Tuesday, December 11, 2012

“Shark god angry long time now.”



1958’s She Gods of Shark Reef is a painful cheapie from Roger Corman. Two brothers, the blonde Chris “Christy” Johnston (Bill Cord) and dark haired Jim “Lee” Johnston (Don Durant) are sailing in the pacific and get blown off-course and hit a reef and they get rescued by some ladies in floral print swimsuits and catamarans. They are told about the large number of sharks around this reef, hence “Shark Reef.” The brothers (they had a third guy with them who had no lines but he swam out of the movie within the first five minutes and is presumed drowned) discover that they’re on an island owned by “The Island Company” and is populated solely by women, and is managed by the stern matron Pua (Jeanne Gerson) and IMDB tells me she’s a queen. Or something. The women collect pearls for the Company.

Anyway, Pua doesn’t like these two men hanging around an island populated entirely by naïve, pretty young women. Christy’s a decent fellow with an interest in marine specimens. Lee’s a jerk with an interest in crime. It was his vaguely filmed criminal antics at the beginning of the film that caused them to take a boat and sail away from the law. Pua dislikes everything, and Lee gets paranoid about her signaling/semaphoring/radioing the US Navy to pick the men up. The guys also change into floral-print mini-skirts, which is understandable for an island of women, but it doesn’t make it any easier to look at.

Here’s what happens. Chris flirts/falls in love with Mahia (Lisa Montell), the girl who fished them out of the water. Lee plots to escape/steal the pearls, and Pua disapproves of EVERYTHING. Pua thinks that when Mahia saved the guys, that made the gods even angrier than before, and sees it as a perfectly good excuse to sacrifice Mahia to the Shark God Tangaroa. There’s some hula dancing along the way too.


Not one of Roger Corman’s better works. I presume the bulk of the film’s budget was spent on shooting on location in Hawaii and was shot in something like two weeks. The film is in color, but the print I saw is terrible. The soundtrack by Ronald Stein is mostly disembodied ambient drumbeats with a few anemic touches of score thrown in. 

What’s worse is the screenplay by Robert Hill and Victor Stoloff. The whole setup makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. I mean, I don’t have an MBA, but from a business standpoint, the Island Company is making a lot of questionable decisions. Okay, we’re told they take good care of the workers in exchange for the pearls. Fine. I guess. I suppose someone tried to teach them English along the way but stopped. Script make natives talk incomplete English. Mean they not civilized like smart westerners. 



Fine. Whatever. I’m not even going to go into the whole impracticality of sustaining a permanent population of only one gender over several generations because that’s just a riff on the ancient Amazonian fetish. But not only are these island women pagans, they worship a god that demands the blood sacrifice of virgins. Who are also employees of the company. And there’s only about 30 of them. Over the course of the movie, Pua has several girls bound and thrown into the water to appease the Shark God. Only Mahia is rescued and the other two are chum. 

I’m curious, does the Island Company sign off on this? Human sacrifices don’t seem conducive to company morale (none of the girls are thrilled at the prospect of becoming sacrifices) and also you’d think they’d have to replace said lost workers. How is this a profitable business practice for the Island Company to turn a blind eye toward. Unless Pua writes it off as a “workplace accident,” in which case she comes off as even more unlikable than before (no mean feat) since she’s effectively running the island as a franchisee/dictator (with a hint of cargo cult). I just don’t see how this is a valid business plan. Oh, and Lee steals a bunch of pearls in the escape attempt and said pearls are lost on Shark Reef in the climactic struggle, so there goes a big chunk of the shipment the Island Company will be coming to pick up in a few days. I imagine some executive somewhere is going to get fired when the report comes back. 

The reason I dwell on this is because there is absolutely nothing else to discuss about the movie. It is badly acted, vaguely shot, atrociously written, and uncomfortably boring to sit through. The characters are so detestable I was rooting for the escape boat to capsize on the reef and for Tangaroa’s (who is an actual Sea God in Maori mythology. But not a She God) sharks to just devour everyone. A better print might have helped the experience since Hawaii is noted for its scenery after all. 

I do not recommend it, but the movie exists for free on Youtube. You're better off just enjoying the way better movie poster and the surprisingly good-quality trailer over on Trailers From Hell. The embed isn't working, so just follow the link above. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

“That's the trouble with you eggheads - you jump to conclusions! I know what I see and I see a dead man, but, uh, I don't see any spider.”



Time once again to jump into the processed-shot world of Bert. I Gordon. Today’s entry is 1958’s Earth Vs. The Spider AKA The Spider.

Story
In River Falls, (I presume) California, a teenager and her insensitive boyfriend look for her missing dad. Dad had a reputation as a drunk, but when the kids find his wrecked truck and some bloody clothes near a cave, it seems drunk driving was not the problem. No, that problem is a giant spider that the teens barely escape. The High School science teacher arranges to spray the monster with enough DDT to fill Lake Mead, and the spider’s corpse is stored in the school gym because it’s the only place large enough to study it.

And then the janitor lets a band into the gym to rehearse for the school dance, and they in turn are followed by the drama class who start shaking, rattling, and rolling, and the power of rock music rouses the spider from its slumber, sending it on a murderous rampage across the city before it’s killed in its original cave through a complicated series of events where the two teenagers from the beginning are trapped inside when a road crew blasts the entrance shut, then has to dig an entrance to rescue the kids, and the science teacher electrocutes the hell out of the beast.

Characters
Carol Flynn: June Kenney plays an average small town girl with average issues like occasional disagreements with her boyfriend and a father with a reputation as a bit of a drunk. Actually, her attachment to her father moves the plot along several times (sometimes stupidly) because she is devoted to keeping and recovering his last gift to her (a piece of jewelry) that she is willing to run back into the giant spider’s cave to find it after the plot has decided that she dropped it in there.

Mike Simpson: (Eugene) Gene Persson plays Carol’s rather dense and unintentionally insensitive boyfriend. Mostly he serves to follow Carol around and voice doubts about various things. Oh, and to drive a car. His dad owns a movie theater.

Sheriff Cagle: Gene Roth plays the simple, and extremely skeptical provincial sheriff. Like any B-movie sheriff, he doesn’t believe the teens when they tell him there’s a giant monster attacking people. It takes a few dead deputies to convince him that yes, there is indeed a giant monster attacking the town.

Professor Art Kingman: Ed Kemmer plays the actual hero of the film. He’s a high school science teacher and the first person to believe the teens when they tell him what they’ve seen. He’s also the guy who comes up with effective plans to stop the creature. However, after the spider is put down the first time, he’s determined to study it (like all good scientists do) and makes the miscalculation that the beast is dead instead of dormant. Still, he’s the only character that does anything truly proactive in the movie.

Visuals/Effects
Directed by Bert I. Gordon, it works in Gordon’s signature processed shots to make things really big on a small budget. In this case, it’s a tarantula, and the effects are generally decent (though issues of scale come into play for differing shots). The spider’s web is very obviously a standard (and large) rope net. The film also uses Carlsbad Caverns as the “location” of the spider’s cave, but there’s some very obvious matte work and I suspect it was just cheaper to use elements from, say postcards, than to actually shoot in the actual caverns. There’s lots of cost and time cutting cheats in this genre and this movie is no different.

There is a random insert shot of a baby crying (presumably orphaned or abandoned) in the street amid the wreckage of the spider's rampage that is rather inexplicable. It only lasts a few seconds and I guess the purpose of it is to show the tragedy of this destruction, but it doesn't fit into a big, dumb giant spider movie like this which is full of lots of really, really dumb goofiness. All it manages to do is provide a few seconds of mood whiplash before jumping right back into "holy crap, how do we stop a giant spider!?"

Writing
Story by Bert I. Gordon, Screenplay by Laszlo Gorog and George Worthing Yates. Well, it’s a giant spider movie. It definitely provides that. The characters are not very interesting and the plot is by its nature far-fetched. Still, unlike some other contemporaries, it’s not boring and scenes don’t linger as long on pointless padding conversations as other movies. (They’re still present, but pacing at least exists in this movie).

Sound
Albert Glasser provides an enthusiastic and bombastic soundtrack to the movie. There’s also some Theremins thrown in for good measure. Because its not a 50s Sci-fi movie without Theremins.

Conclusion
Earth Vs. The Spider is an acceptable representative of the 50’s Giant Monster craze. Not the best, but not the worst. It’s bad, sure, but it has enough crazy images, concepts, and stuff going on that it’s at least entertaining.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

“White people shouldn’t live too long out in the jungle.”



In 1951, Curt Siodmak, a screenwriter probably most famous for the very excellent Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man, wrote and directed Bride of the Gorilla, which recycled a ton of elements from The Wolf Man.

Plot
In South America, a brash young plantation manager is having an affair with his employer’s beautiful young wife. There’s an argument at dinner and he gets fired by the old man, and the argument continues outside. The two struggle briefly, and the manager lets a deadly snake bite the old man and kill him. This would be great news for our protagonist, but the deed is seen by the creepy old native witch who works on the plantation. She was following our protagonist to get revenge on him for abandoning a local lover, and she takes the opportunity to curse him (and starts slipping a magical plant into his drink to facilitate the curse). The manager inherits the plantation and marries the widow, but soon starts seeing himself transform into a bestial creature. Not coincidentally, a bestial creature begins terrorizing the region at night, and a local police commissioner begins investigating.

Characters
Barney Chavez: Raymond Burr! Clearly not Hispanic. Or Spanish. Barney is a terrible plantation manager who slacks off constantly and is juggling at least two love affairs before his boss fires him and the fateful confrontation happens. Afterwards, things seem pretty great for him, he gets a profitable estate and a beautiful bride that loves him. Then he starts seeing his hand get hairy, then sees a gorilla costume instead of his reflection in the mirror. The curse starts driving him up a wall and he starts spending more time out in the jungle than with his wife. The natives begin whispering of the “sukara” a beast that is tall, red, and somewhat man-like (In other words, a gorilla costume). For a while its up in the air whether Barney is actually turning into a creature or its all in his head.

Dina Van Gelder: Barbara Payton plays the young, materialistic trophy wife of the plantation owner. She’s not happy in her marriage, since she doesn't love her husband and they live in the middle of nowhere. So when the young stud Barney starts up a relationship with her, she goes for it. Blinded by love, she doesn't realize (at first) that Barney’s really responsible for her husband’s death; she loves him unconditionally. Dina bet on the wrong horse though, since Barney starts losing it and would rather frolic in the jungle than spend evenings with her. Yes, he cheats on her with the Jungle. She still loves him and wants to get them away from the plantation, which leads to dire consequences.

Klaas Van Gelder: Paul Cavanagh plays Dina’s sickly husband. He’s not in the movie long, but gets to express his intense dislike of Barney and feels bad that he can’t make Dina happy. Then it's snakebite time.

Dr. Viet: Tom Conway plays the family physician who gets caught up in investigating the mysterious goings-on. He’s ALSO got romantic feelings for Dina, but she doesn't even notice, probably because he’s older than Barney and thoroughly boring. 

Police Commissioner Taro: Lon Chaney Jr. is also clearly not Hispanic, but plays one anyway. He’s effectively the hero of the movie, a local boy made good who came home and is now putting the pieces of a murder mystery together. He’s also a creature between two worlds, but he knows it (and doesn't kill farmers in the night). City educated and sworn to uphold civilized law, he’s also well-versed in local legend and superstition and the more…flexible form of justice found in the jungle. 

Al-Long: Giselle Werbisek plays the creepy housekeeper and witch woman. She’s got an illegal plant that she can do magic with. The locals all hold her in awe and fear. She actually witnesses Van Gelder’s death from the bushes but doesn’t do anything about it, instead leaning over his dead body and cursing Barney Chavez to become like an animal. At the inquest she gives false testimony that helps acquit Barney, but then she holds what she knows over Barney’s head and quietly keeps drugging him with the plant. She comes across as sinister and unlikable.

                               Man, I wish I had this as a .gif

Visuals/Effects
This was one of the few movies directed by Curt Siodmak. Siodmak was an interesting guy. Born in Germany in 1902, he was part of the mass exodus of Jewish filmmakers who fled the Nazis prior to World War II and he had a long, healthy career as a screenwriter and novelist. His older brother Robert Siodmak had a much more prominent career as a (more successful) director. 

As far as the visuals of this movie go, it's okay I guess. The budget is obviously low and the gorilla costume is not very good. I presume the filmmakers realized this, as they kept it off the screen as much as possible. Sure, it was probably also minimally used to build tension and uncertainty, as they use it in reflections and for hands, but I think the look of the gorilla costume was also a factor. The rest of the movie is a very workmanlike production.

Writing
Written by Curt Siodmak, I really can’t help but focus on the similarities to The Wolf Man. Its got a curse, a gypsy-like wise old woman, the elements of a love triangle, the notion of the bestial nature of man as a curse, and its even got Lon Chaney Jr. The major thematic difference is that Barney Chavez is a brutal, unsympathetic murderer and Larry Talbot was a sympathetic, likable guy. Outside of the commonalities, the dialogue, characters, and plot are all quite pedestrian. I suppose it's also worth noting that gorillas are not native to South America. At all.

Sounds
Original music by Raoul Kraushaar and Mort Glickman (uncredited). It’s…there, in a forgettable way. 

Verdict
The movie essentially takes Siodmak’s Wolf Man premise and recycles it into the South American jungle with an ape. Curt Siodmak cribbing from his earlier, better script but with a much lower budget is somewhat interesting, but not particularly compelling. There are worse movies out there, but considering the talent involved in making this, Bride of the Gorilla is simply mediocre and mostly boring. Sure, it's in the public domain and easy to find, but you're not missing anything by not seeing it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

“Before we get through this thing, we may uncover sins that even the Devil might be ashamed of.”


Yeeaaaahhhh buddy! October returns and once more its time to open up the dusty doors of Castle RMWC to a month of horror, the macabre and the weird. Well, more weird, at least. This year will continue the tradition of mixing in new stuff with old, significant and often overlooked pieces from the past, and pure schlock. Thus, I bid you welcome. Enter freely and of your own free will, as we spend the month dancing with the weird.

I miss Voodoo zombies. Zombie. Zuvembie. Xombi. Zombi. You know, OG Zombies.

So why not go back to the source? 1932’s White Zombie is pretty much the first feature-length zombie movie, and the granddaddy of every other walking dead movie made. Rob Zombie’s band was named after this movie, so there's that going for it.


Plot
A young couple arrive at a Haitian plantation. It belongs to a mutual friend, who is also the third wheel in a love triangle who schemes with a sinister local mystic to take the woman for himself. After getting friend-zoned one last time, the plantation owner goes through with his plan, slipping the bride a potion at the wedding dinner that slips her into a death-like trance. Distraught and drunk, her widower finds her tomb empty one night and starts investigating, while the plantation owner begins having second thoughts about his deal with the mystic, since his beloved has been transformed into a zombie.


Characters
Charles Beaumont: Robert Frazer plays the jealous plantation owner. It was his suggestion for the couple to have the ceremony at his Haitian mansion, where he not-so-smoothly tries to woo Madeline away from her fiancee right before the wedding ceremony. Beaumont is unhealthily obsessed, and he eventually realizes this, seeing as the raw deal he makes transforms Madeline into an emotionless puppet not even under his control. 

Neil Parker: John Harron plays our hero. He works for a bank and is incredibly in love with his fiancee. To be honest, he only gets interesting after Madeline’s “death.” Then he becomes a drunk, alternating between drinking his sorrows away in bars and grieving in the cemetery. It's at one such cemetery visit that he find’s Madeline’s tomb empty, triggering his investigation.

Madeline Short Parker: Madge Bellamy plays our heroine, though for most of the movie she’s in a passive trance. Before the wedding, she’s not fleshed out much, being somewhat creeped out by the Haitian locals and talk of Voodoo. She doesn't get to enjoy being Mrs. Parker long, since Beaumont’s obsession with her ends up literally objectifying her. 

Dr. Bruner: Joseph Cawthorn plays a Christian missionary who feels uneasy about Beaumont’s estate and urges the Parkers to leave right after the wedding. After Neil’s shocking discovery, Bruner’s local knowledge and connections help the duo track down Legendre’s hideaway. Interestingly, one of his oldest friends and connections is a Haitian witch doctor named Pierre.

“Murder” Legendre: Bela Lugosi outright steals the show with his creepy eyes, sinister goatee and gleeful villainy. Part devilish dealmaker, part super villain, his past is vaguely hinted at. While the movie makes it clear that its possible for these zombies to return to normal from their drugged state, Legendre still has supernatural powers: he has an affinity to birds of prey and he can silently and mentally command his zombies. He learned voodoo from a local expert, then converted him into his first zombie. Legendre then went on a zombie-making spree, using them as cheap labor in his sugar mill and, to his unending delight, he made his former enemies into his zombie A team (i.e. the ones you see on screen a lot). He plays Beaumont for a fool: Legendre is the true master of zombie-Madeline, and once Beaumont starts turning against Legendre, the bokkor slips some poison into Beaumont’s drink and cheerfully sits down to watch his former partner slowly and painfully turn into a zombie. Lugosi’s fantastic in this.

Visuals/Effects
Directed by Victor Halperin (and co-produced with his brother), this is clearly a low budget movie compared to the Universal stuff from 1931. There’s a rough-around-the-edges quality to it. Some of the edits are a little sloppy. Though there are some great touches. First is the makeup effects by Jack Pierce. His zombies are the slow, wide-eyed kind, but each one looks unique and has “personality.” You can tell that they had lives prior to their weird state of unlife, and their costumes reflect that. Some of the sets, particularly Legendre’s estate and his sugar mill, are incredibly atmospheric and eye-catching. The Mill stands out as the most visually striking scene, with the large gears all being operated by zombies, and when one accidentally falls in, the others keep pushing away without a pause. Effectively creepy in a movie where the acting is very theatrical. 

There’s also an interesting split-screen effect near the end where Neil and Madeline are shown: Neil is swooning from fever on the beach below Legendre’s castle and Madeline is standing in a trance inside one of the rooms therein. It doesn’t quite work right, since the effect is a little jerky, but it still conveys the mood quite nicely, showing both character at respective low points. I applaud the ambition of the effect.

Writing
Story and Dialogue by Garnett Weston and based on (uncredited) the novel “The Magic Island” by William Seabrook. The plot has roots in sensationalism: White people go to exotic location and are bedeviled by exotic local magic. Zombies were one of the new, hot supernatural things at the time. 

As for the character work, its mostly bland. Neil only gets interesting after he turns into a mournful drunk prone to bouts of swooning. Madeline is more of a plot device/object of desire than a complete person. Dr. Bruner is cut from the exact same cloth as Abraham Van Helsing. Beaumont’s arc is thoroughly predictable in its path from “obsession” to “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Even Legendre is two-dimensionally evil, but Lugosi manages to elevate the material above the unimpressive script.

Sounds
Original music by (uncredited) Xavier Cugat according to IMDB. According to Wikipedia, most of the soundtrack is a hodgepodge of classical pieces recorded for the film including works by Mussorgsky, Liszt and Wagner. There is also a Voodoo-sounding chant that plays over the opening credits that establishes the exotic tone right away. 

Verdict
White Zombie is actually rather good. Bela Lugosi is playing up his gleeful devilishness and cuts a sinister figure much less restrained and aristocratic than Dracula. Which is good, because he carries the film entirely by himself. The other actors are…there, and play their roles, but what sticks with you after this movie is Bela and the great zombie makeup by Jack Pierce and the overall spooky mood. Respect most definitely due. 

The film's also in the public domain, so it's extraordinarily easy to get a copy of it. Hell, four of the first five results for "White Zombie 1932" on Youtube are the full movie.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

“Thong, the fish is ready!”



Conan the Barbarian was a success, and success breeds imitators. The 80s saw a string of barbarian hero movies. Perhaps one of the strangest that isn’t Robot Holocaust *shudder* comes from the land of spaghetti and frequently dissolved parliaments: Italy! It’s 1984’s Ator l'invincibile 2 AKA The Blade Master aka Cave Dwellers. And yes, the 2 in the title does indeed note that there was a First Ator movie. So what makes this barbarian different from Conan? He fights evil…with SCIENCE!

Wha?

If you wonder why I actually liked the 2011 Conan remake, THIS is one of the reasons.

Story
After an opening scene where a bunch of cavemen fight for no reason whatsoever and have no connection to the plot proper, we meet  an Archimedes-type of guy and his hot daughter. He proceeds to explain that he’s got some sort of dangerous invention very important to mankind’s future and then gives a long and confusing flashback using footage from another Ator movie to establish his warrior credentials. He sends her away to find our hero while he is captured by a somewhat…swishy warlord who was once his student. The Warlord wants the secrets of the Macguffin that will help him conquer…the world I guess. However, the girl makes it our hero’s place (who also happens to be a former student of the sage’s) and convinces him to go rescue her dad.

So off they go in search of ADVENTURE! Along the way they run into some vaguely samurai-looking goons, a magical mist that gets them lost, an extremely well-lit Cave filled with cannibalistic Dwellers (DUN DUN DUN), some invisible monsters, make it to Ator’s home village which is now forced to pay tribute in human sacrifices to a snake cult, get captured by said villagers when he tries to organize a defense against the snake cult, watches the village get burned down by the snake cult, then fight their way out of the Snake Cult’s Snake God’s lair, conduct an air assault on the villain’s fortress and have a final duel (because it always ends in a final duel). So you can’t say that nothing happens in this movie.

And to think I liked snake cults before having to type the above paragraph. Snake cult, snake cult, snake cult.

Wait, air assault? Yeah, that’s a thing that happens in this movie.

Characters:
Ator: Miles O’Keefe is our beefy, loin-clothed hero. He’s pretty handy in a fight but manages to get captured more than once. Oh, and he can construct a fully functional hang glider that he can drop bombs from. Yes, that happens in this movie.

Mila: Lisa Foster is our heroine and she’s easy on the eyes. Once she finds Ator she doesn’t really do much besides follow his lead, have conversations, and get captured. She wears a hubcap on her chest and can travel great distances with an arrow sticking out of her chest.

Akronas: Charles Borromel is our egalitarian sage. He talks…very…slowly and is full…of exposition.

Zor: David Brandon as David Cain Haughton is our Villain. He’s got a gigantic helmet and a gigantic moustache, both goofy. Oh, and eyeliner. He and Akronas trade passive aggressive “banter” back and forth for the bulk of the movie.

Thong: Kiro Wehara as Chen Wong is Ator’s hyper-competent sidekick who is the one who actually does most of the heroism. He’s also got the best dialogue in the movie. See, since he doesn’t speak, implying that the dialogue isn’t very…ah forget it. Regardless, he’s the badass of the film.

Visuals/Effects
Directed by Joe D’Amato as “David Hills” and cinematography by Joe D’Amato as “Federico Slonisco.” The visuals are uninspired and there are all manner of anachronisms and gaffes throughout the movie. Like hand rails and tire tracks. Costume design…isn’t very good either.

Writing
Written by Joe D’Amato as “David Hills,” the story fares a little bit better. It follows standard fantasy movie conventions for a while. Threats are encountered, then somewhat unceremoniously defeated so they can move on to the next fantasy cliché situation. And then we get the hang glider scene and we jump off the cliff from fantasy clichés into surrealism and then at the end we have a shot of a nuclear mushroom cloud and some narration that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the movie.

Sound
Original music by Joe D’-- Oh. No, actually its by Karl Michael Demer and Carlo Rustichelli. Lots of synthesizers.

Conclusion
Ator L’invincible 2 is one weird low budget fantasy movie, which makes it eminently riffable and oddly enjoyable. It manages to be weird and not boring. In that regard, its actually quite entertaining and watchable.

Note I didn't say "good" anywhere up there.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

“The monster can destroy everything with his tongue.”



What’s this? MORE Gamera the giant nigh-invincible turtle?? Yep. Here’s 1966’s Daikaijû kettô: Gamera tai Barugon (AKA Gamera Strikes Again AKA War of the Monsters AKA Gamera vs. Barugon), the first Gamera movie to be in color.

Yay?

Story
We pick up right after Gamera the Invincible with a meteorite/asteroid hitting Gamera’s rocket almost immediately and releasing him from his prison. So much for the Z Plan. Being Gamera, the big turtle is able to fly back to Earth and attacks a power plant because of the whole feeding on heat energy thing. Gamera loves flames. Then he flies away.

Then we have a pilot getting recruited into a shady treasure hunt to (at least in the English dub) New Guinea to recover a huge opal that was stashed there during the war (WWII, presumably). A team of three (and thankfully no little kids in sight) arrive, are warned by the natives to not go, they go anyway, find the opal and of course, one of them gets really dead, one gets really greedy, and one (our hero) gets really almost blown up. He’s rescued (then berated) by the villagers and the girl in the village decides to go after it to return it (our hero agrees to go with her to fix his mistake). The traitor high-tails it back to Japan, but along the way, the Opal is irradiated and starts to hatch. Turns out its not an opal at all.

At landfall, BARUGON busts out of the ship, a giant four-legged dog/lizardy thing with a tongue that can shoot out and catch stuff, breath that can freeze things and a back that can shoot out a deadly rainbow. Wait, deadly rainbow? Barugon freezes Gamera when he shows up (effectively removing him for most of the movie) and goes on a rampage. According to legend, his greatest weakness is water, so the humans try their hardest to lure him into a lake so he can drown. Doesn’t work. They also construct a giant mirror system to reflect the rainbow back onto Barugon. It sort of works. Then, when all hope seems lost, Gamera thaws out and beats Barugon in an incredibly anticlimactic fight: by grabbing the beast and dragging him into the water where he promptly drowns.

Visuals/Effects
Directed by Shigeo Tanaka, the visuals are fairly standard for the genre. The Gamera and Barugon suits aren't bad, but they do look a little lower quality than contemporary Godzilla kaiju costumes. The monster fights themselves are disappointingly brief and most of the movie is spent alternating between the humans and whatever model set Barugon is currently demolishing.

Writing
Written by Nisan Takahashi, the story feels a little…divided. Gamera is barely in it, so he feels tacked on, the human stuff isn’t really bad at all, it just feels like a kaiju was shoehorned in to its original pitch. Barugon isn't really a well defined monster: he’s just a baby from a race of “demons” that hatch every 1000 years on his island and when one does, the villagers just throw a giant diamond into a large body of water and said monster drowns. It begs the question: “why?” Why is Barugon’s species drawn to shiny objects like that? Why is submersion an instant kill? Why a rainbow attack?? Why isn’t Gamera in the movie more?

Sound
Original music by Chûji Kinoshita, which is fine for the genre. Additionally, the sound effects for Barugon aren't all that great. The beastie makes a kind of snap-hissing sound for almost everything.

Conclusion
Well, Gamera vs. Barugon isn't very good. It’s kind of a slog and there’s not enough Gamera in it to truly justify him getting top billing. Barugon is plenty weird though, with his tongue, rainbow death ray and amazingly specific weakness. Major props for not having a massively annoying kid, too.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

“Trumpy, you can do magic things!”



In the international spirit fostered by the Olympics, how about a low budget Spanish/French horror movie that got a cutesy plot about a kid adopting an alien tacked on because E.T. was a huge success? Or a cutesy movie about a kid adopting an alien with a horror movie tacked on because it was too similar to E.T. 1983 produced Los Nuevos Extraterrestres, AKA The Unearthling AKA Extraterrestrial Visitors AKA The Pod People (there are no pods. There are eggs, but not pods.)

Nothing good will come of this.

Story
Well, we’ve actually got 3 plots. Plot A involves a group of rather bored looking poachers sneaking into a park to, well, poach. One of them wanders into a cave and finds a bunch of weird eggs, so his first instinct is to start smashing them up. He destroys most of them before being killed by the camera--err, monster, who then goes a-huntin’ for humans.

Plot B involves a bunch of unlikable but innocent (bad) musicians going camping in the same woods for the weekend and they get systematically killed off by the same monster.

Plot C involves a weird little kid named Tommy who lives with his mother and grandfather in a house in the same park (??) who finds the last egg and hatches it. It grows into a short fuzzy thing with an elephant snout that he calls Trumpy. Trumpy has incredible powers over time and space that he uses to do really dumb stop motion effects.

The three storylines collide, people die, the audience is left confused because nothing makes any sense.

Visuals/Effects
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón, the visual elements of the movie never mesh. The best scenes are the big establishing shots of foggy mountains. When that’s the best the movie has to offer, it’s a bad sign. The rest of movie? Not so good. The alien costumes are really, really bad and there’s WAYYYYYYY too much fog. Pacing is also an issue, as well as mood whiplash because you go from a monster stalking teens in the woods to a friendly monster befriending a disturbingly sheltered kid.

Writing
Joaquín Grau and Juan Piquer Simón on scripting duty. 3 storylines, 2 different moods. It doesn’t work. At all. Doesn’t help that the characters are all universally unlikable. Although two of the dumb poachers are at least somewhat amusing, but they get killed off halfway. Trumpy is somewhat likable, but he doesn’t speak (which is probably part of his charm).

Sound
The music is really, really bad.  There is one musical number because the teenagers are in a recording studio because they’re a band, but the lyrics are near unintelligible.

Conclusion
I read somewhere that the director was never happy with the end result, and I can see why. The Pod People/Extraterrestrial Visitors/The Unearthling/Los Nuevos Extraterrestres is a mess of conflicting moods, bad characters and bad effects. Although the MST3K version is a riot.



Good? He's the BEST!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

“Oh my god, its Glenn.”



You would think that every movie with the word “Ninja” in the title is a gateway to cheesy, borderline stupid, fun. I was once like you, naive and innocent. Not anymore. I saw Ninja Empire. Which IMDB tells me is actually originally called Ninja Phantom Heroes (sometimes with USA added on) and was released in 1987 by producer Tomas Tang and director Godfrey Ho and re-titled to Ninja Empire in a boxed set I have, which is made even more confusing because Godfrey Ho released a different movie called Ninja Empire in in 1990.

Even trying to dig up information about this wreck makes my head hurt.

Story
Well, its another result of a foreign film getting edited up with some new footage of Americans. For instance, the main body of the movie is some kind of 70s Hong Kong crime story that features characters being introduced and killed off left and right without even knowing their names or any kind of investment in them, our fine producers decided to edit in a plot about a former prisoner who also happens to be a ninja (we called him “Camo Ninja” because of his outfit) getting his rank back and sent to spy on stuff in Hong Kong and running in to his arch enemy “Painter Ninja” (because of his suit as white as his bleached hair). What are their names? I think they’re Ford and Morris respectively, but that's irrelevant. There’s a Hong Kong cop named Christine who partners up with Camo Ninja as well, but again, that’s irrelevant aside from getting captured. They fight here and there, but the real story seems to be about a kind of dynastic struggle between some crime families. I dunno. The ninja are just tacked on. There certainly isn’t an empire of them and they certainly don’t have anything to do with large chunks of runtime involving gangsters.

Visuals/Effects
The edited in stuff is way, way, way cheaper than the Hong Kong gangster movie stuff. The crime movie stuff doesn’t have any ninja. Sadly, the ninja segments are also the most entertaining bits, since at least there’s fighting and ninjas exploding upon death. Yes, ninjas explode upon death in this movie. I don’t think that’s how they actually work, but who cares, its something happening on screen that you can sort of follow. I will concede that the fight choreography isn't that terrible. In addition to the overall badness of the mashup, the editing is schizophrenic, where things will cut violently to a completely unrelated scene. Stuff I’ve read on the internet also implies that there’s a longer 90 minute cut out there. The version I saw was 78 minutes long, which is more than long enough.


Behold our villain, and his ninja training...playground.


Writing
Pretty much everything I complained about for Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women also applies here. Trying to shoehorn a completely different plot in just doesn’t work and the result is that both sections are incomprehensible. Whatever was written on the disc sleeve by way of a synopsis was for the 1990 Ninja Empire and not what this movie contained. I have no idea who these characters are, nor what they are trying to accomplish, nor why should I care.

Ninja Phantom Heroes/Empire goes an extra step by throwing in one of the most bullshit endings I’ve ever seen. Painter Ninja infiltrates Camo Ninja’s base to rescues his buddies, fights some more ninja, fights Camo Ninja, lots of crazy things are happening, ninjas are exploding, then there’s running around, and Painter Ninja turns around, ready to square off for a final showdown as Camo Ninja rescues the girl…

AND THE MOVIE JUST ENDS. No end credits. Just “The End.” IT JUST ENDS. As you sit in the ensuing darkness and silence, you feel two things: confusion as to what just happened followed by relief that the nightmare is over.

Sound
The sound is bad. The dub is atrocious and difficult to understand. Sound effects for things like shuriken are absurd. The music may be ripped off from other movies, according to some of the comments on YouTube (like reading YouTube comments is ever a wise decision).

Conclusion
Four-letter words. The angry kind that you don’t normally use in polite company. That’s what I would use to describe this movie. Hell, that’s what I DID use to describe this train wreck. I have a very high tolerance for schlock and can put up with a lot of crap but Ninja Phantom Heroes (USA)/Ninja Empire actually hurt. As bad as its two component stories are, they are much, much worse together. Zardoz is a coherent masterpiece compared to this. Troll 2 is a pleasant romp. About the only thing that I’ve seen that surpasses this movie in terribleness is Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Ninja Empire is only slightly more watchable because things actually happen on-screen.


No trailer, but holy crap, this clip contains most of what happened after "THE END" of the cut I watched.

I'd say I was surprised that the fight devolves into Painter Ninja throwing tin plates at Camo Ninja, who fends them off with an umbrella that shoots bottle rockets, but I'm not. I just wish the rest of the movie was that memorable. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Hollywood is Running out of Ideas" 1934 Edition


There’s one complaint that gets trotted out whenever anything like an adaptation or a remake gets announced, like the new Total Recall. You know the gripe. “Hollywood is running out of ideas.” Its never just the phrase either, but the intonation, too. As though this is a new, fallen era of cinema that pales compared to the long-lost Golden Age, where every successful movie was an original or some hash. Despite the veneer of classiness the Golden Age of Hollywood was as full of remakes and adaptations of novels as they are today.

Don’t believe me? I went to IMDB and looked up the most popular films from 1934, the same year the Hays Code was starting to be enforced. (most popular according to user rating, that is, meaning that people now are still watching and enjoying such films. Maybe not the most scientific benchmark but whatever, I just threw this together as a brief survey). Let’s take a look at the top 20 and see how many of 1934’s greatest films were original ideas. 

In other words: Hooray YouTube links!

1. It Happened One Night. Frank Capra’s comedy won 5 Oscars and was based on a short story. Adaptation.



2. The Thin Man. Fantastic detective comedy (and one of my favorite things ever) based on a Dashiell Hammett novel. Spawned 5 sequels (none of those based on a novel). Adaptation.



3. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Hitchcock thriller starring Peter Lorre. Hitchcock himself remade it in 1956. Original story.
(it says "trailer" but seems like its just the first 10 minutes of the film, but its the best I could find on short notice)



4. The Black Cat. Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi horror movie very, very loosely based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Adaptation.




5. L'Atalante. French drama/romance (okay, not made by Hollywood at all, but its regarded as a classic). Original script.




6. Babes in Toyland. Laurel & Hardy musical comedy. Adaptation of a play/operetta.





7. Imitation of Life. Drama based on a novel by Fannie Hurst. Adaptation.




8. The Gay Divorcee. Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musical comedy. Based on a musical play.





9. The Count of Monte Cristo. An adaptation of the novel AND a remake. Film versions date back to 1908.




10. The Scarlet Pimpernel. Adaptation of the novel and a remake of a 1917 film.





11. Tarzan and His Mate. Adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs characters and a sequel. Tarzan movies go back to 1918.





12. Of Human Bondage. Bette Davis movie based on the novel.





13. The Scarlet Empress. Historical drama starring Marlene Dietrich about Catherine the Great and technically an  Adaptation of her diary.





14. Manhattan Melodrama. Crime drama starring Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy. Original.





15. Cleopatra. Cecil B. DeMille epic and an adaptation of historical material and probably a hefty dose of Shakespeare.





16. Death Takes A Holiday. Romance adapted from an Italian play.





17. Palooka. Comedy based on a comic strip.





18. Twentieth Century. Based on a play.





19. Blue Steel. John Wayne western. Original story.





20. The Merry Widow. Musical comedy/romance based on an operetta. And a remake of sorts.

No embed but the Trailer is here: http://youtu.be/hT3t_h4MVGc

Still here? Good


Its silly to think that Hollywood is any more out of ideas now than it was back then. Of the 20 movies I listed, only four of them were from original stories written specifically for the screen. I didn’t pick box office rankings because, well, these are ratings by living users who tend to be the same ones complaining about Hollywood being out of ideas. It’s not a legitimate complaint. Find a new dead horse to beat. PLEASE.

Now the quality of said remakes and adaptations, that’s a different, and entirely valid argument. But if that’s your beef, then say so. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

“Gamera is a friend to all children.”




The biggest name in kaiju is easily Godzilla. The second biggest name is Gamera, the giant fire-breathing, flying turtle who is friend to all children. He’s been in a lot of movies (somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty or so), but it all started with Daikaijû Gamera in 1965 and translated into English with some American actors inserted as Gammera the Invincible in 1966.

Story
Some scientists are up in the Arctic Circle when a plane carrying nuclear bombs crashes into the ice, awakening the giant turtle monster Gamera! Gamera, who feeds on heat and fire, goes on a globe trekking search for food. When he gets to Japan, he also happens by chance upon the... unstable Toshio (“Kenny” in the English dub) who is an antisocial little kid with an unhealthy obsession with turtles. Kenny survives his encounter (though his house does not) and thinks that it was because Gamera is good at heart. After this, Kenny ends up in all kinds of classified/secure military and government locations with no clearance and keeps stressing that Gamera is good, despite the incredible loss of life that the giant turtle causes. Long story short, the scientist sub-character, his daughter and her reporter stalker boyfriend are unable to blow up or deep freeze Gamera, so the United Nations enact Plan Z, which, I kid you not, entails capturing Gamera in a dome and launching him into space.

Visuals/Effects
Well, like any good kaiju film, director Noriaki Yuasa provides a lot of models that get destroyed by a man in a rubber suit. The movie is at its best when Gamera’s on the screen, and thankfully, he’s on screen a lot here. Still, without a monstrous foil, Gamera's destructive rampage does get a little old.

Writing
The writing is…not so great, and since this was the dub/edit, I can’t really lay ALL the blame on writer Nisan Takahashi. (The scenes with the Americans are hilariously badly-acted with some dreadful line readings, for example.) The stuff with the scientist, his daughter and the reporter isn’t too bad, they’re just fairly boring people. The stuff with Kenny? Nigh-insufferable. He’s supposed to be a sympathetic point of view character, but he’s just an antisocial lunatic who’s continuous insistence on letting Gamera go wild is responsible for the deaths of countless residents of model buildings. So, really, the human segments of the movie: not so good. Gamera destroying toy boats and planes? Much better.

Sound
The original music by Tadashi Yamauchi is nothing of particular note. On the other hand, the sound effect for Gamera’s roar is equally as distinctive as Godzilla’s sounds.

Conclusion
Gammera the Invicible is essentially a Gojira knock off (giant monsters awakened by nuclear activity destroys Tokyo in black & white), but does differentiate itself early by throwing in a kid protagonist. Like Godzilla, later movies would be in color and more about monsters fighting each other than helpless buildings. The comparisons are impossible to avoid. Still, its not a particularly awful movie (though the American dub is) and Gamera is different enough in what he does to make him interesting in his own right. If you like rubber suit monsters and cheesy science fiction, take a look, otherwise, there’s not much here for you.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

“If you want to be a good archeologist, you’ve got to get out of the library.”



The Indiana Jones trilogy has a rightfully cemented place in pop culture history. They STILL rocket-fast pacing and ADVENTURE! that is second to none. You would think that assembling as much of the cast and crew together to make a sequel almost twenty years after The Last Crusade would yield something, well, awesome. Unfortunately its more problematic than that.

Yes, its time to be an adult and acknowledge that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull exists.

Plot
Its 1957 and Indiana Jones gets dragged into a Communist plot to secure some ancient, bizarre crystal skulls and harness their power to conquer the free world. Except the Soviets find one of the skulls in the first ten minutes, so its really more of a race to figure out just why the hell these things are important. That’s the part of the story that makes sense. Near the end it goes completely off-the-rails nonsensical.

Characters
Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones: Harrison Ford can still pull off the proper heroic look in the fedora and bullwhip, and his performance as the grizzled and weary veteran is…probably not a stretch for a grizzled veteran of the film industry. In this movie, Jones gets to play around with being paternal with his long-lost son (Hey, its been 4 years and it wasn’t a very good surprise anyway so the statue of limitations ran out on that spoiler).

George “Mac” Michale: Ray Winstone is playing a variant of the “untrustworthy henchman” that Alfred Molina played in the first movie, except here Mac is in it for the long haul. A Brit with a fondness for gambling and chronically unable to stop backstabbing people, he’s ostensibly with/against the CIA and the Russians. His character elements are as follows: he's greedy and backstabs his allies constantly. That’s henchman level development right there and it baffles me that the character sticks around for most of the movie. I like Winstone, but Mac’s in the movie for far too long and his schtick gets old quickly, because after the first betrayal I have a hard time believing Jones would have the patience to put up with him.

Henry “Mutt” Williams: Shia LaBeouf plays Marion’s greaser son. He’s got a motorcycle, loves combing his hair back, knows fencing (which sounds random, but is decently explained in the movie), and is Indy’s progeny. LaBeouf got slagged for being in this movie, but he’s actually one of the better parts. He’s got a great dynamic with Harrison Ford and injects some youthful energy to a movie filled with a predominantly older cast. Oh yeah, and his phobia is scorpions, but that’s important for exactly one brief scene.

Dean Charles Stanforth: Jim Broadbent replaces the late Denholm Elliott as Indy’s sympathetic office-jockey buddy. A minor role, but Broadbent does it well.

Professor Harold “The Ox” Oxley: John Hurt! Plot-wise, Ox is an old friend of Indy’s who’s the only thing close to an expert on the crystal skulls. He’s also Mutt’s presumed father, so that’s why Mutt recruits Indy to find him. Now Ox has been driven insane by the skull and as a result speaks cryptically.

Marion Ravenwood-Williams: Karen Allen returns as Indy’s once and former and once again love interest. She’s Mutt’s mother and takes a more active role in the proceedings once she’s reunited with Dr. Jones.

Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko: Cate Blanchett is our villain this time, and like Jones, she is someone who is driven to find truth and dig up lost information. She’s also a phony telepath and enamored with the actual telepathic abilities of the crystal skulls. Spalko wants to use the skulls’ abilities to blanket the world in glorious Soviet Russia. Which puts her in an interesting contrast to previous “smart” Indy villains, because Belloq and Elsa were motivated by self-interest and were simply using the other villains as a means to an end. Its an interesting change of pace, but after its mentioned in a conversation, it never comes up again as a thematic element.

Colonel Dovchenko: Igor Jijikine plays the Soviet muscle to Spalko’s brains. He’s actually quite good, fulfilling the role of a physically imposing Number Two who can mix it up in a fight with our hero and surviving a few rounds.

Visuals
Directed by Steven Spielberg with Director of Photography being Janusz Kaminski. Visually, the movie is all over the place. While it still has traces of the “beautiful grittiness” of the first three films, a lot of the film has gone through heavy post-production editing. The biggest example is the jungle chase, which mixes on-location driving scenes with blue screen scenes to pull off the dangerous and/or impossible. Theoretically this isn’t a terrible thing, but there’s such a disconnect between the location and sound stage scenes that it rips you out of the moment. I’m reminded of Attack of the Clones, and THAT IS NOT A GOOD THING. For the CGI scenes the lighting will often come from an odd location (such as EVERYWHERE) and compounded with lens flair effects and a slightly glossy sheen means that the heavily greenscreened shots look so much more fake and artificial compared to the “real” shots that immediately cut into them. That inconsistency really hurts the suspension of disbelief, especially when the movie digresses for a few seconds to have Mutt swing up into the trees and get accompanied by monkeys like he was Tarzan before returning to the rest of the movie. I can't watch that scene without wincing. This kind of dichotomy is present throughout the movie: A legitimately thrilling motorcycle chase across a college campus has to share screen time with some hideous and gratuitous CGI prairie dogs.

Curiously, the movie is also the tamest of the three in terms of pulp ADVENTURE! violence. Characters are gunned down off camera fairly often in this and there’s never very much blood. In comparison, Indy domes a henchman in Raiders and you see the entry wound on his forehead. To be fair to Skull, several Commie goons get incinerated on camera by a jet engine, but being CG, it lacks the same goon-killing satisfaction as stuntmen with exploding squib packets.

Story
Characters created by George Lucas & Philip Kaufman, Story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson, Screenplay by David Koepp. The script is…not as good as the visuals, and there are problems with the visuals. First though, let me say good things. There’s a lot of decent Indiana Jones movie banter, and from the point where Indy meets Mutt to the beginning of the Jungle Chase is actually legitimately fun and hits all the classic beats. There’s a mystery to solve regarding an artifact, a race against the villains to find out what it is, globe trotting, character growth and puzzle solving. The beginning falters a lot with a large amount of unnecessary things, and I’ll get to the ending in a moment, but the middle of the film is actually FUN. If the entire movie had been like that, there might not be a problem. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

WARNING: ENDING SPOILERS FOLLOW

During the Jungle chase, things swing back toward heavy CGI effects and Prequel-level style-without-substance. Even so, that alone isn’t enough to scuttle the movie. One of the titular crystal skulls is found within ten minutes of the movie, so the actual chase to find another magical plot device--err crystal skull, doesn't actually matter as much in this movie. Instead, the big question the characters are asking is “what does it do?” The answer is a lot apparently, from being able to pick and choose which metals (ferrous or not) it can attract to itself, to telepathy, to mind controlling an army of ants. While the Skull(s) remain mysterious, they work well as plot devices. The movie then tries to explain the origin of the skulls and…fails to do so without making the ending a confusing mess.

The skulls belong to a strange race of extra-dimensional creatures that have been on Earth for a while. Certainly long enough to have an effect on Mesoamerican civilization. One of these skulls was taken away from their lost city by a conquistador named Orellana in the 15th century. So the rest of the “aliens” are waiting for the return of the skull so they can go home. But Orellana only took the skull in the 15th century, so what was stopping them from going home before that? Likely nothing, which implies the creatures are lazy or incompetent. In trying to explain the skulls, the movie only digs a hole filled with eleventh-hour questions and even more confusion than we started with. The previous movies at least had the sense to keep the magical plot device suitably vague throughout.

There’s another part regarding the plot device that is a drastic change from the Trilogy, and that’s the symbolic nature of the artifact. In the Trilogy, the plot device always provides Indy with some intangible reward before it slips through his fingers. In Raiders, he learns to accept the existence of faith because the Ark’s God-lightning blasts Nazis. In Temple of Doom, he learns altruism because he transitions from a mercenary grave-robber to someone chosen by Siva to save a village and destroy an evil cult by recovering the holy Sankara Stones. In Last Crusade, he finds reconciliation with his father by reuniting and together they find the Holy Grail, an artifact associated with healing. In Crystal Skull Indy gets…reunited with Marion? But that’s not something the Skull was necessary for. The skull doesn’t symbolize love (it would look horrible on a Valentine card). Any old Macguffin would’ve done. There’s nothing about the skull or any symbolism involved with it that lends itself to a thematic development for Indy. (Ark=Faith, Sankara Stones=Benevolence, Grail=Reconciliation, Crystal Skull=Psychic Migraine, though I suppose the movie goes with “Knowledge was their treasure” but this doesn’t actually work in the actual context of the film. Indy doesn’t GAIN any wisdom in the movie, he already has it by virtue of having survived a lifetime of ADVENTURE!) Its just a vaguely mystical object and along the way he happens to get back together with his old girlfriend. Knowledge isn’t imparted onto Indy, because by the end of the movie he’s just as baffled as the audience by what the hell just happened. The character who get rewarded in the movie is Oxley, because he gets his sanity back thanks to the Skull, but this isn’t a movie about Harold Oxley, its about Indiana Jones.

Also, saying that “knowledge was their treasure” is kind of bullcrap when the aliens also had a giant room full of actual treasure of archeological significance that gets destroyed when the temple collapses. You’d think an archaeologist would feel at least a little bad about that, even if saving his own life took precedence.

Sound
Original Music by John Williams, and he’s still fantastic. The score is probably the least of the four, but its still very good.

The Verdict
Judgment time. Is it a terrible movie that “rapes the franchise?” Nah, even though that was a funny episode of South Park. Its certainly the worst of the series, but that’s more of a reflection of how great the Trilogy is. Its not as bad as Transformers 2, or the Prequel Trilogy combined. Yeah, I said it. Indy 4 is better than all 3 Star Wars Prequels by virtue of not being full of huge chunks of boring. And its better than a lot of the 50s sci-fi movies this was inspired by because it doesn’t feature people sitting in a lab and talking for 20 minutes or 20 minutes worth of people walking from one place to another because Roger Corman had to  pad out a scene on a budget.  However, the stuff that’s bullshit in this movie is truly bullshit.

I think its more akin to Spider-Man 3, actually. It crams in a ton of stuff that’s unnecessary and weighs the whole thing down. “Unnecessary” is kind of the actual theme of the movie. In stark contrast to the sleek Raiders, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is downright bloated with unnecessary things that drag the movie down like a dehydrated pack mule. There’s so much in the movie that’s extraneous. What was the point of the CGI gophers? The CGI monkeys? The Atomic Testing Site? The skull-faced cemetery guards who run away almost immediately? The FBI agents who act like dicks and then disappear from the movie completely? Any of those things could have been omitted without a single loss of ANYTHING from the movie (though Neil Flynn’s cameo as an FBI Agent was a fun little touch). That’s all narrative chaff that distracts from the distilled core of ADVENTURE! that Indiana Jones is all about. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Very Long Title ends up being an unnecessary film, first because The Last Crusade capped the Trilogy off perfectly, and secondly because its ultimately a mediocre ADVENTURE! film that isn’t actually about anything. It lacks the sincerity, the fire, the joie de vie/esprit d’corps (and any other French loan phrases) that the Trilogy possesses. Its not the Worst. Movie. Ever. Not by a long shot. It is, instead, a forgettable Indiana Jones movie, and that’s the real disappointment of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Friday, June 29, 2012

“My boy we are pilgrims in an unholy land.”



1989 brought the closing act in the Indiana Jones trilogy with The Last Crusade. It brought back Nazi-punching, and artifacts buried in the desert and expanded the cast. And proved to be a difficult one to write about because while I love it dearly, there are some things that really bug me about it.

The Story
It begins with…Utah in 1912 with a group of boy scouts, including a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) exploring the wilderness. Indy wanders off and spots some goons digging up the Cross of Coronado. Noting that it belongs in a museum, Indy takes it upon himself to steal it from the people stealing it, and a merry chase ensues that involves horseback riding and a circus train full of wild animals. Indy escapes the bandits, tries to show the cross to his preoccupied and distant academic father, and the guy who hired the goons shows up to reclaim his item because he’s bought off the cops. The head thief though, admires Indy’s moxie and gives him his hat. What does this have to do with the plot of the rest of the movie? Absolutely nothing, because even when it fast forwards to the present day of 1938, where Indy finally gets the cross back from the guy in a Panama hat, the boat sinks and the villain dies. Raiders at least had the villain outwitting Indy in the beginning be Belloq, who remained a villain throughout the film. But I digress.

Anyway, the real movie begins in 1938 with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) approached by a wealthy art patron named Walter Donovan (Julian Glover, hey its General Veers from Empire Strikes Back!) Donovan’s obsessed with finding the Holy Grail and shows an incomplete tablet with clues to its whereabouts. He says that he had an expert in the field who’s gone missing and wants Indy to find it. Said missing expert? Professor Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery). After a little chatting with Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and finding his Dad’s house sacked, the two agree to help find Professor Jones. Along the way, Indy goes to Venice where he hooks up (in more ways than one) with Austrian archeologist Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), runs into some guardians sworn to keep the Grail hidden, led by Kazim (Kevork Malikyan), takes a blimp ride, gets shot at by Nazis, fights over possession of his dad’s Grail journal with the Nazis, finds his father, gets betrayed by Donovan and Schneider, ends up in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Hatay, reunites with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), fights a German General Vogel (Michael Byrne) on a giant tank, and has to survive several death traps to prove his worthiness and find the grail.

The Sights
Once more, Directed by Steven Spielberg with Douglas Slocombe as Director of Photography. And once more the movie looks fantastic. The grittiness is dialed back a lot compared to Temple of Doom and the tone is largely more lighthearted. The requisite creepy-crawlies in this movie are the rats in the Venice sewer/catacomb, and aren’t really focused on like the bugs or snakes of the previous movie. The effects, both practical and composite continue to be top notch, and the action scenes continue their ambitious stunts. There are quite a lot of great set pieces in this movie. The Venice boat chase, the one-sided dogfight, the motorcycle chase, and of course the Tank Fight are all fantastic scenes that just scream ADVENTURE. Even the train scene with Young Indy, as much as I rag on it not being essential to the film, is well done and exciting. Just gratuitous. And we also get a suitably gruesome and supernatural villain death, as all good Indiana Jones films should have.

The Cast
Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.: Harrison Ford continues to nail his role, bringing more of that humor, charm and indestructibility that made him an awesome movie hero. This time around, he’s also got awkwardness to play with, since he’s often overshadowed in events by his almost equally active estranged father. The relationship between them starts off essentially nonexistent, but over the course of the movie, both learn about each other, gain respect for each other, and finally show some heartwarming familial love. Indy continues to get beat up quite a lot by goons before triumphing, but he’s also outwitted a couple times too, which is a nice flaw (and way to keep the tension flowing). Also, and it’s a completely minor but appreciated detail, we see more of Indy teaching class, and his extensive time in the field causes his academic career to get out of hand. Since he’s hardly on campus and such a popular professor, whenever he IS around, he is completely swamped by students with questions about their coursework and is stifled by a tiny office and is WAY behind on class and paperwork. And so he does something only a professor with tenure can get away with: sneaking out of his own office hours to play hooky. Which, while horribly irresponsible of a professor, is also kind of awesome.

Professor Henry Jones Sr.: Sean Connery brings a tremendous amount of charm to the role of Indy’s father. When we finally meet him, he’s been captured by the Nazis, having fallen for the same honey pot that Indy just fell for. Brilliant but aloof and condescending to Indy, the two have an incredibly rocky reunion and their antagonistic banter is a highlight of the film’s dialogue.

Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies): Its good to see both of the characters back in action. Sallah remains the boisterous and jolly digger that he was in the first movie, but Brody has transitioned into a full comic relief character. Which makes sense, after all, it wouldn’t make much sense to keep him as a father-figure when Indy’s father shows up.

Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), General Vogel (Michael Byrne), and Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody): Our 3 villains hit some interesting points. First, the General is our requisite military man since somebody needs to command the Nazi goons in the movie. Vogel is professional but has a sadistic streak, and there’s not much to the character. Donovan is obsessed with finding the Holy Grail because he wants immortality. He’s already a wealthy man and is quite respected as an art collector. He’s even contributed a lot of pieces to the museum Indy & Brody work for. But Donovan is completely driven to find the Grail and is willing to make all kinds of shady deal and arrange bad things to get it. Dr. Schneider is, like Belloq, a dark mirror of Indy. Like the Joneses, she’s driven by the search for antiquities for the improvement of mankind, and like Belloq, she is completely willing to compromise her ideals to find said artifacts. At one point she professes that the Grail is all she cares about, not the Swastika, and at a Nazi book burning/rally she seems to be full of regret at witnessing the destruction of history (ie books). But the fact remains that she’s working with the Nazis. This obsessive drive causes all kinds of other problems for her and others as well.



The Script
Characters created by George Lucas & Philip Kaufman, Story by George Lucas & Menno Meyjes, Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam. Like I said above, the entire beginning sequence is unnecessary to the actual plot and could be excised. Cut that bit off and you’ve got a much more tightly-contained, roller coaster-fast movie with a lot of heart. I think what really sinks the Young Indy sequence is that they load Indy up with all of his accoutrements in the course of ten minutes. Indy gets his whip, his chin scar from said whip, his fear of snakes, and his hat all in that sequence. Its pretty farfetched, especially since all of these traits aren’t really anything close to character development, they’re just accessories that make the character recognizable. At the end of those ten minutes, Indiana Jones’ personality is exactly the same as it is in the movies. From 1912 to the 1930s, there is no change in Indy except for the actor wearing his stuff and the fact that he‘s punched more Nazis in the intervening years. I’m not knocking that, per se, since Indy is a heroic archetype more than a fleshed out character, but if Young and Adult Indy are identical in character, I’d much rather have more of Adult Indy. That’s the reason why I never felt the need to watch the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, because I had no interest in watching an Indiana Jones that wasn’t Harrison Ford. Watching something about Indiana Jones before he became a two-fisted professor would be like watching a Philip Marlowe movie not about his Private Detective activities but instead about his frustrating life at the District Attorney’s office. Backstory belongs in the past.

That complaint aside, and I guess it is a pretty major complaint, the script does other things brilliantly. When the movie gets going the pacing and dialogue are both whip-smart, and the way it builds a relationship between Jones Senior and Junior out of thin air is great, as is how the healing power of the Grail heals their broken relationship. There’s even a great Ark of the Covenant throwback joke. The script works so well that by the final shots of the movie, you feel a satisfying completeness to the story and the characters. The heroes triumph (as they always do in these) and their brush with the unknown has left them better people. The excellence of the ending is good enough that it makes up for 10 minutes of gratuitous introduction to a character that needs no backstory.

The Sounds
Original Music by John Williams and its another hat trick of fantastic music. This movie’s particular contribution is the Grail Theme, which is grand, sweeping and a bit melancholy.

The Verdict
If it weren’t for the 1912 stuff, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would be my uncontested favorite of the trilogy. It polishes off some of the rough edges that Temple of Doom has but just can’t quite hit the efficient perfection of Raiders of the Lost Ark. That said, its full of heart and ends the trilogy with the perfect note of finality. The filmmakers leave with Indy and a crew of beloved characters riding into the sunset, not because Indiana Jones is done having adventures, but because they were done filming them. The further adventures of Indiana Jones are effectively handed off to the audience to imagine for themselves, where he can search for mystical artifacts, bed beautiful women, and punch Nazis in the face in the hearts and minds of you and me forever. That’s what’s perfect about the ending of Last Crusade.

And then 19 years later they made another one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

“Biggest trouble with her is the noise.”


The second Indiana Jones movie came out in 1984 and wound up getting some mixed responses. Up until 2008, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was widely regarded as “the bad one” of the trilogy, which I honestly think is an unfair epithet.

The Story
We start in Shanghai in 1935, making this a prequel to Raiders. After a musical number (of all things) to open the credits with, Indy is in a nightclub to meet a gangster to make a transaction, a diamond for the remains of his ancestor. The gangster, being a gangster, double crosses Indy and poisons him. A fight breaks out over the antidote, Indy escapes and flies off in a plane owned by the gangster. While Indy and his companions sleep, the pilots bail out and our hero crash lands in India, where the real plot begins.

The real plot is that a modest village they come across is plagued by horrible things. The land is blighted, and a cult has taken away all of their children in the night, and all this because the cult stole their sacred stone. Indy is dragged into the quest to recover the stone because A) it might be one of the fabled Sankara stones and worth a LOT of money, and B) the god Siva himself seems to be nudging him to do this. So its off to Pankot Palace where the stone is, because there lies fortune and glory. And a reborn Thuggee Cult that worships the dread goddess Kali.

The Sights
The visuals by director Steven Spielberg and director of photography Douglas Slocombe continue the trend of “beautiful grittiness.” Temple is actually more gritty than Raiders even, and was considerably darker thematically, so much so that it helped lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Darker how? Well, there’s lots and lots of bugs in this, a gross-out dinner scene that ends with “chilled monkey brains” served in monkey skulls, child slavery, and, oh yeah, a guy gets sacrificed to Kali by being locked in a cage, having his heart removed from his chest and not killing him, then being lowered into a pit of lava that kills him and causes the heart to burst into flames. I guess you could call that dark. Its pretty awesome too as a villain-establishing moment.

That said, its not all blood sacrifices and deathtraps, and Temple features a hell of a lot of lighthearted scenes as well. The intro musical is a glitzy, glamorous and upbeat rendition of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” that sets the mood for the rest of the movie. From the Shanghai sets to the jungles of India (well, Sri Lanka), there’s a great sense of anything can happen. Indy has not one but TWO comic relief characters following him along, and the action scenes ooze just as much ADVENTURE! as the rest of the series. For set-pieces, this one’s got a raft used as a parachute (not advisable to try in real life), a moving ceiling deathtrap, a bareknuckle brawl with a big Thuggee on a conveyor belt, and the famous mine car chase. The Mine Car chase is a literal roller-coaster made even more impressive when you realize most of it was done with miniatures instead of real people. I’m sure the heavy shadows and lighting helped cover that up effectively, but for years I had no idea there was so much miniature work done in that scene. Now that’s awesome effects work.

The Cast
Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones: Harrison Ford is pretty much our only returning cast member (not counting the stuntmen). Since this is set before Raiders, this is a slightly different Indy. Yes he’s still the daring, charming, highly intelligent adventuring archeologist, but he’s considerably more mercenary in this. After another fantastic character introduction (walking in wearing a tuxedo and speaking Chinese to Lao Che and making sure he gets his payment while oozing cool), we find out he’s bargaining a rare antiquity (the ashes) for another (the big diamond). Then when he gets to India, he really has no interest in helping the village. He just wants to get to Dehli and go home. It takes an escaped slave child with a scrap of ancient scroll identifying the lost rock as a Sankara Stone to get him in gear. And even then he’s not doing it for the village, but for the money. It takes even more events to actually propel him into actual altruism.

Wilhelmina “Willie” Scott: Kate Capshaw plays the love interest this time and, well, Willie is Willie. She’s a very “girly-girl” who is completely unsuited to any kind of ADVENTURE! She complains constantly, hinders Indy’s progress more than helps, and is basically an attractive comic relief sidekick that Indy makes out with occasionally. She’s not completely useless (I counted two times where she does something that legitimately helps Indy. See if you can find them!), and the scene at Pankot Palace where Indy and Willie are flirting then arguing then pouting in their rooms waiting for the other to cave in and come to bed is actually good comedy (and feels like it was lifted out of some older 60s comedies).

Short Round: Ke Huy Quan plays Indy’s OTHER comic relief sidekick. He’s considerably more resourceful and helpful than Willie. He’s also been with Indy for a little while. I know some people hate Short Round, but I never found him annoying. Hell, he’s got some of the best, most memorable lines in the movie.

Chattar Lal: Rushan Seth plays the Prime Minister of Pankot. A Western-educated, bespectacled man, at first glance he seems like a reasonable regent for a child Maharaja. But of course he’s not. He’s a high-ranking member of the Thuggee cult, but aside from a few later scenes, he fades to the background when the real villain arrives.

Mola Ram: Amrish Puri plays the real leader of the Thuggee. Mola Ram is one hell of a crazy villain. He wants to conquer the world in the name of Kali, and is trying to collect all of the Sankara stones to do so. He’s got an impressive hat, is physically imposing, has an army of fanatics backing him up, and manages to elevate himself from a two-dimensional villain through sheer force of hamminess. He is, essentially, a James Bond villain (complete with molten lava pit headquarters).

The Script
Story by George Lucas, Screenplay by Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz. Darker mood notwithstanding, Temple of Doom continues the breakneck pacing and excellent dialogue that Raiders started. The intro sequence even plays into the direct sequence of events this time, unlike in Raiders where it serves as an independent episode that only introduces the hero and villain. Character development is also well done. Indy’s an archetype, drawn in broad strokes to allow a wide audience to imagine themselves in his shoes having crazy adventures, but here (and a little less so in Raiders) he DOES have character development. He starts out as a slightly amoral treasure hunter, and after going through a metaphorical Hell (seriously, it would suck to go through everything that happens at Pankot), he emerges as a much better person. And the way its done is fairly subtle. By the end of the conveyor belt fight, Indy is actually trying to help his opponent (a particularly brutal cultist) from not dying a horrible death. Of course it happens anyway, the guy’s a miniboss after all, but that Indy even tries to help the guy stands out as being more benevolent than he was at the beginning. The darkness of the mood is brightened by two comic-relief characters, and the villain is just as memorable as any other in the series.

But the voodoo doll thing? I can’t think of any way to defend a Haitian/West African thing being worked into the Indian subcontinent. That’s just kind of dumb. At least its barely in the movie.

The Sounds
Original Music by John Williams again, and again it is top notch. In addition to bringing back The Raiders March, new themes are added, the most noticeable ones being Short Round’s theme, which is suitably Asian-influenced, and the harsh, percussive theme of the mines. The soundtrack is a fine addition to the series. Also, the musical number with “Anything Goes” sung in Chinese is catchy as hell.

The Verdict
Temple of Doom is a very good movie though. Its got great action, memorable characters, and is a worthy continuation/backstory for Indiana Jones himself. More than that, the dialogue is some of the most quotable of the series, and the movie as a whole is a lot of fun. And that’s what this series is about. Fun. Okay, fine. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not as perfect of a movie as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but then again, few movies are, even the other Indiana Jones films. It may be the runt of the Indiana Jones Trilogy, but that’s like saying it’s the smallest of three grown wolverines: it can still maul larger game with frightening power.

Yeah, it’s a weird analogy, but I stand by it.



Monday, May 21, 2012

“Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This? This IS history.”



I’ll admit, taking a critical eye to the Indiana Jones movies is an intimidating thought, because so much has already been written in praise of the trilogy that what could I possibly add except more praise? Well, hopefully it’ll be reasonable, thoughtful, and insightful praise in what turned out to be a super-long update. And it provides an excuse to watch 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark again.

The Story
Its really rather simple. Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones is an archeologist in 1936 who does extensive field work and gets recruited by the US Government to track down the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do because the Germans might find a way to weaponize it. What follows is a globe-trotting, two-fisted race against time ADVENTURE!

No, really, that’s it. That’s the plot right there. Two sentences and we’re good to go. Beautiful, isn’t it?

The Sights
Raiders is beautifully gritty. What do I mean by that? It means director Steven Spielberg and director of photography Douglas Slocombe take us from dank South America to frozen Nepal to Egypt (well, locations meant to be those places at least) and give us all kinds of incredibly well-shot and lit harrowing situations. There’s death traps, golden idols, a giant boulder, tarantulas, a creepy Gestapo agent, and a bar brawl that ends with a tavern burning to the ground. And that’s just the first half hour. Then there’s chase scenes, Nazis getting punched in the face, ancient tombs and riddles, more chase scenes, a Nazi monkey, the finding of the Ark, Indy having a semi-belligerent relationship with an ex-girlfriend, an aristocratic French archeologist working with the Nazis, a fistfight against the backdrop of a flying wing on an airstrip, Nazis getting punched in the face, a U-Boat, and the constant struggle between Indy and the Nazis over who will claim the Ark. The movie is loaded to the gills with awesome stuff that happens. It clocks in at about two hours, and the pacing and content is just so damn good that there’s really not a single bit of fat that could’ve been trimmed from the finished product. It is, in essence, a perfect example of an ADVENTURE! movie with perfect pacing. And Nazis getting punched in the face.

Some highlights: The South American intro to Indiana going through incredible effort and avoiding all kinds of death traps (and the iconic giant boulder) only to have the idol taken from him at spear point is a fantastic character introduction. The digging in the desert that leads to the discovery of the Well of Souls and the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant is suitably majestic and epic. Even the expository scene at the University between Indy and the Feds who recruit him is incredibly well done. Its straight up exposition, but all of the things mentioned come back around and happen by the end. Its fantastic.

Then there’s the action sequences, and what action sequences they are! The fight with the German mechanic and the flying wing stands out as a great miniboss fight filled with great escalation, tension, and choreography. What makes it awesome is that they essentially made it up as they went. The truck chase through the desert that follows it is also incredible. And these action scenes are done in the traditional “stunt men & pyrotechnics” method. All of its as real as it can be.

The special effects are also damn good. The Ark is mystical/magical, and in addition to the famous melting/exploding Nazis, there’s all kinds of mystical stuff throughout the film. The Ark burns the Nazi logo on its crate. Even more subtly, as the movie progresses, whenever characters even so much as mention the Ark, it causes strange localized atmospheric changes, like a gust of wind or a thunderstorm during a dig. The subtle touches are just as important as the blatant ones, and this does both well. Okay, sure, some of the blue screen effects are certainly showing their age, but honestly, it detracts nothing from the viewing experience because the rest of the movie is so visually amazing. Besides, there’s stuff that was made in the last ten years which has aged much worse in the effects department.

I think part of the reason why it works is because it’s a movie set in 1936 made in 1981 using filmmaking techniques that were not impossible for the 1930s (as in computers and stuff). Lots of locations, soundstages, props, stuntmen, pyro, models, camera tricks, stop-motion. All of it was really done in front of cameras and recorded on celluloid. It adds a…plausibility to it. It’s a direct line to that old Hollywood craft tradition and wears that heritage proudly.







The Cast
Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones: Harrison Ford completely nails the two-fisted pulpy charm of the character. And Indy’s not even a character so much as an archetype to hang the ADVENTURE! on. What’s Indy’s character? He’s a brilliant, handsome, tough-as-nails archeologist who’s students all love him, hates villains, loves beautiful women, and is terrified of snakes. He wears a fedora and is great with a bullwhip. And that’s Indy in a nutshell. He gets introduced as a take-no-shit guy who doesn’t hesitate to bullwhip a guy who tries to shoot him in the back, so he’s clearly a man of action. But despite this, Indy’s not a Mary Sue character because he has incredibly spotty luck. He always manages to get the ever-loving crap kicked out of him, he gets captured all the time, and the bad guys are frequently able to trick or outwit him. About the only thing that consistently goes right for him is that he’s doggedly persistent and really good at surviving things that should kill him. In short, he is an everyman hero. The only actual character development he gets in the movie is: “Learns to respect the power of the supernatural as it pertains to legendary artifacts.” Aside from that, he’s just an awesome professor who punches Nazis and hates snakes.

Dr. Marcus Brody: Denholm Elliott plays Indy’s boss at the museum. He’s highly intelligent, well-connected, and rather paternal, but he’s past his adventuring prime and has to deal with negotiations and red tape at home. A staunch and charming ally, but not someone who can back Indy up in the field. He, like most everybody else in the archeology business in this movie, has respect for the Ark, and warns Indy to be cautious and respectful of it should he find it, because who knows what kind of forces are at work within it?

Satipo: Alfred Molina in his first movie role! He’s a cowardly and ultimately treacherous sidekick in South America and really only noteworthy for having a long and successful career after appearing in Raiders.

Sallah: John Rhys-Davies is great as Indy’s Cairo contact. He’s a jolly man with a big family and prone to singing merrily who runs a digging crew that gets hired by the Nazis to dig for the Ark (along with every other digger in Cairo). Another staunch ally, he gets a lot of choice dialogue bits. He too gets very respectful when discussing the Ark.

Marion Ravenwood: Karen Allen from Animal House is Indy’s love interest in this movie. She’s the daughter of Abner Ravenwood, an old mentor of Indy’s that was tracking the Ark. He died before the movie, but Marion has a medallion that’s the key to finding the Ark. She runs a bar in Nepal and wants to get back to the states. They have a rocky history together, and she slugs Indy one on their first reunion. Marion’s a great female character. Smart, tough, independent, feisty, handy in a fight, brunette, and capable of drinking most men under the table. God, she’s like my ideal woman. She does tend to get captured a lot, but so does Indy and that’s one more thing they have in common.

Major Arnold Toht: Ronald Lacey plays the creepy Gestapo agent with oily perfection. Sinister, weasely, and sadistic, he conveys enough menace that he doesn’t even really have to do anything physically evil on screen to get across the threat of it. It culminates in a great gag where he enters a tent with a captured Marion and brings out a chain with sticks attached that looks like a torture device but turns out to be a coat hanger. It’s a great gag.

Colonel Dietrich: Wolf Kahler plays the German officer in charge of the expedition. He’s more of the “I’m doing my job but I’m still a jerk” brand of secondary villain. And provides someone who can logistically provide all the Nazi goons that get killed during the movie.

Dr. Rene Belloq: Paul Freeman plays an incredibly sophisticated villain. He is an incredibly intelligent, cultured, and resourceful French archeologist who is a rival of Dr. Jones. He’s the one in the beginning who snatches the idol out of Jones’ hands. I think he’s possibly the best villain of the series and likely a standout one for movies in general. He’s a smug, traitorous bastard, but he’s never uncivilized about it, he’s perfectly willing to be reasonable and possibly even compromise at times. He certainly compromises by helping the Nazis (whom he doesn’t personally like, but they have the logistics and manpower to find the Ark and is ready to disagree with them on various issues). He, like Jones, is superhumanly motivated in his quest for antiquities. Similarly, he’s also got a thing for the ladies, but he’s a bit more lecherous about it (he pervs on Marion when she changes into a nice dress by looking in a mirror at her). And like Jones he also wants to find artifacts for the betterment of mankind. The difference is his hubris. He not only wants to find the relic of the century, but also to attach his name to the finding of it. Glory is his goal, and perhaps he’s also intrigued by that mysterious association with “Power” that the Ark has. He certainly wants to know what it is. He’s an absolutely fascinating character and frequently likable.

The Script
Story by George Lucas & Phillip Kaufman, Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Being a plot-driven ADVENTURE! I’ve already discussed a lot about what makes the movie work, but there’s still room to discuss things. Dialogue is outstanding in this movie, with some excellent one-liners and exchanges (Sallah gets a lot of them). Pacing again should be praised, because everything in the movie furthers the plot and characters and nothing is extraneous. There’s nothing that doesn’t relate to either the next scene or a bit of information that was or will be revealed. It all fits together into a watertight package. Sure some of the characters might be drawn in broad strokes, but they’re all memorable and incredibly well executed.




The Sounds
Original Music by John Williams and it is, naturally, exceptional. Of course there’s The Raiders March main theme (or as closed captioning liked to call it “Rousing Adventure Music plays”), but the other major themes are excellent as well. The Love Theme is sweeping and tender and the Ark Theme is magical, mysterious and carries a hint of danger. Like everything else in this movie, the sounds (including the sound editing by Ben Burtt) are exceptional. Oh, and throughout the trilogy, keep an ear out for the Wilhelm scream.

The Verdict
Raiders of the Lost Ark is an amazing movie. This is common knowledge. It stands up to thorough analysis. That’s like proving its good with Science! Hopefully my pretentious little insights give you an excuse to revisit the movie again and look for stuff you might’ve missed. Hell, this viewing made me look at Belloq with newfound appreciation.

And if you haven’t seen Raiders yet, what is wrong with you?? Go and correct this right now! Its only two hours long, and those are hours well-spent on every viewing.