Famed author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, once said of science fiction, “It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.” It is for this reason sci-fi has become one of the most influential genres in popular culture as it predicts what technology and society will become based upon where it is at now.
The 1990s were a pivotal decade for sci-fi in film. Thanks to game changers including Total Recall, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, if you grew up in the ‘90s, it’s likely you have an affinity for adept use of sound, practical effects, CGI, and big ideas. You may also find yourself digging into bonus features and behind-the-scenes interviews online to find out all you can about how the classics were made. This is where we come in.
The following list rounds up some cool, nigh wild behind-the-scenes facts about sci-fi films from the ‘90s.
- Photo: Tri-Star Pictures1168 VOTES
James Cameron’s Terminator 2 helped to usher in the contemporary age of CGI with the shape-shifting T-1000. The film also helped to revolutionize strong female protagonists with Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor - whose performance and dedication has been emulated in a plethora of films since.
In the first Terminator film, the would-be mother of humanity’s savior is more or less introduced as a damsel in distress. In the second film, she’s anything but. Hamilton reprised her role in 1993 while doing countless chin-ups alongside Mr. Universe himself. Thirteen weeks before T2 began shooting - and not long after giving birth to her son - Hamilton began a training regimen consisting of three-hour workouts, six days a week (running, swimming, biking, you name it).
On top of that, Hamilton trained with Israeli commando Uzi Gal, who helped her to become proficient with all of Sarah Connor’s weapons. She explained:
I learned to load clips, change mags, check out a room upon entry, verify kills. It was very vicious stuff. And it was sheer hell.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
Alien Resurrection certainly isn’t the most beloved film in the Alien franchise. However, it does feature Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, who may just be at the top of her (basketball) game.
In the scene in which Ron Perlman’s character asks, “[What] the hell are you?” the script required Weaver to throw a basketball behind her and into the net without ever looking back.
Apparently, the actor practiced for weeks with no success. So the production team intended to use CGI to make it appear the ball had went in and only needed to film Weaver taking the shot. However, on the day of filming, as Weaver explained:
I wasn’t even thinking get it in because I was so demoralized at that point... And, you know, nothing but net.
Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element follows Korben Dallas, a former major in Earth’s Special Forces turned cabbie, who must protect Leeloo, the “fifth element.” The film’s pivotal weapon consists of the four classical elements (in the form of stones) and Leeloo. Perhaps even more important than Leeloo is the alien opera singer, the Diva Plavalaguna (played by Maïwenn Le Besco with operatic singing performed by Inva Mula), who has been entrusted with the aforementioned stones.
Halfway through the film, Dallas is sent undercover on a luxury vacation aboard a flying hotel on planet Fhloston - where Plavalaguna is performing. As explained by makeup effects and creature designer Nick Dudman, filming in the Royal Opera House was a chore. Especially since Besson intended for Maïwenn’s look to be a surprise:
We ended up with [actress] Maïwenn on 14-inch stilts wearing a skintight foam and latex dress that had to be made in one single piece with no seams... Luc didn’t want the actors to see her before her entrance, so there was a lot of smuggling things down the corridor in the back.
After filming, associate producer John Amicarella flew to California to physically deliver the negatives of the scene. Upon arrival in Los Angeles International Airport, he was brought to a room with multiple trash cans containing film negatives that had fallen out of the airplane and onto the tarmac, then were run over by a forklift. Amicarella recalled:
That was the diva scene - like, one of the money shots. It was the one thing you absolutely did not want to have happen. But we managed to save the negative and cut it together [to] get what Luc had wanted all along. That never happened to me on another 45 films.
- Photo: Warner Bros.
Anyone who has seen The Matrix knows its everlasting green code. Or do they? Many don’t know the origin of the film’s digital rain. In our reality, the code was inspired by a bunch of sushi recipes.
It was created by Simon Whiteley, a production designer at Animal Logic in Australia. Lana and Lilly Wachowski sought him out after being dissatisfied with the previous opening sequence/code the design team had been working on. Whiteley recalled:
The Wachowskis didn't feel like the design was old-fashioned and traditional enough. They wanted something that was more Japanese, more manga. They asked me if I'd like to have a go working at the code, mainly because my wife is Japanese and she could help me work out the characters and give me insight into which characters were good and which weren't.
Whiteley began looking through his wife’s sushi cookbooks, using the recipes he found in them as the inspiration for his code by hand-lettering/painting the Japanese characters, then sending them to be digitized and animated. For whatever reason, no one has really tried to make the sushi embedded in The Matrix’s opening, and Whiteley is only willing to hint at specifics:
I've been kind of not wanting to tell anyone what the recipe book is, partly because that's the last bit of magic... It's not actually a book. It's a magazine, but it's called a book. It's something most Japanese people would've heard of or have on their bookshelf.
- Photo: Universal Pictures
Steven Spielberg has helmed some of the greatest blockbusters in the history of cinema, and his 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novel, Jurassic Park, is one of his most influential. Its groundbreaking special effects, using both animatronics and CGI, brought dinosaurs back to life - a challenging task indeed. While seeing the herbivores is majestic, the carnivores remain terrifying, and none are as imposing as the T. rex.
In the film’s second act, the amusement park proves life finds a way. Specifically, a thunderstorm takes out the park’s electricity and cuts the power to the fences containing the dinosaurs. When the tour car carrying our heroes stops, the T. rex emerges.
This scene had to take place in the rain and the filmmakers needed to control the elements. Therefore, the production team created the T. rex paddock on a soundstage, using both animatronic and computer-generated versions of Jurassic Park's resident apex predator. The former version created a problem: Whenever the animatronic T. rex would get wet, it would start to malfunction and shake its head. Therefore, the crew had to constantly wipe down the animatronic with towels.
- Photo: Tri-Star Pictures676 VOTES
Total Recall follows Douglas Quaid whose dreams about Mars become a reality. After some ambiguous events, he ends up there as a super spy. In one of the film’s most iconic and paused-upon moments, a sex worker named Mary exposes three of her breasts to him. Yes, three.
Mary was played by Lycia Naff, who once said in an interview that director Paul Verhoeven originally wanted her to sport four breasts:
But the feedback was that I looked too bovine, like a cow ready to be milked, and that wasn’t sexy.
Verhoeven has since said:
I wanted four nipples and breasts, with big breasts and smaller breasts underneath. And [prosthetic makeup artist] Rob Bottin, I think, felt that it was too realistic for the film. And basically, that three breasts would be more, let’s say, in the style of the whole movie... he was right.