Known for using mind-blowing practical effects in his movies, Christopher Nolan strives for authenticity and realism despite the often grand scope of his movies, and his latest film, World War II epic Dunkirk, will be no different.
Using real WWII destroyers and aircraft, Dunkirk is set to be a spectacle like no other, and is further evidence that sometimes you don’t need the help of a computer to make something special. Here's some of the most mind-blowing movie moments, including some from the master director himself, that you won't believe were done without special effects...
Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003)
Director Peter Jackson had a mammoth task on his hand when it came to bringing the characters of Middle-earth to life, and whilst his films used some pioneering special effects as a well as a vast array of carefully sculpted props, weapons and costumes, it was actually a simple piece of camera trickery which produced one of the most amazing effects.
When it came to showing the distinct height difference between Frodo and his fellow Hobbits, and the towering Gandalf the Grey, a number of different techniques were used. Body doubles of children and small actors were used for shots from behind, but when it came to showing the pint-sized Hobbits interacting with those of greater stature, Jackson used an incredible rig of moving platforms and moving cameras to create what is known as forced perspective.
This clever technique meant the actors could interact as normal, yet on camera it would appear that one was far greater in size than the other! Check out this video and prepare to have your mind blown…
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Not only did 2001's effects still look incredible at the time, but they still look amazing today. Whilst full of iconic scenes, there is one scene in particular which is hard to believe was done with practical effects, and one which also possibly inspired a Christopher Nolan scene which we’ll get to imminently.
Dr Frank Poole, on board the spaceship Discover 1, takes himself for a little jog around the spaceship, seemingly defying gravity as he runs in a continuous motion in the circular ship. To achieve this shot, director Stanley Kubrick had what was essentially a giant hamster wheel built, and then rotated it around the camera.
It was almost unheard of for so much money to be spent on achieving one shot in the time that 2001 was made, but it was absolutely worth it, and inspired countless other sci-fi films that would follow.
Whilst it may be easy to rustle up a shark on a computer these days, such luxuries were not available to Steven Spielberg in 1975 when he made this horror masterpiece.
Affectionately named Bruce after Spielberg's lawyer, the shark that torments the seaside town of Amity Island was entirely mechanical rather than computer generated. This presented many problems however and Bruce was famously unreliable, breaking down constantly and not performing as he should’ve been.
This did go in the film’s favour however: unable to use the shark as much as he hoped, Spielberg instead ramped up the fear with simple point of view shots and John Williams' iconic and menacing score. When we do finally see the shark later in the film, the anticipation is more than worth it, and is perhaps a lesson to today’s films that less is so often, more.
The Thing (1982)
Nowadays a monster can be created at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse, but back in 1982 for John Carpenter’s The Thing, the terrifying “thing” of the title was entirely created from practical effects.
From the gruesome dog scene to the man’s head attached to a giant spider, the weird and wonderful monsters of this movie were all puppets, built by hand by maestro Rob Bottin and made to move with a mixture of animatronics and stop-motion animation.
They still look just as incredible and horrifying as they did back in the 80s, and it makes a strong case for just terrifying the real thing can look. Make sure you’ve already eaten your lunch before you give this one a watch!
This mind-bending flick from Christopher Nolan was full of incredible effects and mind-blowing scenes, and, as alluded to earlier, there is one memorable scene which really had us in a spin.
The rotating hallway fight defies all the laws of gravity, but not special effects were used here, with Nolan instead favouring the real thing. A giant rotating hallway set was built and used in the film, providing actor Joseph Gordon Levitt and the stuntmen with the extra challenge of dealing with some complex fight choreography whilst really on the move. It’s hard to believe this was done for real, but it makes an already impressive scene even more amazing.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Yes, Christopher Nolan really is the master of the practical effect, and even the ambitious scope of a superhero movie didn’t deter him from some truly incredible stunts.
In one scene from The Dark Knight, the caped crusader is in hot pursuit of The Joker who has commandeered a large truck. With the help of some of his nifty gadgets, Batman brings the chase to a dramatic halt and the entire truck is flipped in the air. Christopher Nolan did this all for real, with a lorry being driven over a pneumatic lever that flipped it over and closed down a street in Chicago in the process as well.
Dunkirk is released on 17th July.
Sarah Buddery is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.