Only 14 Hours To Save The Earth

Posted Monday, April 27, 2015, 7:37 AM

Faced with bringing pulp comic book hero Flash Gordon into the modern age, the creators quickly abandoned all hope of adapting it into anything sensible without losing its charm. So without hesitation they leap into corny cheese with their arms wide and all semblance of logic cut off at the pass.

I like how you decorated the place.

Once again, simulcast with JetSimian, Al, and Jamas.

The recent attempt at adapting John Carter of Mars has a lot of plot similarities to the adventures of Flash Gordon. An ordinary man finds himself in a strange alien world, filled with exotic cultures in lavish costumes, with a brutal culture and a war brewing they enlist their hero to use his unorthodox methods to aid them in their fight.

Careful, Flash, or our wires will snag!

This time Flash, Sam Jones, brings along spunky Dale Arden, Melody Anderson, when the potentially treacherous Doctor Zarkov, Topol, kidnaps them to help him fly his rocket ship to escape earth and its impending doom. It's a parade of unmotivated weirdness, over-the-top characters, in exotic environments, wearing dazzlingly glamorous outfits.

Mongo's own "Earth, Wind, and Fire" tribute act prepares.

An unexpected theme of sensuality, rather than innocent romance, pervades most of the scenes, not least of which is provided by Ornella Muti's Princess Aura, who seems to be secretly sleeping with everything with a penis, and possibly some of those without. Timothy Dalton's Prince Barin, fully capable of chewing the scenery when the role calls for it, is surprisingly restrained here amongst over-actors like Brian Blessed's Prince Vultan and Max von Sydow's spectacularly camp Ming the Merciless. Skimpy form-fitting costumes abound.

Not the Craw.

It's a cavalcade of absurdity as the plot leaps from one tame set-piece to the next with alacrity, sharp banter keeping everything fun, the iconic soundtrack from Queen bringing much 80s glam rock to keep your heart racing. It's no wonder Flash Gordon is considered a classic in its field of over-the-top fantasy sci-fi, it recognised where the balance needed to be, and it maintained that line deftly.

Can I fit any more adverbs into this post?

Not pictured: Thomas the Tank Engine

There are a few old movies that I think would benefit from a George Lucas-style Special Edition do-over, using the original elements but modern technology to upgrade the rough edges, particularly of the visual effects and the sound effects. It wouldn't take much to make those adjustments to Flash Gordon and not affect any of its inherent charm. I'd really like to see that.

If anyone is looking for a good MST3K night with your nerdy mates, you couldn't do better than with the glamorous Flash Gordon.

A new version is in the works. I suspect they'll move away from the cheese and go for gritty realism. If so, I fear it will suffer for it. Personally I'd rather adapt Dash Decent.

P.S: spot the fleeting Robbie Coltrane appearance.

Mind Over Dark Matter

Posted Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 9:00 AM

1979 had two science fiction adventures that couldn't be more different while being somewhat alike. On the one hand was Ridley Scott's Alien, a realistic, atmospheric, carefully crafted masterpiece of a haunted house story set in space. While on the other hand was Disney's The Black Hole, an overly serious, predictably plotted, overacted mess, executed at a mind-numbingly tedious momentum.

Once again, simulcast with JetSimian, Jamas Enright, and Alistair Hughes.

Stylistically very much a Disney movie, more like Star Trek The Motion Picture that also came out that year in its choices of photography and lighting, it leaps into the plot, such as it is, immediately, with no attempt for us to get to know any of the characters or their motivations. We can't even keep track of their names, let alone their personalities. Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster, every one of them phoning it in.

Wait! This black hole is blue! I demand a refund!

A science ship, the Palomino, searching for lifeforms on other planets, encounters a lost spaceship, the Cygnus, which, heavy exposition tells us, was captained by the reckless and scenery-chewing Dr Reinhardt, played by Maximilian Schell, and they immediately investigate. A lot of special effects porn follows as we slowly get the plot properly moving. The suspense is weak, the story is non-existent, the characters bland and boring as they meander around the spaceship, reciting dull gobbledegook-heavy dialogue in a monotonous drone.

Who said that?

A by-the-numbers "imprisoned by a madman" storyline is barely worth paying attention to. Not only is there no adventure, there's barely any science fiction; it wouldn't even make a decent Buck Rogers episode. The only bursts of excitement amount to barely-motivated shoot-outs and chases, and a protracted destruction sequence, but this is no Star Wars. It looks and feels 20 years out of date, like they hadn't learned anything from the movie-making revolution that was going on around them. Even the score feels like it's a temp track borrowed from other films, with inappropriately quiet music during action sequences, bombastic music telegraphing events before they happen, all its beats irrelevantly misplaced for the events happening on screen.

So how does an anti-gravity object float in a moving elevator anyway?

The robots provide the comic relief, if you can call it that, with VINCENT voiced by Roddy McDowall, and later his damaged "brother" BOB voiced by Slim Pickens. When I watched the film in the cinema as a kid, the cool dual-barrelled guns on the soldier robots were my strongest memory, and my friends and I had laser battles with our fingers folded to emulate them for weeks afterwards. Beyond that I haven't had any desire to revisit the film, until prompted to do so today.

The robots all move like a bad mime act.

I also had a comic book follow-up, that continued past the bizarre psychedelic cliffhanger ending (aka "we don't know how to end it, so lets copy 2001"), discovering what lay beyond the black hole, which was a mirror-galaxy, but millions of years in the past. It turned out to be more exciting than the film, and yet only managed one issue.

Any nostalgia you may have for The Black Hole is best kept to your childhood. There's no need to ever revisit this tedious waste of 90 minutes.

There's Nothing Strange In My Neighbourhood

Posted Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 9:04 AM

1984 was an amazing year for movies that have resonated in our culture: Terminator. The Karate Kid. The Neverending Story. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Gremlins. Beverly Hills Cop. Romancing the Stone. The Last Starfighter. Top Secret! But top of the list will always be Ghostbusters.

Simulcast with JetSimian, Jamas Enright, and whoever this guy is.

There's something about this comedy that everybody loves, with endlessly quotable dialogue, fantastic iconography, and naturally funny performances, which never get old. It made stars of its cast, it became a touchstone of pop culture, and it's still compared with modern comedies today; everyone is trying to make something as good as Ghostbusters.

Originally written by Dan Aykroyd, a man obsessed by the occult in real life, his draft relied a bit too heavily on unfilmable spectacle, so Aykroyd's friend Harold Ramis and director Ivan Reitman rewrote it to emphasise the characters more. They cast other SNL and Second City alumni (John Candy turned it down, but Rick Moranis filled his slot) to flesh it out, the keystone undoubtedly Bill Murray as Venkman, famously reluctant to do any project. Annie Potts as Janine and Sigourney Weaver as Dana, the only two women in the cast, add more than just oestrogen; holding their own and making their mark against such a strong cast of guys is no mean feat.

The movie starts off expertly, with a ghostly apparition in a library leading straight into a fantastic song by Ray Parker Jr (apparently modelled after a Huey Lewis and the News Song, though I can barely detect it). Then it's straight into the main characters, each introduction artfully establishing their individual quirks and motivations. It's so effortlessly done, it's no wonder this is a movie many want to emulate and see more of.

After establishing Ghostbusters as a company, they successfully capture a ghost haunting a hotel, causing thousands of dollars in damage in the process, but this gets them noticed, and soon their traps are full of ghosts. Sigourney Weaver, who was still a big name after her role in Alien, discovers she has a possessed fridge, somehow turned into a gateway to the underworld guarded by Zuul. Apparently a lot of the weird supernatural mumbo jumbo is genuine mythology, thanks to Dan Aykroyd's contributions to the script. Despite her asking for help from the game show host Venkman, Dana ends up possessed, leading to a fantastic scene where Venkman is caught between wanting to take advantage of her exciting state of demonic possession for a bit of happy fun times, and yet compassionately wanting to look after the real Dana.

Neighbour Louis Tully, Rick Moranis playing a sad sack, who also becomes possessed by the Keymaster Vinz Clortho in an amazing scene where he is chased by a demon dog and screams for help, but the patrons of the restaurant completely ignore him, completes the circle.

Dealing with a man with no dick, the nasty Walter Peck, an EPA official who wants their business shut down, causing the ghosts to be released back into the city, fleshes out the story in a way that anchors it in reality. The fantasy here never feels like it's out of hand or at ridiculous levels. The comedy is gentle, not insulting or aggressive like a lot of modern comedy can be, and the drama has serious consequences, with lives and the city on the line. Having red tape and an interfering busybody to deal with helps emphasise the scale of some of the larger issues the team are dealing with.

The end battle is the weak point, in my opinion. The threat Gozer is supposed to represent doesn't really come across very effectively. Her final appearance as a dancer flipping across the rooftop in a burlesque bubble costume is disappointing and not very imposing, and the comedy nature of the gigantic StaPuft Marshmallow Man taking the wind out of the villain's supposedly evil nature's sails even further. Defeating them by "crossing the streams" isn't really a solution so much as the result of desperation, and doesn't really satisfyingly resolve anything so much as just end things with an explosion, and everything is magically all better now.

But Ghostbusters place in the history of cinema can't be denied. Though a product of its time, it is almost a perfect comedy (its place at the top only surpassed by Ramis and Murray's own Groundhog Day a decade later) and can hold its head high. Thank goodness nobody ever made any sequels or has any plans to reboot the series with an entirely new cast.