The Legend of Hercules

The Legend of Hercules

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Today’s feature is widely considered to be one of the worst theatrical releases of 2014: The Legend of Hercules.

The Legend of Hercules had four credited writers, including director Renny Harlin, Sean Hood (Cube 2: Hypercube, Conan The Barbarian, Halloween: Resurrection), and two guys names Giulio Steve and Dianial Giat, who only have a handful of credits between them.

The Legend of Hercules was directed, produced, and co-written by Renny Harlin, who is best known for movies like Driven, Deep Blue Sea, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Mindhunters, Die Hard 2, 12 Rounds, Cliffhanger, and Cutthroat Island.

The cinematographer for the film was Sam McCurdy, who has shot such movies as The Descent, Dog Soldiers, and Centurion.

The editor for The Legend of Hercules was Vincent Tabaillon, who has also cut the flicks Taken 2, Now You See Me, and The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton.

The team of producers for the film, outside of director Renny Harlin, included Boaz Davidson (Olympus Has Fallen, The Expendables, The Expendables 2, It’s Alive), Avi Lerner (American Ninja 2, Howling IV, Shark Attack 3), Danny Lerner (Cyborg Cop, Cyborg Cop 2), Trevor Short (The Iceman, Drive Angry), Lonnie Ramati (Stolen, Shark in Venice), Nikki Stanghetti (12 Rounds), John Thompson (The Expendables 3), David Varod (300: Rise of an Empire), and Les Weldon (Replicant).

The musical score for the movie was provided by Tuomas Kantelinen, who also provided music for the films Mindhunters, Mongol, and Arn: The Knight Templar.

The makeup effects team for The Legend of Hercules included Angela Angelova (300: Rise of an Empire), Daniela Avramova (Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys), Sofi Hvarleva (The Black Dahlia), Yana Stoyanova (Getaway, Hitman), Petya Simeonova (Raptor Island, Alien Apocalypse), and Ivon Ivanova (Manquito),

The special effects unit for the film was made up of Mark Meddings (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), Reggie Rizzo (Jingle All The Way, Mad Max: Fury Road), Pini Klavir (Iron Eagle), Peter Nikolov (War, Inc.), Ivo Jivkov (Universal Soldier: Regeneration), Timothy Huizing (Jack and Jill, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Small Soldiers), Nikolay Fartunkov (Wrong Turn 3), and Jovko Dogandjiski (Shark Attack 2).

The extensive visual effects work for The Legend of Hercules were provided by a number of different companies, including Rhythm and Hues (Babe, Life of Pi), Prime Focus (Pixels, The Martian), Crafty Apes (Foxcatcher, White House Down), Basilic Fly (The Smurfs, Green Lantern), and Ghost VFX (Jurassic World, Pacific Rim).

The cast of the movie is made up of Kellan Lutz (Twilight), Gaia Weiss (Vikings), Scott Adkins (Zero Dark Thirty), Roxanne McKee (Dominion), Kenneth Cranham (Maleficent), Luke Newberry (Anna Karenina), Johnathon Schaech (Quarantine), Rade Serbedzija (Snatch, Eyes Wide Shut), Liam McIntyre (Spartacus: War of the Damned), and Liam Garrigan (Once Upon A Time).

KELLAN LUTZ stars in THE LEGEND OF HERCULESThe plot of The Legend of Hercules is summarized on IMDb as follows:

The origin story of the the mythical Greek hero. Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom.

As I have mentioned in some other reviews, every once in a while multiple films with nearly identical concepts will release within close proximity of each other. For example, The Abyss, DeepStar Six, and Leviathan all popped up in 1989, Red Planet and Mission to Mars released within months of each other, and Volcano and Dante’s Peak both hit theaters in 1997. As it so happens, 2014 saw two theatrical features centering on the character of Hercules: The Legend of Hercules, which came out in January, and Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson, that released in July.

The Legend of Hercules was nominated for six 2014 Golden Raspberry awards, including ones for Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, and Worst Director. However, it did not wind up ‘winning’ any of the infamous awards.

The Legend of Hercules was made on a budget of $70 million, on which it grossed just over $61 million in its theatrical run. However, almost all of that was from foreign markets, as the film proved to be a complete flop domestically. Critics and audiences were likewise less than thrilled with the product: it currently holds a 4.2 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 3% from critics and 33% from audiences.

legendofhercules3The Legend of Hercules is best described as a hybrid of Gladiator and 300 with all of the vision and talent siphoned out. Nothing about the film feels at all unique, and not just because the story of Hercules has been told so many times. In fact, the odd retelling of the story is the most original aspect of the movie if you ask me. The lack of originality mostly comes out in the visuals (constant color filters and mimicked shots from, of course, Gladiator and 300), the dialogue (which is boring at best), and even in the casting itself: there are a couple of characters who were clearly cast specifically to look like actors from 300.

I can sort of see what the production was going for with this movie, and it might have even been successful if it had been done a few years earlier. 300, at this point, was almost 8 years in the past, which is way too long to wait to make a knock-off like this. The other thing that really surprised me was the production budget, which was estimated at $70 million. Personally, I think this looks like a pretty cheap movie, and has the appearance of an upper-end straight-to-DVD offering. I have a hunch that this high of a budget wasn’t originally part of the plan, and that the visual effects and theatrical release was done in hopes that an already sunk budget could be recovered by doubling down. And, to their credit, they made most of that money back.

Overall, I think The Legend of Hercules is a watchable movie, but it is unquestionably dull, and doesn’t bring anything remotely unique to the table. Outside of a couple of sequences of laughably bad CGI, there isn’t a lot of good-bad entertainment to be had here. Unless this movie is somehow thrust upon you, I don’t think it is really worth seeking out. But, if you do happen upon it while flipping channels, it makes for decent enough background noise.

Twixt

Twixt

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Today’s entry into the continuing spotlight on bad movies by good directors is Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt.

Twixt was written, produced, and directed by New Hollywood legend Francis Ford Coppola, whose works include Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2, The Godfather Part 3, Dracula, The Outsiders, and The Cotton Club. However, he is also well known for having one of the steepest career declines in cinema history, in which he descended from being one of the greatest working directors in the business to being an at-best middling player.

The cinematographer for Twixt was Mihai Malaimare Jr., who has most notably shot The Master, Tetro, Youth Without Youth, and A Walk Among The Tombstones.

The editor for the film was Glen Scantlebury, who also cut Armageddon, Con Air, Stolen, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 take on Dracula.

The makeup and special effects work on Twixt was provided by a team that included Aurora Bergere (Joy, Gone Girl, The Master, Argo), Doug E. Williams (Moneyball, Howard The Duck), and Dick Wood (The Running Man, Freejack, Starman, Jaws 3-D).

The visual effects unit for Twixt included Michal Cavoj (Salt, Blackhat), Catherine Craig (Van Helsing, Willow), Ales Dlabac (Perfume, Season of the Witch), David Ebner (The Happening, Dracula 2000, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Core), Benjamin Hawkins (Spawn, After Earth), and Lukas Herrmann (Snowpiercer, Perfume), among many others.

The cast of Twixt includes Val Kilmer (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Heat, Red Planet, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Batman Forever, Top Gun, Alexander), Bruce Dern (Nebraska, The Hateful Eight, The Burbs, Bloody Mama), Elle Fanning (Babel, Super 8), Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line), Joanne Whalley (Willow, The Man Who Knew Too Little), David Paymer (Get Shorty, Drag Me To Hell), Ryan Simpkins (Space Warriors, A Single Man), and Tom Waits (The Cotton Club, Mystery Men, Seven Psychopaths).

twixt3The plot of Twixt is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A writer with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl. That night in a dream, he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V. He’s unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. Ultimately he is led to the truth of the story, surprised to find that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated.

Twixt currently holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 29% from critics and 18% from audiences, alongside a 4.8 user rating on IMDb. The movie only got a limited theatrical release, which means that it came up far shy of its $7 million budget.

The cinematography and visuals in Twixt for the most part look pretty good, if not a bit over the top, but there’s certainly no indications of this being Coppola’s handiwork. It looks like it could have been a debut picture for any semi-anonymous indie director nowadays, which isn’t saying much. The colors are certainly memorable throughout the movie, but I couldn’t help but feel like it went a bit overboard with the contrast.

However, Twixt does have a huge weakness that makes it nearly unwatchable: the writing lacks even the slightest semblance of coherence, as if Coppola was deliberately trying to outdo Twin Peaks and went a few steps too far into the void in the process. It might not be immediately evident from reading this blog, but I’m for a good art movie. That said, there is such a thing as trying too hard, and this movie absolutely reeks of it.  My guess is that Coppola over-corrected in the hopes of creating a laudable and redeeming art movie, and the result is transparently desperate.

twixt2Personally, I don’t think Twixt is a total failure of a movie. There are certainly some redeeming aspects to it, and I understand why some people have found it enjoyable. Personally, however, I really couldn’t get past how muddled the story and writing were. Despite some really good performances from Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern, as well as some decent cinematography, I would generally advise avoiding Twixt. Unless you have a high tolerance for nonsense or are on a completion crusade through the filmography of Francis Ford Coppola, give Twixt a pass.

B-Fest 2016!

I’m happy to say that I will be attending the 2016 B-fest on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, IL next weekend (January 21-22).

For those that aren’t aware, B-fest is a 24 hour b-movie festival held annually on the Northwestern University campus, and has gained a significant amount of acclaim over the years since its 1981 inception.  The lineup for this year’s festivities was just announced recently, and I’m pretty excited, primarily because I don’t know many of the features.

I’ll have some coverage of the event on the blog once I’m back, not unlike what I did for Gateway Film Center’s Groundhog Day Marathon last year. Sadly, I’ll be missing the 24-hour Groundhog Day event this year, but I highly encourage curious people to check it out.

If any of you bad movie enthusiasts happen to be attending B-fest this year as well, let me know! Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message at mail@misantropey.com.

Saturn 3

Saturn 3

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Continuing my current spotlight on the “Worst of the Best,” today’s feature is Stanley Donen’s 1980 science fiction flick Saturn 3.

The story for Saturn 3 is credited to John Barry, a production designer who worked on Star Wars, A Clockwork Orange, and Superman, and who was initially set to direct the film. The screenplay, however, was provided by acclaimed writer Martin Amis, and is to date his only listed screenplay credit on IMDb.

Saturn 3 was directed and produced by Stanley Donen, who is best known for memorable movies like Singin’ In The Rain, Charade, Funny Face, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and Bedazzled, but also closed out his career with a string of failures like Blame It On Rio, Lucky Lady, and Saturn 3.

The cinematographer for the movie was Billy Williams, whose career shooting credits include Gandhi, On Golden Pond, The Manhattan Project, and Voyage of the Damned.

The editor for Saturn 3 was Richard Marden, who cut movies like Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Blame It On Rio, and Sleuth, among many others.

Outside of director Stanley Donen, the producers for Saturn 3 were assistant director Eric Rattray, who was a producer on Labyrinth and an assistant director on Dr. Strangelove, and Martin Starger, whose credits include The Last Unicorn, Sophie’s Choice, Nashville, and The Muppet Movie.

The effects team for Saturn 3 included Colin Chilvers (Tommy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Superman), Ann Brodie (Supergirl, Moonstruck, Barry Lyndon), Leonard Engelman (The Island of Doctor Moreau, Burlesque), Pauline Heys (Supergirl, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Michael Dunleavy (Judge Dredd, Aliens, Supergirl, Krull), Peter Hutchinson (Moon, Star Wars Episode I), Terry Schubert (The Dark Crystal, Event Horizon), Roy Spencer (Lifeforce), Peter Parks (DeepStar Six, Leonard Part 6), Chris Corbould (Hudson Hawk, Highlander II, Supergirl), and Joe Fitt (Legend).

The musical score for Saturn 3 was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who also provided music for movies like Wild Wild West, Slipstream (1989), My Left Foot, Spies Like Us, Leonard Part 6, Ghostbusters, Heavy Metal, Airplane!, and Animal House, among many others. However, very little of his original score was used thanks to significant re-edits and the change of director on the film.

The cast for Saturn 3 is made up of Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory, Spartacus, In Harm’s Way, Gunfight At The OK Corral, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), Harvey Keitel (Star Knight, Beeper, Bad Lieutenant. Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs), Farrah Fawcett (Logan’s Run, The Cannonball Run, Dr. T and The Women, Myra Breckinridge), and Roy Dotrice (Swimming With Sharks, Suburban Commando, Beauty and the Beast, Amadeus).

The plot of Saturn 3 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Two lovers stationed at a remote base in the asteroid fields of Saturn are intruded upon by a retentive technocrat from Earth and his charge: a malevolent 8-ft robot. Remember, in space no one can hear you scream.

saturnthree2Saturn 3 had a change of director part way through filming, when Stanley Donen, who was initially just a producer on the project, took over many directing duties, which led to first time director John Barry leaving the production. Barry tragically died not long afterwards in 1979, while working on The Empire Strikes Back.

Bizarrely, Harvey Keitel’s voice is dubbed over throughout the film by character and voice actor Roy Dotrice, reportedly because Stanley Donen disliked Keitel’s natural Brooklyn accent.

Saturn 3 received three Golden Raspberry nominations in the first year of the award’s existence. The “Razzies” are now annually given out to the judged worst films and performances of a given year. Kirk Douglas and Farah Fawcett were both nominated for Worst Actor/Actress respectively, and the film as a whole was nominated for Worst Picture.

Currently, Saturn 3 holds an IMDb user rating of 5.0, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 10% from critics and 31% from audiences. The film’s budget was reportedly cut early on, but it almost certainly failed to turn a profit with a $9 million total domestic gross.

First off, the dubbing work done over Kietel is beyond strange to me. The man has a distinct and instantly recognizable voice, so it seems bizarre that he would even be cast if there was an issue with his accent. The change in director part-way in might explain that to some degree, but Donen was already involved as a producer before taking on directing duties. Either way, it is impossible that a Brooklyn accent would be less distracting than an odd dubbing.

Kirk Douglas and Farah Fawcett, who are undoubtedly the core of this movie, couldn’t possibly have less chemistry between them. Personally, I’m shocked that both of them were cast, because the story essentially mandates a legitimate and believable level of compatibility between an older man and a younger woman, which just isn’t delivered here at all. Without that emotional center, the already flimsy story certainly doesn’t hold any water.

Speaking of which, the film is written almost entirely about anxieties over romantic age differences, with a thin veneer of science fiction on top. While that isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard, the result here just isn’t terribly interesting. Whereas Logan’s Run and Soylent Green successfully tapped into anxieties relating to age and aging, Saturn 3 manages to completely miss that mark, and fails to resonate at all as a result. The casting certainly contributed to this, but I don’t think the writing did them any favors either.

saturnthree3Roger Ebert was always at the top of his game when he wrote reviews for bad movies, and Saturn 3 was certainly no exception. His coverage of the movie nicely sums up one of its most glaring issues: the story and content is both astoundingly shallow.

The love triangle between Douglas, Fawcett and Keitel is so awkwardly and unbelievably handled that we are left in stunned indifference. The purpose of Keitel’s visit is left so unclear we can’t believe Douglas would accept it. The hostility of the robot is unexplained.

This movie is awesomely stupid, totally implausible from a scientific viewpoint, and a shameful waste of money. If Grade and Kastner intend to continue producing films with standards this low, I think they ought instead, in simple fairness, to simply give their money to filmmakers at random. The results couldn’t be worse.

Overall, Saturn 3 is a movie that had a potentially interesting vision behind it, but never quite got realized. It is mostly just a boring feature to sit through, but there is a peculiar sort of nostalgic value to sitting through it that helps fill in the void of conventional entertainment offered. Bad movie fans could certainly find something to enjoy here, but I don’t think it would hold much for general audiences.

The Ward

The Ward

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Today’s entry into “Worst of the Best” is John Carpenter’s 2010 effort, The Ward.

The Ward was written by the duo of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who also wrote the movies Long Distance, Dark Feed, and The Inhabitants.

The Ward is (to date) the final directorial effort of John Carpenter, who is highly regarded for both his horror and action movies, including Halloween, They Live, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Starman, Christine, The Thing, and Vampires.

The cinematographer for the film was Yaron Orbach, who has worked extensively on Orange Is The New Black, as well as on movies like The Ten, Birds of America, The Open Road, and The Joneses.

The editor for The Ward was Patrick McMahon, who cut the 2008 remake of It’s Alive, Little Monsters, Strange Brew, P2, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, among others.

The producers for the movie included Peter Block (Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Crank), Doug Mankoff (Nebraska), Mike Marcus (You Kill Me), and Hans Ritter (Hard Candy).

The musical score for The Ward was provided by Mark Kilian, who provided music for movies like Traitor, Rendition, Pitch Perfect, and the television series Castle. This is particularly notable because historically, John Carpenter has provided most of his film’s scores himself.

The makeup effects were provided by a team that included Howard Berger (976-EVIL, Intruder, The People Under The Stairs, Vampires), Greg Nicotero (The Black Cat, Dreams in the Witch House, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3, Maniac Cop 3), Kerrin Jackson (Son of the Mask, Jonah Hex), and Kevin Wasner (Catwoman, Jennifer’s Body).

The special effects unit for The Ward was made up in part by Brian Goehring (The Last Airbender, Species), Stephen Klineburger (Drive Angry), Dirk Rogers (The Stepford Wives, Collateral, Death Proof), Casey Pritchett (Vampires, Face/Off), Ray Brown (Class of 1999).

The cast of The Ward was made up of Amber Heard (The Rum Diary, Drive Angry, Zombieland), Mamie Gummer (Cake, Side Effects), Danielle Panabaker (The Flash, Friday the 13th), Laura-Leigh (We’re The Millers), Jared Harris (Dead Man, Lost In Space, Mad Men), Mika Boorem (The Patriot, Hearts In Atlantis), and Lyndsy Fonseca (Agent Carter, Kick-Ass).

The plot of The Ward is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An institutionalized young woman becomes terrorized by a ghost.

theward1The Ward currently has an IMDb user rating of 5.6, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 33% from critics and 27% from audiences. Financially, it lost a significant amount of money: on an estimated budget of $10 million, is grossed barely over $1 million, almost entirely from international markets.

The Ward isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Really, it isn’t anywhere close to the worst. However, it represents a really disheartening fall from grace for both John Carpenter and the genre as a whole, because it is just so overwhelmingly mediocre and familiar. If there is anything that John Carpenter has never been in his career, it is familiar. Even his other arguable missteps, like Ghosts of Mars and Escape From L.A., still feel like John Carpenter at the end of the day. The Ward, however, seems like it could have been made by any half-assed horror director in Hollywood, and people just expected something better than that from Carpenter.

The most similar film in Carpenter’s filmography to The Ward is probably In The Mouth of Madness (though it is a stretch). Comparing the ways that the two movies (and the two versions of Carpenter) deal with a similar steady blurring of fiction and reality reveals a lot about why The Ward feels so tired and unremarkable. In The Mouth of Madness presented an eerie world from the start, where things feel off-kilter naturally, and the environment steadily declines until the conclusion of the second act, when sanity takes a nosedive. It is a profoundly surreal movie that utilizes fantastic effects work and visuals to create the atmosphere of a world descending into a Lovecraftian hell. The Ward, on the other hand, is never quite so dramatic. It is a slow story punctuated solely by jump-scares (a tired tactic), where the entire world seems to exist in a bland scale of sepia tones. The visuals are never particularly compelling, and the tension is mostly reliant upon musical cues. The world doesn’t feel as curious or strange on the whole, which ruins what could have been a really cool claustrophobic atmosphere. The whole direction of The Ward strikes me as passionless, like Carpenter went into autopilot and just wanted to color between the lines.

That said, there are some definite positives to The Ward. Specifically, I think that the performances are solid from top to bottom: Amber Heard deals with her leading responsibilities well, and Jared Harris absolutely kills it as the hospital’s primary doctor. The last act also sees the story and action start to kick into gear, and makes for a pretty compelling last 25 minutes or so.

Overall, The Ward isn’t bad so much as it is disappointing. I don’t think it is worse than the field at large, but Carpenter’s reputation looms over it, and might have put expectations on it that it couldn’t possibly have been lived up to. Regardless, it may very well stand as the final entry in Carpenter’s filmography, as much of a shame as that might be. However, for what it is worth, I though it was better than the flaming garbage pile that is Ghosts of Mars. Stay tuned for that one.

1941

1941

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Today, I am continuing a new segment on bad movies by good directors, called “Worst of the Best.” Today’s specific feature is 1941, a 1979 comedy by the legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

1941 was written by the duo of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who are best known for Back To The Future, with an additional story credit given to producer John Milius, who also wrote Apocalypse Now, Magnum Force, and wrote and directed flicks like Red Dawn, Dillinger, and Conan The Barbarian.

1941 was, as mentioned previously, directed by one of the most commercial and accomplished directors in Hollywood history: Steven Spielberg. His films have ranged from commercial blockbusters like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to science fiction films like Minority Report, War of the Worlds, A.I., E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to acclaimed award-winners like Lincoln, Schindler’s List, and Munich.

The cinematographer for the film was William Fraker, who shot movies such as SpaceCamp, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Rosemary’s Baby, Bullitt, The Exorcist II, WarGames, and Street Fighter, among many others over his career.

1941 was edited by frequent Spielberg collaborator Michael Kahn, who also cut the movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, The Goonies, Fatal Attraction, Twister, Reindeer Games, Catch Me If You Can, War Horse, and many others.

The team of producers for the movie included co-writer John Milius, editor Michael Kahn, Janet Healy (Shark Tale, Despicable Me, The Lorax), and Buzz Feitshans (Total Recall, First Blood, Tombstone).

The musical score for 1941 was provided by the legendary John Williams, who is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable film scorers of all time. His other credits include Catch Me If You Can, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Jaws, SpaceCamp, Jurassic Park, Sleepers, and Superman, along with countless others.

The special effects team for 1941 inlcuded A.D. Flowers (The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, Apocalypse Now), Donald Myers (Waterworld, Blade Runner), Steve Lombardi (Once Upon A Time In America, The Philadelphia Experiment), Steve Galich (Face/Off, Maximum Overdrive), Eugene Crum (The Postman, North), Ken Estes (Lawnmower Man 2, Thinner), Logan Frazee (Dollman, Willy Wonka, Chinatown), and Terry D. Frazee (Point Break).

The 1941 visual effects unit included Robert Short (Chopping Mall, Splash, Piranha), Matthew Yuricich (Die Hard, Ghostbusters, Logan’s Run), Frank Van der Veer (Orca, Flash Gordon), Gregory Jein (Laserblast, The Scorpion King), Ken Swenson (The Core, The Faculty, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and Robin Dean Layden (Judge Dredd, Ghostbusters).

The massive cast of 1941 includes notables like John Belushi (Animal House, The Blues Brothers), Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Dragnet, Grosse Pointe Blank, Ghostbusters), Ned Beatty (Network, Captain America, Deliverance), Christopher Lee (Dracula AD 1972, Horror Express, The Wicker Man, The House That Dripped Blood, Gremlins 2, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Lord of The Rings), Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo), Lorraine Gary (Jaws, Jaws: The Revenge), Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch, Dillinger, Badlands), Robert Stack (Unsolved Mysteries), Slim Pickens (Doctor Strangelove), John Candy (The Great Outdoors, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck, Vacation, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), Nancy Allen (RoboCop, RoboCop 2, RoboCop 3), Treat Williams (Dead Heat, Night of the Sharks), Murray Hamilton (The Graduate, Jaws), Dick Miller (Chopping Mall, Gremlins, A Bucket of Blood), John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Darkman), and Mickey Rourke (Sin City, Iron Man 2, The Wrestler, Double Team, Angel Heart).

19412The plot of 1941 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Hysterical Californians prepare for a Japanese invasion in the days after Pearl Harbor.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, who were cast members together on Saturday Night Live and close friends/collaborators in real life, share no screen-time in 1941 outside of a single deleted sequence.

Surprisingly, 1941 wound up nominated for three different Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound. It ultimately lost out in all three categories.

1941 was the feature film debut for both Dan Aykroyd and Mickey Rourke, who have gone on to have significant successes on screen, though in very different ways.

Cinematographer William Fraker was reportedly fired and replaced late into shooting on 1941 due to creative differences with Spielberg, but still received full credit for the work. As mentioned previously, he was even nominated for an Academy Award for the cinematography on the movie, which is a particular rarity for someone who was fired from a film.

Despite its reputation as a public failure, 1941 did ultimately make a profit, though it relied heavily on foreign box office returns to bring in $60.7 million of its eventual $92 million take. Domestically, however, it dramatically underwhelmed, particularly for a work by Steven Spielberg. Likewise, 1941 currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.9, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 32% from critics and 49% from audiences. This makes it an incredible rarity in the career of Steven Spielberg: a disappointment, both commercially and critically.

One of the biggest problems with 1941 is summarized in the New York Times review of the movie by Vincent Canby:

It may possibly be that Mr. Spielberg has chosen gigantic size and unlimited quantity as his comedy method in the awareness that he has no gift whatsoever for small-scale comic conceits. The slapstick gags, obviously choreographed with extreme care, do not build to boffs; they simply go on too long. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the director or of the editor, but I’ve seldom seen a comedy more ineptly timed.

Essentially, my opinion is that 1941 is a movie with an immense amount of talent behind it on all levels, but the humor within it is spread incredibly thin over a poorly-paced run time and across an unnecessarily large cast, which dilutes a movie that should have been a classic into something that is only vaguely entertaining through relying on “gigantic size and unlimited quantity.” Some of the sight gags and slapstick moments work, as Canby notes in his review, but they hang just a little too long. For instance, a number of moments in the club brawl scene and subsequent riot are funny on paper, but are drawn out far too long on screen.

Likewise, the opening to Roger Ebert’s review of 1941 is spot-on if you ask me, and compares the film to Doctor Strangelove, which struck me as a key inspiration for the film:

It’s not fair to say Steven Spielberg’s “1941” lacks “pacing.” It’s got it, all right, but all at the same pace: The movie relentlessly throws gags at us until we’re dizzy. It’s an attempt at that most tricky of genres, the blockbuster comedy, and it tries so hard to dazzle us that we want a break. It’s a good-hearted, cheerfully disorganized mess that makes us appreciate “Dr. Strangelove,” just a little bit more.

I can’t help but agree with this assessment: 1941 is a loud and zany movie, to the point of being exhausting and obnoxious. There’s a reason that Loony Tunes cartoons are usually short: if they go on too long, they lose their entertainment value and become abrasively annoying, which is exactly the case with 1941 if you ask me.

People certainly seem to have softened on 1941 over the years, at least in part due to the involvement of John Belushi, for whom 1941 was one of his precious few prominent film roles. That said, while his contribution is a highlight, he is a very limited part of the movie. The whole film is filled with astounding performers, who unfortunately all fail to live up to their potential given the limited nature of the ensemble structure.  I can’t help but imagine what Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee on screen together could have been like under different circumstances and under someone else’s direction. In any case, there is a novelty aspect to seeing all of these performers under one large roof, but excellent ingredients don’t always make for an excellent product. At best, 1941 is a mildly charming curiosity, and an experience worth having for the sake of trivia alone. I’d loosely recommend checking it out, but I can’t do so with a whole lot of enthusiasm.

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The Wiz

The Wiz

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Today, I’m launching a new segment for the blog: “Worst of the Best,” where I will spotlight movies by legendary filmmakers that aren’t on par with their lauded reputations and careers. To start it off, I’ll be taking a look at Sidney Lumet’s film adaptation of The Wiz, from 1978.

The Wiz has the rare distinction of being an adaptation of a re-imagining. The original story behind the movie is, of course, pulled from L. Frank Baum’s legendary 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. However, The Wiz is a direct adaptation of an acclaimed 1974 Broadway musical version of the story, which was written by William F. Brown. The screenplay for this filmed version of The Wiz is interestingly credited to Joel Schumacher, who is mostly known for his later directorial efforts (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Falling Down, The Lost Boys, Flatliners).

The Wiz was directed by highly-acclaimed film-maker Sidney Lumet, whose long list of credits spanned over five decades, and includes a number of modern classics: Network, 12 Angry Men, Fail-Safe, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, among others.

The cinematographer for The Wiz was Oswald Morris, who also shot The Dark Crystal, Oliver!, and Stanley Kubrick’s take on Lolita.

The editor for the film was Dede Allen, whose other credits include The Breakfast Club, Serpico, Slap Shot, Dog Day Afternoon, Bonnie & Clyde, The Missouri Breaks, and Slaughterhouse-Five, among many, many others.

The team of producers for The Wiz included film-maker Rob Cohen (Stealth, Alex Cross, xXx, The Skulls, DragonHeart), assistant director Burtt Harris (Freejack, Marathon Man, The Devil’s Advocate), and the legendary music producer Berry Gordy, who also had a heavy hand in The Last Dragon.

thewiz3The effects work for the movie was done by a team that included special effects guru Stan Winston (Congo, Lake Placid, Bat People, The Island of Dr. Moreau, How To Make A Monster, Small Soldiers, Leviathan, Predator 2), Scott Cunningham (Ganja & Hess), Al Griswold (Leon The Professional, 8MM, The Devil’s Advocate), Carl Fullerton (Glory, Goodfellas, Philadelphia, The Silence of The Lambs), Robert Laden (Thinner, Wolf, Scent of a Woman), Michael R. Thomas (Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 2), Allen Weisinger (Face/Off, The Last Dragon), Albert Whitlock (The Exorcist II, Killdozer, The Car, The Blues Brothers, The Thing, Dune), and Bill Taylor (DeepStar Six).

The music for The Wiz was originally composed for the Broadway musical by a man named Charlie Smalls, which earned him a Tony Award. Smalls was interestingly a child prodigy musician, who began attending Juliard at age 11. Sadly, he died in 1987, before he did any other film scores.

The cast for The Wiz includes “The King of Pop” Michael Jackson (Thriller, Moonwalker, Miss Castaway), famed singer Diana Ross, legendary comedian Richard Pryor (Superman III, The Toy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil), Ted Ross (Police Academy), Mabel King (Scrooged, The Jerk), and Theresa Merritt (Billy Madison, The Serpent and The Rainbow).

The plot of The Wiz is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An adaption of “The Wizard of Oz” that tries to capture the essence of the African American experience.

In December of 2015, NBC produced a live version of the Broadway musical of The Wiz, which has resulted in a new audience being made aware of the curious cult classic movie adaptation from 1978.

There are conflicting reports as to how the original director for the film, John Badham (WarGames, Short Circuit, Saturday Night Fever), left the production. However, there doesn’t seem to be any disagreement over the cause of his departure: the casting of Diana Ross, then 33, in the role of the written-as-14 lead character of Dorothy was a decision he disagreed with vehemently. Ross apparently lobbied hard for the role, and may have been the key influencing factor that brought Michael Jackson to the project.

thewiz2The budget for The Wiz was estimated to have been around $24 million, on which it only managed to make back $21 million in its lifetime theatrical release, making it a net loss from a financial perspective.

The Wiz currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 30% from critics and 65% from audiences, along with IMDb user rating of 5.2. In spite of the underwhelming response to the movie, it has grown into its own as a cult classic over the years. Additionally, it wound up with four Academy Award nominations, though it failed to win in any of the categories.

While watching The Wiz, I was reminded quite a bit of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which released in the same year. Both of them star talented and popular musicians (without any real acting talent), and they both subsequently have decent songs as a result. However, The Wiz is certainly better constructed than Sgt. Pepper, as it has some really cool production and set design. The aesthetic of the movie is unlike just about anything else you’ll see.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives really end with The Wiz. It looks and sounds good, but the movie is more of a music video than a movie. The minute any of the performers are expected to actually act, things fall apart fast. I can certainly see how this could fly well on a stage with trained musical actors, but with pop stars like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in the roles, it just doesn’t gel. Particularly, Ross is not up to the task of leading this movie: she was miscast to start with, and doesn’t prove to have the acting chops (if you ask me) to overcome that issue. Even worse, however, is the supporting cast, which is uniformly composed of obnoxious characters that did little other than grate on me. Surprisingly, Michael Jackson was probably the most watchable of the lot, which says more about the cast as a whole than it does about his acting talents.

Overall, I suppose I understand why this movie has a special place in the cultural mindset: in a lot of ways, it is unforgettable. It was also a major cultural coup to have a Hollywood production with an all-black cast, which is still not a particularly common sight. In 1977, it was unthinkable for many. However, I think The Wiz, in retrospect, is the perfect example of a gilded movie, with plenty of flash on the outside, but nothing compelling underneath the surface.

When it comes down to it, I think the biggest issue with the movie is that the wrong people were picked for the production, and not just Diana Ross (though that is certainly an issue). I think the production was in a serious rush, and Sidney Lumet was the first available person to take the job, and was picked for his reputation of staying on budget rather than for his skillset being suitable for the movie. Two years earlier, he made on of the best satire films of all time (Network), with defining dramatic performances for the modern era of film. Then, he was put in charge of a fluff musical project? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I still think The Wiz is worth checking out for bad movie fans, mostly because it is such a cult movie with nostalgic connections for so many. Personally, I’m not a big fan, but I can understand why the movie has an appeal for some people. If you ask me, Sgt. Pepper offers the same sort of musical nonsense, but with a far more hilariously terrible plot and final product. If a good-bad movie is what you are looking for, I would advise going to that one first. Or, if you are particularly daring, take them on as a double feature.

As far as Sidney Lumet goes, I’m sure I’ll be getting around to more of his movies soon. There’s sort on an inevitability that such a long and prolific career would produce a few duds here and there (and there certainly are some), but that doesn’t negate his highlights in the slightest. Network is one of my favorite movies of all time, and 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and Serpico are also required watching for film buffs if you ask me. Sidney Lumet is a master, and one who doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves as one of the greats.

Star Knight

Star Knight

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Today’s feature is 1985’s Star Knight, starring Klaus Kinski and Harvey Keitel.

Star Knight (originally El Caballero del Dragon) was co-written, produced, and directed by Fernando Colomo, with fellow Spanish co-writers Andreu Martin and Miguel Angel Nieto.

The cinematographer on Star Knight was Jose Luis Alcaine, whose credits include a number of acclaimed Spanish films like Volver, Bad Education, and The Skin I Live In.

starknight2The special and makeup effects for the movie were provided by Jose Antonio Sanchez (Firestarter, Conan The Barbarian, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Solarbabies) and Reyes Abades (Pan’s Labyrinth, Sexy Beast, The Devil’s Backbone).

The musical score of Star Knight was composed by José Nieto, who also provided music for movies like Mad Love, Carmen, Lovers: A True Story, and Dias Contados.

The cast of Star Knight primarily consists of Klaus Kinski (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre, Woyzeck), Harvey Keitel (Beeper, From Dusk Till Dawn, Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, The Two Jakes, Saturn 3, Bad Lieutenant), and Fernando Rey (The French Connection, French Connection II, Voyage of the Damned, 1492: Conquest of Paradise).

The plot of Star Knight is summarized on IMDb as follows:

When a dazzling craft illuminates the sky above a medieval European village, the townspeople fear mayhem while the ruling party prepares for battle with the mysterious “dragon in the sky.” After Princess Alba is discovered missing, the quest for power and the young girl’s affections drive Klever to free her from the strange cosmic knight. But is that her desire? Worldly boundaries are crossed in this gothic sci-fi tale of power, greed and the universal language of love.

starknight4Currently, Star Knight is in the public domain, meaning that the lack of rights-holders makes it readily available through a number of different mediums for minimal or no costs.

Star Knight currently holds a 3.9 user rating on IMDb, along with a 24% Rotten Tomatoes audience score. However, the movie is certainly quite obscure, with less than 1000 reviews counted between both popular review sites.

If there is anything to say for Star Knight, it is that the concept is certainly imaginative. The idea of combining medieval fantasy with science fiction is something that I am sure has been done before, but it certainly isn’t an idea that you see very often executed on screen.

Klaus Kinski and Harvey Keitel are two fantastic actors with enviable careers, but in 1985, they were both far from the heights of their powers. Harvey Keitel would ultimately be the first (but not last) career resurrection for Quentin Tarantino with his memorable performance in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, but before that, he had long been relegated to supporting roles in movies like Off Beat and Wise Guys throughout the 1980s. Kinski, on the other hand, spent most of the 1980s after Fitzcarraldo popping up in European b-movies like Creature, Android, and Vampire In Venice, though he did collaborate once more with Herzog (Cobra Verde) in 1987, and closed his career with a passion project (Paganini) in 1989.

starknight3Keitel didn’t strike me as very comfortable in the role of a knight in this movie. Harvey Keitel is very good at playing roles like cops, robbers, tough guys, and gangsters, but a medieval knight is a little outside of his typical purview, and it shows. I feel like this movie might have been cast on a “first available” basis when it came to recognizable names, and Keitel happened to have the necessary low standards and high recognizability to make the cut, in spite of how poorly he fit the role.

Kinski, on the other hand, really fits his role well: he plays a Merlin-esque mystic character, who believes the alien character (played really interestingly by Miguel Bose) is an angel sent to save the land.  For what it is worth, he also didn’t strike me as phoning in his performances: he puts in some genuine effort, in spite of the film’s outlandish concept and low budget.

Overall, I had a lot of flashbacks to Slipstream (1989) while watching Star Knight: there are some really cool ideas in this movie, the cast is pretty compelling, and the performances aren’t totally awful (the miscasting of Keitel is the exception). The effects leave a bit to be desired, but the movie looks pretty good from a design standpoint, and is shot with a decent eye. However, it is really the pace of the movie that damns it at the end of the day, and that is all it takes for a potentially good movie to go bad. There are few too many minutes of downtime, and some some odd fumbling attempts at humor that throw the tone off. Worse yet, there isn’t much capitalization on the atmosphere of the movie: the final duel between the knight and the “dragon” is pretty anticlimactic if you ask me.

As far as a recommendation goes, there is enough vision here to make the movie a curiosity to watch for film buffs. There isn’t a ton of pure entertainment value to it, however, outside of Harvey Keitel hilariously trying to fight a spaceship with a lance and a mace. That, at the very least, was the saving grace for me.

Space Warriors

Space Warriors

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Today’s feature is the pseudo-remake of the 1986 flop, SpaceCamp: 2013’s Space Warriors.

Space Warriors was directed, produced, and co-written by Sean McNamara (Bratz: The Movie, 3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain), with co-writers Jim Strain (Jumanji), Stan Chervin (Moneyball), and Ronald Bass (Rain Man, What Dreams May Come, Entrapment).

The cinematographer for Space Warriors was Robert Hayes, who shot two of the lesser sequels to Baby Geniuses: Baby Geniuses and The Space Baby and Baby Geniuses and The Mystery of the Crown Jewels.

The editor on the film was Jeff Canavan, who has worked on features like Bratz, Save The Last Dance, Lawnmower Man 2, Homeward Bound II, Star Trek: Insurrection, Garfield, and The Shawshank Redemption.

The musical score for Space Warriors was composed by Larry Brown, who provided music for the infamous Joe Don Baker movie Mitchell and the television series The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest.

The visual effects team for Space Warriors included Evan Ricks (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), Josh Prikryl (Babylon 5), David Liu (The Midnight Meat Train), Laurel Klick (From Dusk Till Dawn 3, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Mortal Kombat), Ryan Spike Dauner (Red Planet), and Des Carey (The Stepford Wives, The Legend of Hercules).

The cast of Space Warriors includes Danny Glover (Saw, Predator 2, Lethal Weapon), Mira Sorvino (Mimic, Quiz Show, Reservation Road), Dermot Mulroney (Young Guns, Zodiac, Copycat), Ryan Simpkins (Twixt, A Single Man, Revolutionary Road), Thomas Horn (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Josh Lucas (Stealth, American Psycho, Poseidon), and Grayson Russell (Talladega Nights, Diary of A Wimpy Kid).

spacewarriors2The plot of Space Warriors is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A group of kid space cadets must help in the rescue of three astronauts whose ship got stranded in space.

Space Warriors was filmed at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, which is home to the original location of Space Camp, and was also the primary filming location for 1986’s SpaceCamp.

Space Warriors currently has a 4.4 user rating on IMDb, along with a 34% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

It is impossible not to compare Space Warriors to 1986’s SpaceCamp: though it isn’t technically an official sequel or remake, there are undeniable similarities between the two features. The biggest changes for Space Warriors are all actually pretty sensible: the child actors are all the same age, instead of a mix of teenagers and children, they aren’t shot into space, and the hyper-intelligent robot sidekick plot is totally nixed. Unfortunately, the lack of any of these peculiar elements of the first movie leads to a far less charming end product. The fact of the matter is, real Space Camp isn’t all that flashy or glorious, and that is (at least partially) reflected in this movie.

The other big drawback for Space Warriors is that the primary cast is made up of a lot of children, which is a recipe for disaster. Child actors with any modicum of talent are rare, and the odds of finding multiple ones for the same production are astronomical. Even Joaquin Phoenix, who grew into a fine actor with age, was not particularly good in SpaceCamp. In Space Warriors, the child actors are awful. Just awful. Even worse, all of the action of the movie surrounds them. At least in SpaceCamp, Tom Skerritt and Kate Capshaw offered some slight respite from the childish shenanigans of Max & Jinx. No such luck is to be had in Space Warriors: it is (with little exception) all kids, all the time.

One of my favorite things about Space Warriors is the recruitment montage at the beginning, which features Josh Lucas wandering around the world with an inflatable astronaut companion, hunting down brilliant children to bring them to Space Camp. Honestly, I would watch an entire movie that focuses just on the road trip shenanigans of Josh Lucas and his inflatable astronaut buddy. That would undoubtedly be more interesting than Space Warriors if you ask me.

width="300"I mentioned in my review of 12 Rounds that the movie comes off like a tourism advertisement for the city of New Orleans. Likewise, Space Warriors is packed with shots of both the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Huntsville, AL. It might not be excessively noticeable for someone not from the area, but for me, the constant shoehorning feels downright oppressive. Likewise, Space Warriors gives off the slightest whiff of desperation: there was clearly an intention  here to re-inspire a rising generation to care more about exploration and space travel, in an era where the interest seems to be at an all-time low. However, I don’t think Space Warriors is going to ignite any flames of inspiration like The Martian or Interstellar, given it is pretty much a pile of garbage. Then again, I’m not ten years old. Maybe kids love this shit.

Space Warriors isn’t a movie that was aimed for general audiences like SpaceCamp was: it is unapologetically a kids movie. As is the seeming standard for children’s entertainment, the humor is low-brow, the acting is bad, and the whole thing looks and sounds like garbage to anyone who is older than 12. However, I have trouble blaming that entirely on the movie, as much as it is a plague of the genre in general.

I’ve never understood why children’s entertainment isn’t held to a higher standard: it seems like there is essential no quality test for anything in the genre. Children’s movies should be aimed to inspire and educate while also entertaining, like Wishbone. It doesn’t need to be a compilation of loud noises, farts, and pratfalls like The Garbage Pail Kids: that’s actually the worst possible thing that we as a society could be forcing children to consume. That how you wind up with a generation of Adam Sandler fans if you ask me. To Space Warriors‘s credit, its heart is certainly in the right place in this regard, in spite of some lapses here and there. I don’t want to be excessively hard on it, but I’m also certainly not going to recommend it to anyone. Unless you are a big fan of SpaceCamp and are curious about this re-imagining, then skip it.

SpaceCamp

SpaceCamp

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Today’s feature is the most famous bad movie to come out of my home town of Huntsville, AL: 1986’s SpaceCamp.

The credited writers for SpaceCamp include producer Patrick Bailey, Larry B. Williams (Friday’s Curse), Clifford Green (The Seventh Sign, Bless The Child), and someone named Casey T. Mitchell, who has very few other credits.

SpaceCamp was directed by Harry Winer, whose credits include a handful of Veronica Mars episodes, a documentary called The Legend of Bigfoot, and House Arrest.

The cinematographer for the film was William A. Fraker, who has shot such movies as The Island of Doctor Moreau, Street Fighter, 1941, The Exorcist II, Rosemary’s Baby, Bullitt, and Gator.

SpaceCamp had two credited editors: John Wheeler (Rocky IV, Star Trek: First Contact, Rhinestone) and Tim Board (Ladybugs).

The music for SpaceCamp was provided by the one and only John Williams, who is perhaps the most recognizable film scorer in the history of the medium. On top of his astounding five Academy Award wins, he has countless Academy Award nominations spanning from 1968 to 2014.

The special and makeup effects team for SpaceCamp was made up of Zoltan Elek (Timecop, Double Team, Street Fighter, Leviathan), Katalin Elek (Double Team, Rocky V, Legend, Leviathan), and Chuck Gaspar (Waterworld, Mitchell, The Exorcist II).

spacecamp8The visual effects work for the movie was provided by a massive team that included Tom Anderson (Dune, Philadelphia Experiment II), Jeff Burks (Trick or Treat, The Abyss), Charles L. Finance (Battlefield Earth, Leviathan, Dune), Jammie Friday (Robot Jox, Apollo 13), Rocky Gehr (Face/Off, Over The Top, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Jingle All The Way), Robert L. Johnston (1941, Die Hard), David S. Williams Jr. (Leviathan), Christopher Nibley (Predator 2), Mark Stetson (Leonard Part 6, On Deadly Ground), Richard Malzahn (Trick or Treat, Leviathan, Suburban Commando), Peter Montgomery (Mortal Kombat), Barry Nolan (Leviathan, Maximum Overdrive), and Doyle Smiley (DeepStar Six),

The cast of SpaceCamp includes Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom), Tom Skerritt (Alien, Top Gun, Poison Ivy), Terry O’Quinn (Lost, Primal Fear, Tombstone), Lea Thompson (Howard the Duck, Back To The Future, Jaws 3-D, Left Behind), Kelly Preston (Jerry Maguire), Larry B. Scott (Iron Eagle), and Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, 8MM, Inherent Vice, The Master, Walk The Line, Her), credited under his childhood name of “Leaf.”

SPACECAMP, Tom Skerritt, Kate Capshaw, Tate Donovan, Lea Thompson, Joaquin Phoenix, Kelly Preston, Larry B. Scott, 1986, TM and Copyright (c)20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.The plot of SpaceCamp is summarized on IMDb as follows:

The young attendees of a space camp find themselves in space for real when their shuttle is accidentally launched into orbit.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger tragically broke apart barely a minute into its flight, killing the entire crew aboard. At the time, SpaceCamp, which prominently features the looming threat of a shuttle disaster, was scheduled to release within weeks. Wisely, the studio chose to delay the film’s release to the summer, but it flopped at the box office none-the-less.

In early drafts of the story, SpaceCamp was to have a Rocky IV-style ending, in which a Russian shuttle (piloted by children) is dispatched to rescue the American kids stranded in space, signifying a new, post-Cold War era of peace and harmony.

spacecamp2SpaceCamp was the feature film debut of Joaquin Phoenix, whose older brother, River, broke out due to his role in Stand By Me, which also released in 1986. Joaquin is credited under the name “Leaf,” which he took on early in his childhood, but shed in his teens.

The budget for SpaceCamp has been estimated to have been between 18 and 25 million dollars, on which it only took in less than 10 million dollars on its lifetime theatrical run. The reception to the film was less than glowing: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.6, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 40% from critics and 50% from audiences. In spite of the poor returns and reviews, SpaceCamp received a spiritual remake in 2013 in the form of Space Warriors.

The Huntsville, AL location of Space Camp (The US Space and Rocket Center) that features in the film doesn’t have an actual space shuttle or a launch pad: it only has a mock up (Pathfinder) that was used for basic testing purposes. Even then, it wasn’t on display at the Space and Rocket Center until 1988: two years after this movie’s release. This makes the entire premise of the plot of SpaceCamp even more impossible that it was to start with.

spacecamp7Obviously, the plot of SpaceCamp is beyond preposterous. NASA didn’t have any hyper-intelligent robot friends in 1986, Space Camp attendees aren’t the same thing as astronaut trainees (and go nowhere near functioning shuttles), and, in spite of a mixed track record, we’ve never accidentally shot a shuttle into space. All of that said, SpaceCamp seems to relish in its obliviousness, and seems shocking uninterested in the fantastic reality of space flight, choosing to substitute in a bizarre, fictitious world in its stead. I can only imagine how disappointed an entire generation of kids were when they discovered that Space Camp doesn’t turn children into astronauts, and no adorable robot companions were included in the program.

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They certainly don’t do much to dispel those misunderstandings, though.

Thanks to the utter ludicrousness of the screenplay, SpaceCamp holds up as a charmingly inept love letter to a scientific pursuit that was far beyond the writers’ comprehensions. I would pay good money to watch this movie with a panel of physicists and astronomers (cc: Phil Plait), because I can only imagine the mix of guffaws and exasperated head-shaking this screenplay would incite from them.

SpaceCamp is an under-appreciated bad movie classic if you ask me. You don’t see it covered very often by the big b-movie reviewers, but this flick is the perfect mix of a financial failure, a recognizable cast, an utterly inept screenplay, a high dose of nostalgia, and maybe the worst cultural timing of any movie release in history. I might be a little biased given it is a hometown feature for me, but I implore any detractors out there to give this movie another look. Watch this film today, and try not to laugh at it. I dare you.