Watch 40 years of amazing special effects in less than five minutes

Best visual effects is a minor category, as far as Oscars go — but with mind-bending films like “Gravity” up for this year’s award, it seems like a good time to remember how far this bit of artistic wizardry has come.

That’s the idea behind a new mash-up from one of Vimeo’s resident splicing experts, Nelson Carvajal. Carvajal specializes in this type of “video essay” — remember this recap of last year’s Oscar winners? — but his latest effort plays more like an ode to film history than a mere remix. Beginning in 1977, with “Star Wars: Episode IV,” Carvajal takes viewers through 37 years of special effects in less than five minutes — finishing with “Gravity,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Iron Man 3,” and “The Hobbit,” this year’s nominees.

Some of the early innovations seen comic in retrospect — “we’re all so sophisticated visually now,” is how film writer Richard Rickitt put it on NPR in 2011. But some of the effects still stand up to repeat viewing: the famous bike lift-off in “E.T.,” for instance, or the still-terrifying dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park.”

Of course, special effects predate “Star Wars” by several decades — most historians credit Frenchman George Méliès with the first major breakthroughs in the technique, circa 1902. Méliès’ most famous film, the silent short “A Trip to the Moon,” used a range of tricks — from clay models to projector-rigged cameras — to recount a fantastical Victorian journey through space. Our depictions of space have become, well, a bit more sophisticated since then.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (tinyletter.com/cdewey)

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Emily Yahr · January 30, 2014