Waterworld

Waterworld

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Today, I’m going to take a look at one of the most notoriously expensive films of all time: 1995’s Waterworld.

The plot of Waterworld is summarized on IMDb as follows:

In a future where the polar ice-caps have melted and Earth is almost entirely submerged, a mutated mariner fights starvation and outlaw “smokers,” and reluctantly helps a woman and a young girl try to find dry land.

Waterworld was directed by Kevin Reynolds, who also helmed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Tristan + Isolde, and 2002’s incarnation of The Count of Monte Cristo.

The film’s screenplay was ultimately credited to two individuals: David Twohy, who provided screenplays for Critters 2, Pitch Black, and Riddick, and Peter Rader, who went on to direct a handful of episodes of Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan. However, apparently, the screenplay for Waterworld went through 36 different drafts and 6 different writers, including Joss Whedon, who spent much of the 1990s as a script doctor.

The cast for Waterworld included Kevin Costner (Mr. Brooks, Dances With Wolves), Dennis Hopper (Super Mario Bros, Space Truckers, Speed, True Romance), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, The Firm), and Sean Whalen (Twister, The People Behind The Stairs).

waterworld3The cinematographer for the film was Dean Semler, who also shot 2012, The Alamo, Stealth, Last Action Hero, Super Mario Bros, The Road Warrior, and Razorback

The credited editor for Waterworld was Peter Boyle, who has shot such movies as 1408, The Hours, The Postman, and the 2011 remake of The Thing.

The music for the film was provided by acclaimed film composer James Newton Howard, whose extensive list of credits includes Green Lantern, Nightcrawler, The Last Airbender, The Happening, The Dark Knight, Michael Clayton, and The Sixth Sense.

Kevin Costner apparently insisted on having Reynolds direct in order to be involved with the production. In contrast, the studio reportedly wanted Robert Zemekis for the director’s chair.

Interestingly, Reynolds ultimately walked off late into the production, specifically due to issues with Costner. He was quoted as saying that:

“Kevin {Costner} should only star in movies he directs. That way he can work with his favorite actor and favorite director.”

At the time of the movie’s filming, Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever produced. Though the record was broken only a few years later by Titanic, the cost of the film created a bit of a media frenzy. The ever-inflating production budget earned the film the nicknames of “Kevin’s Gate” and “Fishtar” by journalists and speculators, references the immense flops Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar.

One of the most costly aspects of the film was its primary set:  a massive floating rig constructed for the shooting in Hawaii, which apparently took up all the available steel on the islands, and then some. Despite its meticulous and expensive design, there were no bathrooms on the massive set, which meant that cast and crew had to be constantly ferried to the mainland.

Prior to Waterworld becoming a massively-budgeted monster of a production, Roger Corman was initially interested in making a low budget version for less than $3 million, which might have been a more natural fit for the material. However, once he heard more about the vision, he correctly predicted that the budget would massively inflate.

waterworld2Ultimately, the production budget for Waterworld landed at $175 million, on which it took in a worldwide lifetime theatrical gross of $264 million, though most of that came in from international markets. Ultimately, it made a profit over time after video sales and rentals clocked in, despite its high budget and less-than-expected revenue.

Waterworld has received mixed-to-negative reviews over the years. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 6.1/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 42% from critics and 43% from audiences.

When it comes to Waterworld, I think it has always been a bit hard to look at in an objective vacuum. The mass publicity around its budget and problematic production is impossible to look beyond for many, and it colors almost every aspect of the film. Basically, the well was poisoned by rumors and negative anticipation before the movie was even cut together.

One of the aspects of the movie that got the most flak from tabloids and critics was the elaborate, floating Hawaii set. For what it is worth, I actually think it looks pretty damn cool: despite the high price tag, I think they got what they paid for. Honestly, it is kind of hard to imagine what the movie would have looked like without it. The production probably shouldn’t have gotten the greenlight to start with because of the potential costs, but it is kind of fascinating that this set got built, and the movie got made.

Another thing that is often the butt of jokes about Waterworld is Kevin Costner’s “Mariner” character design: notably, the presence of gills. Personally, I don’t think they look bad, and the concept makes plenty of sense for the setting, so I’ve never understood the issue people take with it. Admittedly, the racial correlations with Costner being shunned by other humans is a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary, but it wasn’t ultimately terribly distracting.

The most infamous sequence of Waterworld is by far the opening, in which Costner is shown going through the process of reclaiming water from his urine. While the sequence is a bit odd, it does establish a few important things that are important later in the movie. First, fresh water is immensely scarce, to the point that urine reclamation is commonplace. Secondly, it establishes that Costner is a bit of an inventive tinkerer: the reclamation unit is clearly hand crafted and cobbled together, and foreshadows some more crucial inventions and innovations that pop up later in the flick. Last but not least, this sequence eases the audience into what “business as usual” looks like in this outlandish setting. Xenophobia and mistrust is high, resources are scare, and boats are sort of personal bubbles, where the minutiae of life still carry on.

Dennis Hopper, as you would expect, is absolutely wonderful as a scenery-chewing villain. This was always one of his more natural strong suits in movies, particularly later in his career, and I feel like it saved more than a few movies with his crazed performances. Costner, on the other hand, is just awful in this movie. He straight-up flubs the deliveries on a number of lines, and just seem off-balance and totally a-charismatic throughout the film. His stoic manner and often dickish behavior to his friends makes it even harder to get behind him as the lead, which is probably more of a writing issue than a performance problem.

Speaking of which, there is some really bad dialogue in Waterworld, and the writing is almost certainly the weakest link in a production with its fair share of weak links. The frequent references to the title of the movie (“Nothing’s free in Waterworld”) stick out like dramatically inflamed thumbs, and a number of the actors seem to struggle with their lines as they are written. For as much time and money went in to the sets, effects, and actors, you would think that the producers would have made damn sure that the screenplay was strong, regardless of how much work it took. My guess is that they eventually suffered from fatigue from the numerous rewrites, and settled for a version of the screenplay that wasn’t quite fit to shoot, and put the pressure on the director to figure things out on set.

Nowadays, I think that people for the most part look back on Waterworld positively, or least not as negatively as it was initially received. Kevin Costner made far worse movies during the 1990s that lack the charming aspects or ambitious vision of Waterworld, but this flick was definitely the big, easy target at the time.

Overall, I think that Waterworld is a real mixed bag of a movie. It is poorly paced, laden with bad dialogue, and has some unnecessary and uneven comic relief sprinkled throughout. However, it also has a cool vision behind it, some fun set piece moments, a delightfully hammy Dennis Hopper, and a nifty post-apocalyptic production design. I’d recommend giving it a shot if you either haven’t seen it, or don’t recall the last time you saw it. It might just be worth your while.

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending

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Today, I’m going to be delving into one of the strangest products from the Wachowski siblings: 2015’s Jupiter Ascending.

The plot of Jupiter Ascending is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A young woman discovers her destiny as an heiress of intergalactic nobility and must fight to protect the inhabitants of Earth from an ancient and destructive industry.

Jupiter Ascending was directed and written by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the visionary sibling duo known for movies like The Matrix, Cloud Atlas, and Speed Racer.

The notable cast for the film includes Channing Tatum (Hail Caesar, 21 Jump Street), Mila Kunis (American Psycho 2, Black Swan), Sean Bean (GoldenEye, National Treasure), and Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, The Theory of Everything).

The cinematographer for Jupiter Ascending was John Toll, who has shot such films as Braveheart, Iron Man 3, Cloud Atlas, Tropic Thunder, The Thin Red Line, Vanilla Sky, Gone Baby Gone, and The Last Samurai,
among others.

The editor for the film was Alexander Berner, whose other credits include 10,000 BC, Cloud Atlas, Resident Evil, Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator.

The music for Jupiter Ascending was composed by Michael Giacchino, who has also provided scores for Doctor Strange, Star Trek Beyond, Zootopia, Jurassic World, Up, John Carter, and Sky High.

Initially, Natalie Portman was cast in the lead role of Jupiter Jones, but ultimately pulled out of the project. Reportedly, Rooney Mara was then considered before Mila Kunis was ultimately cast.

jupiter3According to the Wachowskis, the initial draft of the screenplay was 600 pages long, which would have made for an approximately 10 hour film on screen.

Reportedly, filming for the movie was completed in 2013. However, the extensive post production work required for the effects ultimately pushed the release date all the way out into 2015.

During an “Ask Me Anything” session on reddit, Channing Tatum was asked what exactly Jupiter Ascending was about. His response: “Good question. I have the same one myself.”

Jupiter Ascending was made on a production budget of $176 million, on which it grossed $183 million worldwide in its theatrical run. However, when additional costs beyond the production are taken into account, the movie almost certainly lost a significant amount for the studio, though less than most would have expected from its reputation. Interestingly, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, nearly 75% of the movie’s box office income came from international markets, which is in contrast to the traditional norm.

The reception to Jupiter Ascending was generally negative. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.4/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 26% from critics and 38% from audiences. It subsequently wound up with 6 Golden Raspberry Award nominations, which are given to the worst films and performances each year, and Eddie Redmayne took the award for Worst Supporting Actor for his role in the film.

Jupiter Ascending is a movie of extreme contrasts. On one hand, it has a stellar production design with exquisite costuming behind it, which reflects what I think was a really cool vision for a would-be science-fiction franchise. At the same time, the dialogue and performances are just awful, which comes in spite of what is an impressive cast of actors.

jupiter2Having seen the movie a number of times now, it has been interesting to think about what might have gone wrong with Jupiter Ascending. I think, first and foremost, the screenplay could have used some more attention and time, particularly given its initial outlandish length. While the world is set up pretty well (which is impressive), the dialogue just doesn’t roll off quite right, and that probably impacted the way the actors took on their performances. I feel like a number of them, like Redmayne, leaned in on the campy-ness due to the way their dialogue was written. That said, it is also totally possible they were directed that way, given that the writers and directors were the same people. Which, in itself, can be a bit of a problem for a production. It can be really difficult for writer/directors to know when to cut out or amend dialogue that was their own creation. It is more than possible that the Wachowskis were resistant to input and modification when it came to the screenplay, regardless of where the advice came from.

Overall, despite its issues, Jupiter Ascending is a visually-pleasing flick, that for the most part is pretty entertaining. The weird concepts and performances give it an interesting flavor, and I think it does merit its quasi-ironic cult following. Personally, I prefer this to most of the major Hollywood “bad movies” of recent years, like the DCCU outings or the countless Transformers sequels and pointless reboots. It has an original vision behind it, which is worth quite a lot.

At the same time, I’ve heard from a lot of people with wildly different opinions of this movie. Some find it boring, while others swear by it as a modern camp classic. So, as far as a recommendation goes, it is kind of hard to say. In general, I think bad movie fans should at least give it a shot, but your mileage may vary.

John Carter

John Carter

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Today, I’m going to cover what could have been the start of a massive science fiction franchise: 2012’s John Carter.

The plot of John Carter is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Transported to Barsoom, a Civil War vet discovers a barren planet seemingly inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Woola and a princess in desperate need of a savior.

John Carter was directed by Andrew Stanton, who has also helmed the hit Pixar films Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and Finding Dory, and directed two upcoming episodes of the hit television show Stranger Things. Stanton also had a significant hand in the film’s screenplay. His previous writing credits date back to the early days of Pixar: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters, Inc, most notably. Interestingly, prior to John Carter, Stanton had never directed a live action feature.

The other writers for John Carter were Mark Andrews, the writer/director responsible for Brave, and Michael Chabon, who contributed to the story for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.

John Carter is based on the first book in the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs: “A Princess of Mars,” which had been a target for a major film adaptation dating back to 1931.

johncarter2The cast of John Carter includes Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Spider-Man), Thomas Haden Church (Spider-Man 3, Sideways), Taylor Kitsch (Lone Survivor, Battleship, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Dominic West (The Wire, 300), Mark Strong (Green Lantern, Revolver, Sherlock Holmes), James Purefoy (Hap & Leonard, High-Rise, The Following), and Bryan Cranston (Argo, Drive, Breaking Bad).

The cinematographer for the film was Dan Mindel, who has shot movies like Star Trek, Enemy of the State, Domino, Mission: Impossible III, Spy Game, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, among others.

The editor for John Carter was Eric Zumbrunnen, whose other notable works include Her, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are, and Being John Malkovich.

The John Carter musical score was composed by Michael Giacchino, who has provided music for such notable films as Rogue One, Doctor Strange, Zootopia, Jurassic World, Jupiter Ascending, Up, Speed Racer, and The Incredibles.

Apparently, at one point in the film’s lengthy pre-production, Robert Zemeckis turned down an offer to direct, specifically citing that George Lucas already mined too much material out of the series for the Star Wars franchise.

Jon Favreau, the actor, writer, and director known for movies like Iron Man, Elf, The Jungle Book, Swingers, and Chef, was attached to direct John Carter in 2005, but left after a number of delays to take on Iron Man. When Andrew Stanton ultimately took the director’s role, Favreau requested to be included in the film as a voice extra, and is credited as one of the Tharks.

John Carter was made on a production budget of $250 million dollars, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of $284 million. However, nearly 75% of that take came from overseas markets: in the United States, John Carter was a huge failure. When costs beyond the production are taken into account, John Carter was a huge financial loss that came up far short of financial expectations.

Critically, the reception for the film was mixed. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 6.6/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 51% from critics and 60% from audiences.

In The Atlantic, Christopher Orr wrote a review of John Carter in which he praised the film’s “likable whimsy” and “hokey charm”:

…there is a hokey charm to John Carter, a clear understanding that, at the end of the day, we are there to have fun. Stanton has scattered throughout the script a surprising number of genuinely witty moments. (I laughed more during the film than I did during Adam Sandler’s last three comedies combined—which is a long way of saying, I laughed.)

As Orr mentions, I was surprised to find how much fun and genuinely clever humor made it into the final screenplay. Two of my favorite sequences in the film were made by comedic dialogue: the monologue interruptions at the beginning of the film, and the prisoner escape towards the climax. While these were undoubtedly two of the best bits in the film, they were just as much made by their performers, Bryan Cranston and James Purefoy, respectively, as by their writing.

This brings me to one of my biggest problems with the movie: there are just too many characters. Or, rather, too many underused characters. Both Bryan Cranston and James Purefoy, who are huge highlights in the movie, are either entirely dropped or relegated to minimal background roles following their aforementioned sequences. I can’t recall either characters’ names, what they stood for, or what defined them, which is a bit of a problem. There are already a lot of complicated ideas and plots spinning around in the film, so I kind of understand why the characters aren’t given much attention, but that is a bit of a problem to itself. There are more than a few moments of science-fiction jargon-babble that weigh down the screenplay, which could have benefited from some tweaking. Mostly, this just felt like some unfortunate wasted potential.

Something that surprisingly stood out to me about John Carter were the visual effects: overall, they still look pretty good, which is really saying something for a movie that is a number of years old. Typically, technological progresses make movies look outdated quickly, but John Carter still looks pretty ok by today’s standards. It still probably won’t age well, but holding up for this long is still impressive.

Aside from the effects, John Carter is still a very visually pleasing movie. The production and costume designs are all top-flight: the world looks and feels unique and tangible, and each of the civilizations look distinct from each other. The color palette may feel a bit overused now, but the combination of sandy oranges and bright blues does give John Carter a striking appearance, without any doubt.

In his aforementioned review for The Atlantic, Orr also hit on one of my favorite aspects of John Carter: the bizarre animal companion, Woola.

the most indelible performance in the film…would be Woola, a six-legged, razor-toothed Martian hound who…rather resembles a cross between a bulldog and a fetal gila monster…he’s not much in the looks department, but it’s been some time since cinema has seen a more adorable sidekick.

To say that Woola (who I call the DogFrog) is god damn adorable is a massive understatement. The Pixar influence on the film is most evident through him: his charm, appearance, and physical performance all seem like they were lifted straight out of a Pixar short of feature. Interesting, unlike Jar-Jar Binks in the ill-fated Star Wars prequels, he never feels out of place, even when at his peak of comic relief. This could easily have gone awry, but if there is anything the Pixar lot can do well, it is blend the heavy spices of drama and comedy successfully.

johncarter3While John Carter may not be a masterpiece, I think it is quite a bit better than its reputation indicates. It is uneven for sure, but there are enough fun moments and highlights to make it worth checking out if you ask me. It clearly suffered from some really lackluster marketing: I always assumed it would be a big, dumb action movie. While it is, at least on some level, exactly that, there is more substance to this film that you could glean from its trailers.

Superman IV

Superman IV

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Today, I am going to take a look at one of the least beloved superhero movies: Cannon’s Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

The plot of Superman IV is summarized on IMDb as follows:

The Man of Steel crusades for nuclear disarmament and meets Lex Luthor’s latest creation, Nuclear Man.

The screenplay credits for Superman IV were given to the duo of Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who wrote Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, Mercury Rising, the film adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies, and the remake of Mighty Joe Young. Christopher Reeve, the star of the film, received a story credit for his input.

Superman IV was directed by Sidney J. Furie, who is best known for his work on the Iron Eagle franchise (Iron Eagle, Iron Eagle II, and Iron Eagle IV), and the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Ladybugs.

The central cast of the film is made up by Christopher Reeve (Superman, Village of the Damned), Gene Hackman (The French Connection, Unforgiven, The Quick and The Dead), Jon Cryer (Pretty in Pink, Hot Shots!), and Margot Kidder (Superman, Black Christmas, The Amityville Horror).

The cinematographer for Superman IV was Ernest Day, who shot the movies Parents, A Passage To India, and and Revenge of The Pink Panther. The editor for the film was John Shirley, whose credits include Live and Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and King Solomon’s Mines.

The music for Superman IV was provided by Alexander Courage, who most famously composed the music for the original series of Star Trek. He also worked on television shows like The Waltons, Lost In Space, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Superman IV was produced by the infamous duo behind Cannon films, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They managed to dominate the 1980s with all variety of cheesy movies: brutal cop flicks, ninja adventures, wacky musicals, and, as their reign came to an end, they sought to move into the realm of comic book heroes. Had Superman IV been more profitable, the proceeds would likely have been turned around into a Spider-Man feature, which the group had the rights to make until 1990. However, it did not come to pass.

supermaniv5I haven’t been able to find the original source, but it is said that star Christopher Reeve deeply regretted making Superman IV, and later referred to it as a “catastrophe,” and that it was a “huge blow” to his career.

Jon Cryer, one of the film’s co-stars, spoke a bit about his experience with the movie in an A.V. Club interview:

That was an absolutely heartbreaking experience for me, because I had loved the Richard Donner Superman like nobody’s business…Superman IV was to resurrect the franchise. They had new producers, and Golan-Globus had…made a great deal of money with their Cannon films, and this was their bid for respectability. They were gonna reboot the franchise, and resurrect it for everybody after the debacle that was Superman III. Little did we know that we were actually going to be working on the debacle to end all debacles.

Prior to Sidney Furie taking on the directing duties, the job was offered to both horror master Wes Craven and original Superman director Richard Donner. While Donner outright refused the offer, Craven was apparently on board for a while: at least, until clashes with Reeve drove him away.

supermaniv2At the very last minute before production, the budget for the film was slashed from $36 million to $17 million. This was due to financial issues that beginning to plague Cannon films, and would be exacerbated with the film’s failure. This limitation is also why so much footage is reused in the film: they had to cut corners wherever possible. Despite that trimmed down budget, the movie failed to cover its costs anyway, bringing in just $15.6 million in its lifetime theatrical gross.

Currently, Superman IV has an IMDb user rating of 3.6/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 12% from critics and 16% from audiences. The film has the distinct dishonor of being one of the most widely reviled super hero films to ever hit the screen.

The biggest problem with Superman IV, if you ask me, is ultimately the budget. It just looks cheap, particularly in comparison to earlier films in the franchise, and that was all it was going to take to get people to hate it. It is easy to point the blame at the goofy style of Cannon films, or the director not having the experience to handle this kind of production, or the screenplay being sub-par, but in this case, I think the first and biggest thing they needed was more money. If the effects looked better and the repeated footage was excised, I think the result would have been almost satisfactory. Or, at least, it would have had a fighting chance. That isn’t even getting into the possibility of paying for a rewrite, or extra shooting, or just having someone edit the film who wasn’t half-asleep, or even paying a better director. I think if they even had that initial $36 million, this might have turned out ok.

Here’s something I have to be upfront about: to be honest, I have never gotten the appeal of the series or the character of Superman: I’ve always thought Superman was pretty dull, and was hard to relate to. He has always seemed a little too perfect, and his weakness a little too goofy, and his powers a little too all-encompassing. He never seemed to really have challenges. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve started reconsidering this, but I’m definitely not won over yet: particularly not by the Christopher Reeve incarnation. So, I suppose I am not primed to enjoy the Superman film franchise to start with, which isn’t going to do the worst sequel any favors.

As far as the performances go, I pretty much just think Christopher Reeve is awful in all of these movies. If you liked him in the others, he is probably fine here: this may just be a “me” thing. On the other end of the spectrum, Gene “Makes Welcome To Mooseport Almost Watchable” Hackman is wonderful, as always, despite not having a whole lot to do. However, his sequences are almost all ruined by the presence of 2/5 of Two and A Half Men Jon Cryer, whose comic relief stylings are about as grating as you can imagine.

One of the weirdest decisions about Superman IV was to have Gene Hackman record the voice for the villainous Nuclear Man, and dub it over the actual actor. Even though they kept his dialogue pretty sparse, every time he does say something, it is a jarring, weird experience. Even if the guy was heavily accented, surely there was another possible solution for this?

supermaniv3Overall, I do think there is something charming about Superman IV, as I do with most Cannon films. The cheapness, the goofiness, and transparent ineptitude all coalesce into a pretty enjoyable end product. Even though I think the cut down to 90 minutes for the theatrical release hurt the movie in a traditional sense, I think it also makes it a little more fun as a bad movie watch: you can definitely get in and out of it quickly without much trudging.

As far as a recommendation goes, this is one of my lighter Cannon films recommendations. Honestly, I think that is because they were trying so hard to make a proper, respectable blockbuster. Still, it is quite a bit of fun if you go in knowing what you are going to get.

Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla (1998)

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Today’s film is the ill-conceived and ill-executed American re-imagining of a Japanese cinematic ground-breaker: 1998’s Godzilla.

The plot of Godzilla is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A giant, reptilian monster surfaces, leaving destruction in its wake. To stop the monster (and its babies), an earthworm scientist, his reporter ex-girlfriend, and other unlikely heroes team up to save their city.

Godzilla had four credited writers: the screenplay is credited to director Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day), and story credits were given to Ted Elliott (Small Soldiers, The Lone Ranger) and Terry Rossio (Legend of Zorro, Deja Vu).

As mentioned, the film was directed by Roland Emmerich, who has made a name for himself by repeatedly destroying prominent metropolises in films like 2012, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down, and Independence Day: Resurgence.

The cast of Godzilla is led by Matthew Broderick (The Producers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Jean Reno (Leon, The Professional), Maria Pitillo (Chaplin), and Hank Azaria (Mystery Men).

The cinematographer for the film was Ueli Steiger, who also shot 10,000 BC, Bowfinger, House Arrest, The Black Knight, Stealing Harvard, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Two editors received credit for working on Godzilla: Peter Amundson, who has worked on films like Pacific Rim, Gamer, Shoot Em Up, Hellboy, Blade II, and DragonHeart, and David Siegel, who cut Eight Legged Freaks.

The musical score for Godzilla was composed by two people: David Arnold, who has provided music for the BBC series Sherlock and Jekyll & Hyde, as well as films like The Stepford Wives and Hot Fuzz, and Michael Lloyd, who composed scores for Ghoulies Go To College and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.

Godzilla wound up spawning an animated series that continued with the plot laid out by the film. The series ran for two seasons on Fox Kids, and was actually somewhat better acclaimed than the film itself.

A potential sequel was already in the works when Godzilla was released into theaters: it was to take place in Australia, and feature some sort of large insect (perhaps inspired by Mothra) as an adversary. However, the critical and fan reactions quickly put an end to these plans.

Godzilla wound up nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards, which are given out each year to films deemed to be the worst in any given category. It wound up winning two: Worst Remake or Sequel, and Worst Supporting Actress for Maria Pitillo.

The 1998 American design of Godzilla was parodied years later in Godzilla: Final Wars, which has created some confusion on how the American Godzilla is classified. It is officially part of the Japanese Godzilla mythos because of its inclusion in that film, but it isn’t always considered a proper Godzilla, often being classified as “Zilla” instead. Likewise, most fans of the series discount the inferior American rendition, often referring to it as G.I.N.O. (Godzilla In Name Only).

The promotional materials for Godzilla bore the tagline “Size Does Matter,” which was intended to be a slight towards Jurassic Park. The tagline was (and still is) frequently mocked in parodies and other film trailers.

A number of notable directors, including James Cameron, Tim Burton, and Paul Verhoeven, all ultimately passed on the project of re-imagining Godzilla. Then, a version got well into the conceptual phase with Stan Winston providing creature designs and effects and Jan De Bont directing, though it eventually fell apart just before Emmerich took the reigns.

godzilla2Another American take on Godzilla released in 2014, directed by Gareth Edwards. While better received than the 1998 incarnation, audiences were still divided on it. However, a combined franchise is being build around that film, which will be continued with the upcoming Kong: Skull Island.

The year after the release of Godzilla, Godzilla 2000 hit theaters in Japan. The plan had initially been to hold off on releasing a Japanese Godzilla feature until the 50th anniversary in 2004, which allowed plenty of time for American sequels to be produced. The scrapped sequel plans, in conjunction with fan outrage, pushed up the production of Godzilla 2000, which was seen as a direct response to the lackluster American outing.

Godzilla was made on a production budget of $130 million, on which it took in a lifetime worldwide theatrical gross of $379 million. While this was profitable, the negative reaction from fans and critics was substantial. Currently, the film holds an IMDb user rating of 5.3/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 16% from critics and 28% from audiences.

godzilla4Something I have never been able to wrap my head around in regards to this film is why there was so much attempted humor injected into the screenplay. The original Godzilla, as well as the themes that surround it, are all very bleak. Humor just doesn’t match what these movies are about, unless it was written in a very grim and dark way. Godzilla, however, isn’t darkly-minded in its humor: it is cartoon-y and slapstick, which creates an effect of tonal whiplash. What is even weirder is that the humor clearly wasn’t added after some bad test screening: it was unquestionably designed that way. The comedy background of most of the cast makes it really hard to argue against this idea. Worse yet, the humor just isn’t funny. Despite the presence of some talented comedic actors, they all seem to struggle to make their material funny, which boils down to an issue of either direction or writing. In the case of Emmerich, it was almost certainly both.

Another issue that I have with the film were the general designs of the monsters: they just aren’t terribly interesting. Their appearances aren’t particularly imposing or intimidating, and it is hard to nail down exactly why. Apparently, Emmerich wanted his monster to be sleek and fast, which aren’t ways one would describe Godzilla. That focus on agility makes the beast seem a bit too toned and athletic, which just doesn’t fit for a creature that is supposed to be frightening. The color and texture doesn’t seem right either: the original Godzilla was designed to look burned, and was patterned after documented radiation burns from Hiroshima. That lack of scarring and texture robs the monster of a crucial tangibility, as well as further erases a subliminal aspect of the message of the original film. Replacing that texture and charred coloration just further drives home how much this film misses the point.

godzilla5Personally, I think the very concept of an American production re-imagining Godzilla is basically unacceptable. Godzilla is a film that is about Japan and the Japanese. It deals with the nation’s grief, pain, and politics in the wake of horrific war, and a subsequent conflict of identity that came about as a result. An American perspective just doesn’t add anything: at worse, it takes away.

That said, Godzilla is not a movie that can’t be remade well. In fact, I absolutely loved the updated themes and concepts addressed in Shin Godzilla, and I think it is a shame more folks haven’t seen it. While I can’t recommend the Godzilla from 1998, I can definitely recommend that people check out Shin Godzilla.

Overall, Godzilla was an ill-conceived and ill-executed cash grab intended to capitalize on the dinosaur craze in the wake of Jurassic Park. It is a wholly soulless endeavor. Every time I re-watch it, I forget why I did. If you have positive nostalgic feelings about it, I wouldn’t recommend casting your gaze backwards. However, if you are a bit of a movie trivia buff, the story behind this film’s production is pretty interesting, and might justify a re-watch to daydream of what might have been.

Eragon

Eragon

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Today, I’m going to take a look at a 2006 movie that desperately wanted to kick-start the next big blockbuster franchise: Eragon.

The plot of Eragon is summarized on IMDb as follows:

In his homeland of Alagaesia, a farm boy happens upon a dragon’s egg — a discovery that leads him on a predestined journey where he realizes he’s the one person who can defend his home against an evil king.

The screenplay for Eragon was ultimately credited to Peter Buchman, whose other credits include Jurassic Park III and the two-part 2008 biopic on life of Che Guevara. However, this was also settled after some significant disagreements on the credits were brought to the Writer’s Guild of America, so other parties were clearly involved with the writing.

The source material for Eragon was the first installment of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle novel series, which is also entitled Eragon. The book was initially self-published in 2002, but gained a wider following after its republishing in 2003. It wound up being a best-selling children’s franchise for years, spawning three successful sequels.

eragon5Eragon was directed by Stefen Fangmeier, a successful visual effects worker who has contributed to Game of Thrones, Twister, Jurassic Park, The Mask, Small Soldiers, and Galaxy Quest, among others. However, this was his first (and so far, only) directorial project.

The cast for the film includes Jeremy Irons (Dungeons & Dragons, The Lion King, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich, Burn After Reading, Rounders), Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting), Sienna Guillory (Luther, High-Rise), and Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey).

eragon2The cinematographer for Eragon was Hugh Johnson, who also shot the films The Chronicles of Riddick and G.I. Jane.

The film ultimately required the work of three editors, likely due to studio-mandated re-cuts. These credited editors were Chris Lebenzon (Radio, Big Fish, xXx, Con Air), Masahiro Hirakubo (Trainspotting, The Beach, The White Helmets), and Roger Barton (World War Z, Bad Boys 2, Speed Racer, Gone In Sixty Seconds).

The music for Eragon was composed by Patrick Doyle, who also provided scores for Donnie Brasco, Thor, Brave, and Carlito’s Way, among others.

eragon4Apparently, both Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart were considered for the role that ultimately went to Jeremy Irons. However, both men were unavailable for the same reason: the filming of X-Men: The Last Stand.

Interestingly, Eragon was the last major Hollywood film to get a VHS home release, in 2007. This followed decades of the format’s dominance, dating back to the late 1970s.

Eragon was made on a production budget of $100 million, on which it brought in a total lifetime theatrical gross of $249.5 million, making a nice profit. However, it wasn’t nearly as successful as hoped, not was it received well by fans or critics. Thus, the sequels never came to fruition.

Speaking of the film’s reception, Eragon currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.1/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 16% from critics and 46% from audiences. All of these scores are pretty far from positive, and film is remembered widely as a failure as a result.

The first thing that has to be said about Eragon is that the effects haven’t aged well. Even if the effects looked spectacular at the time, rapid technology changes and developments have been particularly cruel to CGI-heavy movies from the mid-2000s. Looking back with an eye accustomed to current films, going back a few years draws some really unfavorable comparisons to more developed works. However, I seem to remember seeing Eragon when it was released, and not being impressed by the dragon. It might look fantastic in an animated setting, but it doesn’t seem to interact with the tangible world like it should, which stands out dramatically.

As far as the performances go, the thing that I most noticed was how obviously checked out John Malkovich is throughout the run time. I suspect that his part wrapped with only a few days of shooting, and he clearly was not into the zone for it. While his dialogue is certainly terrible, the level of dispassion in his deliveries is hard to match if you were trying. On the other end of the spectrum, Jeremy Irons is pretty solid: he is a guy who tends to put in good performances no matter what, and he manages to weave his way around some shoddy writing. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable: particularly the lead, who is the living embodiment of white bread.

eragon3One of the biggest criticisms that has been levied at the source material for Eragon is how apparently derivative it is from other science fiction and fantasy works. While it might be easy to attribute this to the author simply following the patterns of the monomyth, I think this goes far beyond following the broad strokes of the Hero’s journey. Only having the reference of the film to go by, I was struck by how many story beats and sequences reminded me of Star Wars, one of the most popular and recognizable adherents to the monomyth. Typically, the Hero’s journey is a loose blueprint, which you only notice if you are specifically looking for it. Honestly, you shouldn’t notice it if the writing is well done: you want to be in a position of familiarity without feeling like you are going through the motions of a routine. It is hard to be invested in a story that plays out like a paint by numbers puzzle. However, that is exactly what Eragon is: a story that reeks of unwelcome familiarity, like a greasy spoon meal that violently revolts in the digestive tract.

One of the biggest issues that looms over Eragon like a fog is the then-recency of the highly successful and well-received Lord of the Rings trilogy, helmed by Peter Jackson.  The comparison is highly unfavorable on pretty much every level: production design, performances, makeup, visual effects, writing, cinematography, music, etc. Just skimming through contemporaneous critical reviews, it is clear that Lord of the Rings was still heavily entrenched in the minds of the public. Even if Eragon had been good, the comparison was inevitably going to be drawn, and there was no way that the judgement was going to be in Eragon‘s favor. I’m sure the producers had this notion of being able to find a sweet spot between Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, but that was clearly short-sighted, and put way too much pressure on the back of Eragon.

Another big issue I have with the film is how many plot threads and characters are being balanced throughout the story. Even though a lot of things were changed and cut through the process of the adaptation (to the immense ire of the book’s fan base), I still think that there is way too much happening. There are a number of characters that I don’t even recall being named, like the leader of the resistance group. Introductions are blown through in a split second, which makes caring about any of the characters really difficult.

Overall, I think that Eragon was built on excessively lofty expectations and a foundation of sand. There’s nothing particularly worth recommending about the movie: as much as I love Jeremy Irons, he isn’t enough of a force to save it. The producers were clearly blinded by the profit potential of a youth fantasy franchise with familiar elements of both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and didn’t give consideration to meeting the quality of those films. On top of that, I’m thinking that the screenplay could have used a lot more work, and the whole film could almost certainly have benefited from the oversight of a seasoned director rather than a first-timer.

Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero
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Today, I’m going to take a look at a deconstructionist action comedy classic: Last Action Hero.

The plot of Last Action Hero is summarized on IMDb as follows:

With the help of a magic ticket, a young film fan is transported into the fictional world of his favorite action film character.

Last Action Hero has four officially credited writers, though it is widely known that others also contributed to the screenplay. One of these uncredited writers was the late Carrie Fisher, who frequently did script doctoring in the 1980s and 1990s. The four writers who are officially associated with the film are Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, Monster Squad), David Arnott (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane), Adam Leff (PCU, Bio-Dome), and Zak Penn (The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, Elektra, X-Men: The Last Stand, Suspect Zero).

The director for Last Action Hero was John McTiernan, a highly-regarded action film director who has been responsible for movies like Die Hard, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Predator, The 13th Warrior, and The Hunt For Red October.

The astounding cast of Last Action Hero includes Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jingle All The Way, Total Recall, The Running Man, Terminator), Charles Dance (Space Truckers, Game of Thrones), Tom Noonan (Anomalisa, The Astronaut’s Wife, RoboCop 2, Wolfen), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus, Grand Budapest Hotel, Surviving The Game), Ian McKellen (X-Men, The Keep, Lord of the Rings), and Austin O’Brien (Lawnmower Man, Lawnmower Man 2).

lah3The cinematographer for the film was Dean Semler, whose other shooting credits include Super Mario Bros, Dances With Wolves, Cocktail, The Road Warrior, Razorback, Waterworld, Young Guns, Bruce Almighty, Stealth, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, among many others.

Last Action Hero had two primary editors: John Wright (The Incredible Hulk, The Passion of the Christ, The 13th Warrior, Speed, The Running Man) and Richard A. Harris (Titanic, The Golden Child, Fletch, True Lies, The Bad News Bears).

The musical score for the movie was composed by Michael Kamen, who has had a ton of credits over his career: The Iron Giant, X-Men, Event Horizon, Hudson Hawk, Road House, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Highlander, Action Jackson, and Brazil among them.

One of the most memorable gags in the movie occurs in the fictitious movie universe within the movie, in which Schwarzenegger doesn’t exist. In an attempt to prove that their reality is false, Slater is led into a video store by Danny, who shows him a standee of Terminator 2, only to see Sylvester Stallone listed as the star instead of Schwarzenegger. This is a sort of nod to the similarities between the two actors’ movies in the 1980s and 1990s, which were, at times, indistinguishable.

lah5On November 5, 2013, the online outlet A.V. Club ran a feature imploring people to give Last Action Hero a re-watch and re-evaluation. While there are plenty who still speak ill of the movie, the reception to it has certainly warmed over the years.

Rumor has it that Alan Rickman turned down the role in Last Action Hero ultimately filled by Charles Dance, despite the fact that the role was written with him in mind, due to the pay not being high enough. Initially, Timothy Dalton was cast to fill in, but ultimately had to drop out before filming, leaving the path open for Dance. Apparently, Dance had a tongue-in-cheek t-shirt made that read “I’m Cheaper Than Alan Rickman” as a result.

The AC/DC song “Big Gun” was written and produced specifically for Last Action Hero, much like their earlier song “Who Made Who” was done for the infamous Stephen King movie, Maximum Overdrive.

At one point, Steven Spielberg was approached to helm Last Action Hero, but turned it down in order to pursue making Schindler’s List.

In the last act of Last Action Hero, Ian McKellen surprisingly portrays the character of Death from the classic film The Seventh Seal, which was originally played by Bengt Ekerot.

One of the more clever references in the film pokes fun at F. Murray Abraham’s award-winning role as Salieri in Amadeus, and his subsequent type-casting as a movie villain. When he first appears on screen, Danny tells Slater not to trust him, explaining that “he killed Mozart!”

Last Action Hero was made on a production budget of $85 million, on which it grossed just over $187 million in its international lifetime theatrical run. While this was ultimately profitable, it was far below the lofty expectations placed upon it.

Last Action Hero currently holds an IMDb user rating of 6.2/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 46% from audiences and 37% from critics. While these scores are certainly low, the movie has been winning over a steady cult following in the years since its release.

Personally, I really like Last Action Hero, and not just because of its clever, genre-aware screenplay. Schwarzenegger is genuinely charming in the movie, and might be in the top form of his career comedically. Likewise, Charles Dance is absolutely haunting as the film’s villain, but also manages to be quite funny at times.

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One of the most lauded aspects of the movie, at least nowadays, is its screenplay’s expert execution of genre deconstruction, long before that style came into fashion with films like Scream or Cabin In The Woods.  More importantly, the screenplay for Last Action Hero shows a lot of respect for its audience: it gives us the benefit of the doubt that we have seen action movies before, and uses that prior knowledge to either play into or subvert our expectations.

Another thing that I particularly enjoy about Last Action Hero is its general design. There are lots of small details that distinctly contrast reality from the world of the movies: for instance, the color and lighting vary greatly between the two settings. The movie world is always evenly lit and sunny, filled with bright yellows and oranges. Reality, on the other hand, is almost always shown at night, with long shadows stretching down alleyways. The only lights and colors come from neon signs on the streets. This provides an instant rubric for where any given action is taking place, without having to constantly establish whether characters are inside or outside of the fantasy world. For a movie with this level of depth, that kind of detail really matters: it keeps the audience subconsciously on track with the changing settings.

Overall, I think that Last Action Hero is a brilliant action-comedy, particularly for anyone who enjoys the action genre movies that dominated the 1980s. It manages to build an interesting story around the fantastical fun of walking through a movie world, and the humor generally works. The cast is immensely deep, and the knowing cameos and nods to other genre pictures make for a damn fun time. For bad movie fans, action movie fans, and pretty much anyone who enjoys a little bit of 1980s/1990s nostalgia, I highly recommend giving Last Action Hero a shot, or giving it a second look.

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