The Guyver

The Guyver

Today, I’m going to take a look at the bizarre live action manga adaptation, The Guyver.

The plot of The Guyver is described on IMDb as follows:

A young man discovers a mechanical device that merges with his own body, turning him into a cyborg superhero. When strange creatures start appearing, trying to take the device back, he begins to uncover a secret plot to genetically engineer terrifying monsters.

The source material for The Guyver is the manga series Bio Booster Armor Guyver, which was created by Yoshiki Takaya. The series first debuted in a serialized format in 1985, as part of the magazine Shonen Captain.

The Guyver had two directors, who both had extensive careers as special effects and makeup artists: Screaming Mad George, whose credits include Predator, Space Truckers, Children of the Corn III, The Dentist 2, Jack Frost, and A Nightmare On Elm Street 3,  and Steve Wang, who worked on DeepStar Six, Harry and the Hendersons, The Monster Squad, Arena, and Hell Comes To Frogtown. However, neither man had any significant directing experience at the time. Years later, Wang directed 1997’s Drive and one episode of Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy, but neither man has done much in the way of directing outside of that.

The cast for the film included Mark Hamill (Slipstream, The Big Red One, The Flash, Batman: The Animated Series, Star Wars), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners, From Beyond, Doctor Mordred, Castle Freak, Fortress), David Gale (Re-Animator, Bride of Re-Animator), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Linnea Quigley (Witchtrap, Night of the Demons, Return of the Living Dead), Vivian Wu (The Last Emperor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III), and Jack Armstrong (Days of Our Lives, The Bold and The Beautiful, All My Children).

The cinematographer for The Guyver was Levie Isaacks, whose other shooting credits include The Dentist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Leprechaun, and Children of the Corn II.

The Guyver had two primary editors: Andy Horvitch (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, Stuck, Arena, American Ninja, The Pit and The Pendulum, Beeper, Demonic Toys, Edmond) and Joe Woo Jr., who was an assistant editor on The Fog, The Abyss, The Beastmaster, First Knight, Tuff Turf, and The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.

One of the producers for the film was Brian Yuzna, a renowned horror director and producer who is known for working on films like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dolls, Dagon, The Dentist, and The Dentist 2, among others.

The Guyver received a sequel in 1994, titled Guyver 2: Dark Hero. This iteration was directed solely by Steve Wang, and had a markedly darker tone than the first film. It was also far better received than its predecessor, and is a bit of a cult movie in its own right.

The source manga, Bio Booster Armor Guyver, has been adapted a number of times over the years. On top of this live action film and its sequel, it was turned into a 2005 26-episode anime series, a 1989 12-episode OVA series, and a short 1986 OVA titled Guyver: Out of Control.

If there is anything that can be said about The Guyver, it is that it is a movie filled with unique and ambitious effects. Honestly, the effects work here looks like stuff that you would find a much higher budget feature: these guys clearly knew what they were doing when they made these suits, and they look pretty impressive, particularly for a cheap movie.

One of my favorite aspects of The Guyver is that it is populated with lots of recognizable b-movie character actors, likely due to the directors’ connections from other productions, and the influence of Brian Yuzna. Guys like Jeffrey Combs and David Gale just know how to ham up a performance, and can add a lot to depth roles in a cast.

Live action movies with manga or anime source materials face distinct issues of tone and style, and The Guyver is no exception. It is by no means as weird and awkwardly done as Ricki-O: The Story of Ricki, but there are definitely some characters and dialogue moments that probably fit right in on the page, but didn’t translate quite right to live-action. Exaggerated motions and behaviors come off as particularly slapstick when acted out, as opposed to when they are drawn, which causes more tonal whiplash than when sequences are animated. For The Guyver, those comedic elements offset a style that should be more purely horrific, and the contrast creates a lot of jarring discord that just doesn’t belong on screen, even if it flowed well on the page. The best example of this is the first Guyver transformation, in which a goofy street gang harasses and cracks jokes at the protagonist, before they are quickly dispatched. Their antics belong in a Saturday morning cartoon, rather than a body horror superhero flick, and they cheapen the impact of the initial transformation sequence.

Overall, I think The Guyver is worth checking out, if only for the effects. Particularly for b-movie fans, the cast here is kind of a delight as well, even if the screenplay is a bit lacking. As I understand, the sequel is actually quite a bit better, and deals with a lot of the tonal issues that bothered me with this one, so I may check that out soon and cover it here.

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Samurai Cop

Samurai Cop

Today, I am going to take a look at a cult favorite in the realm of bad movies: 1991’s Samurai Cop.

The plot of Samurai Cop is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Joe Marshall and Frank Washington are two police detectives who must stop the ruthless activities of the Katana, a renegade Yakuza gang composed of violent and sadistic killers who want to lead the drug trade in Los Angeles.

Samurai Cop was directed, written, produced, and co-edited by Amir Shervan, whose other features include the similarly low-budgeted Hollywood Cop, Killing American Style, and Young Rebels.

The cast of the film includes Robert Z’Dar (Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3, Tango & Cash, Soultaker), Mark Frazer (Samurai Cop 2), Mathew Karedas (Samurai Cop 2, American Revenge), Melissa Moore (Sorority House Massacre II), Gerald Okamura (Big Trouble In Little China), and Cranston Komuro (Samurai Cop 2).

The ridiculously catchy music for Samurai Cop was provided by Alan DerMarderosian, who also composed music for the equally infamous Hobgoblins, as well as Killing American Style, Mind Trap, Terror In Beverly Hills, and Vice Academy.

In 2015, due to the film’s raised profile and cult status, Samurai Cop received a fan-funded sequel in the form of Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance, which featured a number of the cast members from the original movie.

Initially, Samurai Cop did not receive any kind of theatrical release. However, Rifftrax simulcasted a screening of the movie to numerous movie theaters for a live show in April of 2017.

Matt Hannon, who plays the titular character, cut his distinctly long hair as soon as he wrapped shooting for Samurai Cop. However, the production ultimately required reshoots, for which he had to wear an ill-fitting and not-at-all convincing wig, which stands out notably in the few sequences where it appears.

Samurai Cop received its initial DVD release in 2004, but gained a significantly higher profile after an additional DVD release in 2013 by Cinema Epoch, which was followed up by a blu-ray release in the subsequent year.

As with many cheap productions, the team behind Samurai Cop didn’t record any sound on set. Thus, nearly all of the dialogue was recorded after the fact as ADR (automated dialogue replacement). This is at times jarring, thanks to the lack of any ambient noise or music beneath many of the vocal tracks, as well as the awkward line readings from the actors. On top of that, a number of the actors didn’t return to record lines, leading to their characters being dubbed by other voices, or exact lines of dialogue being used multiple times.

It is hard to conjure up any positive traits of Samurai Cop, given it is one of the most incompetently crafted movies of all time. However, I will say that the music, when it decides to show up, it pretty damn catchy. Unfortunately, the baffling editing leaves the majority of the movie in silence.

Speaking of which, this may be the worst edited movie I have ever seen. Not only are there plenty of jarring cuts, but events don’t cohesively tie together, dialogue doesn’t line up with mouth movements or on-screen actions, reaction shots pop up at random in the middle of sentences, and trying to figure out what exactly is going wrong in any given scene is a lost cause.

That is not to say that all of the problems of Samurai Cop boil down to editing. These are, without any doubt, bad performances from the top of the cast to the bottom. However, what really makes the performances in Samurai Cop uniquely bad is the awkward ADR recording: the line reads are stilted and weirdly emphasized, and when that is combined with the bad syncing, the result is down-right comedic.

That said, it is hard to put all of the blame on the actors: they have to have something to work with, after all. In the case of Samurai Cop, I would be fascinated to see a copy of the screenplay, if one ever existed. If the editing comes off as confusing, I can’t imagine how perplexing it was to read this material on the page.

Overall, Samurai Cop is a sort of perfect storm of “doing it wrong.” Most bad movies have redeeming qualities: Samurai Cop is a rare flick that is bottom-of-the-barrel in every perceivable category of storytelling and filmmaking, and that makes it something unique. However, somehow, the result isn’t painful in the slightest. Samurai Cop is an absolute delight, and never fails to entertain me on a re-watch. It manages to really get cooking in the action sequences, and the weird performances manage to keep even the lulls in the screenplay oddly captivating.

For bad movie fans, I think Samurai Cop is a staple of the genre. For even casual audiences, I think this is a movie worth checking out, just for how surreal its awfulness is.

Sphere

Sphere

Today, I’m going to cover the 1998 Michael Crichton adaptation, Sphere.

The setup for Sphere is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A spaceship is discovered under three hundred years’ worth of coral growth at the bottom of the ocean.

The director for Sphere was Barry Levinson, who is known for movies like Wag the Dog, Sleepers, Toys, Rain Man, The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Bugsy.

Sphere is based on a novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, who was a well-known producer and director on top of being a best-selling author. Westworld, Jurassic Park, E.R., Congo, Twister, The 13th Warrior, Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, and many other prominent television shows and movies were either adaptations of his works, or were directly created for the screen by him.

While Crichton did occasionally provide screen treatments for his own novels, in the case of Sphere the adaptation work was done by Kurt Wimmer, who is best known for writing and directing the movies Equilibrium and Ultraviolet.

Additional screenplay credits were also given to Paul Attanasio, who has also written for films like The Good German, Donnie Brasco, Disclosure, Quiz Show, and The Sum of All Fears, and Barry Levinson’s former assistant, Stephen Hauser.

The cast for Sphere includes Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, Rain Man, Marathon Man, Straw Dogs), Sharon Stone (Casino, The Quick and The Dead, Total Recall, Basic Instinct), Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained), Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Goon), and Queen Latifah (Taxi, Chicago, Bringing Down The House, Stranger Than Fiction).

The cinematographer for the film was Adam Greenberg, who also shot movies like Rush Hour, North, Eraser, Ghost, Three Men And A Baby, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Iron Eagle, and Near Dark.

The editor for Sphere was Stu Linder, whose other credits include cutting Quiz Show, Rain Man, Sleepers, Wag The Dog, and Toys, among others.

The musical score for the movie was composed by Elliot Goldenthal, who also provided music for the films Heat, Frida, Batman & Robin, Demolition Man, Alien 3, Pet Sematary, Batman Forever, Titus, Public Enemies, and Across the Universe, among others.

Sphere‘s production designer was Norman Reynolds, who also designed movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, Alien 3, Mission: Impossible, and Return to Oz, and additionally served as art director for Star Wars – A New Hope, Superman, and Superman II.

As with any adaptation, there are a number of details from the Sphere book that were changed for the film. Aside from the elimination of a few characters, the most interesting of these changes is actually the eponymous sphere’s coloration. In the book, it is silvery and chrome-like in appearance. Apparently, this was initially supposed to be the case on screen as well, but the decision was made for the sphere to be gold in the middle of the production, apparently for aesthetic reasons.

Interestingly, the ending of the movie was re-shot due to complaints from test audiences. While these sorts of changes are typically in response to petty complaints from fickle or shallow audience members, in this case, the change made the move more sensible. The initial cut failed to account for the decompression needed for the characters to acclimate from being in the far depths of the ocean, and test audiences didn’t buy it when the survivors made it to the surface.

Sphere grossed just over $50 million in its worldwide theatrical release. However, the production budget alone has been recorded as anywhere from $73 million to $80 million, making it a significant financial failure.

Unfortunately, the critical reception to the movie wasn’t any better: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 12% from critics and 38% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 6.0/10.

Personally, I think there are definitely some things to like about Sphere. For instance, Samuel L. Jackson is pretty damn good here, and is about as restrained, menacing, and cerebral as you’ll see him in anything. In general, the small cast puts out some solid performances. Aside from Jackson, Liev Schreiber is always a great supporter, and Stone does a serviceable job with her role. However, I think Hoffman doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the cast, and wasn’t the best choice to lead the film. I suspect that Levinson just likes working with him, and he was the most bankable name that was available to the production.

The biggest positive for the movie, however, it its design. The underwater facility just looks cool, and does a lot for the atmosphere of the film. Everything has a compelling science-fiction appearance, and it gets across the concept of the deep sea as a foreign world.

Likewise, I really like the concept for the story. I remember reading the book many years ago, and liking it quite a bit. The story is a bit surreal and highly psychological, which could have made for something compelling on screen. The book uses the high tension, claustrophobic setting to great effect, so there was certainly something for the film to work with. In the right hands, Sphere could be an effective science-fiction whodunnit, not unlike The Thing. At least, the blueprint was certainly there.

Unfortunately, in spite of the performances, the design, and a decent source, this movie is incredibly boring and forgettable. Honestly, it is a bit difficult to nail down exactly why. The whole movie feels a bit rushed, which makes it particularly difficult to get invested in the characters. At the same time, it is far from action-packed, so it is hard to say where all of the time goes. The movie certainly could have benefited from some character building sequences, as well as some better moments of sustained tension.

I think the biggest issue with the movie is that it was just put in the wrong hands. There’s nothing about Barry Levinson’s works that would indicate that he’d be a good fit for a psychological science fiction thriller. On top of that, the screenplay sounds like it was bounced around quite a bit, and probably suffered from that.

Overall, as I stated previously, Sphere is pretty forgettable. I do think that the source could make for a good sci-fi thriller someday, but this certainly isn’t it. With the recent television success of Westworld, I’m hopeful that people will start digging back through Crichton’s works, and will see the potential that was squandered with this iteration of Sphere.