This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Warning: mild Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom spoilers for the film ahead:
I’m a special effects artist, I noticed a thing in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and it got me thinking.
While doing their pre-title thing in the ruins of the park, a bunch of mercenaries/scientists have to hightail it away from the mosasaurus in a helicopter. The self preserving pilot is not willing to stick about just to make sure his colleagues are okay and this results in the classic, man dangling from a ladder while having his heels snapped at sequence (albeit by a shark-eater rather than an actual shark). The helicopter vs. shark trope goes back at least as far as 1978 with Jaws 2, and I suspect will be perpetuated by the upcoming Cockney vs. Shark flick The Meg, although my favorite is undeniably from Enzo G. Castellari’s 1982 Jaws rip off, The Last Shark.
So why is this rather ubiquitous event worth mentioning? Because I don’t think it’s just trope recycling. If you’re around a certain age and spent too long on a specific corner of the internet, you know how to tell if an image has been doctored. Does it have a shark in it? A bridge? A helicopter? If it has all three it’s probably not legit. The helicopter in this cult favorite meme was shot by Lance Cheung for the U.S. Airforce and is, really in front of the Golden Gate bridge but the shark was added from a photo taken in the appropriately named False Bay in South Africa.
The ‘helicopter shark’ image (an obviously photoshopped composite) did the rounds in 2001 masquerading as a real image, even being said to be National Geographic’s ‘Photo of the Year.’ The same year a website called B3TA was born and adopted that checklist as a sarcastic shorthand for a legitimate image. From then on, when a specific group of internet people saw an obviously faked image, the response would be something along the lines of: ‘It can’t be real, there’s no helicopter, bridge, or shark!’
I may be reading too much into the image from Fallen Kingdom, but given that the shot is an image assembled in a computer, I reckon someone knew what they were doing. The bridge didn’t need to be there, I think it’s likely a specific reference to the ‘helicopter shark’ image that you may have seen in your inbox 17 years ago. That leaves me asking the question why?
The first Jurassic Park reboot, Jurassic World, had a fair amount of pushback about its largely digital dinos. Back in 1993, the digital lizards were touted as groundbreaking and they were; they just weren’t as pervasive as you may have been led to believe. The velociraptors in the kitchen, the T-Rex head, the sick Triceratops: all relied, at least in part, on the great puppetry and creature performances of Stan Winston’s practical effects team. The latter even gave birth to its own internet hoax picture with a picture of Spielberg reclining against the puppet being touted as a trophy-hunter photo to the vocal disgust of credulous rubes everywhere.
This most recent entry into the canon has gone back to the old ways. Director J.A. Bayona has taken the reigns and a lot of the film’s more exciting sequences involve good old foam rubber and silicone. I really enjoyed this latest outing and am certain the tangibility of the creatures was no small part of that.
Compare this to a recently released behind the scenes clip from Deep Blue Sea that’s been making the rounds on Twitter. It showed a stunt man being relieved of a tear-away arm by a massive mechanical shark. This scene, even out of context, is still great fun to watch. By contrast, Samuel L. Jackson’s demise has not aged well. The thing about practical effects is, even if they don’t work 100 percent, they still feel tangible, they’re still real. If a digital effect is even remotely off, we just don’t buy it, even if we can’t tell what’s wrong.
I guess what I hope the reference means is that some VFX artist, sweating away in the basement of Industrial Light and Magic, had seen the rushes come in and been delighted by the amount of puppets. The inclusion of the bridge in the background of that shot gave us the trifecta of a ‘real’ image according to a small British website that maybe he knew about. I like the idea that it was a little self-effacing humor acknowledging that the best shots we can have nowadays are a collaboration between the two departments (who really ought to be one department) and that far from squabbling for dominance they should be working together.
Dan Martin is a special effects artist whose company, 13 Finger FX, provides makeup effects and puppets for films like High Rise, 47 Meters Down, and Human Centipede 2. He also co-hosts the Arrow Video podcast and occasionally writes things for places.