Rated Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, I was in the throes of doing something that I had sworn never to do again: I was anticipating the release of a Michael Bay film.
Ever since I played with Transformers toys as a kid, I like many, dreamed of seeing those crudely-animated cartoons become real-life ‘robots in disguise,’ and so too did Steven Spielberg. It was Steven who wanted Bay to direct his Dreamworks-produced Transformers film, and upon seeing Steven’s name as executive producer (and Industrial Light & Magic bringing these characters to life), I ended my ‘no Bay’ rule (temporarily). Since then, his Transformers films have been the only Bay-directed films I’ve see in theaters.
The 2007 film became the one film that I was willing to give Michael props on. However, in the 10 years since that film, the live-action series has ‘transformed’ into one built on foreign box-office, and Bay’s frat-boy hubris. And now, the fifth installment in the series has been unleashed on the world, with many wanting to know, if The Last Knight can redeem the series from the critical drubbing it took with 2014’s Age of Extinction.
Several years have passed since the events of the last film. In that time, the Autobots are still ‘illegal aliens,’ and Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has gone into hiding with them. More Transformers have also been coming to Earth recently, with many in the United States being captured and detained by the human-led, Transformers Reaction Force (aka the TRF).
As Cade attempts to help a number of Autobots on the run from the TRF, he soon finds himself rescuing a young orphan named Izabella (Isabela Moner), and encountering a human-sized automaton named Cogman (Jim Carter). Cogman soon leads Cade to England, where along with an Oxford professor named Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), is introduced to Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins).
Burton has concluded, that something big is happening on Earth involving the Transformers, and that Cade and Vivian, are to play an integral part in these events.
With Age of Extinction, the live-action franchise was diverted in a whole new direction. The world of the Transformers began to open up a bit beyond just the scope of our planet, as we were given hints about the Autobot’s creators, as well as a legendary group of knights, that Optimus recruited to help in the film’s final battle.
With three writers (led by Akiva Goldsman) at the helm this time, The Last Knight faces a new foe, one that has recently caused great anguish for many a film fan in other series: world-building. Apparently, numerous humans have kept hidden their association with giant mechanical robots for centuries. They were there helping King Arthur, they were there to help bring down Hitler, and given shots of numerous famous persons in Sir Edmund Burton’s study, it’s assumed they helped out many, many more humans.
Much of this information is delivered through flashback, but also in a long, drawn-out exposition by Hopkin’s character. He’s basically our ‘Morpheus’ of the piece, telling our heroes what they need to know…but not too much, err we risk not being surprised when we find some things out.
Character-wise, there aren’t a whole lot to really root for. Almost everyone has an attitude, tries to ‘talk tough,’ and usually try to one-up the other. Probably the most level-headed character is the returning Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), who has become a reluctant member of the TRF, and seems to be the main guy leading a number of soldiers into action.
Cade and Lennox have had experience with Transformers, but every one of these films needs a human newcomer to their world, and that is Vivian Wembley, whose family history secretly connects her to our story. While being a piece to the film’s overall puzzle, she is sadly forced to banter back-and-forth with Cade, in a typical ‘animosity-equals-attraction’ storytelling form, that doesn’t seem uncommon for a Bay film.
Also adding some ‘girl-power’ to the film, is Isabela Moner, one of the most touted new members of the film’s human cast, who plays an orphaned girl in Chicago, who befriends and fixes outcast Autobots (though this skill is largely left up to our imagination, as the most we have is her spouting technical jargon). Much of the time however, her character’s personality feels like a cross between Scrappy-Doo (seriously, she tries to talk tough to Megatron!), and Ian Malcolm’s daughter Kelly from The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Of all the characters we’re introduced to, it feels like she could be excised out of the film entirely.
We also get a hefty number of Transformers this time around, but most of the time they feel like walk-on ‘set dressing,’ delivering some smart-@$$ lines, and then disappearing from a scene. The most time we get with them is mostly comprised of scenes with Bumblebee, and Burton’s assistant, Cogman. As for Optimus, he’s in the film, but it feels like he only gets about 10 minutes of screen-time.
Along with the task of ‘world-building,’ the bigger problem with Knight, is that even though it is one of the shorter Transformers films (coming in at around 2 1/2 hours!), it feels like it just drags on too long. In a strange way, from it’s first scenes, it feels like it is in a race to juggle it’s myriad subplots, AND hit it’s designated run-time, but it just ends up throwing too much at us, too fast. By the end, I was feeling as fatigued as when I came out of 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen. In fact, the film’s pacing and storytelling even feels like a distant cousin to that film (notable in the neverending battle/ticking-clock ending!).
Like the previous films, it tries to make us feel that the human story is the one we are really interested in, but many of us are just here for the Transformers. Industrial Light & Magic continues upping their game here, from in-camera transformations, to some massive set-pieces, that would have been impossible to animate and render a decade ago.
The film also attempts to stitch together all five films, notably in how we get a number of references (and ‘easter eggs’) to previous ones (and some of the different animated series based on the characters). However, there are still questions that they never give us the answers to (like how/when did Galvatron from the last film, become Megatron again?).
For those wanting to see some familiar faces, cool transformations, and speeding vehicles, you’ll get that here…but, you might find yourself having to impatiently sit through a lot of exposition that may surely go over the heads of the more casual filmgoer, as Paramount Pictures and Hasbro seem intent to think you’ll be eager to get sucked into a world that wishes to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Final Grade: C- (Final Thoughts: “Transformers – The Last Knight,” comes off as Michael Bay’s send-off to a world he helped create 10 years ago. While we get plenty of Transformers action and some huge set-pieces, the film sadly gets bogged down by it’s own hubris. The film ends up walking a rather precarious tight-rope, trying to appease seasoned viewers, while acting as a first-step for newcomers into a larger world that will be expanded upon in future installments.)
Feature Review: Cars 3 (Rated G)
Probably out of every property that PIXAR Animation Studios has created, none has garnered more criticism and eye-rolling, than their Cars series. The studio’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, had longed to do a film about ‘talking cars,’ and in 2006, his journey was finally completed.
While many were lukewarm to his idea, I had been aboard the bandwagon ever since the first Cars film was announced. Wheeled vehicles have always fascinated me since I was a kid. My parents met while cruising on the streets of their Iowa hometown, my Dad and Uncles subscribed to magazines like Motor Trend, and over the years, I’d go to plenty of car shows. And of course, as a kid, cars (especially sports cars!) were exciting because of the speeds they could reach!
So, I was highly-entertained by the first Cars when it premiered in theaters in 2006, and being that I was a loyal fan of the series, I went to see Cars 2 when it came out 5 years later.
And now, we get Cars 3, which makes the series the second trilogy the studio has produced, following Toy Story.
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has been tearing up the racing scene for some time now, but suddenly, a new rookie begins to take the racing world by storm…Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) that is. Storm’s introduction soon changes things, as racing companies begin recruiting faster, and younger sports cars to try and compete against him.
Pretty soon, McQueen finds himself losing ground, and seeks out the help of a trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), hoping that her skills can help him stay relevant in the world of racing.
Cars 3 is a notable film, as much like Toy Story 3, it shows a world where it’s characters have ‘matured.’ Unlike Cars 2 that felt like an extended version of the episodic series titled Mater’s Tall Tales, Cars 3 feels like a distant cousin to the first Cars film. However, it’s a film that puts two tires in the past, and two in the future, straddling the finish line for Lightning, feeling a lot like some sequels these days, that tends to blend the old, with the new.
The previews do make the film out to be an exciting, fast-paced rollercoaster ride, but like the first film, the filmmakers don’t spend a whole lot of time going fast. There’s quite a number of slower scenes, whose more languid pace I can’t help but feel, will definitely have some kids squirming in their seats after awhile.
I did enjoy where the film wanted to go, showing how in the world of sports, the rookie sports star of today, will eventually have to cope with younger and faster rookies coming up around the bend.
That realization hit me personally in the last year, when I realized I had been working at a company, for as long as Pixar’s been releasing Cars films. I’ve gone from learning the ropes as a young man, to giving advice and tips as an adult to some of our younger newcomers.
What really got me excited while watching the film, was hearing and seeing old clips of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman)! The relationship that was established between Doc and Lightning in the first film is one of my favorite PIXAR friendships (and I won’t lie that I got a little misty-eyed seeing The Fabulous Hudson Hornet back in action in some scenes).
We also get the chance to meet some older racing legends Doc knew, as well as Doc’s trainer, Smokey (Chris Cooper). Seeing some older-model vehicles had me excited for their appearance, but sadly, it feels like they just come-and-go in the film, as quickly as they entered it.
That was something that bugged me throughout the film. We see a number of familiar faces from the first Cars, but they almost feel like minor walk-ons to just let us know they’re alive (and fortunately for some of you out there, Mater probably only figures into about 5 minutes of screentime). Even when it comes to the new racer Jackson Storm, I couldn’t help but feel like I was seeing ‘Chick Hicks 2.0,’ given how much interaction he had with McQueen.
Where the film begins to pick up it’s rhythm, is with the introduction of Cruz Ramirez. A trainer at the Rust-Eze Racing Center, Cruz becomes Lightning’s ‘Mater’ for this film. Once Lightning manages to get her out of the world of racing simulators, the film really has some fun moments, punctuated by little bits of comedy from Cristela Alonzo.
Personally, I was hoping the film would pull an Incredibles and have Sally (Bonnie Wright) assume Lightning and Cruz were off having an affair, but then again, the Cars series isn’t known for getting that ‘deep’ with some of it’s subject matter.
A highlight scene regarding Lightning and Cruz, takes place at a demolition derby in Thunder Hollow. It’s a madcap nightmare of mud, flames, and wild camerawork, that still manages to be highly entertaining (just watch out for Ms Fritter!).
Speaking of environments, the level of detail in the natural world of the film, will probably have you scrutinizing the scenes much like I was. Unlike the pastel-hued environs of the first film, the more ‘gritty’ look here, makes the vehicles seem to blend a bit more into their CG world.
I also really got into the design aesthetic of the newer race cars. It follows the current design trend, where in the last 10 years, we’ve gone from more curved vehicle bodies, to more angular ones, with Jackson Storm’s design looking cool, yet dangerous.
While Cars 3 did entertain me in a more emotional way than Car 2, it sadly doesn’t come close to reaching that finish line that Toy Story 3 crossed. It’s a film that seems to be having it’s own mid-life crisis, struggling with it’s identity, as it tries to pull itself together.
I think when it comes to Cars 3, what you bring with you when you go to watch the film, will determine just what you get out of it once the credits start to roll.
Short Review: Lou (Rated G)
Taking place on a school playground, one little boy takes great pleasure in taking playthings away from his schoolmates…until a thing called Lou, decides to teach him a lesson.
I will admit, the first hints of Lou that I saw made me wonder if I was going to even like this character. Of course, I soon found myself wondering how I could have doubted Pixar. It’s introduction is cleverly shrouded in mystery, leading up to a pretty impressive reveal.
Lou ends up being both humorous, and emotional, as well as something that everyone in the audience can either relate to, or learn from, depending on your age and experience. The filmmakers do try to have a little bit of ‘bad-fun’ with how the bully takes things away from the other kids, but also never making you feel that he is justified in doing these things. However, where they take him in the story, went in a direction I didn’t see coming.
Some scenes with Lou went by so quickly, that I almost wanted to slow down the scene to eyeball some of what was done (I guess I’ll just have to wait for the Cars 3 Blu-Ray to do that).
I liked the message that was given here (with no dialogue), and I think some people would agree, it would be nice to have a few Lou’s out in our own world.
Final Grade for “Cars 3”: B (Final Thoughts: While being stronger than “Cars 2,” “Cars 3” seems to be suffering it’s own midlife crisis, as it tries to straddle the line between it’s past, and it’s future. A decent capper to the “Cars” trilogy of films, as we follow Lightning McQueen on a rather unconventional journey for an animated sequel.)
Final Grade for “Lou”: B+ (Final Thoughts: Pixar’s latest animated short is a simple-and-sweet film that helps to show that oftentimes, niceness can trump selfishness and greed. The film’s animation on Lou is also quite an eye-opener, and will surely leave some with a smile on their face when it ends.)
*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).
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.
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.
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).
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 Brothers, Salvation 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.
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.”
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.
K 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.
HA!! THINK AGAIN!!!
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.”
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).
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.
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!
While 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.
The 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.
The title Batman and Bill, may sound like some new personalized TV concept from Hulu, but sometimes, perceptions can be deceiving.
For years, I and many others had been used to seeing artist Bob Kane’s name on anything Batman-related, assuming he was the full creator of one of comic’s most famous characters. However, there was one name that was often pushed out of sight, except by a select few. That name, was Bill Finger.
Throughout the years, Finger’s name would pop up in conversations with Kane and others in the comics industry. Some could easily assume Bill was one of the many ‘ghost artists/writers’ over the years who worked on the comics, but unlike an artist hired on for a small stint, Bill worked with Bob for several decades, starting at the creation of Batman!
While Kane may have gained notoriety for drawing the character, much of Batman’s mythos was created and written by Finger. He not only helped shape Batman’s intimidating look, but was also responsible for the creation of many of the series’ characters, and even came up with the nickname, “The Dark Knight.”
Bill would write over 1,500 Batman-related stories (often going to great lengths to research what went into them), but was never given any credit in the comic books. It wasn’t until the 1967 Batman TV series episode, The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes, would Bill’s name finally be associated with the character he co-created.
However, while that one episode gave Bill a chance to shine, he remained largely hidden in the shadows of Bob Kane. Over the years, many would try to give Bill Finger proper creative credit, but none roared loud enough, until author Marc Taylor Nobleman.
Upon researching the history of the Batman character, and finding out Finger’s importance, Marc set off on a quest worthy of “the world’s greatest detective”: to find out everything he could about Bill, and maybe, get him and his family the recognition that had been denied him for over 75 years.
Directed by Don Argott (Rock School) and Sheena M Joyce (The Atomic States of America), the film is a simple-yet-intriguing documentary, with Nobleman (whose name sounds perfect for a comic character!) being the main focal point.
The film could easily have ended up as simply a large progression of ‘talking heads,’ but to illustrate the life and times of Bill Finger and his family, the filmmakers turned to a company called Alkemy X. They created the animated, comic book-style imagery for references to Bill’s journey, that prove to be a real, emotional treat.
A number of notable Bat-fans are included as well. There’s commentary by Kevin Smith and Michael Uslan (the executive producer on all modern Batman films), as well as those who actually knew Bill (like his friend, Charles Sinclair).
It should be noted, that while there is some flak thrown towards Kane and how he seemed to deny Finger credit (Kane didn’t even share the 1966 TV show’s monetary successes with Bill!), there is very little hate on-screen for the man. I found this largely admirable with many parties, who at the most, simply wanted Bill to just get some recognition.
Where the film trips up for me, is in it’s last third.
This area deals with those who knew Bill, along with his surviving family and descendants, including his granddaughter, Athena Finger. Though having never met Bill, she did recall some stories her father (Finger’s only son, Fred) told her. Through Marc Nobleman, her role in the story, becomes about finding acceptance and closure regarding her family’s legacy.
I can understand the filmmakers wanting to give the family it’s 15 minutes of fame, but it feels like they spend a little too much time with Finger’s family members, and it seems to slow down the momentum of the film in some places.
Marc Nobleman’s quest also seems to suffer a bit from the filmmaker’s overuse of his fanaticism for Batman as well. A few instances that could be simple little mentions, are fleshed out a little too much in certain areas.
With some tighter editing, the film could have clocked in a little shy of it’s one hour and thirty-five minute mark, but I feel it might have been a little stronger if these changes had been made.
Even so, much of the documentary was very intriguing, as we start with a number of puzzle pieces, and slowly, we see them come together.
Of course, it’s a sure bet that this documentary will not be for everyone. There will be those fervent fans who will stand by Bob Kane’s word over the years, and say Bill Finger was not the man whom Nobleman and others claim him to be. However, I for one believe them, and though the film is not one of the best entertainment-related documentaries out there, it has enough amazing insight and storytelling, to keep you entertained, and maybe, make you a believer too!
*Note: At the time of this review, this documentary is only accessible through the Hulu channel and digital app.*
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “Batman and Bill” is the little documentary that blows open the doors to a secret that could have been buried forever. It’s chronicles of how author Marc Nobleman helped Bill Finger’s family and legacy, is one that is definitely entertaining, albeit largely ‘safe’ in it’s multi-generational story of an entertainment legend that struggles to become fact. The editing at times does get a bit loose, but overall, a very entertaining and informative film.
*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.
When I was growing up in the safety of suburban Iowa, it was the works of filmmaker Tim Burton, that brought a strange intrusion of the bizarre and the macabre into my life, with his imagery of clowns, swirls, and striped monstrosities.
In the last few decades, another intriguing filmmaker emerged…one who has channeled his own personal and eclectic tastes (many of them similar to Burton’s), into films and projects that appeal to his love of The Victorian Era, steampunk, and creature features.
That person, is filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (see left).
The writer and director of films such as Hellboy and Crimson Peak, Del Toro is also a connoisseur of collecting items, some of which, are strange and unusual to many.
On his property in Los Angeles, there is a place he refers to as The Bleak House (named after the novel by Charles Dickens). Within it’s walls, he has curated a vast collection of personal mementos, as well as toys, collectibles, rare production art, and items from the various films he’s worked on. Being a fan of horror and science fiction, he has often remarked that he based his private abode on “The Ackermansion,” the home of Famous Monsters of Filmland‘s editor, Forrest J Ackerman.
When word and imagery of Del Toro’s private abode reached the mainstream media, there were quite a few that were enthralled by what they saw. Key among them was Kaywin Feldman, the director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (aka MIA). After reading an article about Bleak House in 2011, Feldman wanted to find a way to share some of Del Toro’s collection with the world, via an exhibit, that became what is now known as: At Home With Monsters.
Working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), MIA coordinated a 3-city tour (now 4 cities!), to showcase the exhibit from 2016 through 2018.
Monsters arrived at MIA in March 2017, and recently, I decided to take it in. I will admit, that it did feel like a ‘homecoming’ was taking place, when I headed back up to Minneapolis.
17 years ago, while attending college in the state of Iowa, a classmate and I drove up to MIA, to view the traveling exhibit, Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. It was one of the first exhibits regarding film and entertainment items that I ever saw, and in a sense, At Home with Monsters is very close to that previous exhibit in terms of it’s content.
For the At Home with Monsters exhibit in Minneapolis, a portion of The Bleak House collection is distributed through eight different areas, each one with a specific theme.
Each section also contains several audio/visual items that help offer atmosphere to specific portions of the collection. There are specially-mixed series of sounds to help provide mood, and flat-screen television sets provide videos that tie into each room’s themes. A few rooms even have projected visuals to enhance portions of the collection.
There are also interactive iPad displays throughout, that give glimpses into several of Del Toro’s personal journals. Plus, the exhibit is bi-lingual, with each room’s summary presented in both English, and Spanish.
Of the various areas, I found myself most enamored with the one titled Childhood and Innocence. In most of Del Toro’s films that include a child or children, they are often never fully-protected from danger, whether it be Mako Mori as a child in Pacific Rim, or the young Carlos in Devil’s Backbone. Oftentimes, the children in his films try desperately to cling to something safe, but find the world around them to be an unforgiving place, much like in the old Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Notable in this room, were a number of original concept art pieces Del Toro owns, some from his own films (like Pan’s Labyrinth), and others from early animated Disney features. Like Hansel and Gretel amazed by the witch’s candy house, I couldn’t help but ‘eat up’ the inspiring concept art of such Disney artists like Gustaf Tenggren, Eyvind Earle, and even Mary Blair!
Concept, production, and original art pieces are a major highlight of the collection. Along with some of Del Toro’s own art, there are pieces by the likes of James Cameron, Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, and many more. There are also a number of art pieces from the last decade, some of them digital, but often tying into Del Toro’s love of the macabre, or the unusual.
Also of note, are a number of full-size figures from Del Toro’s films (such as the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth at right), along with several, specially-created wax figures. Two of the most notable, are wax figures of H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe. Del Toro has claimed that both authors have had a great presence in his life’s work, and that presence is also felt throughout the exhibit.
Over the years, Del Toro has often talked of wanting to make a film adaptation of Lovecraft’s famous novella, At the Mountains of Madness. Around 2011, he had attempted to get the film made, but sadly, it sounds like his passion project may never come to pass.
However, a reminder of what could have been is included in the exhibition, in the form of a 2-foot tall maquette (see left) by the production company Spectral Motion. Made in 2011, it gives us a taste of what the six-foot-tall albino penguins in Lovecraft’s novel may have looked like! I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything by Lovecraft, but this definitely has me intrigued to know more about the famous story.
Out of all the films that Del Toro has directed, it feels that the two that stand out greatly in the exhibit, are Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth. I will admit that while plenty of space had been given over to some of his more elaborate and memorable films, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more concept or prop art related to Pacific Rim.
One small part of the exhibit that had me most intrigued, involved references to Del Toro’s love of Luchadores (aka Mexican wrestlers). Wrestling is an influence in the fights within Pacific Rim, and in the TV series The Strain, where a luchador known as The Silver Angel, helps it’s heroes fight vampires.
The Silver Angel may be a reference to one of the most famous of all Mexican wrestlers (who also wore a silver-colored mask!), El Santo. Going through the section labelled Magic, Alchemy, and The Occult, I was very surprised to see on it’s walls, a framed piece that contained Santo’s Screen Actor’s Guild membership papers and membership card, which revealed his true identity (many never saw Santo’s face, until after he retired in 1982)!
Of course, a highlight of the show, are the numerous references to famous movie monsters, from Nosferatu, to The Metaluna Mutant (from the 1955 film, This Island Earth), and most famous of all: Frankenstein’s monster.
It is Frankenstein’s monster that is most prevalent throughout the exhibit, with one of the most eye-opening pieces, being the huge, 7-foot-tall head that famously hung above The Bleak House‘s entryway.
It truly is an amazing sight, seeing the pores, stubble, let alone all the little creases and details! Artist Mike Hill, who fashioned the likeness from Boris Karloff’s depiction of the monster, also contributes his talents to other figures throughout the exhibit, including several based around likenesses of characters from the 1932 film, Freaks.
Yes, there’s plenty to see throughout the exhibit, and I won’t lie: I spent over 5 hours going through it, 3 times over! However, I will admit that after seeing other exhibitions and shows in my lifetime, there was definitely room for a little improvement.
What struck me most, was the rather helter-skelter way that certain items from the collection were labeled…and sometimes, not labeled at all.
Having visited The Art Institute of Chicago, I am often used to seeing an art piece’s label, that gives it’s name, artist, and medium (aka what was used to make the image). Surprisingly, none of the art pieces here (that were a part of the Bleak House collection) mentioned their ‘medium.’ I felt this was rather odd, as a few times, I couldn’t be sure if what I was seeing was a licensed print, or an ‘original’ art piece.
Some items are set up to seem almost like typical ‘oddities on shelves,’ and have no label whatsoever. It struck me as a little odd for a few, as I doubt the average museum guest would have recognized the infant Dren from the Del Toro-produced film Splice, or the Prince Nuada puppet maquette from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, settled amongst a group of marionettes.
Despite some hiccups here and there, I was very impressed by what had been brought to the Midwest.
Personally, Minneapolis is not a place that I would have imagined displaying The Bleak House’s trappings, much less find one of MIA‘s directors being the ‘mastermind’ behind the whole touring exhibition!
This is also the first exhibit I’ve seen, that actually has an R-rating, and trust me, it is definitely warranted (note: the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth is ‘anatomically-correct!’).
This was another factor that impressed me: the museum was willing to display an exhibit like this, with restricted access.
In Chicago, entertainment-related exhibits that display items from popular culture like Harry Potter, The Muppets, as well as the life of Walt Disney, often find their way to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. However, the museum is often stuck with the addendum to make exhibits like these, an all-ages experience.
MIA’s ability to not ‘cheapen’ the experience, was definitely a welcome sight, as the culture in Middle-America can often be somewhat prudish and narrow-minded, when it comes to what Del Toro’s Bleak House contains.
As of the time of this review, the exhibit is in it’s final weeks before it closes at MIA, on May 28, 2017.
Following it’s closure in Minnesota, it will then go on to The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where it will be on display from September 30th, 2017, through January 7th, 2018.
AGO was originally to be it’s last stop, but in recent months, the touring exhibition has been extended to include Mexico City, for the year 2018 (however, no museum location or start/end date for the city has been set yet).
If you have an open mind and are somewhat fascinated by the strange and unusual, then At Home with Monsters is a highly recommended show to take in!
Of course, if you are unable to make it to any of the exhibition showings, a companion book to it’s catalogue has also been released (see right), with a number of images showing some of what is on display, as well as anecdotes and notes from Del Toro himself, on his personal collection.
While the book is a wonderful little memento of the exhibition, I still say that nothing compares to being inches away from it’s wax figures, elaborate costumes, original artwork, and much, much more!