In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we travel to the grim n’ gritty future of Mega City One for two very different takes on the beloved 2000 A.D. comic character Judge Dredd. One is abysmal, the other is awesome! Can you guess which is which?
NEXT EPISODE: SUMMER SPECIAL! CADDYSHACK (1980, HAROLD RAMIS) & CADDYSHACK II (1988, ALLAN ARKUSH)
In this episode of an Alan Smithee Podcast we conclude our two-part look at Mars on film for the month of Mars…March. Unlike our previous episode, these Mars movies portray a more benign look at the planet’s inhabitants (benign to the point of boredom in one case) and center around visits to the formidable fourth rock from the sun rather than invasions from it.
Red Planet was not the first of the two Mars movies to come out in 2000, but it was certainly the lesser. Misrepresented as some kind of horror film, the story is an extremely directionless account of astronauts on a mission to repair terraforming technology installed on Mars due to Earth becoming uninhabitable. What happens next is so boring and inane that the Mars’ stature in popular imagination as a place of wonder, mystery and danger is irreparably reduced in the mind of the viewer. The mostly-talented cast helps add a moment or two. Val Kilmer is a total pro, as always, but one-and-done director Antony Hoffman’s mise-en-scene is even blander than the screenplay. It’s a real waste of a planet.
Mission to Mars is an entirely other kind of space exploration film, one in which the danger of Mars is primarily the matter of getting there, as the title implies. The purpose of the mission is to unravel a mystery with echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey – echoes so strong that the entire mainstream critical establishment seemed to dismiss the film out of hand as another case of Brian De Palma being unoriginal (a charge Quentin Tarantino stopped having to defend by embracing his lack of originality, but no matter.) Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise and Don Cheadle are all very good at selling the human drama which leads up to a heavy sci-fi conclusion that actually has a point, unlike Red Planet.
Download this episode and get your ass to Mars – again!
NEXT EPISODE: WE’RE LATE FOR PASSOVER! THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988, MARTIN SCORSESE) & THE PASSOVER PLOT (1976, MICHAEL CAMPUS)
The ides of March are upon An Alan Smithee Podcast this month and we’ve got the madness! March is also, of course, the month of Mars, the Roman god of war who namesake is shared with our neighbor, the fourth rock the sun. This gives us a great excuse to pick from about a hundred movies set in, on or near Mars and do it twice. Check back in two weeks – the ides of March, the 15th – for another pair of Mars movies!
Our first pair of the month is a twofold evocation illustrating a generation of children’s terror regarding visits from the outside in shorthand as Martians. Ray Bradbury this twice-told tale is not. If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that any potential inhabitants of Mars wants to kill us.
Invaders From Mars (1953, William Cameron Menzies) is a real modern American folk legend, one of the earliest and craziest films about alien visitors as soulless conquering spies and murderers, all wrapped up in the hallucinatory imagination of terrified innocent. 1953 was also the year of The War of the Worlds and the images contained in these films would define the alien invader genre forever. Surreal, gripping and discreetly goofy in a low-budget way every so often.
After influencing a generation of genre filmmakers, the Invaders returned in Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars. Despite an eclectic, effective cast, slick direction and a wittily sardonic screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby it failed to find its audience. We, the martian ambassadors at Alan Smithee Podcast are only too glad to sing its neglected praises.
BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH: MISSION TO MARS (2000, BRIAN DE PALMA) & RED PLANET (2000, ANTONY HOFFMAN)
Why is a giant humanoid rampaging through a city such a potent vision of apocalypse? In the best case scenario for humanity, such a giant could be like an unknowing child, wreaking havoc on a world his brain doesn’t comprehend. A particular scene in the trailer for the long-forgotten sequel Honey I Blew Up the Kid frightened me as a child: as the parents are lifted up inside a car by their now-gargantuan toddler, they scream “No honey, don’t eat us!” The thought of being brought to your destruction by something unknowing and possibly indifferent was, and is, unsettling on a cosmic scale. King Kong, the grandaddy of movie giants understood this. His tale is a clash between primitive id and a New York City recently modernized by the showbiz glitz and mechanical industriousness of the 1920s. The flappers and hucksters were brutally reminded that still there be monsters in the recently departed old world.
Godzilla was different from all that, emerging directly from the folly of men as a visceral gut punch and rumination on the new definition of mass destruction, after World War II went out with two bangs. This monster doesn’t just destroy Tokyo, he dwarfs it. His appearance is like a bipedal dragon, a cold-blooded demonic reptile beyond even the temptations of pretty blonde things that ultimately felled the beast Kong. The original Japanese film is all of these things and a lot more. Unfortunately, the heavily recut American version with Ray Milland (as the distractingly named reporter Steve Martin) makes soup out of Gojira‘s narrative while Rosie Grier’s other head looks offscreen and pretends he’s listening to Japanese actors. The tone barely survives and the subtext is reduced to the most minimal lip service, but certainly this was heady stuff for American audiences used to the oft-goofy giant bug flicks of the 1950s.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is useful as a cultural history lesson and nothing else when the original cut is available from Criterion.
The 1998 American film of Godzilla is surely one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for Hollywood Summer movies in the late 90s, bestride Batman and Robin, The Phantom Menace and, I’ve recently been convinced, Blues Brothers 2000. Roland Emmerich’s film is kind of like a bad sitcom pilot with a two hour giant monster movie attached, and it’s hard to say which component is worse. The ridiculous “human” story is an ensemble of decent actors in horrifically written and miscast non-roles, and whose banter is so achingly self-congratulatory and smug that Emmerich actually pauses between jokes to leave the audience time to laugh. The scenes with Godzilla himself weren’t even impressive for the day, and today they’re somewhere on par with a Sci-Fi Channel original movie about a dinosaur-gorilla hybrid or some such thing.
Kicking a dead horse isn’t hard when it’s the size of a building, and by the end of this episode there’s barely enough rubber left on our sneakers.
NEXT EPISODE: POST-HALLOWEEN SPECIAL! HALLOWEEN (THE TELEVISION VERSION) (1978, JOHN CARPENTER) & THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (1979, SIMON WINCER)
In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we party like its 1985 and try to keep our intellectual hats on – much like the authors of our two films, Real Genius and My Science Project. As discussed in our Revenge of the Nerds episode, there was a formative period in the decade of Reagan towards the social acceptance and respect for geeky, gawky intellectuals, at least so far as they could get down and party like the rest of us. This bra bomb better work, Nerdlinger!
Real Genius has built a considerable reputation as a cult comedy classic, surprisingly so, in that the film was not a financial success at the time and remains relatively unknown today. However, most everyone who has seen one or two scenes of Val Kilmer retains fond memories of his peak comic abilities, cast in the mold of the Bill Murray anarchic-slacker archetype who has ruled movie comedies arguably until present day.
Kilmer represents the best that archetype can be in Real Genius, a smart aleck who is actually smart, loves the ladies, defends the underdogs, and is not opposed to authority per se, but to authority figures like William Atherton who – whaddya know – was also a dickish authority figure in Ghostbusters the year prior.
Real Genius also was ahead of its time to the degree that some of the nerds in the film are quirky in ways that are true to life, rather than possessing cheap sitcom quirk, whether they’re Michelle Meyrink’s OCD nerdette or Robert Prescott as the bully-nerd Kent. Gabriel Jarret’s main character is also a sensitively portrayed wimp, and he probably hates Val Kilmer forever (geddit) for stealing the show and taking center stage on the awful theatrical poster, which misconstrues the film as some kind of madcap yuppie misadventure.
From a smart film pretending to be dumb to vice versa, My Science Project is a film with a lot of confidence and no brains whatsoever to get in the way of Fisher Stevens. Released by Touchstone, the story definitely has a kind of Disney-esque whimsy that could have made an entertaining movie for kids in more competent hands. Unfortunately, writer-director Jonathan R. Betuel of “The Last Starfighter” writing fame (and “Theodore Rex” infamy to come) doesn’t seem to know whom he’s making the movie for, let alone why his own film even needs to exist.
The main characters are high schoolers with less believable personalities than the cast of Saved By The Bell and despite the film’s Ghostbusters inspired poster promising a special effects extravaganza, the titular science project doesn’t begin to go haywire until halfway through the run time. Which means there’s plenty of time for the one-dimensional characters to twiddle their thumbs as Dennis Hopper earns a paycheck and star John Stockwell wishes he were still being chased by Christine.
All this, plus a tyrannosaurus rex (Bethuel really likes dinosaurs), props for the underrated Jonathan Gries (a basement dweller in Real Genius), and serious consideration of how special effects usually hurt comedies rather than help them in this young, fast and scientific episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.
NEXT EPISODE: SUPERGIRL (1984, JEANNOT SZWARC) AUDIO COMMENTARY TRACK!
The Alien – capital T, capital A “Alien” – has been the Mickey Mouse of sci-fi horror for over 30 years now. That’s because there wasn’t really a recognized hybrid genre of “Sci-Fi Horror” before screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and his partner Ronald Shusett conceived a version of O’Bannon’s early sci-fi comedy Dark Star (directed by John Carpenter) in which the goofy beach ball-looking alien would be a terrifying monster and another crew of astronauts would be stuck in the black void of the cosmos with nowhere to run. The famous tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” said it all. Selling the audience on both a realistic spaceship and a seemingly real, unprecedentedly bizarre looking space monster helped change the standards by which space movies were judged. The same can be said of Star Wars, which similarly combined a lot of endearing features from an escapist fantasy genre and portrayed their spaceships and aliens so vividly with state-of-the-art special effects that all around the world, the mainstream was reintroduced to those charms as adults.
The fun hypothetical question to ask of both films is, what if the sequels and multi-media franchise empires had never followed? Just one self-contained Star Wars adventure and one Alien? The impact on the rest of the movie business actually would have remained much the same. Mickey Mouse would have remained in the dark shadows of our imagination, that’s for certain. The most prominent features of Ridley Scott’s original film, compared to the later sequels of James Cameron, David Fincher et all, are the slow pace of the story and the way the alien is shown as little as possible. This was not a case of the effects being unconvincing and necessitating minimal view as with the shark in Jaws, but simply Scott’s preference as the director. He did not consider himself a horror film maker after all, and under the harsh light of a horror movie fan’s experience, the film really ceases to be suspenseful or scary after the first viewing lets you know when the monster is going to suddenly emerge. Coupled with loud noises on the soundtrack when said jack-in-the-box “jump” moments occur, the overall effect of Alien on the horror end of the equation is ultimately rather lacking. No wonder the sequels barely bothered trying to be scary after people had seen the Alien in full view by the end of Scott’s movie – a view which practically reveals the zipper running up it’s back. Whoops. So close.
The residual strength of Alien is ultimately in the science fiction department. While unmistakably drawn from the late 1970s, the film’s cast of characters live and work in their spaceship as if they were born there. Their descent onto the alien planet and discovery of an alien ship containing alien eggs is a masterpiece of wonder in the face of the unknown, a creation of mood helped by Jerry Goldsmith’s awe inspiring score. The methodical arguments between Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and Tom Skerritt over what actions to take grounds all the fantastic elements down to a practical level and makes the future seem all the more real. Culminating in the unforgettable sight of the mysterious alien “facehugger” wrapped around one of the astronauts, the first act of Alien is as engrossing and impressive an introduction to a possible future as Kubrick’s 2001.
Being a big studio, high profile, new post-Star Wars Summer blockbuster event picture, Alien contained a massive amount of gloss and polish which not every “Sci-Fi Horror” film produced in its wake could compete with when trying the experience. These Alien influenced horror films could, however, afford to imitate the most talked-about grossout moment of the movie: the infamous “Chestburster” scene where a penile hand puppet with teeth explodes out of John Hurt’s belly. Thus in the immediate wake of that infamous demise came a whole spate of fake heads and torsos being busted open from within by ugly sock puppets. Probably the worst among these is Alien 2: On Earth.
Alien 2: On Earth exists in the company of many other Italian knockoffs and unofficial sequels to American genre movies, such as 1983′s Escape From New York cash-in 2019: After the Fall of New York, previously featured on this very podcast. But where 2019 had some resources behind the production and ideas to add to the initial premise stolen from John Carpenter, Alien 2: On Earth appears to have been made for a handful of lira and adds absolutely nothing creative as a fake sequel to Alien. Following a team of modern day geologists on a doomed excursion into some Californian caves, the film does include blobby alien hatchlings which cling to and burst out of faces, but nothing else which could be confused for the original. The sole defense you could make of this film is that its producers did what fans of the real Alien movies waited decades to see – the aliens “on Earth” – but the incompetence of the filmmakers on every level makes any viewing an endurance test of pain.
Only sheer obscurity has kept 20th Century Fox from suing over the title, even after the recent Blu-Ray release by Midnight Legacy – who, like the film’s creators, are probably banking on the title and not the abominable film itself.
NEXT WEEK: NAZI HUNTING SPECIAL! BLACK BOOK (2006, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH (2010, UWE BOLL)
Tim Burton’s career has quietly turned 25 years old and probably still has a long life ahead. We at An Alan Smithee Podcast feel that Burton’s best years are long behind him, but his best work constitutes some of the best movies of these past 25 years…it’s just that they’re relegated to the first 10. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is probably among the few perfect comedy films ever made, and Pauline Kael was among the few critics of 1988 to declare Beetlejuice the comedy classic which it is. There were his epochal Batman films, the tender Ed Wood and the animated landmark The Nightmare Before Christmas. From the 80s through the 90s, who wasn’t a Tim Burton fan?
Lately Burton has repeated himself, mainly as a reliable hand for stylized remakes – his very name becoming shorthand for movies with a certain kind of heavy art direction. Lest we forget, he did start at Disney, a company whose attention to visual branding is second to few. The overall effect of Burton’s transformation into a brand could all be seen piecemeal in Edward Scissorhands: pastel suburban kitsch, monochromatic angular gothic, and Johnny Depp to bring in the women.
In Burton’s defense, his style has been imitated to the point of being a popular influence and has been practically institutionalized as a globally recognized “look.” The Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise sells all over the world across all cultural lines like Mickey Mouse…who happens to own Nightmare. More importantly, mainstream films are fantasy films and fantasy films are mainstream films. The emergence of the superhero movie genre apexed with the ponderous drivel of The Dark Knight and it’s nauseating critical salutations; a natural long-term result of the trails blazed by Burton’s Batman, which had no precedent to rely upon except the Superman series.
The heady thrills of Burton’s effects-driven films are as commonplace now as the original Star Wars movies. The graphic design he brought to them has also become de rigeur, to the point that the “Tim Burton” style has become shorthand for a certain kind of specific look. Burton has become a peddler of himself, and may as well add “Tim Burton’s” to the title of whatever modern remake he’s adding his trademark gloss onto.
On his own terms, there’s a distinct point at which thing went sour for Burton’s movies simply because he stopped taking artistic risks. In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we pick apart the turning point. I think for a while we both blamed the critically derided hit remake Planet of the Apes, but that film wasn’t the beginning of the end. That would be 1999′s Sleepy Hollow. This was the first Burton remake, his first Johnny Depp for-no-reason vehicle and the first truly not-good Tim Burton movie.
Our good Tim Burton movie was therefore the last sign of life he ever showed, the great yet indifferently received Mars Attacks! from three years earlier. This is a film which deserves Pauline Kael’s “comedy classic” status and rediscovery by fans of Burton’s early, anarchic comedies like Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee. The anarchy would cease forever after Mars Attacks!, and a new Burton would emerge who is preoccupied with refashioning intellectual properties owned by AOL TimeWarner with diminishing creative returns. Listen to this episode to hear us try to figure out why. (Hint: The Internet)
With music by Danny Elfman…of course!
NEXT EPISODE: ALIEN (RIDLEY SCOTT, 1979) & ALIEN 2: ON EARTH (1980, CIRO IPPOLITO)
In the 20th Century people were big into the idea of the post-apocalypse created by nuclear war, instead of by realistic causes like zombies. The apocalypse, it was presumed, would happen after the Soviet Union and the United States laid waste to the world and civilization was wrecked. A few films were made along this premise in the 1970s, like A Boy and His Dog and Damnation Alley, yet none of these fantasies struck a chord in the public imagination until 1981 when George Miller directed his masterpiece The Road Warrior and rising auteur John Carpenter made Escape From New York. Carpenter’s conceptual masterstroke was combining what the new subgenre was getting at – that the future would be looking more like Lord of the Flies than The Jetsons or even Zardoz – with the assumption that New York City was so far gone to crime it may as well drop dead. Aside from Walter Hill’s The Warriors, no sci-fi / action / adventure films had explored the fantasy of New York as a lawless playground for gangs and Carpenter’s conception of Manhattan island as an inescapable prison colony captured the imagination of genre fans everywhere.
He also gave Kurt Russell a second career after years of Disney boy Bobby Driscoll roles, as Snake Plissken, a truly self centered and cynical antihero who perfectly matched the grim, bleak tone of his dystopic future adventure. Further rounding out the cast is possibly the best array of character actors ever assembled: Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Issac Hayes and Lee Van Cleef invest a sense of reality to the low budget landscape like no other cast ever has. As we discuss, this film truly shows off Carpenter’s auteurist skills at their peak from the synthesizer score to impeccable cinematography by his best collaborator Dean Cundey. Escape From New York is one of Carpenter’s greatest films and for the first time since our first episode we do our best to summarize its brilliance.
2019: After The Fall Of New York is by its title alone something of an admitted ripoff. What’s delightful and oft-stupefying is how many other science fiction genre ideas Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino and Gabriel Rossini decide to borrow when the premise of a Kurt Russell lookalike going into an abandoned Manhattan island to get someone out isn’t enough to sustain an entire movie without copying every single plot beat from Carpenter. Amongst these ideas are escape from Earth via spaceship, de-evolution of humans into ape-like creatures, infiltration of humanity by cybors, and a global infertility crisis threatening to wipe out humanity. This last idea may sound familiar to viewers and readers of Children of Men. 2019: After The Fall Of New York is a textbook case of Italian knockoff cinema complete with a totally overdubbed soundtrack and an exhilarating absence of narrative logic. Highly recommended to fans of Escape From New York and The Road Warrior who are also fans of every other sci-fi adventure ever made.
NEXT EPISODE: BREATHLESS SPECIAL! BREATHLESS (1960, JEAN-LUC GODARD) & BREATHLESS (1983, JIM MCBRIDE)
Hey Lewis, it’s supercop! This week on a special An Alan Smithee Podcast we look back on the Robocop trilogy. Few other trilogies of films intended as ongoing franchises ever experienced such a precipitous, virtually calculated drop in quality from one of the greatest films ever made (even Criterion agrees) to a definitively cynical rehash with official comic book credentials – Frank Miller, whose film career somehow outlasted the kid oriented director of PG-13 Part 3, Fred Dekker. Old wounds are opened as old e-hate mail from Dekker himself is disclosed for the first time!
NEXT WEEK: THE STRANGER (1946, ORSON WELLES) & JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001, KEVIN SMITH)