap this up, let me answer the burning question on your mind: How can I fight a Remote Killer Movie? Is there nothing I can do? No antidote? No Kryptonite? Let me put this as plainly as I can: No, there's nothing you can do. You must sit there and watch the movie till the bitter end.

Well, actually there is one thing that can help you, but it requires that you've stumbled over the film on a particularly nasty type of channel. You see, the only thing that can effectively end a Remote Killer Movie is... A commercial break.



The Young Wizards of Harry Potter

After watching the Harry Potter movies, I thought it would be fun to look at the four most prominent young actors from these films. The question is, of course, will they have a career outside the Potter universe? To investigate that, I watched one film from each of the actors, shot during the breaks they had from Potter.

The films are:

Ballet Shoes, starring Emma Watson (Hermione Granger)
The Disappeared, starring Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy)
My Boy Jack, starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
Driving Lessons, starring Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley)


Ballet Shoes (2007) 

The story centers around three orphaned babies taken in by an eccentric globetrotting archaeologist. While he travels the world the babies are cared for by his niece Sylvia (Emilia Fox), who was also taken in by her uncle when she was a little girl.

The three babies grow up to be three very different girls, with very different dreams. Pauline (Emma Watson) wants to be an actress, Posy (Lucy Boynton) wants to dance ballet, and Petrova (Yasmin Paige) wants to be a pilot. But money is tight and Sylvia struggles to make ends meet. To make money she opens the house to boarders, and as the years pass by, and the girls grow up, they are influenced by the colorful characters around them, and encouraged to chase their dreams.

This TV movie is a light little fare, as charming as it is simple. No conflict is too big, not to be solved in the next scene, and yet as the film skips from one character to the next, it develops a not too offensive, breezy style that prevents the material from becoming dull.

Emma Watson appears on screen in her first (and at present, only) non-Harry Potter role. She needs a makeover to truly step out of Hermione's shadow (I suggest short black hair and a tattoo), but she does enough here to convince me that she can go on to smaller and better things after Potter. She's a charming little devil for sure, as are all the girls here in fact.

The film won't appeal to anyone who wants to be challenged, but if you're looking for a nice little break on a Sunday afternoon, you could do worse.

The Disappeared (2008)

In the grim concrete jungle of suburban London Matthew Ryan returns home to live with his father, after a stint at a mental institution. It's been a few months since the disappearance of his younger brother, 8 year old Tom, and Matthew isn't quite himself yet. He tries to settle into his life again, but then he hears the voice of his brother on an old VHS tape, calling out his name. Matthew begins to suffer from horrible dreams at night, where he sees images of his brother being buried alive. As Matthew begins an investigation into Tom's disappearance, led by his visions, he starts to doubt his own sanity, as does everyone else around him. But his brother's voice, possibly from beyond the grave, grows ever louder and more insistent...

Ostensibly The Disappeared is yet another addition to the cannon of modern ghost films, which began when the Asian horror movies conquered the world. What separates The Disappeared from the rest of the bunch is that it's British. When the movie starts you'll feel like you're watching a classic, depressing, social-realistic, British drama. Most of the film is grey and colorless, and if you've been dieting solely on glossy American horror movies, your system might flat out reject this meal. That would be a shame, because after half an hour or so the film begins to work. The ghost aspect intensifies, along with the creepy sensation that there's something completely wrong in this neighborhood. Did I mention other kids go missing as well?

The Disappeared is not a terribly original film, in the sense that we've seen all the elements before, but it's a good, solid package, and there's nothing wrong with that. The second half of the film raises it above the average, and by the end I found myself hugging my stuffed penguin once again. Good, if somewhat raw, performances from lead Harry Treadaway, and Greg Wise, who plays Matthew's father, adds to the realism of the film, and they help to sell the scares very effectively.

Tom Felton plays Matthew's friend Simon. It's funny to see him in a straightforward role, but there he is. He walks, talks and acts like a completely ordinary boy, there's no trace of his Harry Potter character, including the ham-fisted acting and the grimaces. It's not Shakespeare, but it's believable. I wouldn't object to seeing him in another film.

Recommended, but give it a chance to get started.

My Boy Jack (2007)

This is the story about the famous author Rudyard Kipling, who wanted nothing more than to see his young boy Jack go to war for England in WWI. Jack himself just wants to get the hell out of the house. The only stumbling block is his bad eye-sight, but the Kiplings refuse to let that stop them. Strings are pulled. Favors are called in. And soon Jack is on his way to fight in the war. The most brutal war ever. A war where thousands of young men die every hour on the battlefront. A war that will almost certainly claim Jack's life as well.

This British TV movie marks the fourth non-Potter excursion for Daniel Radcliffe, who is nonetheless stuck with a pair of Potter-ish glasses, because the story specifically calls for it. I must admit I have absolutely no interest in the subject at hand, and getting through this damn thing was a bit of a chore. However, if you're interested in the period, or the historic characters on display, you'll probably be fairly entertained. If you're not, you'll find it impossible not to snicker at all the fake mustaches, or notice how everyone acts, as if they are Stephen Fry in The Black Adder series. Luckily the film pulls no punches when it comes to the war scenes. They are dirty, chaotic, and quite effective, clearly inspired by the likes of Saving Private Ryan, but then we go back to the colorful English countryside, just in time for afternoon tea, and you'll find yourself snickering again.

Kipling's eagerness to send his son to war is never properly explained, outside of a few clichéd speeches about being a man, and doing one's duty. And when he discovers the profound ramifications of his action, you're excused if you feel the desire to punch him in the face. Turns out... War is hell. Whoop-de-do! David Haig is quite obnoxious as Rudyard Kipling. He's like the uncle who just won't shut up with his damn stories! Haig plays the part with a self-indulgent, labored intensity that would be a better fit for a small amateur theater. Carey Mulligan is cute as his sister, but Kim Cattrall is bland as the mother, so the family scenes are definitely the weak link, and since they are the primary focus, instead of the struggles that Jack go through on the battlefield, I find this film hard to recommend.

As for Daniel Radcliffe, well.... He can smoke, drink, grow a beard, and go to war, but he still looks like he's a kid. In all fairness Radcliffe is supposed to look "too young" here, so I guess that's alright. I like Radcliffe a lot, but I would like to see him in a completely ordinary, current role. There are too many similarities with his wizard character here for Radcliffe to get out of Potter's shadow, but he's a good guy, and I have no doubt different and challenging parts will find their way to him eventually.

Few sane people will need a lesson in the cruelty of war, but My Boy Jack offers one anyway. Luckily you can decide for yourself if you want to call recess early.

Driving Lessons (2006)

A quiet young man, Ben (Rubert Grint), from a deeply religious family, is forced by his mother to take a summer job. He ends up as an assistant to the recluse, eccentric actress Evie (Julie Walters). At first he merely cleans up for her, but soon she drags him with her on some outlandish adventures, including a slightly improper camping trip. Along the way Evie makes Ben realize that there's a whole world out there, waiting to be conquered, meanwhile Ben's family is slowly falling apart, in a funny sort of way.

Driving Lessons starts a bit slow, with the introduction of Grint's character and his family of bible bashing nutbags. Ben is a loser, and for a moment it seems like this film is going to be very hard to get through. Well, Julie Walters quickly puts a stake through that idea. When she steps on to the stage the film explodes in a feast of loud profanities, and embarrassing eccentricities, culminating in a hilariously outrageous finale!

The film could be described as a British Scent of a Woman. Walters and Grint's banter, and the friendship that develops, are absolutely fantastic to watch. The best scenes are the ones with just the two of them, driving each other nuts. What makes the film work as a whole, though, are the tender scenes. "You have the soul of a poet, and that lasts a great deal longer than looks," Evie informs Ben, during one of the quiet moments. I'll have to remember that line the next time I'm on a date.

In the beginning of the film Rupert Grint plays the part pretty much like he played Ron from Harry Potter: Always sulking, and fairly obnoxious. One would think that's the only way he can act, but then suddenly the film comes to life, and so does he! He even looks like he's having fun! While Grint is not a massively versatile actor, he does alright for himself here. In fact, he scores far better co-stars than his fellow Potter stars, plus he's the first one of them to get laid on screen! That's gotta count for something.

Driving Lessons starts a bit slow, but after 35 minutes the film really jumps to life, and then there's no stopping it. But there's no question, it owes everything to Julie Walters' performance in the driving seat.


While Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe still have the best shot at a post-Potter career, in my mind, their films are the least successful of this bunch. Tom Felton's contribution, The Disappeared, surprised me the most, and I would consider it the best of the four, with Driving Lessons a close second.

Whether these four young actors have a chance in the future, remains to be seen. None of their performances in these films provide any clear indication, so I guess there's nothing to do but wait and see. In a couple of years we'll all be wiser.