Episode 34: The Hidden Fortress (1958, Akira Kurosawa) / 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984, Peter Hyams)

Happy New Year! This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we reflect on the feudal past and look to the future that’s just around the corner.

Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress has been cited by many film school professors as a primary inspiration for Star Wars. This is a terrible underselling of Kurosawa’s mythic composition and classical storytelling which does so many archetypes so well that Lucas couldn’t have made Star Wars without accidentally copying this film. Horizontal wipes aside, this is Kurosawa at the peak of his powers and in beautiful widescreen Tohoscope™.

Toshiro Mifune, the John Wayne to Akira’s John Ford, portrays yet another samurai warrior with blades and eyebrows of steel. He’s not really the main character. This film doesn’t exactly have one, nor is anyone as particularly relatable as Mark Hamill, nor do they need to be. The lovely Misa Uehara, seen on the poster with Mifune, brings the legs and an even deadlier pair of eyebrows as the princess he’s sworn to protect.

Then we take a far-off look to the fu – hey, wait, this is next year! Wow! Apparently in 2010 the Cold War will be resumed and we’ll finally “make contact” with alien life for the first time. Again.

Answering the questions that no one who actually read 2001: A Space Odyssey was wondering about, Arthur C. Clarke returned to his beloved story of space monoliths and psycho computers in 1982 to publish 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Two years later the movie was made. Is that a coincidence or what? Peter Hyams of Capricorn One and Outland fame took a third trip to outer space by adapting Clarke’s novel himself, which amounted to the removal of problematic plot points like bisexuality and ethnic minorities and the emphasis of feel good Cold War pacifism where Russians and Americans put aside their differences for the common good of pointless sequels.

Roy Scheider is wasted, but no more than anyone else in this half baked turkey – Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban and John Lithgow mark time while Richard “Ghostbusters” Edlund’s visual effects at least make the space scenes convincing. With none of the grandeur or mystery of Kubrick’s original, 2010 even gives the short shrift to HAL the computer, once again melodiously voiced by Douglas Rain after being built up for most of the running time and then given nothing of significance to do except not kill Scheider, et all. Only Keir Dullea, in a return performance as 2001‘s astronaut-turned-space-baby David Bowman, perks up some interest in the final act as a space ghost.

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NEXT WEEK: ROBOCOP TRIPLE FEATURE! ROBOCOP (1987, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & ROBOCOP 2 (1990, IRVIN KERSHNER) & ROBOCOP 3 (1993, FRED DEKKER)

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Episode 24: Hour Of The Wolf (1968, Ingmar Bergman) / Caligula (1979, Tinto Brass)

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This week in An Alan Smithee Podcast we get dreary and dreamy as Ingmar Bergman makes a horror movie. Hour Of The Wolf is full of creeptastic images and nightmare logic without ever being jump-out-at-you scary…A better film about going crazy than a true shocker.

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Oddly, Hour Of The Wolf barely features the “hour of the wolf”! You know, the time between four and five AM when that term paper is due and you’re contemplating suicide in the darkest time of your soul before the next day breaks? What a gyp! Oh well, still a cool movie with many clear influences upon David Lynch and other mindfuck auteurs.

Speaking of fucking, this week’s bad movie Caligula featured hardcore pornography and that’s not even one of it’s good points. According to legend, Gore Vidal willingly sold his epic historical biopic script of Rome’s infamously crazy fourth Caesar to Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione with full knowledge that he’d include actual fucking. What was he thinking? Did he really expect some kind of real movie to result?

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What we have instead is the germ of a good idea buried under ten tons of incoherent editing (including the awkwardly gratuitous sex) from Guccione and subpar direction from famous Italian titty director Tinto Brass (“Salon Kitty”). On the other hand, Malcolm McDowell is crazy as he ever was and almost makes the experience worthwhile. Also starring Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and other English actors whose careers inexplicably survived this boondoggle.

While once as synonymous with notorious bombs as Battlefield Earth, people have forgotten about Caligula in recent years and just how bad it really was. We haven’t.

Also, check out this all-star parody trailer for a Caligula remake, the casting of which is partly ignorantly foreseen in our episode:

NEXT WEEK: BLUE COLLAR (1979, PAUL SCHRADER) & THE HAND (1981, OLIVER STONE)