*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
Much like the song by the group Third Eye Blind, Writer/Producer/Director Roland Emmerich, seems to live a “semi-charmed life,” with much of it happening during the 1990’s.
There was mild interest and praise when it came to his and partner Dean Devlin’s 1994 film Stargate, but 2 years later, the two would rule the worldwide box-office.
Enticing people with trailer imagery of aliens destroying The White House (which also elicited cheering from some audiences!), their summer release Independence Day, became one of their biggest success stories…and one that they failed to repeat over the years.
While many of us seemed to think the film was over-and-done-with, there were some die-hard fans who felt that there was more to the story. Some imagined that we had just seen the first wave of an invasion force, and hoped for more.
And so, 20 years later they got more…but it wasn’t quite the ‘more’ they hoped for, turning many a fan’s wishful dream, into a retreaded nightmare.
*Warning: this post will journey into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want to have anything about the film ruined, turn back…but who am I kidding? You didn’t see it, and want to know why to avoid this thing like an alien plague, right?*
Every director has a crutch they usually end up falling back on. For Roland Emmerich, it is that cruel mistress, known as ‘coincidence.’
While coincidence didn’t totally overwhelm ID4, going onward, I came to see it more and more in his films (from a taxi cab constantly avoiding his Godzilla, to John Cusack maneuvering a limo through a crumbling Los Angeles, and more!). One would hope Roland would have learned his lesson by now, but just like how Michael Bay seems to keep assuming that snarky jerks are the everyman of today’s films, Roland can’t escape ‘coincidence.’
Plus, by the looks of one scene, they finished building our moon base’s laser-cannon just in the nick of time, as the aliens seem to come upon us within mere hours of it’s being fully-operational (and which they quickly succeed in destroying).
Oh, and remember how President Whitmore mentioned in the first film, that ‘maybe it’s fate, that today is the Fourth of July?’ Well, would you believe the next wave of aliens decided to launch their attack 20 years to the day we fought back? Yep, that happens here!
Of course, one of the biggest moments where you might cry ‘enough,’ comes at the end, when the massive Queen Alien, stalks after a school bus, while also firing on it with her own personal laser-gun (yeah, her ‘subjects’ made her her own BFG!). But, just like such close-calls in Godzilla (1998) and 2012, this huge creature can’t seem to take down this tiny little school bus!
There’s plenty more ridiculousness to be had in the end as well, but I’ll stop, lest I drone on for another thousand words.
When it comes to sequels, it’s a given that most people want to see those characters they remembered from the last film. In the case of this film, it’s almost like going to a Hollywood Autograph Show, to see who needs some extra cash.
The biggest news was Will Smith turning down reprising his character (Captain Steven Hiller) in the sequel, but names such as Bill Pullman (as President Charles Whitmore), Jeff Goldblum (as David Levinson), and Vivica A Fox (as Steve’s widow, Jasmine) came back. However, they are largely relegated to supporting players, with Goldblum’s David being the only one who gets a ‘meatier’ role.
Fox’s character could almost have been written out entirely, as she seems to garner less than 5 minutes of screentime. Most likely, this was the writer’s ham-handed attempt to give us an emotional moment for her son Dylan to have (a moment that fails to deliver when the time comes).
One of the few moments where I was somewhat taken aback by a character’s appearance, was in the brief acknowledgement of General Grey (played by the late Robert Loggia). Grey was the gruff General by Whitmore’s side in the first film, and here, he is given a small cameo, along with a very quick eye-to-eye with Whitmore.
With the former film’s main cast now a bunch of ‘old fogies,’ Emmerich’s attempt to keep the series alive, falls on ‘a new generation’ of kids, who grew up in the wake of the 1996 attack. However, by the end of the film, I couldn’t even tell you what any of their names were!
Emmerich seems to be trying to pull a Top Gun vibe here with his pilot characters. They include Dylan Hiller (Steve Hiller’s stepson, played here by Jessie Usher), Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Charlie Miller (Travis Tope).
Plus, would you believe that former President Whitmore’s daughter (played this time by Maika Monroe) also is a former fighter pilot, along with being Jake’s fiance?
Of course, one of the biggest re-jiggerings of a character after they are presumed dead, comes in regards to Dr Brakish Oaken (played by Brent Spiner). It turns out that being an alien conduit in the first film didn’t kill Oaken, but just sent him into a coma for 20 years…one that he conveniently wakes from just as the aliens show up this time, and with no muscle atrophy, simply starts walking around and acting just as obsessed with aliens as he did 2 decades ago!
The film also does away with some characters, as if they never existed.
A prime example, is Constance Spano (played by Margaret Colin) from the first film. Having divorced from David a few years prior to the first film, the events of the first film made it seem that the two would reconcile.
Surprisingly, she is never mentioned once in Resurgence! Instead, we get a new love interest, in the form of Catherine Marceaux (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). However, she is little more than a talking head whom the film intends to make us believe, has “chemistry” with Goldblum’s David.
Also in regards to David, is the return of his father, Julius. In one scene, Roland could have given us the perfect opportunity to kill off Julius and make us actually give a damn…but instead, the elder Levinson becomes an adoptive father-figure to some displaced kids, and ends up taking the wheel of a school bus (I wish I was joking, but I’m not)!
Speaking of orphaned kids, we have ANOTHER group of characters missing-in-action: the children of Russell Casse (played by Randy Quaid).
The last time we saw these three, was at Area 51 in the first film, with Casse’s eldest son Miguel (James Duval) witness to his Dad’s sacrifice.
However, in this film, there’s no mention of what became of Russell’s kids. Plus, we get the subtlest of references to Mr Casse, when we are shown a brief glimpse, of a rebuilt Washington Monument. His name is carved into the structure, but it’s one name out of hundreds that passes by as we see a flying vehicle catch our attention (and, it’s several hundred feet in the air where even the most casual tourist can’t even read it!).
Of course, what happens in this film is nothing new, as Emmerich seems to fancy himself as some master of ensemble casting in numerous films. However, it seems rather odd that when it comes to a group of young persons who grew up orphaned in the wake of the last attack, a few of Casse’s kids wanting to join up wasn’t considered!
If you saw Back to the Future as a kid like I did, I assume you were just as surprised as I was, when the DeLorean Time Machine, folded in it’s wheels, and flew off into the sky!
With the kind of hover-technology and weaponry the aliens carried in the first film, one would assume we’d have had some big advancements 20 years in the future, right?
Well…only if you are the government, or the Military.
The alien technology seems to make flight and maneuverability so much easier (it’s no problem to just take off from Earth and fly to the Moon in a matter of minutes for those in the Armed Forces!)…so why do civilians still rely on fossil fuel-based vehicles (see right)? Or for that matter, still use helicopters with rotors? Heck, this world still uses massive seafaring cargo ships that seem to take a lot of time to cross oceans!
Apparently, the only other use this anti-gravity technology has been used for…is to create giant jumbo-tron flat-screens for events like this one in D.C.
To me, this could mean one of two things:
- Despite nations of the world working together, Big Oil survived the 1996 attack, and is still affecting fuel consumption around the world.
- The filmmakers had to make budget cuts, and severely limited how many flying vehicles they could have people using on-screen.
Anyone remember the film 300? That film seemed to live-and-die based on imagery of Gerard Butler yelling into the camera…but as to the rest of the film, most don’t recall much beyond Butler yelling, “SPAR-TAHNS!!”
The first Independence Day was rife with all sorts of one-liners that stuck in people’s heads (most of them recited by Will Smith). However, the one bit that almost everyone recalls, is President Whitmore’s big speech before everyone goes into the final battle.
For some reason, the aliens heard this speech (and somehow have visuals of it!?), and even the current President (played by Sela Ward), invokes part of it during the 20th anniversary celebration of the event.
We even get a rather mean tease, as it feels like Whitmore is going to give us this film’s ‘big speech,’ but instead…it just turns into a semi-boisterous declaration that fizzles out!
There’s also a small, eye-rolling cameo, as we see Will Smith: in a painting, as his son goes to meet Whitmore’s daughter in the White House.
Of course, one of the biggest throwaway lines comes when the current President (played by Sela Ward) is confronted by aliens at the secret bunker she’s been taken to.
“There will be no peace,” she says, in one of the strangest line references to the first film…a line that only the most die-hard of fans will get (or those of us who’ve seen the film a few dozen times).
in case you’re wondering, this line refers to a scene where Dr Oaken is being used as a vocal conduit by one alien, and Whitmore asks if ‘there can be a peace.’
“Peace…no peace,” the alien says through Oaken.
Over the years, I’ve seen this happen in a number of ‘second’ films. There becomes this uncontrollable desire by the filmmakers, that they need to make everything bigger and better than the first film (and a main reason why I started this sub-category).
That is definitely the case here, when the aliens attack. The first film had ships with a 15-mile radius descending on numerous cities. Here, we get one massive ship, over 3,000 miles wide, and threatening to break the planet’s crust (though it does land, we never get any follow-up regarding that crust-breaking claim!). It also comes with a detachable ‘Harvester Queen’s Lair,’ so her ship can approach Area 51, just like that one ship in the first film.
There also is an amped-up storypoint, regarding the harvesting of our planetary resources. The first film covered the aliens’ invasion with a quick explanation by President Whitmore. In this film, the keywords to their attack this time, are ‘our molten core.’ There is a hokey explanation at the beginning of the film (apparently, one of the first film’s ships landed and attempted to drill), and then plenty of science mumbo-jumbo happens, as it seems noone can calculate just how long it takes the aliens to drill to the center of the Earth.
It’s never explained just why or how they use this material to make their weapons and technology, but the film’s attempts to make this one of several ‘ticking clocks’ in the final third of the film, quickly gets rather humorous. One could almost make a drinking game for every time some actor tries to make the phrase ‘our molten core,’ sound serious.
The same kind of overkill, appears to also be prevalent in the film’s special effects-heavy scenes.
Much like how George Lucas seemed to peg an all-CG world as the next evolutionary step in his ‘universe,’ so too has Emmerich. The intricate models and miniature effects are gone, replaced with extensively-built CG environments.
This is largely on display as the Mother Ship’s own gravity, sucks up all sorts of things (including buildings) from China and the Middle East, and many miles away, deposits them onto London.
We’re meant to be in awe of what we are seeing, but it just struck me as rather ‘meh.’ Sure, we see the Burj Khalifa tower impacting the ground, disintegrating in a flurry of debris and glass shards, and London’s Tower Bridge being destroyed (again?), but it all seems so…impersonal (doesn’t help that our ‘heroes’ flying through the debris, seem rather detached from the fact that they are surrounded by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people!).
Strangely enough, I felt a bit more reality was given in the Chicago invasion scene in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The reason? We actually got to see people affected by the destruction…let alone people being obliterated by the enemy!
It could be that also like what Lucas did with his Star Wars prequels, Emmerich has also become detached from ‘humanity,’ and would rather try and distract us with what awesome CG effects he has at his disposal.
We even get the filmmakers trying to make a ‘small’ joke, as one of the massive landing legs on the ship, just seems to ‘nudge’ the rebuilt White House, before a piece of debris knocks it’s American Flag and pole, slightly askew.
Probably not since Transformers: Age of Extinction, have I seen a film try to pander so much to the Chinese marketplace.
We get everything from a voice telling of a Moon Milk drink, to the President’s daughter using the program QQ to chat with her fiance. I have used QQ in the past, but it’s largely a messenger program, related to the Chinese marketplace.
Plus, the film has no problem just making the Asian masses on-screen, be the human cannon-fodder this time as the aliens invade. We see the all-Chinese crew on the moonbase’s defense system obliterated, let alone see hundreds running for their lives and sucked up in one scene.
Plus, the defense system on the moon is considered to be part of a ‘United Global Defense Unit,’ but for being ‘united,’ it is heavily-controlled by the Chinese. So, what happened? Did the UGDU need emergency funding, and the Chinese were eager to buy them out?
When it comes to big-names from China, the film casts model-turned-actress, Angelababy (aka Yang Ying), as China’s representative pilot. However, she serves as little more than eye-candy, and relationship fodder for one of the American pilots, played by Travis Tope (who gives one of the worst pick-up line deliveries I’ve heard in awhile!).
If Emmerich had at least given Angelababy some decent character development, I probably wouldn’t be so unforgiving, but she serves about as much purpose here, as most women do in a Michael Bay film.
Some people I talked to online before the film’s release, had ‘starry-eyes,’ imagining that this sequel would shed more light on the exo-suited alien race from the first film.
As I expected, we got very little extra knowledge, except that these aliens just love sucking up planetary resources.
It’s also never fully-explained why the massive ship chose to come to our planet. It is commanded by a Harvester Queen, which there seem to be an abundance of in this species. There is a strange subtext that she seems to be zeroing in on Pullman’s character for revenge, but these creatures also seem to be intended to be devoid of emotions.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the Alien Queen from attempting to destroy a puny schoolbus or Whitmore’s daughter, rather than try and carry out her ‘master plan.’
In Resurgence, we also get the introduction of a new alien species: one that ported itself from biological, to digital many years prior, after an attack by the aliens on it’s homeworld. The alien appears in the form of a white sphere, that then holo-projects things to the humans. Though strange enough, the humans turn it on and off by touch, like a computer (then again, it looks like some futuristic Apple product!).
This is Emmerich’s attempt to try and make his Universe even bigger, but his concept here just becomes flimsier, the more information we find out regarding this new lifeform.
It doesn’t help that the alien came ‘to evacuate as many humans as possible,’ but didn’t make us aware of it’s intentions, and was attacked by the ESD’s moonbase cannon.
Plus, this entity is supposedly the leader of a hidden world that teaches other alien species to build weapons to counter the evil aliens…yet, was not smart enough to not send itself!? One would assume they would send out some sort of ambassador or ‘scouting party,’ on the off-chance a hostile entity would try to do them in.
Instead, the alien just goes, “My radioactive signature will be detected by the Queen, therefore, you must destroy me before she gets ahold of me.”
For an alien species that has gone digital, this one isn’t too bright. Plus, at the end, the rather coincidental way that the humans win the fight (like the first film, it all relies on sheer dumb luck!), is enough for the sphere to want the humans to come to it’s homeworld, and lead it’s planned resistance.
Of course, given how well this film went over, I seriously doubt intergalactic space-travel and that huge war across the stars, is ever going to occur. At the very least, we’ll hopefully be spared another stupidly coincidental way in which more of the evil aliens are destroyed.
While there were numerous tie-ins and much publicity, some sensed all was not well, when Twentieth-Century Fox claimed they would not hold early press screenings for the film. To many, this was a sign that something was amiss…and when the film was finally released, those feelings were allayed, big-time.
Personally, while many gnashed and complained about the 2016 Ghostbusters film being a ‘crime against humanity,’ I felt that Resurgence better fit the bill (hey, at least Ghostbusters had it’s own ‘Will Smith,’ in the form of Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann character!).
A lot of films related to 10-30 year old properties these days, seem to fall back on that unfortunate tact, of simply ‘recycling,’ and ‘punching-up’ the older story, and that’s what we have here.
Emmerich and Devlin caught lightning in a bottle in the Summer of 1996, and when trying to do the same thing 2 decades later, it just looks pathetic.
To me, Independence Day was a product of it’s time A film made when corporations were taking over Hollywood, actors were demanding $20 million+ paydays, and film and advertising budgets were also ballooning out-of-control.
At this point, it feels very unlikely that Fox will pony up more dough for Emmerich to make another feature film related to Independence Day…though maybe like how Stargate spun off into it’s SG-1 and Atlantis counterparts, a TV series might be the only way for Roland to continue his own intergalactic space opera.
Oh, and one more thing Roland…DID WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER ‘DOG IN DANGER’ MOMENT!? THIS ISN’T 1996!!!
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
Oftentimes, a studio has a film that they think may be a modest hit, but are surprised when it ends up doing even better than they expected.
That was the case in 1994, when Twentieth Century Fox released the movie Speed. Starring Keanu Reeves and Sandras Bullock, the story of a bus with a bomb on it, ended up cracking the Top 10 for box-office grosses that year. With over $350 million made in worldwide grosses (and on a ‘measly’ $30 million budget!), the film helped jump-start a number of careers attached to the film, and seemed to become to the 90’s, what Die Hard was to the 80’s.
Shortly after it’s release, Speed quickly ended up the butt of some pop-culture jokes. Homer Simpson couldn’t recall it’s title in a Simpsons episode, only recalling it was “about a bus that had to speed around a city, keeping it’s speed over 50.”
On the TV show The Critic, it’s writers envisioned a 30-second sequel titled Speed Reading, in which Dennis Hopper’s character rigs a book to explode, and has Reeves’ character try to read it (“Bogus!”).
Of course, Fox already had high hopes for the film upon early word-of-mouth, and after seeing how well it performed over it’s first weekend, they quickly greenlit a sequel.
Where Do We Go From Here?
When looking at the prospects of a sequel from the first film, there really didn’t seem to be much left to expand upon.
The mad bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) had been taken care of, the bus had exploded, and Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock), had ended up in each other’s arms.
So…how could Hollywood mess up that happy ending? In several ways.
The hook for the sequel seemed to elude the filmmakers for awhile, until director Jan De Bont recalled a recurring nightmare he would have, where a cruise ship crashed into an island. This quickly became the jumping-off point for the sequel.
And what of Jack and Annie? Well, according to Speed 2′s story (which encompassed over 6 writers!), Annie was apparently right the first time, about how “relationships based on extreme circumstances never work out.” Apparently, Jack’s involvement in the LAPD’s bomb squad and his wanting to take risks, became too much for her, and they split.
However, she didn’t get far, before she ended up dating another member of the LAPD (and our lead for this film), Alex Shaw (Jason Patric). However, unlike Jack’s high-octane position at work, Alex has claimed he simply does bicycle patrol work at the local beach. This soon turns out to be a lie, when upon taking a driver’s test, Annie runs into Alex on assignment for the LAPD’s SWAT team.
That’s our Annie: just wants a nice quiet LAPD officer, but keeps ending up with the guys who are livin’ on the edge, 90’s style!
This story tries to show us that Alex IS actually more of a settling-down guy than Jack, as he convinces her to go on a caribbean cruise, where he intends to propose to her.
However, Alex’s calming getaway plans are put on hold, when a man named John Geiger (played by Willem Dafoe), comes aboard, with a major revenge plan, and his own agenda.
Doing It For the Money
“I want money, Jack. I wish I had some loftier purpose, but, I’m afraid it all comes down to the money, Jack” – Howard Payne, Speed (1994)
Sure, the creation of sequels to successful films usually means that bigger paydays are in order, but when it came to Speed, many from that film felt there really was no need to continue what seemed a pretty simple story.
However, some of the cast and crew couldn’t say no to a bigger paycheck from the studio.
While Titanic was on many person’s minds that year with it’s rocky production stories and $200 million budget, Speed 2 came up with budget estimates between $100-120 million. To many, that seemed excessive when compared to it’s first film’s more ‘modest’ budget.
One of the most famous stories regarding money and the cast, was Keanu Reeves turning down a payday of over $10 million to appear in the sequel. Instead, Reeves chose to tour with his band (Dogstar), and star in The Devil’s Advocate instead.
Sandra Bullock also was going to turn down the sequel, but she accepted the studio’s payday (for $11-13 million!), with the added caveat that Fox fund a film she wanted to make (1998’s Hope Floats).
Of course, most sequels usually bring back a few familiar, supporting characters to earn a few extra dollars, and that happened with two actors from the first film
Joe Morton returned as LAPD officer McMahon, though having gone down from a Captain’s role, to that of a Lieutenant.
One of the more memorable minor characters from the first film, was Maurice (Glenn Plummer). In Speed, Reeves’ character commandeers his Jaguar to get onto the bus. In the sequel, Plummer’s character is now living on the island that the ship crashed into. Almost as a nod to the first film, Patrick’s character commandeers Maurice’s new mode of transportation, a boat (also bearing the name “Tuneman,” just like his Jaguar’s license plate).
The writers even throw in a little referential jab, when Maurice finds out Allen is also a member of the LAPD (“Do you know how many hours of therapy I’ve had because of you guys?”).
Amping up the] Extras
In the first Speed, the passengers on the bus were somewhat one-dimensional, but they still managed to stay entertaining.
When it comes to the passengers that Bullock and Patric encounter, it feels almost like they are there to be examples of ‘possible futures’ for Alex and Annie.
Because it’s a cruise ship, the majority of the passengers our leading couple meet, are married couples with problems of their own.
They range from a newly-wed couple, to a bitter middle-aged couple, and even one couple that have brought their deaf daughter with them, who seems to be having issues ‘communicating’ with her father, on an emotional level.
The film tries to use the daughter as a ‘plot-device’ soon enough. First with the revelation that Alex knows sign-language and can communicate with her, but later, she ends up in a perilous situation, and he springs into action to save her.
Not quite Dennis Hopper, but Just as Nuts
Though having a minor role in Speed, method-actor Dennis Hopper made his few moment on screen count, as the logically-psychotic Howard Payne. Payne was a former bomb-squad member, who had decided to use his skills to try and claim ransom given his age and health.
For the sequel, the idea seemed to be to find someone who could be even crazier than Dennis Hopper, and who better fits that bill, than the freaky-faced, Willem DaFoe?
Yep. If you saw that bug-eyed image of DaFoe online, and wondered where it came from…now you know! That’s one of several shots of him mugging for the camera as this film’s bad guy.
DaFoe’s John Geiger however, just ends up becoming ‘Payne 2.0.’ Upset that his cruise ship designing company jettisoned him after he got copper poisoning, Geiger’s main plans are to get away with the fortune in jewels aboard the ship, but soon just decides to become another ‘mad-bomber,’ and sets the ship on a collision course with an oil tanker later on.
Dafoe does get more screentime than Hopper, but most of the time he’s just mugging for the camera, and being someone whom Sandras Bullock can just scream “let go” to over and over again (seriously, you could make a drinking game out of how many times she says those two words to Geiger).
Upping the (Effects) Ante
Much publicity was made over the implausible bus-jump in the first Speed film, which used minimal amounts of effects and model-work to tell it’s story.
For the sequel, the boat-crash scene at the end, became it’s centerpiece event. Rather than opt for miniatures, Jan de Bont wanted to do the crash into the island at full-scale.
The scene would cost upwards of $25 million, to construct everything from false buildings, to a recreation of the ship’s bow, which was placed onto 50-ft of underwater track for the sequence.
For less-practical effects, digital effects houses Industrial Light & Magic and Rhythm & Hues, would tag-team on the film.
ILM took on the brunt of the effects work that dealt with the cruise ship (such as using a digital model in the the ship-crash scenes), while R&H handled some of the more low-key shots, such as compositing in propellers and bubbles when Patric’s character attempts to slow down the ship underwater.
They also contributed to the fiery oil tanker explosion at the end of the film, as seen below.
Given the debris flying into the air, Rhythm & Hues added a little in-joke regarding director Jan de Bont. It’s not noticeable on the screenshot, but one piece of debris that is thrown into the air from the explosion, is a cow (a little nod to de Bont’s previous summer blockbuster, Twister).
With Titanic being pulled from their release schedule due to editing and effects issues, Fox was left to hedge their summer bets on Speed 2.
At the time of it’s release, I recall how they really ramped up advertising on it, hoping to draw the crowds in. They even got a segment on Dateline NBC, telling how they filmed the climactic ship crash.
The film did open at Number one it’s opening weekend, but it was considered a ‘soft opening,’ given it’s $23 million weekend draw. However, staying power was not in the cards for Speed 2 like it’s predecessor, and by the end of the Fourth of July Holiday Weekend, it sank from the Top 10 weekly grosses, eventually making back less than $50 million domestically.
The critics weren’t kind to it either, with almost every major critic claiming it had few redeeming qualities…except for two big names.
On their At The Movies TV show, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert claimed that they actually enjoyed it! I still recall Ebert claiming that while it wasn’t a great movie, it was still a good one, and even Siskel was contented enough, that the film ended up getting the duo’s “Two Thumbs Up” approval, which Fox has whoringly thrown onto all of the films’ advertising materials, even to this day.
During the 1997 awards season, the Annual Razzie Awards (a group that consider themselves “The Anti-Oscars”), nominated the film for eight of it’s awards, including Worst Screenplay, and Worst Picture. Out of all the nominations, they did win Worst Remake or Sequel, beating out the likes of Batman & Robin, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
I was willing to give Speed 2 a chance when it came out, but after seeing it, I felt there really was nothing more to say. To me, the film is still an example of the over-bloated spectacle of 90’s cinema. It’s less of a film, and more of a ‘manufactured product.’
The one thing I do remember most from that summer-afternoon screening, was the erratic ‘shaky-cam’ during the boat-and-plane chase scene at the end. We often complain about too much ‘shaky-cam’ in our films today, but I recall how just trying to watch this scene was a chore, as I struggled between the camerawork and the editing, to pull together some coherency over what was happening.
Many years later when I saw it was on Amazon Prime, I gave the film another viewing, but found my opinions hadn’t changed much over the years. Most of the time, it just feels like one of those parties where everyone shows up out of obligation…but in truth, noone wants to be there.
At the time, I felt a sequel to Speed should have encompassed a plane, given the greater probability for crashing, let alone a tense passenger scenario. The cruise ship concept was pretty ludicrous overall, given that it was a rather slow-moving ship on a large body of water. I often joke that since we had Speed 2: Cruise Control, if they did a third film with a plane, they could call it Speed 3: Air Conditioning.
The only really good thing I can say about the film, is that I do enjoy what composer Mark Mancina brought to our ears.
Mancina first captivated me with his hyper-kinetic music in the first Speed film, and after hearing his Oklahoma-meets-action stylings for 1996’s Twister, I was prepared for what he had here.
Most notable with this film’s score, is how he takes the original film’s driving strings theme, and adds an extra later of adrenaline to the mix, almost like a second heartbeat. Sadly, there would be no release for the film’s score until 2010, when Lalalandrecords released a 14-track album (limited to only 3,000 copies).
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
In 1993, Director Steven Spielberg created an amazing cinematic experience for millions of people worldwide, when he brought Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park to the screen. At times both awe-inspiring and terrifying, I often consider it my generation’s Star Wars.
No film stood a chance against it that summer, and with it’s box-office grosses breaking records worldwide, it was a sure bet that Universal Studios would bring the dinosaurs back to the big screen.
The success of the film caused Crichton to soon churn out a rather unnecessary sequel, dubbed The Lost World. Released in 1995, it’s story dealt with another island (“Site B”), where the dinosaurs that populated Jurassic Park, were born and raised.
The science-fiction adventure story, has Ian Malcolm (who had previously been killed off in the book-version of Jurassic Park!) and a number of persons go off to rescue a colleague named Richard Levine, who has struck off for the island on his own. Right behind them, are a group of people from the InGen rival, Biosyn, hoping to steal eggs from the dinosaurs that have been set free on the island.
What gave some hope during the production of this sequel, was when Spielberg himself came back to direct, making it one of the first sequels he’d done outside of the Indiana Jones series. This was also his first feature after 1993’s Schindler’s List, a film whose dramatic tone seemed to signify a new direction he wanted to go in.
Most of the crew from the first film would return as well, though Crichton would opt out of screenwriting duties, which would pass solely to David Koepp (who had co-written the first film with Crichton).
From production on up through it’s release, much of the story and imagery was kept a secret. The teaser trailer was particularly exciting, showing the T-Rex roaring in the rain, before the words “Something Has Survived” flashed before our eyes! Only a scant few moments of dinosaur footage was released, before the film’s big release on Memorial Day weekend, in 1997.
The excitement over the film, would make it one of the biggest hits of the year. However, it failed to capture the magic that had enthralled us four summers prior, and made itself a prime candidate for this category.
Here’s some of my issues with The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The Lost World, in name-only
Let’s face it: when one adapts a famous novel to the screen, you have to expect some liberties to be taken. Of course, sometimes, there are quite a few.
If one were to read Peter Benchley’s Jaws, and watch Spielberg’s 1975 film, you’d find they are two completely different ‘beasts’ (did you know Matt Hooper was having an affair with the Sheriff Brody’s wife in the book!?).
When it came to Crichton’s novel, screenwriter David Koepp made quite a number of changes!
Of the new novel’s characters, he only ports over Sarah Harding and Eddie Carr, though drops the whole subplot regarding Biosyn, and instead has our villains come from within InGen itself.
In this case, the main corporate bad guy of the film, is John Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow (played by Arliss Howard). Peter has taken over the company, and is eager to exploit the leftover dinosaurs on Site B to recoup the company’s lost investments from the shuttered Jurassic Park.
Of all the ‘set-pieces’ from the novel, the only one that seems to have survived the story restructuring, is when the two T-Rexes on the island come for their infant, and push a research RV over the edge of a high-cliff.
It should be noted that one of the more intriguing (new) creatures in the novel, actually ended up making it’s way into the SEGA arcade game tie-in.
Near the end of the novel, our main group of humans is menaced by a chameleon-like carnotaurus. Though much like how the first film’s dilophosaurus was given fictional neck-frills and a venom-pouch, the Carnotaurus in the SEGA game was also embellished.
Notable was that in relation to it’s chameleon-like camouflage features, it was colored green, as well as given the swivel-eyes of a chameleon, which it did not have in real life.
The carnotaurus was one of the more memorable dinos in the arcade game, mainly due to it having a strange, digitized howl when one dealt a major blow to it.
Few Likable Characters
With the first Jurassic Park, there were plenty of enjoyable characters to choose from. From paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), to the slimy lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), almost all of the characters easily stuck in our minds.
Unfortunately, that kind of chemistry across the cast is pretty much left in the dark here.
In regards to the original film’s cast, Ian Malcolm is the only ‘major’ returning player. However, Jeff Goldblum plays him as the ‘reluctant hero,’ sometimes acting as a babysitter, other times trying to get people to listen, but most of the time just there to largely tell the idiots around him, “I told you so.”
Of all the new characters introduced, I couldn’t help but find Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Sarah Harding, to be quite annoying. The filmmakers seem to be trying to make her a vocally-outspoken and serious researcher, but oftentimes, she sounds moreso like she’s just there to spout certain facts, and doesn’t quite realize wholly that she’s among an environment of creatures that could squash or eat her.
Nick Van Owen (played by Vince Vaughn) is added in as a nature photographer/double-agent (Hammond secretly told him his nephew might show up!?), and seems to be the film’s resident “tree-hugger,” there to mainly get in the way of hunter Roland Tembo, played by Peter Postlewaite.
Probably of all the new characters, it is Roland who is the only one that seems interesting, let alone is given a small character arc. A bit like Robert Muldoon from the first film, Tembo is a big-game hunter who has caught almost everything…but, the chance to take down a Tyrannosaur, piques his interest enough to join the InGen ‘hunting’ party.
The film also attempts to make us care about two men in Roland’s employ, Ajay Sidhu (Harvey Jason), and Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare). However, Stark is quickly pegged to be our ‘evil man in the wilderness,’ and Ajay’s role is so underused, that when Roland expresses remorse for the loss of his friend at the end, it doesn’t really resonate (there was a deleted scene that did give the two more time together).
The film also finds the time to shoehorn in some brief cameos, from Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards, reprising their roles of Tim and Lex for a brief meetup with Malcolm. Lord Richard Attenborough also returns as John Hammond, though mainly to bookend the adventure.
This is a symptom I’ve seen in a lot of second films over the years (like Men in Black 2, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). When it comes to some sequels, the filmmakers seem to get worried that they have to top themselves from the previous film…and give the audience more!
That definitely seems to be the case with Lost World. We get so many extra dinosaurs, that at times, the wonder and awe that we experienced in the first film, is all-but-forgotten.
Sure, the stampede/round-up scene in Lost World showed new effects boundaries being pushed, (making the Gallimimus scene in the first film look quaint), but so many of the effects-heavy scenes here, often feel like the film’s story is stopping just to say, “look at this!”
This isn’t to sat the effects work in the film isn’t admirable, but it just doesn’t feel as thoroughly in the service of the storytelling for much of the picture.
Oh, Give me a Break!
There’s one scene in the film, that seems to have passed into the annals of laughable set-up/payoff scenes, when it comes to this film.
As Malcolm prepares to leave his daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) and go to Site B, he makes mention of her upcoming gymnastics tournament, before being told she got cut from the team.
One would assume this was the writer’s attempt to show us how disconnected Ian was from his daughter’s life. However, there was so much more…
In a later scene, Malcolm finds himself being menaced by a raptor in a multi-level utility hut, with Sarah and Kelly looking on. Suddenly, Kelly takes a leap, and, using some overhead piping as parallel bars, ends up using her gymnastics skills to take out the raptor, kicking it out of a window to it’s death.
How ridiculous was this joke? Well, a month or two after the film premiered, a comic book I was reading actually referenced it, with one character calling it’s set-up/pay-off a work of genius!
More B-movie than usual
Spielberg filled some parts of Jurassic Park with homages to some of the old days of stop-motion monster movies, and that same feel (somewhat) continues with Lost World.
The film’s title and some of it’s ending, do borrows from the 1925 silent film, The Lost World. However, it is a brontosaurus that the explorers bring back to the mainland in the 1925 film, compared to the more exciting T-Rex.
Plus, just like the first film, there is a reference to King Kong in this film, with the name of the boat that brings the Rex to San Diego, being the S.S. Venture, which was the name of the ship that brought Kong to New York City.
The original ending for the film would have featured pterodactyls attacking a helicopter, but this was changed to the more B-movie scenario, of the T-Rex getting loose in San Diego, California.
Spielberg seems to really revel in getting his monster-movie fix during the rampage. People scream, cars crash, a family is terrorized, but, it feels like Spielberg pulls away from the main story a little too long, almost like he’s become distracted by what the guys at Industrial Light & Magic can do with their CGI creatures.
If there is one saving grace to the Rex’s rampage, it’s with the man whom the T-Rex consumes in one scene, who attempts to escape into a nearby store. The man it turns out, is Lost World screenwriter and second-unit director, David Koepp. So, if you didn’t like the film, you can feel a little better knowing that the guy who wrote that gymnastics scene, got eaten onscreen. They even have some fun in the credits, as Koepp’s character is called, “Unlucky B******.”
Loose plot threads much?
While the first Jurassic Park had several large plotholes (notably how the T-Rex seemed to be levitating over an area in it’s paddock, that became a steep drop-off only minutes later!), The Lost World had quite a number of storypoints where it felt like the script just gave up.
One notable plothole, comes after the ship with the Rex crashes into the InGen docks. Littered across the ship, are the remains of it’s crew. However, it’s never explained just how this happened. We see a severed hand holding onto the ship’s wheel, but there’s no way the T-Rex could have caused such a thing (the boat’s wheelhouse is completely intact!).
My theory is that maybe raptors had gotten aboard, but one would have assumed they would have stayed aboard the ship, and then jumped off once they were able to get on the ground.
Another loose thread is how as the film enters it’s third act, Nick Van Owen just disappears from the story!
It’s never explained just why he didn’t accompany Ian and Sarah to the Rex’s arrival, and he’s never mentioned by name again. I guess maybe the two assumed he’d try some crazy stunt and free the Rex once it arrived? Or, maybe he just figured John Hammond’s paycheck only covered his time on Site B?
Speaking of this film’s habitat, the existence of Site B throws into question, a scene in the first film. During the tour of Jurassic Park, the group is shown a number of working scientists and technicians, whom Hammond claimed were “the real miracle-workers” of the park.
This seems rather hard-to-believe upon seeing Lost World, as one would assume if the development and breeding of the dinosaurs was all off-island on Site B, it feels like a wasted expenditure to have that small operation on Isla Nublar in the first film.
Plus, if the park was just for show as Hammond claims in this film, then why were important (and valuable) vials of the dinosaur’s DNA being kept there, rather than on Site B?
…the world, may never know.
Overall, I think The Lost World: Jurassic Park’s biggest problem, is that it doesn’t know how to balance itself out, acting more like a ‘product’ than a film at times.
It’s shaky storytelling reminds me of such Spielberg films as Hook, and the most recent Indiana Jones film (which David Koepp also penned). Both of those films also seek to have Spielberg take us back to something familiar from our past, yet in trying to ‘make it new,’ there’s a certain something…missing.
Over the years, seeing some of the ridiculousness of certain situations in the film, I couldn’t help but wonder if Spielberg was trying to make some sort of 90’s era satire, ala Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy, Dr Strangelove.
Given how we have two groups of people trying to decide ‘what’s best’ for these prehistoric creatures, it feels like maybe writer David Koepp is trying to find some form of satire in the very PC way that characters like Nick Van Owen try to preserve nature, in the face of InGen and Roland Tembo’s crew, who either want to exploit it, or decimate it.
In the end, the film is not as memorable to us as the first one, but it cleaned up pretty well, being one of the top moneymakers for the 1997 summer movie season. Even so, it’s take didn’t do what most of today’s sequels do, and it made less overall than the first film.
While it is lacking in making us care about it’s characters, the film does get “brownie points” regarding it’s effects work.
The advances in technology with Industrial Light & Magic and Stan Winston Studios, helped the film earn an Oscar nod for visual effects (which it would lose, to the more aptly-named, Titanic).
I also have a soft-spot for John Williams’ score, which becomes it’s own ‘beast.’ Less like the eerie-yet-majestic feel of the first film, his score here brings in a true atmospheric sound that ties into the darker climate of a world, where there are no manmade fences to keep the dinosaurs at bay.
One of the strangest things I heard before the release of Transformers in 2007, was that many in Hollywood were actually wondering if the concept being put on film would attract audiences. Would the world be in on a film where robots crash-land from outer space on Earth, and then take on the forms of cars and airplanes?
To me and many others, we were already in (even if Michael Bay was in the director’s chair), and by the end of 2007, the film had become one of the year’s biggest films. And so, Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures quickly put a sequel into development. However, the schedule for release on this film was already started before the summer of 2007 was over, with the sequel due in theaters in just 2 years (word is, Michael Bay likes to move fast on things!).
The production was complicated by the writer’s strike, which prompted the addition of writer Ehren Kreuger to the staff of Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman (who had penned the first film’s screenplay).
Needless to say, the production was pretty much a sprint to the finish. There were over 3 times as many Transformers in the sequel, and as the film neared the finish line, Industrial Light & Magic was working down to the last minute to get their shots finalized.
Of course, Revenge of the Fallen became one of the numerous sequels in this day and age that eclipses its predecessor in size and grosses, but was one of those ‘hideously beautiful’ creatures of Hollywood. I call it that, because so many found fault with it, and yet in Hollywood’s eyes, it was beautiful because of its big business, pulling in more money than the 2007 film.
I’ve had about five years to think about Revenge of the Fallen, and even though I haven’t sat down and watched it over and over, there’s so much in the few viewings I’ve seen, that helps me whittle down my problems with it.
Too much juvenile humor – It felt that with the 2007 film, Michael Bay was kept on a tight leash by executive producer Steven Spielberg (at times, the film had more heart than many of Bay’s other films). But with the sequel, it seemed that Michael was let off the leash to bring forth more of his own ideas. And in many respects, he still behaves like a teenage boy in a lot of places.
You know those kids in middle school who craved attention by mouthing off to the teachers, or just outright made fun of other kids who just weren’t as cool as them? That’s pretty much what Bay does in this sequel. In a sense, this is almost like his return to the sensibilities of Armageddon and Bad Boys. Think of your middle school experiences, combine them into a movie, and that’s pretty much what was done with Revenge of the Fallen (seriously, Bay? We needed TWO shots of the dogs humping?)
Megatron’s master plan – In the first film, it was perceived that Megatron left Cybertron to pursue the lost Allspark cube. The Allspark’s ability to bring life to technology was what Megatron craved: a way to potentially rebuild Cybertron, and power a new army for him to crush the Autobots. Eventually, he found the cube was on Earth, but ended up getting himself frozen many centuries before he was uncovered. His motivations seemed fairly straight-forward…but it turns out, they weren’t.
As we soon find out in this film, Megatron was actually operating on orders from his Master, The Fallen. However, the Fallen still wanted to carry out the plan that he attempted many centuries before, and needed Megatron to kill Optimus Prime, and find The Matrix of Leadership, which acted as a key to the energy-machine hidden in an Egyptian pyramid, and drain energy from the sun.
I’m not making that up. That’s the extra chapter(s) as to what Megatron had in store in this film. And if you think that side-plot was convoluted…then what Megatron cooked up with Sentinel Prime in the next film is even crazier, if you try to find logic across all three films.
Skids and Mudflap – By now we’ve all heard plenty regarding theses two being stereotypes, but the big problem is they are tasked to stay with our main human characters through a majority of the film, but rarely do they ever provide anything constructive to the situation. They just largely bumble their way through the film. Even in one scene where they somewhat ‘help,’ it’s mainly because they start arguing and rough-housing around.
And in truth, that’s all they do: just spout alot of big talk, and knock each other around. It would have made more sense for Bay to just have included Bumblebee to be with Sam and Mikaela for the entire film. At least Bumblebee still took his role as Sam’s guardian seriously.
Too many stories going on at the same time – this is one of those films where you almost need a scorecard to figure out what is going on and where. It attempts to delve into the lore of the Transformers with The Primes and the Fallen (one of the original Primes who defected), as well as the resurrection of Megatron, the death of Optimus Prime, and the new Macguffin of the film universe: The Matrix of Leadership. Though unlike its cartoon counterpart, the Matrix is meant to function as a key to start an energon machine hidden in one of the pyramids in Egypt, but may also serve as a way to revive Optimus Prime.
And there’s something about Sam Witwicky going off to college and maybe, growing up, and how he can’t tell his girlfriend Mikaela that he loves her. Making-of footage of the writers show them admitting that this was their lynchpin to connect Sam to the Transformers, as much like Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2, Sam attempts to leave the excitement behind and try and lead a normal life…but finds that that isn’t so easy. This storytelling soon gets caught up in the tidal wave of the film, to the point that by the end, one can hardly comprehend that Sam has matured at all from his adventure.
Where the heck are we!? – Seriously, don’t give Michael Bay a GPS system. He’ll just throw it away and go, “I don’t need this stupid thing, but that place looks really great to film in!”
So much of the film just breaks the laws of time and space. In the span of what must be just a few hours, Mikaela manages to fly from California to ‘somewhere on the East Coast,’ and arrive just in time to catch Sam in bed with the Decepticon Pretender, Alice.
In another sequence, the Decepticon named Jetfire pounds down some doors within the Smithsonian Institution…and suddenly finds himself in an airplane graveyard in Arizona!
And don’t get me started on footage in the Middle East. Bay seems to have come to the conclusion that desert-is-desert, and just mashes together at least 4 different areas around Egypt. If you’re really into geographically figuring out where much of the film takes place, stop while you’re ahead, or you’ll be cursing Michael Bay for jumbling up all of the Middle East’s locations into the handy-dandy Egytaghanistan.
Too many Transformers – This sounds like a weird statement, but to me, Revenge of the Fallen suffered the same problems as films like Iron Man 2, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The sequel attempts to make things bigger and better than the first film, and because of that, much of the effects crew was taxed with doubling or tripling the amount of computer-generated output. This often leads to some scenes just being pushed through as ‘good enough,’ with some not taking their time quite as well as the first film.
As well, we see all styles of Transformers: pretenders, combiners, animals, insecticons, and even microbots. The way all these different types are crammed into the film, it was almost like Bay was afraid that the sequel would be the last Transformers film ever. They even manage to cram in a quick cameo by Scorponok, who was last seen in the first film…though they do not provide any information as to where Barricade in the first film went to.
This also creates a problem, that with so many Transformers running around, there’s no time to really develop any of the new characters. Many of them are just set dressing for much of the story. Even Skids and Mudflap, who we spend as much time with as Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, do little more than chatterbox on and on without giving us a pair of likable characters to relate to.
Humans are so annoying! – Bay seems to love just throwing in stereotypes or annoying characters, and in this film, it feels the number of annoying humans has doubled! Sam’s college roommate Leo becomes little more than a fast-talking idiot. A little person playing a border guard lets our ‘heroes’ pass because they are from America – it’s as ridiculous as the way he portrays characters in many of his other films.
Bay even provides us with a government liason named Galloway, who is there as the atypical, ‘we don’t need giant robots when other giant robots are destroying our Military hardware and killing people – that’s what our Military Forces are for!’ Personally, I guess I just am an ignorant child of the Reagan-era, who doesn’t see how not wanting giant robots that want to help humans is a bad thing.
Sam’s parents return as well, with his Mom given a role that is three times as whiny as her first film’s role. Seriously, very little of anything intelligent seems to come out of her mouth.
As well, Seymour Simmons returns, just as mouthy and annoying as ever, though at least he makes up for it by actually having information. In a weird way, he’s like those old film noir suspects: they are strangely quirky, yet somehow provide the main character with much-needed information.
Probably of all the human characters, it seems the only ones that are the most interesting are Lennox and Epps. Maybe it’s because these guys largely seem to be taking themselves more seriously than the other humans. As well, Epps’ interactions with Optimus Prime in one scene definitely helped make him seem more humane towards the Autobots than most.
The film is a little too long – I still remember the first time I saw the final battle in this film. After awhile with all sorts of little skirmishes here and there, a little voice in my head started pleading, “please, end soon!”
That becomes the problem with so many scenes: Bay has numerous scenes cut together with a huge amount of padding that just isn’t needed. There’s so much going on that soon the battle just becomes a rather convoluted mess. Even the use of the giant combiner Devastator seemed little more than fan-service, as his transformation sequence was about the most memorable part of his screen-time. As well, Sam’s parents are even thrown into the mix, which slows the film down for about 8 minutes.
When the turned Decepticon Jetfire is awoken from stasis, Bay spends more time on him bantering and bumbling around like an old man, before finally narrowing us in on the fact that Jetfire has prime information that we can use to better understand the plot.
The film clocks in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Watching it in preparation for this post, I kept looking at certain scenes, imagining cutting out bits here and there, in order for the film to just get to the point in so many scenes. I believe that one could probably cut out around 45 minutes of unneeded scenes, and the film would play better.
Even with its multi-billion dollar haul, Michael Bay, Shia LeBeouf, and several others came forward to admit that Revenge of the Fallen was a rushed film that could have benefited from more time.
the 2011 release of Transformers: Dark of the Moon served as some form of apology, as its story became a little easier to follow, and Bay managed to pull back from his drunken escapades that were seen in the previous film. As well, he even managed to kill off the annoying comic relief character that Ken Jeong was playing…and kept him dead! So, maybe he is learning…but in baby steps.
Now, 3 years after Dark of the Moon, a fourth film is about to be released, which appears to be acting as a mid-ground change-up for much of the series. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee appear to be the last of the 2007 film’s Autobots, but a number of new ones are entering the fray, as well as man-made Transformers, and even a new cadre of human fleshlings, this time with actor Mark Wahlberg befriending Optimus.
It’s definitely a given that Transformers: Age of Extinction will have a big opening weekend, but we’ll see if audiences will take to the new direction Bay has steered the film in.
I’ll come right out front and say what’s been on my mind since the Summer of 1997: Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black was a good film, just not a great one. It had its moments, but this special effects-filled film didn’t fill me with the kind of wonder and amazement as many in the 1990’s.
Even so, it became the highest grossing film of that summer, beating out Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (which will also be coming down the pike).
The first film told the story of a hot-headed NYPD officer (played by Will Smith), who is soon recruited by a top secret organization that attempts to hide traces of extra-terrestrials living among us. Smith’s character is handpicked by veteran MIB Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), given the name “Agent J,” and is soon on his way. However, the two are soon caught up in a plot that could mean the end of our world, and a war between others in the galaxy.
The first Men in Black was almost like Jurassic Park in how it was executed with visual effects: Though there would be use of that wonderful new CGI technology (courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic), the film would also contain some great physical makeup and creature effects from the likes of Rick Baker. In fact, the films makeup effects would win it several accolades come awards season.
By the end of the film, Will Smith’s Agent J realizes that there’s a reason why his partner recruited him.
Back in the 1960’s, K was a normal young man who was on his way to see his girlfriend, but on his way there, he ended up getting into a meeting with an alien, and some of MIB’s first agents. K soon found himself becoming a member of the group, and left his civilian life behind…but not quite. K had been pining for his lost love for years, and with him feeling that J would be a suitable replacement, he wishes to return to the life of an ordinary man.
And with that, K was neuralyzed, with a happy ending showing he ended up with the woman he loved. Meanwhile, J seemed to have acclimated well to taking his former partner’s place, and with the help of a morgue-assistant-turned agent named “Agent L” (played by Linda Fiorentino), everything seemed to be coming up roses.
That was, until the Summer of 2002.
There are some types of films that I refer to as “The traitorous best friend.” This can be seen as how the first film makes you feel comfortable, and it seems you and the film have a good rapport. But, when the second film comes out, one finds that good will and friendship was all for naught, and the sequel ends up stealing your wallet, and throwing you under a bus.
That to me, is what happened with Men in Black 2.
From everything that was outlined in the ending of the first film, it felt like there was ample room to move on, and do something new. But somewhere, some high-powered studio exec must have written in huge bold letters on early script drafts:
“Bring back Tommy Lee Jones!”
And thus, that becomes the plot of this sequel.
At the start of the second film, we see that things are not going so well for Agent J. Apparently, Agent L (never seen in this film!) couldn’t handle being an MIB agent, and as such, was neuralyzed, and sent back to her job at the morgue (rather convenient).
Since then, J has been trying to find a replacement, but none are living up to his expectations. It is soon after that MIB Chief Z (Rip Torn) finds out that an alien shapeshifter named Serleena (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) has come to Earth, seeking a power source called “The Light of Zartha.” Z then informs J that only his “best man” ever knew of the Light’s secret location…and he was neuralyzed 5 years ago.
And that to me is really where much of the film’s premise stalls. The end of the first film made you think the world of these characters was going to expand out, and maybe we’d meet some more agents around MIB. But instead, we go back to the old partner dynamic. Forget that J seems to have made his own way within MIB, he needs to go back to being second-banana to K.
When one looks over the film, it could be the equivalent of what happens to quite a few sequels that try to outdo their predecessors. Some of the cinematic crimes this sequel pulls:
Unraveling all the endings in the first film – If there is such a thing as a ‘cinematic crime’ regarding this film, this to me is its biggest offense. However, it wasn’t so much that we lost characters like Linda Fiorentino’s “Agent L,” as what the script basically did to the character of Agent K.
Basically, happily-ever-after wasn’t good enough for the filmmakers, and it turned out that even with his MIB career wiped clean from his mind, K still was obsessed with the stars. And with that, the girl he (thought he) loved left him, and K ended up going to work in a Massachusetts Postal Office. As well, it is implied that he may have had several relationships with other women during his time with the MIB’s.
Familiar characters given a lot more useless stuff to do– in the first film, some of the most interesting characters just had a small amount of screentime, from the spindly Worm Guys, to the talkative Frank the Pug. Here, their roles have been expanded, but seem to do nothing but add extra filler. Frank is even made J’s temporary sidekick (aka “Agent F”), but provides little but throwaway one-liners. Tony Shalhoub as the shady pawnshop owner Jeebs makes a return, but even his role feels shoehorned into the plot.
Cameos up the wazoo – I don’t know why it is, but some films seem to develop a habit that once they are popular, they need to start chocking their film full of celebrity cameos. Sure, it’s good for a little chuckle when you see the likes of Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson in a film, but it doesn’t add anything except a few extra minutes to the film.
An over-abundance of computer-generated imagery – The first Men in Black utilized computer-generated imagery, but in a more subdued way, with much of the effects done through practical means. With this sequel, CGI is overly-abundant, from Serleena’s plant-like nature, to numerous other aliens. It’s not enough you get Johnny Knoxville as an obnoxious extra-terrestrial, but he’s got a smaller appendage with a miniature Knoxville head CG’ed onto it. There’s plenty to complain about, but that’s as far as I’ll go.
Over-abundance of product placement/tie-ins – The first film is not exempt from this (the agents sport Ray-Ban sunglasses, after all), but I’m sure someone at Sony probably was quick to bring aboard numerous companies to hawk their wares on the big screen for the sequel. We see everything from a Sprint phone store, to numerous plugs for Burger King. As well, we get a close-up shot of several cans of Mountain Dew, and see that MIB HQ has a bigger budget than we thought, as J drives around in a Mercedes-Benz. There’s also a subtle throwout to the Sony Playstation, when the controls for the MIB vehicle in flight mode, are designed off of a Playstation 2 controller. It probably took a lot of courage to just keep Will from pulling off his shades and saying to the audience, “just buy these!”
The film’s performance during the summer of 2002 wasn’t as big as some had hoped for. It’s hard to gauge just what happened, but you could probably make a case that the summer’s box-office thunder was largely stolen by 2002’s Spider-Man, which ended up trouncing almost all comers at the theaters.
MIB 2‘s totals bucked the trends of most popular sequels, in that it fell short of reaching the same heights as the first film in total receipts, both domestically, and internationally.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s career was never at a higher peak than during the 90’s. That was when the Director of Photography – turned – Director was really in demand. His name was attached from everything to The Addams Family, to Wild Wild West. In fact, if not for West, one assumes we could have had MIB 2 at that time (I’m sure many of us would have at least felt better leaving the theater in 1999 after seeing MIB 2, than Wild Wild West).
Men In Black 2 is a film that’s always stuck in the back of my head as a messed-up sequel, and not even a third film 7 years later could redeem the series in my eyes (it doesn’t say much when your third film ignores even more history, let alone sidelines Tommy Lee Jones for 5/6 of the entire film!). Though one can most likely assume that after the third film, there are no plans for a Men in Black 4.…well, one can hope.
By now, you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of, or at least seen Walt Disney Picture’s 1989 feature, The Little Mermaid. Singled out by many as the animated feature film that heralded the start of Disney’s second golden age of animated films, it would go on to break VHS sales records, and make many forget that just 5 years before, Disney had released a film with Daryl Hannah as a mermaid (aka Splash).
Of course, executives within the studio were always trying to find ways to squeeze more money out of their sea (cash) cow. That golden ticket revealed itself in the fall of 1994, when a direct-to-video sequel to Aladdin was released, titled The Return of Jafar. With inferior animation, forgettable songs, and even lacking Robin Williams as the Genie, the video release made enough money on its name and character recognition alone, to have management at The Mouse House declare that more profits could be made with these cheaply-produced sequels. And thus, the Home Video market would become the place for the studio to churn out sequels to films like Cinderella, The Lion King, and many more.
11 years after Ariel longed to walk on land, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea was released to the cries of greedy little children, who begged their parents for more Ariel, regardless of the product’s quality, and making it prime fodder for this column.
The film starts about a year after the end of The Little Mermaid, with Ariel and Eric sailing out to the ocean, to introduce their daughter Melody, to King Triton. However, no sooner does this happen, than an appearance is made by Ursula’s sister, Morgana.
After threatening to feed Melody to her hench-shark Undertow, the family manages to get their daughter back, but Morgana vows revenge, disappearing in a swirl of ink.
The thought that their daughter could now be a target, causes Ariel to suddenly go into full-on protective parent mode. Given that there is a vengeful sea witch’s sister out there, and even though her own father is the King of the Sea, Ariel cuts herself off from her former, watery way of life. As a ‘safety precaution,’ an enormous 30 foot wall is erected along the beach near Prince Eric’s castle (which I’m sure the kingdom’s people were eager to contribute to). Just like in the first film, Sebastian is put on babysitting duty, tasked with watching over Ariel’s daughter.
The story then cuts to 12 years later, where the castle is preparing to celebrate Melody’s 12th Birthday. Unknown to everyone, Melody has grown to become a younger, polar opposite of her Mother. While Ariel longed for land, Melody longs for the sea, sneaking out and swimming along the waters near the castle wall. As well, she converses regularly with Sebastian and Scuttle (though strangely enough, she doesn’t question ‘why’ she is able to do this), telling how she sometimes dreams of having fins of her own.
It just so happens that Morgana also decides to come out of hiding, and upon finding Melody’s wish to be a mermaid, decides to use the girl’s dreams, as a way to try and get back at Triton and his Kingdom.
As one can probably surmise from the information above, there’s not a whole lot to Return to the Sea. While the original Disney version of Mermaid wasn’t a perfect film, it at least had plenty going for it: from believable characters, to toe-tapping songs. So, when one compares the sequel to its predecessor, there are a lot of little things that stick out to me.
One of the strangest things is that Melody is celebrating her 12th birthday, yet every other person claims she’s becoming a teenager. Did I miss the memo or something? I thought you officially became a teenager when you turned, thir-TEEN!
One of the saddest things the film does, is try to make Ariel’s sidekicks from the first film relevant…and they rarely serve any purpose at all. Flounder is now all grown up, with children of his own. Scuttle? Well, it sounds like they recorded Buddy Hackett just spouting off gibberish, and felt that would be good enough for the scatterbrained seagull.
But Sebastian? The sequel deals the most bitter blow of all for the famed ‘court composer’ of Triton’s kingdom. Commanded once again to be a ‘royal babysitter,’ Sebastian seems able to sing well, but come on…after the events of the first film, he should have been reinstated to writing symphonies again. That was where his talents lay. Instead, his career has been put on hold indefinitely. Poor crab. With this plot set-up, he’ll die old, sad, cursing all the great symphonies he was denied because of Triton’s actions.
The film at times feels like it was ping-ponging between several story points, and the reasoning behind Morgana’s plan is a good example of this. Her first appearance makes it sound like she harbors a grudge for the death of her sister, but 10-15 minutes later, she’s in her lair changing her tune. Apparently, she was the sister that couldn’t live up to Ursula’s greatness, and she also seems bitter about this.
Then again, that is probably the only way to enjoy this film: throw what little logic you can out the window. “Don’t think so hard,” you’ll hear the average moron say. “You’re getting all worked up over a kids cartoon.”
And speaking of a ‘kids cartoon,’ that’s about as bad as the animation level gets much of the time. Don’t expect the kind of decent-animation levels put out by late 80’s Disney Feature Animation artists. You’ll see choppy animation of a ship sailing into action, numerous characters going on and off-model, and much more. There’s even some scenes that look like they traced over Glen Keane’s pencil work on Ariel from the first film!
And that brings us to Melody. The filmmakers attempt to give us a character that is meant to be a younger version of Ariel, but it just seems that the stuff Ariel did that made her endearing, just ends up making Melody that much more annoying. Of course, one funny way of looking at the trouble Melody causes Ariel, is to think of it as some form of universal payback for the hard time she gave her father when she was a teenager.
Melody is also given her own sidekicks once she is off on her own: a walrus named Tip, and a penguin named Dash. The two claim to be adventurers/explorers, but are your typical bumbling duo who rarely seem to get anything right, leading them up to some major heroic action at the end of the film.
It’s rather sad for me to say how much I dislike this film, because voice actress Tara Strong (voice of Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls, and Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony), was once quoted as saying that she loved the original film, and getting to voice and sing a character alongside Jodi Benson was a dream come true.
Song-wise, there’s nothing here that comes close to the lyrical and memorable works of Alan Menken, and Howard Ashman. The songs for the film are done by Michael and Patty Silversher, and sadly, it’s a poor blemish in their repertoire of work. Prior to Mermaid, the two had done music work for a number of episodes of the Disney Afternoon. I guess when it comes to music work, they work best in small doses, rather than in feature-length.
The film even rubs a little salt in the wounds, as over the credits, they play a new version of “Part of your World,” sung in a country twang by Chely Wright. If you’ve never heard of her, don’t worry – neither have I. In fact, it seemed that most sequels did this: attempted to quell its audience with a rehash of a popular song from the original film.
While handily not the worst of the Direct-To-Video sequels, it isn’t helped that it is a continuation of one of the most beloved films the studio has made. Following the release of Return to the Sea, Ariel would come back for one more DTV release, albeit in the form of a prequel with 2008’s The Little Mermaid: A New Beginning. As I was rather put off by the results of Return, I didn’t decide to give Beginning a look.
While some praised the animation style for the 2008 prequel, it’d be one of the last films released before the studio would finally put to rest making unnecessary sequels or prequels. Once a management shake-up occurred at Disney with John Lasseter and Ed Catmull coming to work for the studio, the Direct-to-Video production end was shut down, with its studio division now tasked with making original works, or spin-off productions (such as the Disney Fairies line, and the recent release of Planes).
We all have our guilty pleasure films, and in terms of this, I’d say The Lost Boys fits into that category for me. Joel Schumacher’s 1987 film took the concept of vampires, and spun it into a modern-day story about peer pressure, and family.
After Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) separates from her husband, she moves her sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) to the seaside town of Santa Carla, to live with Lucy’s eccentric father (Barnard Hughes). However, when Michael attempts to fit in with a gang of biker boys (led by Kiefer Sutherland) down by the local Boardwalk, he soon finds himself in league with a group of vampires, and finds himself starting to become one.
Director Joel Schumacher can sometimes go over the top in some cases, but there are some great moments in Lost Boys, where he manages to create atmosphere and scenery within the small budget of his production. If there are any big special effects shots, he saves those for certain moments.
That isn’t to say that he ignores the family aspect of the film. The film manages to make us care about its siblings, as well as put a spin on peer pressure, and fitting in after moving to a new town. It was also one of the first films to have both Corey Haim, AND Corey Feldman in the same picture.
For years after the film was made, a small group of people pleaded and begged for more (even though the film wrapped itself up nicely). Rumors ran rampant for many years that the next step up from Lost Boys, were Lost Girls. Talk swirled about scripts being peddled around Hollywood in the 1990’s, and at one point, Joel Schumacher was involved (one has to wonder if the Batman and Robin debacle of 1997 hurt his street-cred enough to have noone take him seriously on that).
In the end, nothing would come of those rumors, and it seemed that another film from the 1980’s would be spared an unnecessary sequel.
Given how a number of studios had cashed in on cheaply-made direct-to-video sequels (such as Universal Pictures’ myriad American Pie films), Warner Brothers wanted to get in on some of this action, and launched their DTV division, Warner Premiere.
One script that had made its way to the company’s desks, was titled The Tribe, and involved surfers that were actually werewolves. The script was originally rejected for seeming too close to the story of Lost Boys, but after some thought, it was felt that the script could be altered to becoming a sequel of sorts. And so, the surfing werewolves, became surfing vampires.
And thus, Lost Boys: The Tribe, came to be.
After the death of their parents, brother and sister Chris (Tad Hilgenbrink, on the left) and Nicole (Autumn Reeser, in the center) Emerson, move to the seaside town of Luna Beach, to stay with their eccentric Aunt (Gabrielle Rose, on the right). Chris was once a pro surfer, who dropped out of the competition.
While roaming around town, Chris is surprised to meet another former pro surfer, Shane Powers (Angus Sutherland). He invites Chris to a surf party at his place nearby. Chris eventually goes, after Nicole begs him to take her along. However, once at the party, Shane entices Nicole to drink from a flask. A few hours later, Nicole begins to act strangely.
For those who have seen the original Lost Boys, you might have been thinking to yourself in reading those last paragraphs: “Hey, some of those story beats sound familiar.” And, in a good 85% of the film, that’s because they largely are!
– Broken family moving to a new locale by the ocean
– Crazy older family member providing lodgings
– A head vampire played by a Sutherland (true story: Angus (right) is Kiefer’s (left) little half-brother!)
– Family member falls in with vampire crowd, and tricked into drinking blood
– Frog brother(s) wants to kill new vampires, but is told not to
– Crazy motorcycle stunts
– Nighttime beach party leading to vampire bloodbath
– The song Cry Little Sister is played
Also, to prove that it’s more ‘mature’ than the original film, The Tribe contains plenty of profanity, and some nudity. As well, the level of gore is upped in numerous scenes. I guess that was one thing that we can thank Schumacher for regarding the first film: he worked within his budgetary limits, and made an entertaining film. This one just comes off as a bunch of young punks wanting to act cool and hip. Then again, most sequels tend to have this thought that they need to be bigger and badder than the original.
Tad Hilgenbrink’s character of Chris just seems to be, “there” most of the time. In fact, it was hard for me to focus on him as a character, without constantly thinking, “he looks like James Marsden’s younger brother!”
Autumn Reeser’s Nicole is meant to be the ‘Michael’ of our film, but her line reading and performance didn’t instill me with much hope. Probably the most cringe-worthy moment is when she realizes she’s a half-vampire, after almost biting a guy. She gives an embarrassing shriek/cry, before babblingly telling her brother, “how could I have drank his blood? I’m a vegetarian!”
The film also seems to want to play as ‘dark and mysterious,’ but it soon ends up becoming ridiculous. For example, remember how Chris and Nicole’s last name is Emerson?
Emerson was also the last name of the first film’s family, so that makes us wonder what the deal is with this family in The Tribe. Are they the children of Michael and his girlfriend Star (Jamie Gertz) from the first film, or possibly the children of Sam Emerson, and some other girl? Or…could this film be taking place in an alternate dimension, and this story is to that dimension, what the first Lost Boys is to ours?
Well, I’ll just spill the beans right now: it’s never explained.
Almost any bad sequel has to have at least one returning cast member from the original. Surely, there’s always someone down on their acting luck enough to accept a paycheck…and that honor, falls on Corey Feldman.
The dynamic duo of “The Frog Brothers” has now been reduced to one: Edgar Frog. No longer hanging out in comic book shops, Edgar now is a surfboard shaper, which leads to his becoming involved with Chris and his family problems. It seems that Edgar Frog really MUST have a frog in his throat, as Feldman’s lines all come out in a deep growl. Along with his surfboard work, Edgar is still vampire-obsessed, and still seems to produce vampire/PSA comic-books to those he feels needs to read them.
And speaking of Feldman in another sense, the film poses a most mind-numbing conundrum. When it seems that her niece and nephew may not have plans one evening, Auntie propose a most brilliant alternative:
Some Dunkin Donuts, and a night of watching The Goonies. I kid you not, that is an actual screenshot from this film!
And, it does beg the question: does that mean Corey Feldman also exists in this world, and he also resembles Edgar Frog? Ponder it, won’t you?
The film even had multiple “codas” that were meant to play after a few moments of the end credits. These would mean nothing, unless you were a die-hard Lost Boys fan.
The coda used for the final cut, featured Edgar Frog meeting someone on a deserted beach at night. It turns out to be Sam Emerson (Corey Haim, above), who we see has become a vampire since the first film (how/why/whuh is never explained). The scene then ends with a few words exchanged between the two, before they both charge at each other…with the scene cutting to black, leaving us to decide who lived, and who died.
On the DVD Extras included with the film, there are two alternate endings that give some hints as to just what (possibly) happened to Edgar’s brother, Alan.
Both of the extra endings feature Sam coming to Edgar as well. However, they are both cut almost exactly the same, except in one, Haim’s character is a normal human, and in the other, he’s a vampire himself.
In these alternate endings, Sam has come to warn Edgar that his brother Alan is also coming for him. There was apparently something that happened between the two films, that ended up causing Alan to become a vampire, and going away.
During the sequences, we see a modded up Sports Car with darkened windows, streaking down a highway. Inside, we see it’s being driven by the vampiric Alan Frog, with an unnamed woman in the passenger seat. It should be noted that since these scenes of Alan having become a vampire were not included in the final print, that Alan may still be alive somewhere in the film universe, though that’s left to our imaginations.
The two alternate endings dealing with the eventual return of Alan Frog, probably had a lot of people going, “why couldn’t The Tribe have been about that storyline!?”
After all, it does seem odd that for a sequel, we just get a copycatting rehash of the first film.
The Tribe was savaged online by many, and needless to say, there were plenty of morons who were hopeful that a sequel made 20 years after the previous film would be a hit.
Even so, its $5 million budget was quickly made back on the home video market, which led Warner Premiere to consider another Lost Boys film.
This resulted in the 2010 DTV release of Lost Boys: The Thirst. Unlike The Tribe (or the eventual return of Alan Frog outlined in the cut scenes), the story’s focus moves from Chris and Nicole, and features Edgar Frog (now with a girlfriend!?), and Alan Frog (normal, with none of that alternate Tribe ending info). A famous vampire novelist has found out that her brother has been kidnapped by some actual vampires, and requests Edgar’s services to save him. There are plenty of other ridiculous plotpoints, but like I stated a few sentences above, how does someone like Edgar Frog, with that gravelly voice and single-minded determination about killing vampires…actually get a girlfriend!?…oh right, this is the movies.
Word is this third film did next-to-nothing to redeem the series after The Tribe. However, the final nail in the coffin, came with the eventual shuttering of the Warner Premiere side of Warner Brothers. Corey Feldman claimed in a few interviews over the last few years, that he and Jamie Newlander were more than willing to do more with the Frog Brothers, but was willing to accept that those characters are finished.
If you have fond memories of The Lost Boys, and don’t want to ruin them, then stay clear of these terrible direct-to-video films. Only Joel Schumacher’s touch could make campy-horror about family and vampires, watchable.