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Movie musings: looking through the first script for Barry Levinson’s “Toys”

When it comes to feature-film directors, many of them have a script or a project, that they desperately long to do.


Robin Williams and Barry Levinson, on the set of Toys.

For director Barry Levinson, one script that had been on his mind since the start of his career, was Toys. Word was when he began to make the move from television to film, he wanted this film to be his feature debut. However, it’d take over a decade, and numerous attempts, before the film was made and released by Twentieth Century Fox, in 1992.

The film concerned a company called Zevo Toys. It’s founder Kenneth Zevo (Donald O’Connor) passes away, but rather than will the company to his son Leslie (Robin Williams), he requests his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) take over management.

Of course, Leland is not of the same mind as his brother. Soon, the factory’s production begins to shift into making ‘war toys,’ which were never produced when Kenneth was alive. As the world around them begins to shrink and becomes more threatening, Leslie and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack), must find a way to restore their father’s legacy.

The film was released around Christmas of 1992, but even with it’s colorful production design, whimsical previews, and Robin Williams as it’s lead, the film failed to even recoup back it’s production budget.

Viewing the film on VHS several years after it was released, I couldn’t help but become curious over the years, and wonder: what was it about Toys that had Levinson signify it as his ‘passion project?’ Was there something in the original scriptment, that had somehow gotten lost in translation?

In July, a trip to California allowed me some time to stop by the Margaret Herrick Library  in Beverly Hills. Owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it houses a number of scripts, pictures, and other material not often available to the public.

Notable to me for this visit, was perusing through three drafts of Toys they had in their collection. Each script was written in 1979, 1982, and 1992, with writing credits on all three, given to Valerie Curtin (Levinson’s first wife), and Barry himself.

My curiosity piqued, I delved into all three copies of the script, but was most interested in the one dated December 14, 1979. What follows, is a summary of that script.


Taking place in Connecticut, the story focuses on a company called Panda Man Toys, Inc. It is housed in a “three story, nondescript building sitting isolated in the countryside.”

The company’s founder, Kenneth Presswell, is close to death, and has sent for his Militaristic brother, General Leland Presswell. During their meeting, Kenneth makes clear his intentions to turn the factory over to Leland. The meeting takes a morbid turn, when Kenneth dies right in front of his brother.

The General is given time to consider the offer, and upon deciding to take over, is given a 60% stake in the company. The remaining 40%, is split between Kenneth’s children, Leslie, and Alsatia.

Leslie is identified as being 34 years old, but not ready yet to take over the company (with Kenneth’s assistant Wyeth Owens, claiming he’s ‘sowing some wild oats’). Leslie is somewhat of a prankster like his father, but is a ‘late-bloomer’ when it comes to business.

Alsatia is not given an age, though it is noted that she did not leave grade school until the age of 18. Even so, she is considered a devoted factory worker.

The General quickly makes it clear that he isn’t enamored with the factory’s ways, at one point claiming that money and manpower is being ‘wasted,’ when it could be used to ‘develop new ways to annihilate foreign races.’

Wyeth brings up his misgivings about the General to Leslie, but Leslie just brushes off the concern, figuring that time at the factory, will ‘loosen up’ his uncle’s demeanor.

Visiting his bedridden father (a former 5-star general), Leland tells him about the factory, but the old man shows no interest. However, as he talks about his brother’s company, Leland begins to formulate a plan.

Once he takes charge, the General makes it clear at a board meeting, that he feels the company will not survive, unless they start producing ‘toy weaponry.’ Wyeth claims that Kenneth never had the company make ‘war toys,’ because he was a pacifist.

“I know he was a pacifist,” declares Leland. “That’s why I used to kick the $#!t out of him all the time.”

(This declaration causes Leland to laugh at his ‘joke,’ while everyone else in the room remains silent.)

Talk of industrial espionage hurting the company’s R&D department, has the General send for his son Patrick, who soon starts using some brutal interrogation methods among the staff, to try and weed out the spies.

Leland also brings aboard his secretary, Gwen Tyler. Though she has a very serious demeanor at first, Leslie slowly starts to get her to lighten up, and a romance blossoms between them.

Still concerned with espionage, the General takes Patrick’s advice, and decides to counter-espionage designs from a competitor, named My Toys. Patrick manages to trick Leslie into helping him create a distraction for some guards, by putting on a strange show, seen on the My Toys security cameras. which manages to temporarily distract the guards, and allows them to make off with some of the company’s designs.

Upon hearing what has been done, Wyeth voices his objections to the General, but is ignored. Other projects and departments are then shut down, as the General commandeers the staff to work round-the-clock to produce toys off of the stolen designs.

The General likes most of the designs, but one of them he calls “a little submarine,” he thinks has potential. He soon hatches a plan to make ‘war toys,’ with the money made off of them, used to fund a few of the General’s ‘special projects.’ As work continues, more departments are shut down, and Alsatia even loses her office in the factory.

Soon, Panda Man Toys is producing and selling war toys (tanks, jeeps, paratroopers, etc). With the development continuing on the General’s projects, he soon invites some men from Washington to secretly see the designs for them. However, they are not impressed by his ideas, including his (as one of the men calls it) “submarine with a nose.”

After the General loses his temper and assaults one of the men, Patrick takes him away to calm down. Even with this setback, the General claims he is still going to go ahead with his plans.

One day, Wyeth manages to sneak into the restricted area of the factory. There, he finds men testing miniature war machines, along with video game simulators. However, Wyeth is spotted, and he is chased into a room with a large water tank. Wyeth gets into the water tank to hide, but is then attacked and killed by some underwater toys in the large tank (making the General very happy that they work!).

After Wyeth’s death is labeled an ‘industrial accident,’ Leslie demands Patrick tell him what the General is doing. Patrick attempts to stay loyal to his father, until Gwen tells him how his mother died (the true facts of which the General never told him!).

Patrick then confronts his father, and upon finding out that a nurse he likes also had an affair with his Dad, he finally confesses to Leslie, Alsatia, and Gwen, everything that has been going on. The General’s main goal, is to use video computer technology, to turn kids into ‘super-patriots,’ willing to die for their country without question!

The group then hatches a plan to steal the designs, and stop the General. Alsatia and Gwen are left behind, as Leslie, Patrick, and his surveillance team, attempt to break in.

They are attacked by a number of toys, with several of them dying (one is vaporized by a toy tank’s blast!). The final battle takes place in a miniature village, and it is during the fighting, that the ‘submarine with a nose’ (referred to as “The Guppy”) is unleashed. Of course, the General’s brilliant idea ends up being his downfall, as “the Guppy” kills him.

The final scene shows two tombstones, side-by-side. On them are the following:

Kenneth T Presswell – 1910-1979 – May Joy and Innocence Prevail

Leland H Presswell – 1914-1979 – I Disagree


It’s never been divulged just how many scripts were written for Toys, but the next draft the library had (dated February 1982), starts to become closer to the 1992 shooting script. Here are a few noted changes:

  • The General’s secretary Gwen Tyler, becomes just another Panda Man employee, whom Leslie slowly falls in love with (becoming the character Robin Wright played in the final film).
  • The 82′ script changes Alsatia from being human, to a robot, whom Kenneth built after Leslie’s mother died when he was younger. Alsatia and Gwen also attempt to stop the General, going along with Leslie and Patrick at the end (the surveillance team Patrick had in the first draft, is dropped).
  • Unlike the 79′ script, the 82′ script has the men from Washington willing to forgive the General for assaulting them, and tell him that NATO has a weapons conference coming up, that he might be interested in getting ready for. This ‘second chance’ mentality, would be dropped in the final script.
  • The 82′ script also jettisons Leslie and Patrick stealing toy designs from a competitor. Instead, the General and Patrick purchase some competitor’s toys from the store, and attempt to build them. One of them that the General attempts to assemble, is a “Sammy the little Submarine” toy. Like the 79′ script, this toy somehow inspires the General to make a ‘killing machine’ based off of it, which the General dubs, “the Sea Swine.” Not much is told about this rendition of the sea swine, except it has two periscope-like eyes that pulsate with an eerie light, and it makes a ‘creature-like sound.’

What is most notable about the original script, is how dark it gets. Kenneth dies right in front of his brother, and his assistant Wyeth, and the General are killed. In the 82′ and 92′ scripts, Kenneth dies (off-screen) on the way to the hospital, and both Wyeth and the General survive.

There is also the fact that the original Panda Man Toys was little more than a non-descript factory building, before becoming a surreal toy factory, located who-knows-where. Plus, at the end of the day, I am still no closer to knowing when the decision was made to change the company name from Panda Man, to Zevo (the Panda Man moniker is still prevalent in the 82′ script).

Plus, there is still the question of just how a toy submarine, evolved to become the semi-alive ‘sea swine’ mentioned in the 82′ and 92′ scripts.

One item I found intriguing about the final scene in the 79′ script, is the difference in ages. I had assumed that Kenneth was the younger brother, and Leland had followed directly in their father’s foosteps. This may have been done to show the wisdom of the older brother, vs the younger, who may have wanted to be seen as acceptable in the eyes of their militaristic father.


The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Levinson’s goal with the ‘idea’ for Toys, was to create a ‘surrealist film.’


Poster for the film, and Rene Magritte’s famous painting, Son of Man.

Surrealism is often the giving of something a dreamlike quality, where the material skirts the line between real, and unreal.

We see that so many times in numerous scenes in the final film. There are many bits inspired by surrealist painter Rene Magritte throughout the film(even the poster of Williams in a bowler hat, appears to be inspired by his works!).

One could even see the decision to put a Militaristic General in charge of a toy factory, definitely being one of several ways the story tries to keep it’s viewer ‘disoriented.’

I think that is Toys’ greatest flaw: Levinson got so into trying to make it surreal, that it probably would have made a better series of paintings (or even a short-subject), than a feature-length film.


Over the years, when Toys has come up in interviews, Levinson still defends the film. In one interview, he claimed it’s been the one film he has been most criticized about.

Even with many not embracing the film, some can’t deny that it seemed almost prescient. This is notable in the use of small, unmanned planes, meant to get into enemy territory, without having to place a human soldier in danger.

This tied into the thinking of the time that Military budgets were being heavily slashed during peace-time, and there was some intent to keep advancements in weaponry relevant, as well as economical.

Of course, it may also be seen that Toys could be somewhat relevant in our current day-and-age, as we seem to also have a madman intent on turning our world upside-down, as we struggle to find some good in a world, that seems to have gotten darker.


Movie Musings: Do The Terminator and Titanic share similar story DNA?

James Cameron is a good example of how a filmmaker can come from anywhere. Originally working as a truck driver, his viewing of a film called Star Wars, inspired him to pursue a new career path.


Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, and James Cameron, on the set of The Terminator.

After quitting his job and working on several films for Roger Corman, James eventually crafted his first original film, as a writer/director. The Terminator debuted in 1984, and quickly garnered praise for it’s effects-work, and gritty science-fiction scenario.

In the 30 years since the film’s debut, Cameron’s name not only became elevated in science fiction circles, but at the global box-office, where his last two films took off like gangbusters in 1997, and 2009.

In 1997, Titanic was released, and took off in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of the early 80’s box-office hits!


Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and James Cameron, on the set of Titanic.

The film was truly a phenomenon that could not be quantified: a $200 million film whose release was pushed back 5 months to the Winter of 1997 due to editing and effects issues. The numerous delays, made many feel that Cameron’s “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic” story, would surely sink his career.

Of course, as we know now, the rest is history. Titanic managed to ‘stay afloat’ in theaters almost 8 months after it’s debut, and broke attendance and ticket records in almost every country it was released in!

While it isn’t my favorite Cameron film (that distinction still belongs to Terminator 2: Judgment Day), I still can’t help but admire the man’s big-budget attempts to bring his fascination with the ship to life. Willing to build a 90% scale recreation to film on, as well as the mixture of practical and visual effects, to put us aboard the doomed luxury liner, and make us feel for the plight of it’s 2,200 souls.

Watching films over the years, I would sometimes look through most filmmakers’ works, looking for similarities, or reasons why certain subjects would fascinate them. As I was looking through Cameron’s films, I was surprised to note that when thinking through the story of Titanic, I found several story elements, that seemed to borrow from the structure Cameron used on The Terminator.

And so, I thought I’d share some of my findings with the internet.



A Stranger in a Strange Land

When it comes to the male leads for both Terminator and Titanic, one can see that both Kyle Reese and Jack Dawson, are ‘anomalies’ in the worlds they find themselves in (Kyle in the year 1984, and Jack aboard the Titanic).

Cameron-4The future world Kyle has come from, is one devoid of the luxuries that the average person living in 1984 takes for granted. As a soldier, Reese got by on his wits, struggling to just survive each day, in a world ravaged by the machines. When he gets to 1984 Los Angeles, Michael Biehn portrays him as a man out-of-time, determined to save Sarah Connor, while also dealing with post-traumatic stress, from his time as a soldier.

Jack on the other hand, has lived his life going from place-to-place, with a very bohemian lifestyle. An artist by trade, he does what he can to get by, but still is willing to keep to a basic set of principles.

Both men are also unique, in that they encounter their leading ladies in the midst of life-or-death situations (Sarah about to be killed by a Terminator, and Rose threatening to commit suicide).

Throughout the course of the films, both Kyle and Jack act as cheerleaders to Sarah and Rose, claiming they are more than what they seem. We see both women at one point claim that these men are mistaken, but as the story goes on, we see them breaking out, and even saving their men in several instances.

It is also notable, that both of these men sacrifice themselves so the leading lady can live, and are ‘lost to time’ as the films go on.

Cameron-5In Terminator, Kyle Reese did not exist until after Judgment Day. When the LAPD catch him, there is no record of him on file. During the final battle, Kyle sacrifices his life to try and destroy the T-800. After his body is recovered after the event, he is sealed up in a body bag, and is never heard of again.

In Jack’s case, he came aboard the Titanic along with his friend Fabrizio, with tickets not to their names (both were won in a poker game). After the ship sinks, Jack has Rose get aboard a piece of the ship, so she’ll be out of the freezing waters. However, in his attempt to save her, Jack succumbs to hypothermia.

When Rose let go of his hands, and he sank into the abyss, that was the last anyone saw of Jack Dawson. The only thing that physically exists that proves his existence, is the drawing he did of Rose (that was found in Cal’s safe). Rose even mentions that she has no picture of Jack, whose face only now exists in her memories (of course, the irony is that there actually was a person on the Titanic named Jack Dawson, just not the one that Cameron had Leo portraying).



Technology will be Your Doom (if you let it)

Most of Cameron’s films have an underlying theme regarding technology, and whether Man can control it, or if that technology may end up destroying it’s creator.

Though there is a definite technological difference between Skynet’s T-800 Terminator, and The White Star Line’s Titanic, they both represent the hubris of man.

Skynet was a fully-automated system integrated into the US Military, as a deterrent to human error, and to safeguard against enemy attacks. However, the artificial intelligence soon deemed all humans to be a threat. The system triggered an attack that lead to a nuclear war, that became known as Judgment Day.

Though the Titanic was not a living entity, her creation could almost be seen in a similar light.

At the time of her creation in the early 20th century, the Titanic was touted by her creators as one of the largest, most luxurious ships of all time, and…she was considered to be unsinkable, at least, according to the press and media (word was the White Star Line never claimed such hubris).

Her double-bottom hull and multiple water-tight compartments were seen as a deterrent to death, their advanced technological breakthroughs deemed a way to keep her passengers safe.

Of course, the claims of how this early 20th century technological marvel was going to revolutionize travel and pretty much plow through whatever Mother Nature threw at her, were rendered moot after she struck an iceberg, and sank on April 14th, 1912.

Both Skynet and the Titanic, were creations meant to show how far mankind had come…and in ways that most could not comprehend, they ended up defying their creators.

Skynet was touted as a program that would not suffer from the errors of humanity, like fatigue or emotions. However, once those in charge soon realized what they had done, it was too late to change course.

The Titanic was touted in a number of publications of the time, as being ‘unsinkable,’ a vessel to stand against God and nature. The push for luxury over safety, also overruled the added safety deterrent, of giving the ship enough lifeboats to handle her massive human capacity, leading to the tragic loss of over 2/3’s of her passengers.

It is also notable that in both films, Skynet and Titanic, are shown within alien-like worlds, ravaged by time.

In Terminator, the world of 2029 is shown torn asunder by nuclear annihilation, and the neverending threat of Skynet’s many war machines, to wipe out the last of mankind.


In Titanic, we see what became of the great ship’s own Judgement Day, some 85 years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. Just like the future world of Terminator, we see once normal imagery made ‘alien’ before our eyes, bathed in a faint blue glow. The ocean, the sinking, and a number of other factors, have twisted the remains of the once-great ship, into something other-worldly, far away from the normalcy of her heyday, in 1912.



You are more, than what you think you are

Though many decades separate their life-changing stories, Sarah Connor and Rose Dawson have story arcs that are very similar.

When we first meet them, both seem to be stuck in a certain place, seemingly trapped.

Cameron-6Sarah is working as a waitress, and looks to be heading towards a normal suburban lifestyle, that will eventually lead to marriage, and children.

Rose’s family name and fortune have allowed her to become the fiance to a young businessman, in a society and world where her choices seem limited.

Both women find themselves in a precarious situation, when strange men from another world (Jack from the world of Bohemia, Kyle from a war-torn future), end up ‘saving’ their lives, and attempt to make them believe that they can be more than what they think they are.

Kyle tells Sarah of what he was told by John, regarding how she trained him to be a warrior, and was a source of great strength.

Jack’s pep talk is moreso based on what he’s observed regarding Rose. Jack has noticed that Rose seems to have a fire within her, much more than those around her. The upper-class world she is in won’t allow for such ‘outbursts,’ and she’s in danger of that fire burning out.

By the end of their films, both Kyle and Jack have died, and in the wake of their deaths, it is up to the women they championed, to decide if they want to die, or live.

Cameron-7In Terminator, the T-800 is still alive after Kyle is killed. It is up to Sarah to finish the job (and decide if she wants to live or die). Sarah manages to lead the Terminator into a metal press, where it is crushed.

In Titanic, a lifeboat returns to the ship’s debris field, looking for survivors. Upon realizing Jack has died due to hypothermia, Rose almost gives up, but then remembers her promise to Jack. She manages to get the attention of the lifeboat’s crew, and is saved.

In the final minutes of each film, we get a small glimpse of how these encounters changed both of their lives.

Sarah is last seen driving off into an uncertain future, though more confident, and starting a new life, to prepare her unborn son for what is to come.

In the final moments of Titanic, we see Rose asleep(?), with a number of pictures by her bedside. Each of them in a matter of minutes, shows that she seems to have tried to live life to it’s fullest…a life she probably would never have had, if she hadn’t encountered Jack Dawson.

While I have mentioned Terminator as sharing some DNA with Titanic, there is a little of Terminator 2 in the film as well…albeit in a deleted ending.

In his original ending for T2, once the T-800 had been destroyed, the film would cut to 30 years in the future, to a park in Washington D.C. Sarah, now a Grandmother, explains how Judgment Day didn’t happen. The disaster was averted, and John Connor is now a Senator.

In the audio commentary for T2, Cameron claimed that he became fascinated with the idea of seeing a person, at two different stages of their life. However, he felt that the sudden appearance of Hamilton playing Sarah at age 64, was too much of a shock to the system.

In re-evaluating what went wrong, he felt that if he were to sell the illusion of a character at different stages of her life, the character would need to be introduced at their older age, to help ease the viewer into their younger ‘identity.’


Left: Linda Hamilton, from the alternate ending to Terminator 2; Right: Gloria Stuart as “old Rose,” from Titanic.

Cameron was determined to use this storytelling device post-T2, and made it work 5 years later on Titanic.  While Kate Winslet portrays the younger Rose character and is the film’s ‘lead,’ it is Gloria Stuart who bookends the film, as ‘old Rose’ leads us into her past, and back to the present day.


While both films do not line up exactly in comparison, it is notable at what I’ve seen in regards to both films, and I have been surprised noone else has really written such a comparison piece. But then, I’m one of those people that is weird enough to do so.

I came back to finish this post, after seeing Titanic’s 20th anniversary release last weekend. The audience was rather small, but seeing it in an HDR setting with an incredible sound system, took me back to those halcyon days of my senior year in high school, sitting in my hometown theater for the first matinee of the film (minus it breaking 15 minutes before the end!).

That re-visit of the film on the big-screen got my mind going, and soon made me think of a few other comparisons one could make regarding Terminator, and Titanic:



Picture Perfect

I was surprised to realize how in each of the films, an image of Sarah and Rose, are vital to the journey several people undertake in these films.

In The Terminator, it was a picture of Sarah Connor, that pushed Kyle to accept the mission, to go back and protect her.

In Titanic, it is Jack’s drawing of Rose, that brings ‘old Rose’ to the attention of Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), as the image shows her wearing The Heart of the Ocean necklace, the treasure he is seeking within the remains of the ship.



Search and Destroy

One scene that is most memorable to those who saw The Terminator, is when Arnold’s T-800 massacres a whole police station, in his search for Sarah Connor.

Surprisingly, a similar cat-and-mouse situation (minus the multiple guns and dead bodies) was shot for Titanic, but ended up on the cutting room floor.

After Cal (Billy Zane) chases Jack and Rose down to the flooded First Class Dining Hall, he gives up the chase, due to the rising waters and a lack of bullets in his gun…only to realize that Rose’s coat still has the necklace in it’s pocket!

In the deleted scene, Cal tells Lovejoy (David Warner) that he can have the necklace if he can get it, and the bodyguard reloads his gun, and skulks into the dining hall.

While the cat-and-mouse game in The Terminator helped with the suspense, the same scenario happening amidst the sinking dining hall just didn’t work.

Cameron had hoped the scene would excite the audience, as Jack gets some comeuppance upon Lovejoy. However, while the sight of the familiar setting being eerily submerged charmed Cameron, the added tension just seemed to be too much for the audience, who were already full ensconced by the more pressing matters of the ship sinking.

After a few test-screenings, Cameron removed the dining hall fight altogether, and with it, went any negative comments about the moment!

In the final film, Jack and Rose merely rush through the dining hall, and the audience is left to assume that Cal and Lovejoy returned to the upper-decks, to try and get on a lifeboat.


I will admit the two films aren’t perfectly similar in their narratives, but as one can glean from the article, it seems that James Cameron likes to reuse some things, if he can find a place for them.

Of course, I do wonder if any other story scenarios will show up in the upcoming Avatar sequels. Cameron’s fascination with deep-sea diving, is said to be a part of the upcoming sequel. I doubt we’ll get any interstellar submersibles, but I’m sure he’ll work on trying to give us some fascinating underwater creations, beneath the waves on Pandora.

Movie Musings: When supporting characters overshadow a film series

Watching a lot of films over the years, I will admit being greatly amazed by some performances.

From Bob Hoskins making me believe a cartoon rabbit was talking to him, to Orson Welles portraying a mult-millionaire searching for the one thing he could never have, some characters just stick in my mind.

And of course, there are many other roles that I and many others saw and enjoyed…months and years before disaster struck.

I speak of those memorable roles that were then over-analyzed by Hollywood, leading them to make terrible decisions.

“Wait a minute,” they thought. “The audience really, REALLY loved this guy…let’s make a sequel, and bring him back! We’ll give the public what they want…but with much, much more of that particular character!”

And by doing so…they ended up pretty much destroying what made certain characters so memorable in the first place!

In going over a number of film series, I decided to list three ‘repeat offenders’ here, where the character’s first appearance was pretty memorable, but somewhere down the line, they ended losing a lot of that charm as they were inserted into sequels over the year.



The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenneger)

When The Terminator was released in 1984, Arnold’s name and character were plastered across the majority of the film’s marketing material. However, his role was that of a supporting actor, in the story of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) attempting to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose unborn child will lead the human resistance to victory in the far-off year, of 2029

The film quickly won writer/director James Cameron acclaim…and the studio asking for a sequel. Upon accepting their request, Cameron chose to take a risk, and not give the audience exactly what they had seen the previous time out.


“Hasta la vista, baby.”

Lightening the atmosphere a tad, he made T2 more of a continuation of the first film, and turned the deadly Terminator, into a protector of the teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong). Terminator 2: Judgement Day, became one of the most famous sequels of all time, and seemed to cement Arnold as a major fixture in the film series, as well as his character’s place in popular culture.

After T2, the studio wanted more sequels, but Cameron was done. Arnold however, wasn’t. And so, it seemed that the future of the Terminator franchise was to continue on…as a vehicle for Arnold to star in (every other actor was largely expendable!).

The importance of stopping Skynet and the rise of John Connor took a backseat in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, as Arnold appeared as an upgraded T-850, an obsolete model also sent back in time as a protection unit, this time to protect John (Nick Stahl) from the T-X (Kristenna Loken).


“Talk to the hand.”

Unlike the previous Terminator, this newer Arnold came pre-equipped with secret future information (that he only deemed worthy of giving in small doses), and to act as a way to segue us into the future war that the studios seemed to think we were all waiting to see (screw all that “no fate but what we make” BS!).  Sadly, it just felt like a retread of the last film with Arnold, along with the filmmakers trying terribly to make the Terminator as funny as Cameron did.

When it came to the next film 6 years later, Terminator: Salvation attempted to try and refocus it’s audience’s attention to the plight of John Connor (Christian Bale). It would also be the first Terminator film that did not have Arnold’s name as the ‘marquee name.’

Because Arnold was unavailable, the only trace of him was a scene where Connor encounters the first of the new T-800 models (a combination of a body-double and CG-facial replication). Plus, to make this appearance fit, they maintain that time has been messed up, and the production of the T-800 model cyborgs, are being developed sooner than what we saw in the previous films.

Even with a big marketing push by Warner BrothersSalvation failed to make big bucks, and the attempts to make a new Terminator trilogy with it as the first film, were squelched because of the lackluster performance.

In 2015, a new studio and creative team attempted a ‘soft reboot’ with the release of  Terminator: Genisys, which played out like a fan’s internet-fanfiction/wet-dream when it came to Arnold coming back.


“It is nice to see you…”

If T3 felt like Arnold was getting more screentime, Genisys seemed to become a veritable “The Arnold Show!” We were treated to several fully-CG recreations of Arnold’s 1984 self. An expanded ‘guardian’ role was given to his character this time, having saved and raised Sarah Connor (this time portrayed by Emilia Clarke), who nicknames him “Pops.” Plus, like in T3, this Terminator possesses specific information. While conveniently having no clue who sent him back in time (“those files have been erased.”), but seems to know when the T-800 will arrive at the Griffith Park Observatory, AND where Kyle Reese can be found some time later!

Some may find it odd that I’m critical of just the non-Cameron sequels. In truth, I felt that Cameron’s take on the material (he is the creator after all), allowed Arnold to have a somewhat important role in the story, while also giving the ‘human’ characters a chance to shine.

Sadly, after 30 years, Arnold’s character has become so ‘hardwired’ into the DNA of the Terminator series, that it seems that if someone were to try and do a full ‘system-restart,’ noone would come out.

Once upon a time, The Terminator was a fascinating and memorable character to me, but as he stands now, he’s become little more than “a relic from a deleted timeline.”



Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones)

When I look back on the Men in Black series, it always seemed to me that the studio and filmmakers blew their chance to really make this film-series interesting. And it all had to do with one character.

With the first film, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), introduced Agent J (Will Smith) and the audience, to the secret world of the Men in Black, and the constant, end-of-the-world crises they struggled to contain.

However, while K was one of MIB’s best agents, he had originally been reluctantly drafted into the organization. The story goes that K as a young man, ended up taking a wrong turn on a desolate country road, where he encountered some MIB agents and an alien. Rather than be de-neuralyzed of the incident, K ended up becoming a MIB agent.

TooMuch-4K left his ordinary life (and a girl he loved) behind, but secretly (at least according to the first film anyways), he longed to return to normalcy.

At the end of the first film, it seemed he had gotten his wish. Agent J had proven himself, and K allowed his partner to de-neuralyze him. Our final image of K showed him in a tabloid headline (left), having come out of a coma, and being reunited with his lost love.

It looked like Agent J was going to be alright. We’d get to see him interact with more agents within the organization, and be off on more adventures, taking on the role of his former mentor.


Sadly, Agent K was denied his happy ending in the sequels, by being brought back into the agency. With MIB2, K became ‘the most important man on Earth,’ when it was revealed that he had important information on something called, “The Light of Zartha.”


“Somethin’ I can do for you, slick?”

The writers also got rid of K’s pining for the girl of his dreams, claiming he could not break free of his fascination with the stars above. And so, his wife left him, and he became a Postal employee until Agent J recovered him.

Plus, upon locating the Light of Zartha (aka Laura Vasquez, played by Rosario Dawson), K expounds a number of information on her, also noting ‘how beautiful’ her mother was…planting the thought in our heads that K may not have been fully committed to his lost love as the first film was…?

But, the filmmakers couldn’t stop there!

10 years later, MIB3 once again made K to be ‘the key to the story,’ when Boris the Animal killed him in the past, clearing the way for a massive alien invasion (in our time?), which sent J back in time to save his partner as a young man (played by Josh Brolin).


A young Agent K (Josh Brolin) & Agent O (Alice Eve)

Oh, and it also turns out that in this film, Kay continues to love putting his hand in numerous cookie jars, as we find out he had affections for co-worker, Agent O (played by Emma Thompson, and Alice Eve).

Sure tarnishes that story subplot we saw in the first film, doesn’t it?

For having such potential to be a great Pandora’s box of alien mystery and creature effects, the writers and filmmakers really ruined a potentially good thing when it came to the developing this series!

Agent K was a fun foil to Agent J in the first film, making it seem like we were largely being primed for some more fascinating stories in future installments (we could only imagine what K discovered on his own over the years, what new things would J find out?). One could easily imagine Agent J being the new top-agent at MIB, and training new rookies to combat new alien threats in future films.

Sadly, that kind of hopeful enthusiasm I had was not to be, and the series just seemed ‘bored’ by the time the third film came out. Tommy Lee Jones got off easy in that sequel, collecting his paycheck for probably 7 minutes of screentime, as Brolin played opposite Smith for most of the film.

It was such a pity to see a film series that could have gotten wholly creative with it’s adventures, just seemed content to just give us minor variations on a theme, with the same duo.



Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)

In the history of the Walt Disney Studios’ live-action entertainment division, Captain Jack Sparrow is probably it’s most famous male character ever.

As portrayed by Johnny Depp, the slippery-yet-questionable pirate rogue, charmed many upon his debut in 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean film, making it a breakout hit that summer, and netting Depp an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Naturally, when a sequel was announced, many hoped for more of Jack, and they got it…boy, did they get it!

toomuch-5While Jack may have simply cared to just get back command of his ship (The Black Pearl) in the first film, the sequels ended up thrusting him into crazier, and even more super-natural stories. Pretty soon, Jack was set upon by Davy Jones, hunted by a Kraken, went to Purgatory, considers living forever, and then, goes searching for the Fountain of Youth.

All marketing for the sequels easily threw Jack Sparrow front-and-center. Unlike his role in the first Pirates film however, the storylines to it’s sequels, just made us less interested in the characters around Jack, and tried to convince us that his character was wholly likable, and deserving of the most screen-time.

This to me, was where the sequels all fall short.

In the first Pirates film, Jack was a bit like a fly, flitting from ear-to-ear, keeping everyone on their toes in the whirlwind story of trading companies, young love, and cursed pirates on the high seas.

toomuch-6The sequels (naturally) resolved that little formality, and suddenly, Jack Sparrow was the guy that everyone wanted a piece of! Suddenly, it was all about saving him, or him having the key to something or other. It often feels so blatant in how Jack is made the center of the film’s universe (much like what was done with Agent K in Men in Black).

Personally, I wish they could have done with Jack Sparrow, what the filmmakers of the Mad Max films did. In those films, Max usually just happens to stumble upon a situation by chance, and is swept up in a new adventure. Sure, Mad Max: Fury Road had Max’s name and him along for the ride, but much like Jack in the first Pirates film, he became an integral part of a pretty large, and wild adventure.

But in the Pirates world, as things stand now, it feels like all roads lead to Captain Jack. Even the latest sequel coming out (Dead Men Tell No Tales), Jack is once again a man being pursued by outside forces, this time a rage-filled captain (portrayed by Javier Bardem), whom Jack chanced upon years ago, and was responsible for the captain’s death. It seems Jack can’t just chance to run across trouble…trouble has to almost always, find him!

Of course, given his penchance for luck, I’m betting if there is another Pirates film, they’ll reveal that Jack is really part-alien, and he’ll take to space in a Treasure Planet-style adventure, with shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in.


I will admit, there were a number of other characters I could have included on this list, but I sought to whittle them down to three that had quite a track record.

Other contenders included the likes of Mater from the Cars series, Mystique from the current run of X-Men films, and after last weekend, David from the current Alien prequel series Ridley Scott is directing.

However, given how long these three film series have run (and spanned some 10-30 years!), they seemed the best examples of how an interesting character, can be worn down by more information, and bad sequels.

I’m sure many of you reading this can think of some other characters that I can’t even think of right now. Feel free to leave a comment, and share your thoughts on some other characters whom sequels ruined regarding mystery, and mystique.

Movie Musings: The Path to Darth Vader, buried within the Star Wars Prequels

To many, it seemed that the Star Wars prequels could be summed up in four words: George Lucas blew it.

However, in the years since the three films were released, and despite the neverending flogging from a very vocal (but usually online) fanbase, I often found myself still intrigued by what had been laid out before the public.

While many had high hopes of a film trilogy that would have shown Anakin Skywalker ‘hunting down and destroying Jedi,’ Lucas instead attempted to tell a story of how a giving and caring person, was corrupted into craving ultimate power.

Unlike a mere rehash of the films many knew and loved, the Prequels attempted to tell their own tale. Notable, was how Darth Sidious (under the guise of a Senator-turned Chancellor named Palpatine)  managed to not only bring down the Jedi Order, but coerce the Galactic Republic into giving him total control, and forming the Galactic Empire.

Of course, Sidious continued to play with the ‘rule of two,’ when it came to doctrine of the Sith: there would be only a Master, and an Apprentice.

Over the course of the three films, we’d see several of Palpatine’s apprentices rise and fall. One looked like a demonic bad-@$$, another was a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side, then a mechanically-aided alien creature, before Sidious finally set his sights on Anakin.

With Skywalker at his side, Palpatine could have had one of his most powerful apprentices ever. However, circumstances left him with a badly-wounded husk of a human being…one who was then transformed into an imposing dark presence, who became one of the most visually-distinctive figures in the Star Wars Universe.

While many were let down with Lucas’ depiction of the Jedi Council (a rather pompous lot whom had become lazy after a millennia of having no Sith to counteract), there was also some negativity bandied towards his depictions of the multiple Sith Apprentices as well.

Many fans were used to the general idea of there being a ‘constant’ apprentice to the Emperor, as it was in The Original Trilogy with Vader.

However, what some may not have considered (from a certain point-of-view), was that the three figures we see being loyal to Darth Sidious, might in fact, be considered as ‘puzzle pieces,’ that together, form Darth Vader.

In several making-of pieces, Lucas makes note of what he calls, ‘an echo.’ This is usually in reference to something we see, that will also come back later in some form.

The first time I recalled this word usage, was during a “webisode,” discussing the creation of General Grievous.

Lucas was adamant that the concept artists not ‘recreate Darth Vader,’ but was taken by an image that showed a metal creation, with organic eyes. This was the birth of Episode III‘s new bad guy.

His telling of how Grievous was “an echo of what Anakin is going to become,” started the wheels in my head to turn. Soon, I began to think deeper, about the apprentices to Darth Sidious.

This post, is the result of those thoughts. So, let’s see what I’ve dug up.



Darth Maul

From the moment he was introduced visually to the public back in 1998, many eagerly clamored for more of Episode I’s Sith Apprentice.

His kicks and flips were one thing, but his tattooed visage and double-bladed lightsaber, quickly made him the ‘Boba Fett’ of the first prequel film. Many were eagerly snapping up toys of Maul, and speculating on just how he’d fit into the grand scheme of the new trilogy.

…and then he was cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi, infuriating many! How could Lucas throw away what was (essentially) an awesome character, many wailed.

The truth is, George Lucas rarely goes for what’s ‘cool.’ This explains why fan-favorite character Boba Fett, was so easily dispatched in Return of the Jedi. To George, Fett had served his purpose, and there was no further reason for him to live on.

Of course, George’s vision was mere peanuts compared to the fans and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, that soon made Fett out to be ‘The Most Interesting Bounty Hunter in the Galaxy.’

When going over Maul’s appearance in The Phantom Menace, I soon thought I had figured out what Lucas was trying to do.

To me, it boiled down to a line that Luke Skywalker told the Emperor in Return of the Jedi: “Your over-confidence is your weakness.”

Maul is much the same way. He’s been trained by Sidious, and like a brash young upstart, he seems to think he can take on anything. With his whirling dervish moves, he feels his skills will give him the upper-hand in getting revenge on the Jedi.

Maul’s skills come into play when he stuns Qui-gon and take him out, but his over-confidence gets the better of him, when he revels in Obi-Wan hanging over the pit on Naboo.

Obi-Wan ended up getting the upper-hand against Maul, by jumping over him, and slicing him with Qui-Gon’s lightsaber.

This also serves as an ‘echo’ in Revenge of the Sith.

When Obi-Wan confronts Anakin on the planet Mustafar, Anakin is confident in his powers, and much like Maul, his moves are fast and vicious.

We also get an ‘echo’ to Obi-Wan in Menace, when Anakin attempts to jump over Obi-Wan. However, Obi-Wan has been in this situation before, and he knows what to expect (even cautioning Anakin not to do what he knows he’ll do).

Just like Darth Maul, Anakin’s over-confidence becomes his weakness, and Obi-Wan mortally-wounds his former apprentice, with a well-placed slice of his lightsaber.



Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyrannus)

In Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku was revealed to be a former Jedi (and Master to Qui-Gon Jinn), who left the Jedi Order.

Word was that Dooku became disillusioned with the Order, and how it was conducting itself. It was briefly mentioned that Qui-gon himself was sometimes at odds with the Council, and these tendencies may have been instilled in him by his own Master.

It surprised the Jedi, when Dooku was soon mentioned as being a member of the Separatist Movement, which seemed intent to try and take control of the Galaxy, away from the Republic.

Just as Dooku found disillusionment with the Jedi, an ‘echo’ of this seemed to be mirrored in Anakin as the Prequels continued onward.

Anakin’s emotional turmoil is on display in Attack of the Clones, most notable in regards to the death of his mother, as well as his feelings for Padme Amidala. The monastic lifestyle of the Jedi began to clash with Anakin’s thinking, and as he tried to wrestle with those around him telling to let go of his emotions and feelings, he often found himself unable to do so.

We see more of Anakin’s disillusionment in Revenge of the Sith, when he is given a position on the council, though mainly out of obligation to the requests of Chancellor Palpatine. The Council does so at the request of Palpatine, but Anakin does not become a Master simply by sitting on it. Anakin in turn, is upset by this, but is further upset upon being given a secret request by Obi-Wan, to spy upon the Chancellor, at the Council’s request.

Being used to spy on the Chancellor feels like a further crumbling of Anakin’s faith in the Jedi Order, and he grows upset as well, when Padme asks him to speak directly with Palpatine. Because of his closeness to Palpatine, she requests he ask him to consider diplomacy against the Separatists, to end the war (“Don’t ask me to do that,” he snaps at her. “Make a motion in the Senate, where that kind of a request belongs!”).

I will admit when it comes to Dooku, there isn’t quite as much in regards to him, as he’s a bit less ‘confrontational’ than Maul or Grievous.

Even so, Dooku was powerful enough to channel Force lightning upon Anakin, while also maneuvering his own lightsaber, with an aire of grace and fluidity.

We also see, that he was not above playing mind games, even with the Jedi.

Notable is when he has Obi-Wan Kenobi captured on Geonosis.

At one point, Dooku tells Obi-Wan point-blank, that a Sith Lord is controlling the Galactic Senate.  Dooku even tries to use this information to turn Obi-wan, claiming the two of them can destroy the Sith. It could be that Dooku hoped that Obi-Wan’s loyalty to Qui-Gon could make him able to be turned, but Kenobi stays strong and refuses the offer (it almost ‘echoes’ Vader’s attempts to turn Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).

The information is later relayed to the Council, and rattles them slightly. Though they don’t wholly believe what has been told, they decide to keep a closer watch on the Senate.

This tactic of trying to turn good people to the Dark Side, is almost ‘echoed’ in Revenge of the Sith with Anakin. When he meets Padme on Mustafar, he tries to convince her that he is powerful enough to overcome Palpatine, and that this can pave the way for them to be happy. With Palpatine overthrown, Anakin claims that they can ‘rule the galaxy, and make things the way they want to be.’

Though just like Kenobi, Padme refuses to give in to this Sith Apprentice’s offerings of power.

Of course, Anakin’s confrontations with Dooku in Episodes II and III, resulted in dismemberment for the both of them.

Dooku cut off Anakin’s arm in Episode II, and in their next confrontation, Anakin cut off Dooku’s hands, and decapitated the former Jedi, at the behest of Palpatine.

One could almost see that moment, as Palpatine testing Skywalker, to see how loyal he could truly be. Though Anakin shows a slight remorse, Palpatine claims that his actions were justified (“He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge,” says Palpatine).



General Grievous

During the Clone Wars, Darth Sidious and Count Dooku employed an overseer for the Separatist’s Droid Army, in the form of General Grievous.

When first introduced in the Cartoon Network animated series in 2004, Grievous was seen as a cunningly-fast, and dangerous threat to the Jedi.

It was a far cry from his appearance in Revenge of the Sith though, where he seemed to be one of those villains who talked big, but then quickly ran away, shaking his fist at the “Jedi scum,” as he made his way to a new location (usually with a raspy cough).

Just like Maul and Tyrannus, Grievous also supplies a piece in the evolutionary puzzle of Darth Vader.

Whereas Maul shows how overconfidence can cloud a Sith’s judgement, and Dooku shows how a Jedi can be turned to the Dark Side via disillusionment, Grievous shows himself to be an early predecessor of a creature, kept alive via technology.

However, the mechanics are far from perfect, as seconds after he is introduced in Episode III, a raspy cough can be heard, a sign that the technology that Grievous is encased in, can’t cure all his ailments.

George Lucas has often been fascinated by the concept of man-and-technology, a theme that winds it’s way through his entire filmography.

Some could almost consider Grievous to be Vader’s predecessor. With his imposing height and appearance (at times looking like a living alien skeleton), let alone his threatening demeanor, the two almost seem cut from the same cloth.

While some criticize the rasping cough that accompanied the general in the film, it can be considered another ‘echo’ to the ‘creature/man-in-suit’ theme surrounding Vader.

The technology to save Grievous, is shown to have flaws, notably in how it cannot cure his cough. There is also the not-so-protective chest cavity, where his vital organs are stored. We see this flaw when Obi-Wan Kenobi manages to pry it open wide enough, to eventually fire a blaster, and cause the contents to catch fire, leading to the General’s death.

When it comes to Anakin, the cybernetic enhancements and the dark suit that he is encased in at the end of Episode III, are the final steps to erasing all traces of the former human being he once was. Plus, one assumes that since the Empire didn’t tell what had befallen Anakin (probably writing him off as another Jedi casualty), many never knew who was behind the imposing mask, and simply referred to him by the title of Darth Vader, as the Emperor requested.

I imagine some feel that my inclusion of Grievous here is somewhat of a ‘cheat,’ given that he was never a true apprentice to Darth Sidious. However, we did see in one scene, that Grievous was taking orders from Sidious (such as being told to move the Separatists to the planet Mustafar). Plus, he claimed that Dooku trained him in the Jedi Arts.

I feel that Grievous could be considered an unofficial apprentice for the first half of Episode III, after the death of Count Dooku. Shortly after Grievous is destroyed by Obi-Wan, that is when Anakin is given the title of Darth Vader, pledging himself to Palpatine’s teachings, and the Dark Side.



Final Thoughts

When it came to the Prequels, George Lucas strove to make us question just who Darth Vader was.

Throughout the Original Trilogy, and the many years of advertising, Vader’s helmeted visage became an icon for the series. However, this was counter to what Lucas originally envisioned.

An example is in A New Hope. Whereas many thought it was Vader who was running much of the operations for the Empire, he was little more than an overseer to certain events, and little more than a lapdog/assistant to Grand Moff Tarkin, who was running the show on the Death Star (it was Tarkin after all, who ordered the destruction of Alderaan).

Throughout the years, many have often complained that Episode I’s storyline should have been excised. They claimed the story should have started with Anakin as a teenager, with him ‘falling’ in Episode II, and then in Episode III, there’d be images of him being totally evil, destroying Jedi left and right!

However, many fail to comprehend that most of what Obi-wan ‘fed’ Luke, were stories like the kind a Grandfather would tell his Grandchildren, about how the old days were so much better…but oftentimes, keeping out certain details. After all, most never realize that Obi-Wan (and later Yoda) pretty much lied to Luke about what really happened to his father, seemingly trying to set the young Skywalker up to murder his own father.

To many that grew up on the series, it was these little tidbits of background information, that fed our imagination, and made it hard to fathom the notions that this imposing dark figure, was once a Force-sensitive little boy, who would happily shout “Yippee!”

Despite the flaws of the prequels (yes, I will admit they aren’t perfect) there are some ideas and areas of interest in them, that still keep me thinking all these years later.

One of George Lucas’ strengths, are his thoughts and ideas. We see these played across in many of the films he’s not only directed, but also produced. Some times he hits the sweet spot, and other times, his visions clash with those of the viewers.

This is true of Vader’s big moment at the end of Episode III, after his new suit is completed. The scene is almost an ‘echo’ of the carbon-freezing scene in Empire Strikes Back, only instead of Han Solo encased in a carbonite block, Vader is now encased in his suit. A heavy metallic sound upon the table’s rotation, almost makes it seem like he is now forever ‘trapped,’ both physically and mentally, by what he has done, and what he has now become.

Of course, Lucas tries to make us feel sympathy for Vader, but he ends up somewhat ruining the mood, in a moment that became more cringe-inducing than emotional.

Even so, he’s given me plenty of ‘food for thought’ over the years, and this post is the results of some of it.


Movie Musings: Remembering ‘Mars Attacks,’ 20 years later

The year: 1996.

One day, a strange-looking species of extra-terrestrials, descended from the heavens, and quickly laid waste to our planet. Humanity attempted to fight back, but even their strongest weapons proved to be of no use. And then, in a moment of sheer absurdity, a secret weapon was found. The most unexpected thing of all, managed to take down the alien scum, and save the human race.

No, its not Independence Day. It’s Mars Attacks!

After a Summer dominated by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s Patriotic alien invasion film, Winter found director Tim Burton, attempting to do his own thing with aliens. Burton had provided Warner Brothers with hits such as Beetlejuice and Batman, and to them, it probably seemed a no-brainer, to allow Tim to


Nothing “Topps” Nostalgia

Tim Burton has often looked to the past for some of his artistic inspiration, and that was just whaat he did with Mars Attacks.

While some of it’s sensibilities would link it to the ‘invaders from space’ films like Earth vs The Flying Saucers, the bulk of it’s inspiration, would come from…bubble-gum cards?

The Topps Company released the Mars Attacks card series in 1962, depicting a number of skull-faced, big-brained invaders from Mars, destroying cities, vaporizing animals, and plenty more un-pc machinations.


Keep in mind of course, that these images were on bubble-gum cards, geared towards kids!

The subject matter caused an outcry, and the cards were quickly discontinued…however, the memory of their imagery lingered, and many of the materials based on them (due to their limited run), became collector’s items in later years.

As those children became adults, Topps reprinted some of the cards, and quickly found adult collectors eager for more.

The 1996 film that Burton made, brought about a larger resurgence in the Mars Attacks property. Along with film-based material, a newer interpretation of the aliens were created by Topps, and new cards and comic books were produced, along with figures, and crossovers with other comics series (such as Judge Dredd, and…Transformers!?).


A (Monster) Mash-up of Genres

Of course, one can’t just spend 1 1/2 hours showing aliens blowing up stuff on the big screen. Mars Attacks needed a story to tie together the carnage. But where was one to turn for story inspiration?

How about, the films of Irwin Allen?

In the 1970’s, Allen gained notable fame for bringing together large casts of name-actors, and thrusting them into the center of major disasters. Out of this filmmaking came hits like The Poiseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and many more.


An example of the film’s big-name cast. From Left to Right: Brian Haley, Pierce Brosnan, Jack Nicholson, Natalie Portman, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Rod Steiger

That seems to be what was put together for Mars Attacks, though word was, the film was going to be bigger than what it eventually became. Originally, the martian attack would have taken place around the globe, and involved a lead cast, of over 5 dozen characters! The original script would even be tagged with a budget of $260 million (which was enormous by 90’s standards!).

Story and Screenwriter Jonathan Gems, credited Burton (who was not given a writing credit) for honing in the story, focusing it solely in the United States, and paring down the characters, to a ‘measly’ 23 leads.

There are even a few jabs at that greatest of all war-time comedies, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  This is evident in one of the alien’s translated words meaning ‘bodily fluids,’ and President Dale having an elaborate War Room. Plus, much like how actor Peter Sellers played several roles in Strangelove, Jack Nicholson does the same in Attacks, playing straight-laced President James Dale, and sleazy Vegas developer, Art Land.

The production design also plays around with the time-period. Though it is meant to be modern-day America, many of the settings we see are decidedly retro. The scenes in Kansas definitely feel like Richie Norris (Lukas Haas) and his family, are stuck in a time-warp, and whenever we see Police officers or Military personnel, their uniforms and vehicles are decidedly retro.


Burton has dabbled in combining generational stylings in other films, such as Edward Scissorhands, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With Mars Attacks, it feels like he really opened the door wide, with several decades worth of inspirational imagery.


Character Caricatures

Just like those Irwin Allen films, Mars Attacks’ advertising boasted a veritable who’s-who of casting. Such big names included Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, and…Tom Jones!?

The film also has some fun with its character types, with Paul Winfield playing the low-key General Casey, who would act as counterpoint to the more bombastic General Decker, played with over-the-top zeal by Rod Steiger.

Along with the more seasoned actors, the film also brought on some young blood, with Natalie Portman portraying Presidential Daughter Taffy Dale. There was also Lukas Haas as Richie Norris, the young man stuck in the middle-of-nowhere America (aka Kansas), with his trailer park family (played by Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, and Jack Black).

One actor who I remember being surprised to see again, was Sylvia Sidney. First introduced to me as the Maitland’s caseworker Juno in Beetlejuice, Sidney plays the senile Grandma Norris, who ends up finding the secret weapon to saving the human race. She also gets one of the best lines in the film.


“They blew up Congress!”

The film would be Sidney’s last film appearance, as she would pass away in 1999.


Pushing into the Digital Frontier

Tim Burton has often had a strong affinity for the effects and animation work of the past.

When it came to pulling off the craziness of faces contorting in a grotesque fashion, or bringing his twisted Christmas fables to life, he often opted for stop-motion puppetry.

Burton was all set to do the same with Mars Attacks, but that plan quickly fell by the wayside, as Warner Brothers wrestled with keeping the film’s budget under control.

The solution, was to have the full-motion martians realized in the same way as Steven Spielberg Jurassic Park dinosaurs: with an assist from Lucasfilm’s visual effects company, industrial Light and Magic.

Though it may be seen as a travesty to some, I still like what ILM brought to the table. Making the martians digital creatures, can be seen as another stepping-stone in their development of the technology (they had already started doing ‘character animation with the films Casper, and Dragonheart).


Creating the martians in the computer, allowed them to be rendered with reflections and lighting, to make them actually seem a part of the real-life scenery. Of course, the animators also added some ‘staccato’ movements, giving the characters a hint of their stop-motion ‘heritage.’

Of course, ILM can’t take all the effects credit for the film. Warner Brothers also added an assist, with their in-company group, Warner Digital Studios. WDS became responsible for the brunt of the global destruction in the film, as well as the myriad shots of the flying saucers, and death ray blasts.

It is fun to also see the filmmaking toe the line between advanced effects, and some that are meant to reference older films. Some shots are simple ones, where the camera doesn’t move, much like how a number of effects were achieved in older days. Plus, some animation cycles of the martians, are re-used multiple times.


Of course, sometimes the real stuff is always good for a film. The filmmakers even used a real-life disaster, as destruction footage in the film. In 1995, The Landmark Hotel and Casino was destroyed by controlled demolition in Las Vegas. Footage of the event was captured and repurposed for the film, when the Martians destroy Art Land’s casino.


In Conclusion

Sadly, in 1996, there was only room in America’s hearts for one alien invasion film…and that honor of most-beloved, civilization-destroying feel-good film, fell upon Independence Day.

Mars Attacks didn’t come close to making ID4′s box-office take, failing to fully recoup its budget and marketing costs.

Both films did share a multi-part story about an alien invasion, but whereas Emmerich’s film used coincidence and numerous references to Star Wars, Burton’s vision was a bit of a downer. Some claimed the film was WB’s attempts to ride ID4’s coattails, but in truth, the film had been in development before Emmerich ever pitched his film idea to Twentieth Century Fox.

It’s dark comedy tone may also have turned away a number of people. There wasn’t anyone quite as charismatic as Will Smith in the film, and a large portion of the all-star cast, would find themselves turned into colored skeletons (or disintegrated) by the martian weaponry.


Even the Martians’ end-game was never discussed. At the most, it seemed like they were little more than bored teenagers, and just decided to invade the Earth for kicks and giggles.

The film could also be considered ‘cruel’ by today’s standards, as just like in one of the Topps cards, Burton decimates a few animals (the First Lady even lobs the skull of the deceased family dog, at a martian intruder!).

I will admit that I don’t hold Mars Attacks up as a true Burton masterpiece, but it is a film that shows his sensibilities, and love for both the Topps cards the film is based off of, and a film that attempts to revel in the irreverence of the 1950’s B-movies, and the disaster films of the 1970’s.

Plus, one of the more fun moments, is Jack Nicholson’s speech, given to the Martian Leader. It isn’t as well-remembered as Bill Pullman’s from ID4, but the timbre and the accompanying music, make it quite entertaining to hear.


“Why can’t we all just…get along?”

My (personal) fondness for the film, also ties into my high school days of marching band. It was my band director who helped ‘introduce’ me to Danny Elfman’s music, and opened my eyes further to who/what Tim Burton was (putting to rest a lot of the strangeness that seemed frightening to my suburban-raised mind).

I recall picking up the soundtrack to Mars Attacks in the winter of 1996, and loaning it to my director to listen to (at first, he didn’t even think Elfman had done the music for the film!). Less than a year later, we were playing the film’s theme as part of our Marching Band’s Danny Elfman-themed show (Music for a Darkened Theater, Vol 3). Our director even went all-out, costuming one of our band members as the Martian Leader, who ‘vaporized’ several members of the band as the song played (my sister ended up being tagged as one of the ‘victims,’ collapsing to the ground in a vaporizing puff of ‘flour’).

It almost feels like the 1990’s were the perfect ‘breeding ground’ for such a picture. If the film had been made in the early 2000’s, it probably would have seen it’s subject matter depicted in a ‘heavier’ way, much like how Steven Spielberg re-imagined H.G. Wells’  The War of the Worlds, in a post 9/11 world. If anything, a post 9/11 Mars Attacks, would probably have been less faithful to the Topps cards, and treated more as a realistic war film.

As it stands now, it is one of a number of those 90’s films, that definitely feels like a product of it’s time.

Movie Musings: Deciphering the ending to A.I. Artificial Intelligence

*Note: This ‘Movie Musings’ article is going off the assumption that the reader, has seen the film “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” If you haven’t seen the film and wish to remain spoiler-free, please turn back now.”

In the Summer of 2001, I was eagerly awaiting  a film that was said to have been several decades in the making: A.I. Artificial Intelligence. While originally a film that tantalized Stanley Kubrick, he was said to have been unable to imbue his obsession with emotional heart. Who was he to turn to? Steven Spielberg, of course-the man who touched millions of hearts in 1982 with E.T.

Over many years, the two would often talk about the project, an adaptation of the Brian Aldiss short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long.

However, the two soon reached an impasse. While Kubrick felt Spielberg could do the film justice on an emotional level by directing it, Spielberg felt that Kubrick should direct the project instead, since he had devoted so much time and effort to it.

And then in 1999, Kubrick passed away. Following Kubrick’s death, several members of his family asked Steven if he would consider trying to finish the picture. Spielberg then took the numerous pieces of information that had been done over the years, and crafted a screenplay, (one of his first since Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

Steven largely kept to the outline and information that had been accumulated over the years, but to many who saw the film, there were cries of blasphemy, that he had destroyed a perfectly “Kubrickian” ending.


After David and Teddy use an Amphibicopter to dive down into the remnants of the sunken Coney Island Amusement Park, David finds a statue of the Blue Fairy, from the Pinocchio fairy tale.

Unable to separate fantasy from reality, David believes he has found the one being who can grant his wish: to make him a real boy, and thus allow him to return to the Swintons, and win back Monica’s (aka his Mommy’s) love.


As David asks the Blue Fairy to make him real, the voice of the story’s narrator is heard:

And David continued to pray to the Blue Fairy, there before him. She, who smiled softly, forever. She who welcomed him, forever.

Eventually the flood lights dimmed and died, but David could still see her, pale-y by day, and he still addressed her, in hope.

He prayed until all the sea anemones had shriveled and died.

He prayed as the ocean froze, and the ice encased the caged Amphibicopter and the Blue Fairy too, locking them together where he could still make her out- a blue ghost in ice. Always there. Always smiling. Always awaiting him.

Eventually he never moved at all. But his eyes always stayed open, staring ahead forever all through the darkness of each night. And the next day. And the next day.

This is where some claimed that Kubrick would have ended the film, but as some in the auditoriums that summer began to rise from their seats, the narrator’s voice continued:

Thus…2,000 years passed by.

From here, we were treated to an image of lithe creatures, flying around in cube-constructed vehicles, cutting into the ice covering the Earth. The original proclamation by many was to assume that these were aliens (making several flash-back to the thin-limbed creatures in Close Encounters). However, they are actually Future Mecha- the evolution of artificial intelligence, having outlived their creators. The most obvious reason for their lithe form is that they retain a certain resemblance to their creators (a head, a body, and 4 limbs), but they have no use for human features like hair, eyes, or internal organs. Word was that Kubrick originally envisioned them with a leathery texture, but here, their translucent forms, make them look like an exaggerated iMac version of the human form.


Eventually, a group of Future Mecha find David and Teddy in the amphibicopter. After restoring power to David, they then scan his mind, and begin to analyze his memories. Much like human beings searching for information about ‘the ones who created them,’ the Future Mecha here are excavating into the ice, looking for more information on their own creators. With David, they have an amazing find: a mecha ancestor, who actually lived among humans!

Using his memories, the Future Mecha create a replica of the Swinton home. David can’t comprehend the difference between his memories and the fabricated world, and assumes that he and Teddy have ‘come home.’ Running around looking for Monica, David comes across The Blue Fairy in another room.

David once again asks to be made real, but the Blue Fairy claims she cannot do this. Eventually, we see several of the Future Mecha examining this scene. It soon becomes obvious that they are controlling the image of the Blue Fairy.


David asks where Monica is, but is informed that it’s been 2,000 years since she was alive. The Blue Fairy then claims that other humans can be brought back to interact with him, but because of his imprinting, David only wants Monica.

The Blue Fairy claims that only through the use of human tissue or hair, can they bring people back. Luckily, Teddy is there, and reveals to David how he saved some of Monica’s hair (from an incident earlier in the film). David offers the hair to the Blue Fairy, claiming that now, she can bring Monica back.

In the room with the Future Mecha, one of them speaks in English, and we hear the voice of the narrator: “Give him what he wants.”

David is then returned to his room in the false-home. When a knock comes at the door, David eagerly assumes it’s Monica, but finds it is one of the Future Mecha, who is designated as The Specialist (in the credits, and voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley).


Sitting down with David, the Specialist expounds on his race’s fascination and search to understand more about their creators.

The Specialist claims they attempted to recreate humans from pieces of bone or skin, but also attempted to try and see if they could bring back human memories, which would surely help them understand more about their creators.

However, their attempts proved futile, as the longest any creation lived, was less than a day…and once a person had been brought back once, it could never happen again.

“David, you are the enduring memory of the human race,” explains the Specialist. “The most lasting proof of their genius. We only want for your happiness, David. You’ve had so little of that.

Even in explaining what bringing Monica back will mean (only a single day with her), David will not be deterred.

“If you want for my happiness,” he says, “then you know what you have to do.”

And with that, the sky outside lightens, as ‘a new day’ comes. The Specialist then tells David that Monica is just waking up, and David finds her in the main bedroom.

Monica then greets David with a smile, and he quickly offers to make her some coffee, as the day begins.

Throughout the day, David is all smiles, as he and his Mommy do all sorts of things. There is no mention of Monica’s husband Henry, or her son Martin. As the narrator says, “There was just David.”

Eventually, the day draws to a close, and David returns Monica to the bedroom. As she settles down to sleep, she remarks on the ‘beautiful day,’ before drawing David in close, and telling him:


“I love you, David. I do love you. I have always loved you.”

And with those final words, Monica goes to sleep…one from which she will never awaken.

David soon goes to ‘sleep’ as well, the reciprocation of Monica’s love, the fulfillment of his very existence.


Coming Full-Circle

What many moviegoers who felt the ending was cliche fail to realize, is that this ending brings the film full-circle. Throughout much of the film, circles are a motif we see in a number of areas and designs.


An example of circular motifs in the film, as well as a scene later in the film (right) calling back to an earlier one (left).

In the beginning, David was created as a placebo for those unable to have children, or those who needed something in order to ‘move on.’ When David was living with the Swinton’s, Monica was never fully able to accept David, because he wasn’t real. He acted more as a stand-in to her son Martin, until he recovered.

Eventually, Monica decided to take the next step, and “imprint” on David. This allowed him to ‘love’ her unconditionally, as per the parameters in his program, but it was like a hardwired bond that could never be broken. If Monica ever decided she didn’t want David, he would need to be returned to Cybertronics, to be destroyed. Though he looked human, he really was nothing more than a ‘super-toy’ like Teddy, meant for a specific purpose.

2,000 years into the future, mecha have supplanted humans as the dominant species. And, in a turn-about way, we find that the machines of the future, have the ability to create humans. However, the process to create and preserve human life, is still a mystery that they are unable to resolve.

In the case of the film’s finale, it is Monica who has been created to fill a void for David. However, while many assume this is a schmaltzy happy ending by way of an overly touchy-feely Spielberg, digging deeper into the ending scenes, shows otherwise.


A Beautiful Day, A Beautiful Lie

Though many assume that David’s final day with Monica is a beautiful thing, one has to figure it is little more than a beautiful lie.

The Monica David spends the day with, is very different from the one we see at the beginning of the film.

She never questions where her husband Henry, and ‘real’ son Martin have gone. At one point, she questions the day, and simply accepts David’s answer: “it is…today!”

For much of the day, Monica is all smiles, though a questionable expression, comes when David shows Monica a number of finger-paintings, as he explains about his journey.


It’s a look that almost harkens back to the the rather placid eyes of David’s when he was first brought into the Swinton household, leading me to believe that this Monica was recreated moreso from David’s memories.

One assumes that the Specialist and his kin, must have rooted around in David’s ‘brain,’ and found situations that seemed to bring happiness, and from that, designed a day, that would recreate those moments, but on a whole other level.

Like in the beginning, there are games of hide and seek, and a Birthday party. Though the game is more of fun than awkwardness this time, and the party is for David, not for Martin.


The earlier, awkward game of hide-and-seek, and then the game again, on David’s perfect day, where both mother and son scare Teddy.

During the events, some may even question just “where” David and Teddy are when this happens. My feelings are that it is the equivalent of a neural highway/internet configuration that the future mecha have created. We see they can transmit imagery and such without cables or wires in one scene, so most likely, David and Teddy’s “brains” have been transmitted into it for the final part of the story.

Plus, in the simulated world the Future Mecha have created, almost anything seems possible. Notable is that in this world, David seems more alive than before. For example, we see him shed tears, which he never did in the real world.

Of course, sadness of the lie comes at the end, when the figure of Monica, tells David that she loves him. The real Monica could never bring herself to utter these words to David, but this one can say it willingly enough, that David is placated into thinking that his cherished wish has come true…when in truth, he is really on a dead, frozen planet, being placated by his more advanced descendants.


Thoughts on the Future Mecha

The Future Mecha also show how the creations, have evolved beyond their creators.

In the past, Gigolo Joe explained to David that even though they were living among the humans, and did numerous things for them, they were hated and oppressed by their creators (as we see in a number of sequences).

“They made us too smart, too quick, and too many,” Joe explained to David. “We are paying for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left, is us!”

David himself, is an important link in the evolutionary chain of mecha. Before his creation, robots were programmed what to think and do, but as seen in David’s quest, he is the one who “chooses” to seek out the Blue Fairy. This seemed more like a ‘baby step’ in mecha evolution though, because David was unable to think and reason beyond his simple program to love Monica. He couldn’t  live beyond that main piece of his programming, and as we see when the Future Mecha try to bargain with him to consider other ways to view him interacting with humans, he never wavers from wanting to see her again.


Of course, one has to wonder how this affected the Future Mecha. They were most likely able to extract information from David’s memories, but were probably saddened that they were unable to interact with him on a more investigative level.

David would probably be seen as a God to them, considering he was alive when their creators roamed the Earth. His interaction with humans 2,000 years ago, makes him at this point in history, the most ‘human’ thing left on the planet.

When one backtracks to the beginning of the film, it is the voice of the Specialist we hear, first narrating over an image of a roiling ocean.The film has an often cold sterility to how some characters act, let alone the coloration of some scenes being slightly muted at times.


If one looks at the film overall, it could be seen as a possible extrapolation of information the Future Mecha have gleaned from David, and what they have unearthed about the past. Given the Specialist’s voice is heard in a narrative capacity 3 times, it stands to reason that maybe he is relaying this story as some form of history lesson, on the evolution of the mecha ‘species.’

This can also make sense, as the story largely is about David’s creation, birth, life, and eventually, death.

There is a certain ‘sterility’ throughout the film as well, almost like affection and emotions, are kept at arm’s length from us. Even in the color palette in some of the environments are not as bright as we would expect…making one wonder, since the Future Mecha are unable to fully have as strong of emotions as their human creators (are they even imbued with a soul?), maybe that sterility and uneasiness of trying to channel emotions into the story, is a little ‘wonky’ to them.

Though one has to also wonder, if these Future Mecha see human beings as their creator, do they also subscribe to the man-made theory/thought process of a Supreme Being, or has limited knowledge and information in the future, truly supplanted such notions, and moved humanity to the top of that Divine Plane?


While it isn’t one of my Top 5 films by Steven Spielberg, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is one of those films that has managed to sit in the back of my head, and bubble to the surface every once-in-awhile with its subject matter.

The concept of the creation of artificial life, as well as human acceptance, is something that has often fascinated me, maybe in some capacity, because of studying animation, which some have called, “The Illusion of Life.”

During the summer of 2001, I was part of a Spielberg-related chatroom, and for the rest of the summer, I and many others, would trade discussion back-and-forth on the film, and what we felt certain elements stood for. Other Spielberg topics languished, as the A.I. board quickly rose to 10,000 posts and beyond. No stone was too small to overturn, as we searched for symbolism, the meaning to the end, as well as created fan-fiction to fill in the holes we saw.

Much like how Titanic brought me to a community to discuss my thoughts in 1998, A.I. Artificial Intelligence did so 4 years later, in a new capacity. Even watching the film 15 years later, there are still new things I am finding out.


Retro Recaps: The Making of E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial)

Once upon a time, making-of specials and documentaries, were incredibly “thick” with material.

You’d get people to sit down and reminisce, often coming up with the most amazing stories from the production they were thinking back on. All of a sudden, an incident that hadn’t been thought of in years would resurface, or the meaning behind a particular scene, would become clearer. To me, I ate up many of these documentaries like Reeses Pieces.

However, in more recent years, making-of specials have become flash-in-the-pan. They are often whittled down to 20-30 minutes, usually with the briefest of ‘talking heads’ from the crew, and more time given over to the cast.

Though when it comes to many of the making-of films I’ve seen, one name often comes up: Laurent Bouzereau

MakinfofET-3Bouzereau is one of the most well-known film documentarians around, with a major focus on the works of both Alfred Hitchcock, and Steven Spielberg.

His association with Spielberg largely began in the 1990’s, when he produced and directed a number of retrospective/making-of documentaries for the laserdisc-format.

Several that stand out from that time, include his making-of special for Jaws (which clocks in at almost 2 hours!), and his retrospective on Spielberg’s 1941.

In 1996, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was released on laserdisc, and as an added feature, a 1 1/2 hour documentary by Bouzereau was included.

With the documentary’s 20th anniversary upon us this year, I couldn’t help but share some of my thoughts on one of the best ‘lost documentaries’ that you surely have never heard of (I mean, how many of us even HAD a laserdisc player growing up!?).


In The Beginning…

What many don’t know, is that E.T. originally started out as another project by Spielberg. A darker humans-meet-aliens story, called Night Skies.

MakingET-4Producer Kathleen Kennedy (left) shares a story about how Spielberg requested she research an incident where a farm family was terrorized by extra-terrestrials (sounding similar to one scene in Close Encounters), and use that as the basis for the film.

Also of interest, was Kennedy seeing a film called The Return of the Secaucus Seven, and requesting that its writer/director John Sayles, write a draft for this film…though 14 years later, she couldn’t recall just why she felt Sayles was the perfect fit for the project.

However, upon reviewing the first draft of Night Skies that Sayles wrote, Steven found it wasn’t quite where he wanted to go, and dropped the dark angle, soon after starting over with something simpler.

Steven also called a halt to the alien development, which was originally being handled by physical effects maestro, Rick Baker!

Recently, Baker did release some images of just what the Night Skies alien development was, before Spielberg decided to look elsewhere. As one can see in the image below, the creatures were definitely going in a different direction.


Image posted online by Rick Baker, showing early clay models for the “Night Skies” aliens he was developing before the plug was pulled

Though in going over the information, it almost feels like that “terrorized family” aspect that had originally intrigued Spielberg, ended up going into another 1982 release that he produced (and wrote), called Poltergeist.


Opening up with E.T’s Screenwriter

One of the often unsung heroes of E.T., is screenwriter Melissa Mathison.

MakinfofET-2One film that Spielberg had loved was The Black Stallion, which Mathison had also written. Once he had the framework for his ‘boy and his alien’ story, he asked her to work on fleshing out the rest of it.

In the early 1980’s, Mathison was married to Harrison Ford, and she claims she drew some inspiration from Ford’s son and his friends, for the Dungeons and Dragons game scenes in the film.

She also revealed something startling in part of her interview. When researching how to form E.T. as a character, she would poll random children for ideas, and found something consistent with a few of them:

“I was struck by the fact that several of them mentioned, that they would like, if this magical creature came into their life, they would like him to be able to ‘heal.’ And I thought it was such an incredibly poignant idea to come from a child. And they weren’t talking about ‘save someone’s life’ by healing, they were talking about, ‘take the owies away.'”

It definitely is something unconventional when it comes to aliens. One would most likely expect lasers or cool spaceships, but a healing factor was not something I don’t think an average adult would ever consider.

Unlike Sayles’ Night Skies first draft, Mathison’s first draft for E.T. so impressed Steven, that he claimed that he could have started shooting it the next day. Over the years, he would often claim it to be the best first draft he ever read.

Mathison also worked with Spielberg again in the last few years, when she was involved with the screenplay for Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation, of Roald Dahl’s book, The Big Friendly Giant.

Sadly, she passed away last year at the age of 65, but one has to wonder what her final screenplay with Spielberg will bring, when his latest film is released.


Mathison with Sean Frye, Henry Thomas, and C Thomas Howell, going over a scene for E.T.


Chatting with the Cast

The documentary also gets the chance to talk with the main human cast of the film. They include Henry Thomas (Elliot) Drew Barrymore (Gertie), Robert MacNaughton (Michael), Dee Wallace Stone (Mary, the kids’ mother), and Peter Coyote (known only as “Keys” in the film, because of the ring of them on his belt loop).

There are some fun background facts about some of the actors. Peter Coyote tells of his embarrassing audition for Indiana Jones (he was auditioning for the lead), in which he tripped over his feet and knocked over a lamp. He lost the role, but his clumsiness stuck with Steven, who called on Peter for the role of Keys.

Of those that are speaking, it is Thomas and Barrymore who get the most time.


Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore

Thomas shares quite a few insights into production, including his audition, in which he ad-libbed trying to keep a government agent from taking away his alien friend. The whole clip is included on the documentary, including Spielberg’s words off-camera a few seconds after the conversation ends, going: “Ok kid, you got the part!”

Drew also mentions how she originally auditioned for the Carol Anne role in Poltergeist, but Spielberg claimed she wasn’t right for it. Instead, her ability to spin all sorts of crazy stories (she told him she was going to tour with a punk-rock band), led him to cast her for the role of Gertie.

Unlike most films, E.T. was shot in the order of the shots as we see on film, which allowed the kids to find E.T. and grow to understand him, in the same vein as what we see on-screen. This meant that by the time they got to the big scene where E.T. is sick and dying, the emotions were genuine (and, to which Spielberg mentions, many of those shots were got on the first take).


Being Candid with Steven Spielberg

I don’t know what it is about Laurent Bouzereau, but he seems to have a way of just putting Spielberg into such a relaxed state of talking, that Steven just opens up in some of the most surprising ways.

There are a few times where Steven gets so excited thinking of something, that he almost works himself into a frenzy.


Notable is one scene in which E.T. is eating some watermelon, and his left hand (performed by an off-camera mime named Caprice Rothe), reaches for a seed that has stuck to his face, and casually plucks it off. The discussion then lead into this:

“I mean, who would have thought of that, except someone who is really in touch with human behavior? And she really had a great understanding of the way the human body moves and what we do with our hands and our bodies. It’s just a tiny moment people don’t ever recognize in the movie, but I’m really proud of what she brought to that scene, just by taking a little piece of food off the lip-brought E.T. to life, like that! He was alive in that moment, completely alive! Nobody was running him. There were no wires, there were no servo motors going, that was really someone from somewhere else.”

MakingET-10Steven also reveals how he would often voice E.T. off -camera, and we see him in one behind-the-scenes clip, hunched off-camera doing a high-pitched voice, feeding Henry Thomas E.T.’s lines.

Supposedly, Thomas got so used to hearing Steven saying the lines, that after seeing the film at its premiere, he could still hear Steven’s voice in his head!

The bit where Spielberg discusses this is also memorable, because he even starts trying to mimic E.T.’s voice to Laurent (off-camera) during the interview.


Of Missing Scenes, and Sequels

What is most thrilling about the making-of special, is that there are actual clips from scenes that we’ve seen still pictures of, or may have been referenced in some of the film’s storybooks, but never seen in motion.


One of the most famously talked of, is when Elliot is taken to the Principal’s office after freeing the frogs in his science class. The unseen Principal, is actually Harrison Ford (and in one interview, Thomas tells how amazed he was to be in the presence of Han Solo).

There was even an alternate ending to the film, than what we know now.


The alternate ending, shows Elliot playing Dungeons and Dragons with Michael and his friends. However, unlike the earlier scene where Elliot is shunned, he is the Dungeon Master of the game, and as we pan up from the group of boys playing, we see on the roof of the house, the communications device E.T. used, possibly foreshadowing that the two may meet again.

Word was that after seeing the film cut with the goodbye scene in the woods, it was felt that that scene said all that needed to be said about the parting of the two friends.

There was even some discussion about a sequel for a bit, but eventually, it was decided to drop any thoughts of one. Kathleen Kennedy tells how the feeling was that it would “cheapen the film and its experience” for the audience.

As Spielberg states:

“I never made a sequel to E.T., because I can’t ever make an E.T. movie as good as what I did. I would only shame the memory. I would only show people ‘the flaws.’ E.T. isn’t a ‘mechanical cottage industry,’  that invites further adventures of E.T. and other kids on the planet Earth. It is a one-time event, and to do two or three or four movies based on that one character, is creating a franchise, that I didn’t frankly think was the honest and right thing to do.”

Probably the closest we ever got to an E.T. sequel, was the Spieberg-endorsed The E.T. Adventure, which was a fixture in all of the Universal Studios theme parks for awhile.

In the ride, guests would ride bicycles to help E.T. get home, where his healing touch would help save his dying homeworld.

The ride was very much in the same vein as the Peter Pan’s Flight attraction at Disneyland, with the ride vehicles suspended on an overhead track, giving the illusion that you are soon flying over a cityscape, and onto E.T.’s homeplanet.



Even though the film was touted for its effects work, it feels that much like Back to the Future and The Goonies, it is the characters and the story that take more precedence.

The documentary also gives plenty of shout-outs to the crew who built E.T., as well as the various little persons and others who helped bring him to life.

There is talk about the attempts to make E.T. seem believable, but also having to deal with the limitations of the animatronic technology of the time.

Also of note, is a small interview with Ralph McQuarrie, who was a major design influence on Star Wars.

McQuarrie was commissioned to design E.T.’s spaceship, whose design was a Jules Verne-inspired ship, with squat little landing legs coming out from its ‘body,’ almost making it resemble E.T. in a way.


A Word of Warning

When the film was done, word was that Spielberg later regretted scenes at the end, in which as the government agents attempt to stop Elliot and the other boys from escaping, they do so while brandishing firearms.

On-camera, Spielberg mentions how if the film is ever re-released, he intends to use computer technology to “fix” those scenes.

6 years later, he was true to his word when a Special Edition of E.T. was released, with the guns being replaced by walkie-talkies.

The Special Edition of the film received the same amount of flack that was directed at George Lucas for his Star Wars Special Editions. Though unlike those films, when E.T. came to DVD in the fall of 2002, it also contained a disc with the original cut. 10 years later for the film’s 30th anniversary (feeling old yet?), the Special Edition cut was nowhere to be found.


I originally saw the documentary in 10 parts on Youtube, before copyright claims ended up making the person take them down. It has recently resurfaced cut into two pieces, though with some missing pieces here-and-there, making some of the conversations severely disjointed in places.

Unlike the full 2-hour Making of Jaws piece that was included on that film’s recent Blu-Ray release, The Making of E.T. has never been re-released since its 1996 premiere on the E.T. laserdisc release.

Several snippets of commentary were included in a small book included in the 2002 DVD’s special edition boxset release, but it just doesn’t feel the same as Laurent’s documentary.

He has a way of painting his making-of pieces with the kind of informative format that just keeps me coming back to watch them over-and-over again. Then again, I have been one of the weirder persons who craved stuff like this (I’m also the guy who hopes for audio commentaries on Blu-Ray releases these days, even though that practice is pretty much dead).

If you’d like to know more about Laurent Bouzereau, and the other works he’s done, you can find out more at his website,