Tag Archives: science fiction

30 Days of Madness, Day 28 — Prince of Darkness (1987)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

princedarkness3

“Say goodbye to classical reality, because our logic collapses on the subatomic level into ghosts and shadows.”

Written & directed by John Carpenter.

Starring Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper for about a minute, and a bunch of white people with bad hair.

In my last review of Christine, I lamented how unfairly forgotten and underrated it was compared to Carpenter’s other work. With Prince of Darkness, I get it.

The slow build toward apocalypse is good and tense (at least when Mustache McGee and Lady Hockey Hair aren’t making out and having inscrutable conversations), helped along by Carpenter’s soundtrack and the acting talents of Pleasence as a priest from a secretive Catholic sect and Victor Wong as an eccentric quantum physicist. But then about halfway through it kind of stalls and just plateaus. The freaky things that start happening are undercut by underreaction from characters almost across the board. It starts to crescendo again, but then there are weird scenes that go nowhere, leading to a pretty trifling “apocalyptic” climax. It doesn’t help that the screenplay’s grasp of theology is tenuous at best, so it all feels rather silly.

As with any Carpenter flick, a lot of the special effects are really well done, but the philosophy behind the homeless zombie horde was a bit insulting. Every homeless person in the vicinity of this parish immediately becomes part of a hive mind, but not the scientists or students, because, what, they have better brains and aren’t susceptible? Not until they get physically infected, anyway. There’s even a conversation about it when the physicist is comparing their behavior to that of the ants, which do have a hive mind, and the other bugs and creepy crawlers that start showing up. It just draws an uncomfortable parallel, as if the homeless are on the same plane as the other vermin. It’s not Carpenter’s most nuanced writing.

And that’s too bad, because the idea of crossing the usual Judeo-Christian religious traditions with quantum physics in an apocalyptic plot is unique, and would be fascinating, if the religious part of it was treated with as much respect as the physics part. If only the entire script was as good as that excellent line from Victor Wong’s character that I used at the beginning of this review.

I also said in my Christine review that this would fill the remaining gap in what I consider the “classic Carpenter” era–1976 through the 80s. That is, the era beginning with Assault on Precinct 13, which put him on the map and allowed him to make Halloween, which catapulted him to being one of the premiere directors in Hollywood working in the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres. Through the 80s, he made film after film that cemented him as a cult classic director.

I didn’t start watching R-rated horror and sci-fi until the late 90s. I was in high school, and Escape from L.A. was my introduction to Carpenter, though I didn’t know who he was at the time. I wasn’t even fully aware that it was a sequel. But I developed a kind of affection for that film and for Snake Plissken as a character. I had already been a fan of Kurt Russell. In college, I saw Vampires, and by the time I saw Ghosts of Mars I knew Carpenter’s reputation and had already begun familiarizing myself with The FogThe ThingStarman (which I’d seen part of as a child and was freaked out by it), Big Trouble in Little China (a personal favorite and a film that is more important than it gets credit for), They LiveHalloween, and the original Escape from New York. Unfortunately, Ghosts of Mars was a terrible movie, but I’d become a late-blooming Carpenter fan who figured it was just a case of a master filmmaker losing his edge.

Prince of Darkness isn’t the only film of his from his “classic” era that I’m not sold on. I’m pretty indifferent toward The Fog and found Assault on Precinct 13 too disturbingly violent to be enjoyable. (I just don’t need to see little kids getting gunned down in the street in what is essentially a basic action movie, though an important one. Even with something like City of God, I’d rather not watch that kind of thing.)

Nevertheless, I think Carpenter, even post-Ghosts, remains one the most fascinating and respectable filmmakers in history. Now I need to fill in the pre-Assault and early-90s gaps. And I’m especially interested now to see In the Mouth of Madness. I did not realize until today that it is the third in what Carpenter calls his “Apocalypse Trilogy,” after The Thing and Prince of Darkness. That is a fascinating trilogy of apocalyptic themes–one extra-terrestrial in nature, one mixing Judeo-Christian religious tradition with quantum physics, and the third an exercise in Lovecraftian horror.

Final grade for Prince of Darkness: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1629 (out of 3273, a relative 50/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 16 — Phase IV (1974)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

phaseiv-1

Directed by Saul Bass. Written by Mayo Simon. Starring Nigel Davenport & Michael Murphy.

Where has this movie been hiding my entire life? Why is it not an established classic within the genre? Going into my viewing of Phase IV, I was fully expecting a heaping helping of 70s cheese. What I got instead is a patient, thoughtful, intelligent, creative, and visually intriguing film. In fact, it’s one of only two legitimately good sci-fi/horror films I’ve ever seen to focus on ants, the other being the 1954 classic Them!, which featured ants mutated to giant size by radioactive fallout.

No giant ants here, though. Just normal-sized southwestern ants that start forming inter-species coalitions in the wake of some cosmic event and taking over the Arizona desert in which they dwell. Two scientists (Davenport and Murphy) set up an outpost there to study the phenomenon and find out what has caused this sudden change in behavior. But it turns out the ants have plans of their own.

The ant cinematography and “performances” are the most impressive thing about this film. It somehow manages to establish characters and plotlines among the insects. The film cuts back and forth between the men and ants, and it really feels like there are two intelligent forces at work studying and battling each other. It’s brilliant stuff. I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it.

The title sequences to this film stands out as well, and that’s no surprise once you realize who the director is. This is the only feature film he ever directed, but Saul Bass is the designer of the title sequences for PsychoVertigoAnatomy of a MurderWest Side StoryGoodfellas, and Alien, to name only a few.

It seems Phase IV was featured during the KTMA “Season Zero” of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m going to have to check that out. As far as I’m aware, this has to be the best film they’ve ever showcased on my favorite TV show of all time. Why this film fell into such obscurity over the next 15 years that it ended up in the back-room license-free collection of movies at a local TV station and became MST3K fodder is a mystery I intend to explore. Because I am now this movie’s most newly converted evangelist.

(For more on ant-themed horror, check out my previous article on Empire of the Ants as well Episode 248 of our podcast, Spiders & Insects & Shrinking Guys Named Scott, on which I am the only one in my right mind when talking about Them!)

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #751 (out of 3260, a relative 77/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 5 — Gojira (1954)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

gojira

 

Directed by Ishirō Honda. Written by Honda & Takeo Murata; story by Shigeru Kayama.

HEY, WHERE’S RAYMOND BURR?

Just kidding. I had actually seen the 1956 Americanized version of this, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, on Turner Classic Movies a couple summers ago, which is basically a heavily edited (i.e., destroyed) version, with terrible voice-over narration added (just to make it extra-irritating) and interspersed with shots of Raymond Burr looking mildly concerned. (It is not good.)

I have also seen many bits and pieces of many of the Godzilla films over the years, but couldn’t possibly tell you which ones I’d seen. So I am happy to have finally seen Ishirō Honda’s original 1954 classic, Gojira, the movie that opens with the most iconic roar of all time.

I have always admired this film greatly, in an indirect way. It is one of the all-time great monster movies. It is one of the few films in history to claim the distinction of creating its own genre–the kaiju film. It is, beyond monster movies, simply one of the most influential and enduring films ever to be made. The question is, though, do I merely admire it, or do I actually personally like it?

I’m a huge fan of one of the films that inspired Gojira, the 1953 monster flick The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, as well as one of Gojira‘s most outrageous and bizarre progeny, Godzilla: Final Wars (both of which I personally made sure got covered on our podcast). I also greatly enjoyed the latest American incarnation of Godzilla (which we also covered, in one of our most entertaining podcasts ever, affectionately titled Godzilla vs. The Salami Bear.) (We’ve also done episodes on Pacific Rim and Godzilla 2014 director Gareth Edwards’ earlier film Monsters.)

Thing is, though, Gojira is quite bleak, and I have a hard time loving bleak. I actually find this film more horrifying than fun. But then I don’t think it was intended to be fun, beyond the spectacle of a giant monster running amok through land and sea. No director in his right mind includes, in the middle of the mass destruction, a scene of a doomed mother cradling her doomed children in the street, buildings crashing around them, telling them they are about to go be with daddy, and thinks his movie is supposed to be fun. Gojira may have spawned a series of mostly fun movies about monsters fighting monsters, and Godzilla himself may have evolved into a more benevolent symbol over the decades, but here in the beginning of it all, Godzilla is definitely the villain, though little more than a rampaging dinosaur. And it’s all a rather somber exploration of the horrors of the atomic bomb.

I suppose my feelings on the film lean more toward admiration than personal love. But now that I’ve seen it, in its uncut glory, I admire the hell out of it. It is absolutely one of the greatest monster movies ever made, and a brilliant sci-fi/horror film. I care about all four of the main (human) characters, which I was a bit surprised by. And the special effects are still (mostly) great. (Though it is difficult, for my money, to beat the previous year’s Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Ray Harryhausen is a tough act to follow.)

All said? This is a great film.

 

Final grades (for perspective, I’m including the 1956 version):

Gojira: A

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!: D (It gets by on Godzilla being Godzilla. And I suppose it did at least introduce Godzilla to American audiences.)

 

My Flickchart rankings:

Gojira: #347/3251 (a relative 89/100)

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!: #2476

Our Favorite Films of 2012 — Prometheus

By Steve Hawco

 

 

I’m not going to bother making the case for Prometheus as the best film of the year, but it sure was my favorite. Ridley Scott’s officially unofficial prequel to his masterful Alien, Prometheus lacks the Hollywood glamour of Les Misérables and the real-world poignancy of Zero Dark Thirty, but it makes up for it with genuine chills and the best production design seen this year.

Scott works from a relatively anemic script by Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), telling a sci-fi tale of archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil). Exploring caves in 2089 Scotland, the ambitious couple discover evidence of extraterrestrial visitation to Earth. The star maps scratched onto the walls lead Shaw and Holloway and their team to a distant moon, dubbed LV-223, aboard a Weyland Corporation vessel, the Prometheus.

The explorers find structures on LV-223 that are clearly the result of intelligent design, and Shaw aggressively pursues her search for the origin of life on Earth, despite the dangers posed by the harsh environment and a mysterious organism. From here, the script leaves a lot to be desired, as our intelligent protagonists make idiotic, damning decisions and most of our questions are left unanswered. The biggest criticism leveled against Prometheus, understandably, has been the script, and the sins of Lindelof on one of the most ravenously devoured TV shows of all time haunt a movie that he didn’t even begin the writing for in the first place.

Hiring Lindelof may have been a glaring mistake, but thankfully it was Scott’s only one. The movie is a stunning example of art direction and special effects (a large percentage of which are practical effects rather than computer-generated), and the 3D cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean) shows off the slick costumes and props throughout. The set pieces are amazing, featuring a race by two of the characters across alien terrain while a huge spaceship crashes into the dirt at their heels, and an unholy birthing scene that makes a case for “scene of the year.”

 

 

Prometheus looked stunning in 3D, with amazing depth throughout, the highlight being the whole-room smartphone apps of the future which makes three-dimensional holograms all around the characters. I am happy to report that the 3D Blu-ray looks almost as good as the RealD theater presentation.

Top it off with a wonderful performance by the red-hot Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) as the android David, and you have one great movie in the sci-fi/horror genre. Just don’t ask for a satisfying conclusion to any question apart from, “How high will the body count get?”

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

A Buried Cinema review — They Live

By Tom Kapr

John Carpenter is one of my favorite writer/directors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror cinema. From 1978 to 1988, he made some of the best, most memorable, and most influential films of decadeHalloween was so influential that it popularized an obscure sub-genre of horror with which we are now are so regrettably familiar, the slasher film. Escape from New York was likewise instrumental in popularizing the dystopian anti-hero. Starman is one of the few films about a benevolent alien coming to earth that isn’t pure kiddie fare, and makes some of cinema’s most profound statements about humanity. Big Trouble in Little China had a firm hand in bringing kung fu into American movies. And then there is The Thing, arguably the greatest and scariest movie about a malevolent alien coming to Earth ever made.

There are two things you’ll see that are constants in John Carpenter’s classic thrillers. The first and more obvious of the two is his practical effects, which put to shame many of today’s films of the genre. The second is his pacing, which lets the tension build up slowly but steadily until all hell breaks loose. They Live is no exception.

 

 

The basic plot is that an alien race has taken over Earth through subliminal messages and live among us disguised as humans. On billboards, in magazines, on T.V., everywhere humans look, there are subliminal messages that say things like “obey,” “marry and procreate,” “watch T.V.,” and “stay asleep.” A drifter named Nada (played by Roddy Piper) gets ahold of an underground human resistance group’s special sunglasses, which allow him to see the aliens and their messages for what they truly are. In one of my favorite moments, he looks at the cash in a man’s hand and sees that what it really says is THIS IS YOUR GOD.

 

 

The alien effects are as basic but as effective as can be, and are trademark John Carpenter. And, in keeping with Carpenter’s patient pacing, we don’t actually see the aliens until about a half-hour into the film. It gives the audience time to become complacent with the world’s normalcy, much like the characters in the film. When Nada is assaulted by a couple of aliens disguised as police officers, he takes them out, then takes the fight to the alien leaders. The final half-hour is almost constant gunfire and very violent, but always moving the plot forward as Nada seeks to stop the signal that is keeping the city’s inhabitants blind to the truth.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Cube: Ripe for a remake

By Steven Moore

Cube came out in 1997, a time when the indie film moviement had started getting its sea legs. Successes like ClerksReservoir Dogs, and Slacker had shown that studios were required for distribution but not filmmaking. Cube, in my memory, was the first independent sci-fi film. With a budget of $250,000, it managed to create a sci-fi thriller unlike anything I had ever seen. I was astounded by it’s Kasfkaesque story, great special effects, and unique style.

After watching it again recently, I realized that I was very young when I watched this. The film has serious problems. The acting is almost uniformly painful, and none of the characters seem to fit their role. Maurice Went, playing Quentin, the alpha male who slowly devolves into a statutory rapist, overplays his part to the point of absurdity. Nicole Boer, playing the college mathematician, seems about as comfortable with math as a theater major can pretend to be. Acting aside, the camera work rarely uses a clean shot, instead preferring extreme angles and closeups. I can almost hear director Vincenzo Natali repeating to himself, “My Professor said to let the camera be the emotion.” The film generally feels like the work of a young filmmaker with inexperienced actors.

What is incredible here, though, is that the movie survives all the amateurish mistakes to deliver a great story that sticks with you long after the movie ends. The notion that at any moment, I could wake up inside this murderous government pork project is horrifying. That alone makes Cube an important entry into the sci-fi canon. In the hands of someone more skilled with a camera and less interested in rape scenes (avoid Natali’s Splice at all costs if inter-species rape isn’t your thing), this movie could have been amazing, without qualification. With today’s special effects, a director who isn’t still paying off his or her student loans, and actors who can carry their role, a Cube remake could be a beautiful thing. I’m looking at you, Christopher Nolan.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Korean Cinema — The Host

By Nathanael Griffis

This weekend I had an interesting experience that took precedence over my normal writing schedule. Mind you, I fully acknowledge that I have heretofore been incapable of keeping a normal writing schedule, making the divergence from it the norm and the previous sentence moot. Anyway, all qualifications and space-wasting aside, I had a nerd party this weekend. A nerd party is if were you dress up in suspenders and bow ties and watch sci-fi movies–so a normal Friday evening for me but with cake and friends. I brought down my extensive collection of sci-fi films that I thought people would be interested in. More out of the thought to gain the film the slightest exposure I threw in The Host. I was pleasantly surprised when it was chosen. I let them know it was Korean, and would be subtitled. I told them it was a bizarre movie and hard to describe. But they insisted.

I think my trepidation was linked to my love of the film–this was my eighth viewing, and my love the movie only grows with each sitting. Still I was worried, because we’ve had that experience where you sit down to show someone Casablanca and they fall asleep, or think Humphrey Bogart isn’t that cool (for your information he is), so I had my doubts. How would a group of young not-so-into-film people take what is one of the most challenging, thought-provoking, beautiful, horrifying, and straight-up hilarious films ever made?

I’ll explain the movie first, then let you know their response. (I know, I know, you just want the answer, but that’s not how it works–of course, you do have the ability to scroll down, so feel free to use it.) The Host was my very first introduction to Korean cinema, and I owe it a debt of gratitude for that. It was my first viewing of actor Kang-ho Song and director Joon-ho Bong as well, so my debt is massive. I think for a lot of Americans, The Host brought about an interest in the South Korean film industry. We knew the country existed and knew they made films, but for the average American viewer we just lumped them in with China and Japan. The Host exposed Western thinking to a completely unique cultural form of expression.

I think giant monster will beat bow and arrow.

(Editor’s note: Possible spoiler ahead–though all it really gives away is the driving plot point of the film.)

The premise of the film is simple: A monster surfaces from the Han River and starts feeding on people. The monster takes a little girl named Hyun-seo, played by Ah-sung Ko, and her family then tries to find her when they discover she may be still alive. The thing that is so wonderful about this film is that it does nothing you’d expect, but everything that realistically you should. In the real world, four people would be incapable of taking down a monster. They’d make mistakes along the way that often have terrifying consequences, but this is rarely shown in movies. At least not to this extent. Movies go one of two ways for me I think. Normally a character will make a mistake they have to atone for, so they pull up their boot straps go through a training montage with 80′s keytar music overlaid, and become a hero; or they continue down a spiral of destruction that ruins their life entirely and we’re left with a gray-washed frame of their blood-shot eyes to comfort us.

The Host challenges us to see people for what they are: strange, yet loving and lovable, capable of making horrendous mistakes that we can’t forgive them for but also can’t help but see the humanity in them. Kang-ho Song, who plays Park Gang-du, the father of the stolen girl, gives the performance of lifetime. He drives the film through its web of complex emotions. Each scene is a strange blend of humor, tragedy, horror, and social commentary. In one of my favorite scenes, as an example, the family is gathering to mourn the supposed death of Hyun-seo. The characters all react in different ways, but by the end they’re writhing and tripping over each other. It’s disturbing and haunting to see a family so vulnerable, but also comical to see four adults tripping and rolling on top of each other. In the midst of all this a government agent in a full chemical suit comes walking in. It’s a dramatic transition that signals to the audience that we’ve got a Contagion-esque film on our hands, but then he trips. This small moment of slapsticks should seemingly remove any power or chance for this yellow plasticized man to render upon us, and yet when he orders everyone to be gassed and quarantined and Gang-du to be bagged up and taken away, it’s terrifying.

Yep, that would be the look I'd have if a monster just took my kid too.

To discuss this movie further would give away to much. It is a hilarious movie. It is a scary movie. It is a powerful family drama. It is a lasting political commentary. With all of these things coming together I was still concerned it would not be a good group movie, that all my American friends would brush it off as a stupid film they wouldn’t enjoy. For the most part they laughed and cracked jokes liked you’d do at any group movie. The film is ripe for that, though. There are monologues about farts and several moments of out-of-place slapstick. Still their moments of laughter were punctuated by small pauses. Whether or not they took away from the film the same feelings I have for it is yet to be seen, but I can say this for The Host: I had already considered it a masterpiece, but now I know it’s not a selective masterwork that only some will appreciate. This is not 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is better, because it can be enjoyed by all.

I have a passion for Korean cinema and don’t think I’ll ever stop returning to this wonderful country’s films. If you want to hear more about Korean Cinema, check Buried Cinema’s podcast on The Man from Nowhere.

 

The Old Toy Chest — Captain EO

By Tom Kapr

The Old Toy Chest: In this series, I review movies I loved when I was a kid but have not watched since childhood–sort of like digging out my old toys that I haven’t played with in a while. (Unburying them, so to speak, in keeping with prevailing themes on this site.) These movies are generally from the 80s and early 90s (the era of my childhood), and they generally are films with which current audiences (i.e., current kids) are not familiar. I will be critiquing them through both the nostalgic eyes of the child within and the lens of the mature *snicker* film critic into which I’ve grown. I hope many of you will remember these films with fondness from your own childhoods.

Having been born in the early 1980s, I simply can’t remember a time when Michael Jackson’s presence wasn’t everywhere (except for these past two years, of course). I wasn’t a fan; in fact, I wasn’t even allowed to listen to his music when I was a kid. My mother found him disgusting, what with all the crotch-grabbing and whatnot, but since we had a TV in the house (yep, just one), being influenced by the man and his music was inescapable even for a sheltered kid like me.

As an adult, I’ve developed an appreciation for Jackson’s work. I’m still not what you’d call a fan, but I love certain songs of his, like “Billie Jean,” “Rock with You,” and “Smooth Criminal.” I have Thriller in my library, and I appreciate that Jackson pioneered the long-form music video with the title track of that album. But to this day, I’ve always kind of thought of him as Captain EO.

That's not a special effect on Michael's shoulder. That's the idea fairy that would whisper into his ear and drive him to do things.

Captain EO was probably the only Michael Jackson product I was allowed by my parents (begrudgingly, I’m sure) to embrace as a child; after all, it was the cool new thing at Disney World’s EPCOT Center, and we were on vacation. Various Disney parks were the only places you could see the 17-minute short film — in the first example of “4D” (innovated by the film’s writer/producer Rusty Lemorande), in which the film is shot and exhibited in 3D and supplemented with in-theater effects to amplify the experience. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas, with a score by James Horner and two new songs by Jackson, and featuring Anjelica Huston as the villainous Supreme Leader (though it’s never explained why the “leader” of the good guys is the villain), the film has a lot of pedigree.

I recently re-watched Captain EO, having seen it before only once in the 80′s. And I have to say… pedigree ain’t everything.

The film opens on a shot of a meteor spinning slowly through outer space toward the camera… IN 3D!!! Suddenly a laser blast reduces it to astro-dust and a quaint-looking spaceship flies into view. Once inside the ship, we find that it’s populated by various Muppet rejects. (This would have been a perfect venue for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. However, the Jim Henson Company had nothing to do with the production. Captain EO was released as a Disney parks attraction in 1986; the Walt Disney Company did not acquire the Muppets until 1989. Two years later, they unveiled Muppet*Vision 3D at Disney-MGM Studios, which itself was only two years old. It was another example of the Disney Imagineers’ pioneering “4D” technology, and is overall a much better film experience than our current subject.)

These pseudo-Muppets make a lot of noise until they are silenced by the entrance of our hero — Captain EO himself. How this captain came to have such a strange crew of small aliens and robots is anyone’s guess. Captain EO immediate commands the room with his boyish, almost whining, “Listen!”

Clearly inspired by H.R. Giger's Alien design. Later inspired the design of the Borg Queen. And so we are all connected in the great circle of sci-fi.

Michael Jackson really looks like he’s trying hard to act, like he’s aware every second that he’s in a movie. Actually, it’s more like he looks like he’s constantly thinking, “Woohoo, I’m in a cool science fiction movie! The Star Wars guy is sitting right over there! Eee-heee!” then does a twirl, and throws his jacket off his shoulders and then flips it back on again — only, you know, in his head. In the meantime, he’s squeakily commanding his crew. The arrival of enemy craft trying to shoot them down only makes his voice squeakier. Michael Jackson’s squeak-singing always annoyed me, though he was a great singer underneath it all. His line-readings, however…

Commander Bog shows up on some sort of holographic intercom, and the actor playing him, Dick Shawn (himself known more as a singer), manages to ham it up with just his face more than Pauly Shore ever could with his entire body. Bog commands the crew to complete their mission: to locate some homing beacon, find the Supreme Leader (again, why they need to find their own leader is never explained), and give her some mysterious “gift.”

There’s some blatant Star Wars rip-off scenes (Lucas is one of the few who can rip off his own movies) as EO’s ship somehow manages to out-fly all the enemy ships and literally land on the homing beacon. To make a 17-minute story short, the crew is kidnapped by a bunch of stormtroopers in a junkyard and taken to the Supreme Leader, who lives in a dark industrial complex of some sort and turns out to be a spider-like woman who drops out of the ceiling like one of the Alien aliens and sentences EO to 100 years of torture and his crew to death.

EO finally unveils his “gift” — and it turns out his “gift” is an on-the-spot music video for “We Are Here to Change the World.” Michael Jackson’s — uh, I mean, Captain EO’s — sheer awesomeness is enough to turn the Supreme Leader’s troops into groovy background dancers. After some poorly choreographed tussles with some tougher bad guys, EO goes back to dancing and finally uses the power of song to turn the Supreme Leader into Anjelica Huston. The ugly industrial setting melts into a bland paradise not unlike the Mount Olympus of the old Clash of the Titans.

Michael's "gift" to the Supreme Leader -- and, as we are meant to believe, to the world.

And EO and his crew dance off into the sunset.

I imagine a lot of this was more impressive on a big screen with 3D glasses on and special effects literally moving through the theater, but just as a film, it’s really cheesy. It’s a glorified music video, and not one of Jackson’s better, which is a pity considering it’s directed by the man who gave us The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. And it has some of the trippiest imagery this side of a David Lynch film.

My recollection of seeing Captain EO as a little boy is a mix of wonder and embarrassment — leaning much more heavily toward the embarrassment, mostly as a result of all the lascivious dancing and my mother sitting right there disapproving. Plus, I have a vague memory of being a little uneasy over the appearance and tone of the Supreme Leader. I remember the whole thing being very dark in tone, but of course at the time I liked the annoying little not-Muppets. What can I say, I was a kid in the 80s — I thought neon-colored baggy pants and slap bracelets were awesome.

Captain EO may not be a good film, but it does deserve to be remembered as a unique pop culture artifact. It’s definitely representative of its time and place, for better or worse. And though it is not currently available in any official capacity for home viewing, you can watch it in its entirety (albeit in boring old 2D) here.

Still hard to believe these three ever sat in a room together.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Adaptations: Remakes: Cape Fear vs. Star Wars

By Nathanael Griffis

In what is simply horrifying news, and a disturbing continuation of a frightening trend in Hollywood, Tony Scott recently announced a remake of The Wild Bunch. Meanwhile, his more talented brother Ridley announced in past weeks a return to the Blade Runner universe for a pseudo-remake. One seen as an awful idea, the other an exciting idea. Why is it that two respected classics, neither of which need a remake, can be greeted with differing opinions? I agree with the opinions, mind you, but the reason for incessant remakes bothers me. One reason is that Sam Peckinpah should be avoided for remakes. (I’m looking at you, Rod Lurie.) Films like Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch are complex, disturbing, and hard to understand with Peckinpah behind the camera.  Remakes are nothing new, of course, and remaking movies is essentially what an adaptation is in the long run, but because a movie, unlike a live play, can exist in it’s original form for a longer time, it often seems unnecessary to remake it. And still we’re getting a new Footloose. Last year we were subjected to The A-Team. Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs have returned, but then again we’re also getting The Muppets coming up. With such a mixed bag it’s hard to filter through it all, so I will attempt to by giving you a good example and then the prime unholy grail of all examples. (Warning: I may geek out a little.)

Cape Fear (1962 & 1991)

Cape Fear is a unique remake, but I think the perfect example of a successful one. The 1962 version starring Gregory Peck as a lawyer driven to the brink by Robert Mitchum’s psychotic rapist is a frightening film that was heavily censored in the 60’s. What survived on screen is still pretty surprising. Max Cady (Mitchum) was imprisoned for rape and when released moves into the same town as Sam Bowden (Peck), the lawyer who poorly defended him years before. Cady then proceeds to manipulate, stalk, torture, and eventually attempt to rape and kill Sam Bowden and his family. Cady, as a man fueled by hate and some primal psychotic desire to sexually overpower women, including the 14-year-old daughter of Sam Bowden, is scary, really scary. It’s a terrifying performance by Mitchum, which is stunningly counterbalanced by Gregory Peck’s fascinating turn as Sam Bowden, who turns to breaking the law to protect his family. It is an interesting deviation from Atticus Finch in many ways.

When Martin Scorsese directed the remake in 1991 it seemed almost unnecessary considering the status of the first one, but the finished product proves that theory wrong. Scorsese, as he did often in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s, turned to Robert De Niro to play Max Cady. He brought in Nick Nolte for Sam Bowden, and Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis play his wife and daughter. There are wonderful supporting performances by Robert Mitchum as the town sheriff and Gregory Peck, in his last big screen role, as Cady’s oily religious fanatic defense lawyer. The first thing Scorsese’s remake is able to do is kick the censors out the door. The original Cape Fear, while challenging, clearly feels hampered by its 60’s mentality. Issues are never fully discussed. It’s frustrating in a lot of ways to see Robert Mitchum beat and rape a women, and then listen as the characters dance around the subject, because it’s not appropriate to talk about. In an interview with the director of the original, J. Lee Thompson mentioned his frustration and noted that several scenes of dialogue were cut because of the nature of the discussion. The censors were frequently asking for the film to be rewritten, going over the film scene by scene to control the artistic expression.

Scorsese has no such problem, and he’s able to flesh the characters out a lot more. Sam Bowden is given more depth; he’s not a perfect or pristine symbol of honor like Gregory Peck, which fits with Scorsese themes. Everyone in this film is guilty of something; crime and violence inhabit our world, and it’s how we respond to it that matters. Max Cady is let off of his leash, and De Niro delivers what is, in my opinion, his most frightening performance. He’s manipulative, unforgiving, and driven by some demonic sense of hatred to hurt anything the Bowdens get near. The final scene, which I won’t spoil, is as terrifying a death as any in cinema. The reason this remake works is because Scorsese is not simply trying to cash in. He’s taking these characters and this well-respected film and building upon it, reinterpreting it for a new generation, and improving the technical aspects of the filmmaking. The film simply looks better, the art direction is better, and it feels more realistic and less set-piece-driven. Visually, it’s a cleaner and more clearly shot film with better camera work.

A lot of times the main argument for remaking a film is that the original was good in concept but poor in execution (e.g., Tron). I want to point out that this is not the case. A good remake is more about how you tell the story, who’s involved, and the theme you’re trying to convey. You must have a reason to remake a film, and the good concept- bad execution is a good reason, but not the only one. Don’t get up in arms simply because Fright Night was remade (turns out it was good) or that Aronofsky wants to do Robocop (it could be good). Cross your fingers and calm down, it’s not the end of the world–unless George Lucas is involved, in which case it just might be.

Star Wars (1977, 1997, 2008)

Leaving aside his prequels and his astounding ability to ruin childhoods, George Lucas created the greatest sci-fi franchise ever and then proceeded to stomp all over it. Initially a “special edition” that is remastered and cleaned up sounds like a great idea, and watching the documentaries of the process to clean up the negative of the original trilogy fascinated me as child. I saw all three special editions in theaters, being as I was too young to see the original films in theaters, and truthfully enjoyed them. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve become more and more bothered by the changes Lucas keeps making. He’s not merely adding a deleted scene, extending a song montage, giving us a more lively Mos Eisley, or simply a better picture quality–the story is shifting and changing.  A New Hope has plot holes, physics problems, and technical issues, but with the 2008 DVD release, none of those issues are fixed, they’re simply compounded with new problems.

Let’s try and let our nerd problems go and forgive Lucas for the 1997 remakes, because for the most part it is simply a remake that technically needed to happen. The original negative was degrading and it had to be remastered. It looks better and some of the improvements, like adding more character to Mos Eisley and Cloud City bring out the worlds more. The sarlacc’s beak and tentacles do look better than just the pit of sand with spikes in the original. The extended Max Rebo Band sequence is fine, sometimes annoying, but it doesn’t detract from the character or story. Yes, Greedo shoots first, but let’s calm down–if there weren’t T-shirts and websites dedicated to complaining about this fact, we might not have noticed.

What is truly appaling is the 2008 DVD release version that tries to connect the original trilogy to the prequels. Hayden Christensen’s visage has replaced Sebastian Shaw, which just creates an inconsistency, because why doesn’t Ewan McGregor then replace Alec Guinness? It’s as if Lucas was afraid to do this (perhaps the thought of Alec Guinness’ ghost haunting him with those judgemental hazel eyes makes him think twice), leaving us wondering, why is Obi-Wan old, but not Anakin? Gungans make an appearance in the final celebration, though thankfully no Jar-Jar. Voice actors are changed to fit with the prequels–Boba Fett is now voiced Temuera Morrison, the voice of Jango Fett in the prequels, which seems like nothing short of an insult to Jason Wingreen from the original and again an added inconsistency, because shouldn’t the son sound different from the father? New scenes of Ewan McGregor talking with Uncle Owen just seem out of place, and the lighting and scenery don’t coalesce with the later shots of Tatooine. Overall, though, what is most disturbing is that the digital remastering is severely botched. At one point Luke’s lightsaber has been color-corrected to be green. Vader’s lightsaber has lost its deep red hue and turned to a rosy pink, and there is a strong blue wash over the film, similar to the wash that is found commonly in modern sci-fi.

It’s infuriating, but what is happening is that an author has not been made to stop. As a writer, if I don’t put my work out there, I will never finish it. I am never content with what I write, and I always feel like there is something worth changing, so I constantly change things, but what we have here is an artist who’s in the midst of revision and gives us his drafts every couple of years and claims each draft as the true masterpiece instead of just leaving them alone. I suspect Lucas will in a few years (I’m afraid of the Blu-ray) correct some of these problems, but he’s created so many more with his changes that there’s little room for trust in his ability any more. He’s not fixing inconsistencies, like why Obi-Wan disappears from his cloak but Qui-Gon doesn’t; he’s simply tweaking and adding inconsistencies that loosely tie all six films together.

Remakes need to be just that, remade entirely. You have to start anew. Treat it as an old concept with a new spin and go from there. We can’t have one bearded madman destroy everything we know and love about science fiction in film. The good thing is that even though they may try to remake classics like Akira, we can always go back and watch the original.

Next, I’ll finish up my long and drawn out series on adaptations with some of the oddballs, like adapting a song, a theme park ride, or a painting.

Scary Movie Alien Countdown: The #1 Scariest Movie Alien of All Time

By Tom Kapr

We finally made it to the end of the countdown. Here, after a quick recap of the other films discussed in this series, is my “Number 1 Scariest Movie Alien of All Time.” Watch and enjoy.

#10. Battle Los Angeles (2011)

#9. The Blob (1958, 1988)

#8. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

#7. Star Wars Episodes IV & VI (1977, 1983)

#6. Predator (1987)

#5. War of the Worlds (2005)

#4. The Thing (1982)

#3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978)

#2. The Alien series (1979, 1986, 1997)

#1…