Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stan Winston: Farewell to a Legend.


Stan Winston was responsible for more of my childhood nightmares than anyone else in the motion picture business - and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. The robotically methodical, yet gleefully sadistic velociraptors from Jurassic Park. The grotesque titular beast in Predator, whose tusk-mouthed, dredlock-topped puss made Arnold Schwartzenegger's assessment ("You ah wahn ahgly mathafucka!") the understatement of the century. The hideous Penguin from Batman Returns, whose physical corruption mirrored his moral decay, though he still remained oddly sympathetic. Most terrifying of all, of course, was the Queen from Aliens - even as a 21-year-old today, I still think there are few scenes as underwear-shittingly nightmarish as when Sigourney Weaver first walks into her lair, and comes face to face with the fat, insect-like matriarch of the whole colony, sitting comfortably on her sinewy throne, squeezing eggs out of her engorged abdomen.

As little Newt said in the film, "mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are." Truly this is something that everyone my age who grew up watching Stan Winston's cinematic monsters can relate to. As much as our parents tried to convince us that these creatures were merely imaginary, built by the skilled hands of Hollywood special effects artists, there was still a degree of unease that remained, even when we re-watched the films in question, for with Stan Winston's creations, you never saw the strings. Unlike the beautifully rendered but unmistakably fake cyclopses and hydras of Ray Harryhausen, or the fun but never truly scary giant monsters of the patented Japanese rubber suit variety, with Stan Winston, you never had to suspend your disbelief. It wasn't necessary. His monsters looked so convincing that you never saw a special effect. You saw a living, breathing, terrifying thing.

That is not to say that Mr. Winston and his talented team of artists only exceeded at creating horrific nightmare creatures - he was also responsible for Johnny Depp's iconic Edward Scissorhands makeup, the reinvisioned versions of the classic Universal monsters in the cult favorite The Monster Squad, the robots in the massively underrated Artificial Intelligence, and most recently, Robert Downey Jr.'s armored suit in Iron Man. As special effects today continuously lean towards more cost-effective but very rarely convincing CGI images, artists of Stan Winston's caliber are sadly a dying breed. Mr. Winston left countless unforgettable images on our collective psyches, and he will be sorely missed.

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