Film Review: Batteries Not Included (1987)

Also stylized as: *batteries not included
Also known as: Miracle On 8th Street (international)
Release Date: December 18th, 1987
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Mick Garris, Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae, Elizabeth Pena, Dennis Boutsikaris, Michael Carmine, Wendy Schaal

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“The quickest way to end a miracle is to ask it why it is… or what it wants.” – Frank Riley

Batteries Not Included sort of came and went in the theater. At least, I wasn’t really aware of it until it popped up on HBO about a year later. Once I saw it though, I was captivated and would try to catch it every time it was playing on television. It is one of those movies I loved as a kid but hadn’t really seen since. So when I came across it on Netflix, I wanted to see how it played, thirty years later.

The film was actually intended to be an episode of Steve Spielberg’s awesome television show Amazing Stories. Spielberg liked the story so much that he wanted to have it expanded into a feature film. Also, this was Brad Bird’s first time writing for a theatrical release. He would go on to write and direct the beloved animated films The Iron GiantThe Incredibles and Ratatouille.

The movie tells the story of the residents of a rundown building in New York City. The area is being torn down and the residents forced out by thugs hired by developers who intend to build modern massive skyscrapers. The thugs go around destroying the resident’s homes and property. Two tiny alien spaceships show up and start fixing everything. The little spaceships are actually alien lifeforms that take junk and appliances and use them to repair and enhance themselves. They even give birth to three baby alien ships in the film.

The movie is really about miracles and how when you are pushed to your limit and all seems hopeless, sometimes things can happen to pick you back up. Batteries Not Included is about not losing hope and it is also about family and friends and turning to those around you who are good people. It’s interesting that it takes non-human lifeforms to bring the humans in the story together.

For 1987, the special effects are fantastic. The movie still looks stellar today and it held up really nicely.

The cast were all really good but the bulk of the picture rests on the shoulders of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (just a few years before her big Academy Award win for Driving Miss Daisy). It’s kind of nice revisiting pictures like this and Cocoon, as they feature elderly actors as the main characters. It is something that you don’t see very often anymore, at least not in major studio sci-fi releases. But the 80s were a magical time for film.

I was happy that I revisited this, so many years later, because I wasn’t disappointed, as I often times am with movies I once loved as a kid. It was actually just as I remembered it without any extra romantic flourish added to it from my memory.

Batteries Not Included is sort of forgotten today and it wasn’t a big hit in its day, anyway. It is a movie that probably deserves more recognition than it got, though. It just looks good, plays good and most importantly, feels good.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Birds (1963)

Release Date: March 28th, 1963
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Evan Hunter
Based on: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, Charles McGraw

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Universal Pictures, 119 Minutes

the_birdsReview:

I don’t really know what it is about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds but it has captivated me since I was a little kid. While Psycho is the superior picture out of his horror offerings, I still enjoy The Birds more. But like Psycho, it is pretty close to perfect.

The Birds also features Tippi Hedren who did a more than satisfactory job with this being her first big acting gig. She is also glamorous in that old school Hollywood sort of way. She almost feels like the second-coming of Grace Kelly, who mesmerized audiences in some of Hitchcock’s previous work. It is easy to see how the director became infatuated with her behind the scenes.

Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels is one of my favorite female characters from any Hitchcock picture. She is witty, smart, funny, enjoyable and very determined. She is a really strong character that is enhanced by her charm and also benefits from her great chemistry with Rod Taylor’s Mitch Brenner. Man, Taylor is so solid in this too.

Jessica Tandy and a young Veronica Cartwright round out the Brenner family and both actresses do a fine job. Tandy plays Mitch’s mother. Her character’s struggle to accept the women in her son’s life is a really good plot thread that ends on a beautiful note.

I also really enjoyed Suzanne Pleshette as the school teacher and former love interest of Mitch. She was an alluring brunette in contrast to the blonde Hedren. She was also heroic and a strong female character that probably deserved a much better fate.

The Birds is unique in that it doesn’t employ any music, unless you count the song the children can be heard singing in the schoolhouse. Instead, it relies on silence and the unsettling sounds of the birds themselves. The lack of music creates an intense sense of dread that feels very natural. Everything in the film feels so organic that the use of music would probably have made the really important scenes a lot less effective.

For instance, the scene where Hedren is sitting on the bench outside of the school in silence, where the birds quietly amass on the jungle gym directly behind her, wouldn’t have been as terrifying had there been music. It’s the surprise, the shock and awe of Hedren turning around, seeing this army of birds behind her that wasn’t there a minute earlier, that makes the film’s threat work. The stealth-like nature of the birds is more frightening than the attacks themselves.

The special effects in this film are so good, even for the time, that it still looks much better than the CGI-loaded pictures of today. You know that most of the birds on the screen aren’t actually in the scene but it looks as real as it possibly can. Never does it distract from the film or take the viewer out of the experience. I can’t say as much about some of the modern special effects techniques.

The Birds is a magnificent motion picture. Many creature features have come and gone for several decades but none, other than the original Jaws, have had as strong of an effect.

Rating: 9.75/10