Release Date: May 20th, 1993 (Cannes) Directed by: Renny Harlin Written by: Michael France, Sylvester Stallone, John Long (premise) Music by: Trevor Jones Cast: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Leon, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, Bruce McGill
Pioneer, Canal+, Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes
“Kill a few people, they call you a murderer. Kill a million and you’re a conqueror.” – Eric Qualen
This is one of my least favorite Sylvester Stallone films from his legendary run from the early ’80s through the mid-’90s. However, I still enjoy it because it’s Stallone and he has John Lithgow and Michael Rooker to work with in this.
The story is about a team of people that rescue mountain climbers. The two men on the team had a terrible falling out when one of them couldn’t save the other’s girlfriend and she fell to her death. However, they have to learn to work together again when a group of criminals crashes a plane and loses the money they stole in the mountain wilderness.
The two heroes are forced into being the criminals’ guides but once the money is located, the criminals try to take out Stallone. Stallone gets pissed and decides he needs to rescue the other guide, his former buddy, and to take out these criminals before they hurt more people.
The stunts in this are pretty impressive, especially considering the terrain and the environment. Sure, there are shots where it’s obviously not a real mountainside but they still had to get certain shots to make the film feel as real as possible.
There’s also a good amount of decent helicopter work in the film and the finale with the helicopter crashing and getting wrapped up by a cable ladder is pretty good.
Overall, this is exactly what you’d expect from a movie with Stallone on snowy mountain caps. It’s basically Die Hard on a mountain and that’s fine, as Die Hard created a formula that the action genre still tries to emulate.
Release Date: October 4th, 1991 Directed by: Russell Mulcahy Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Fred Dekker, Menno Meyjes Music by: Alan Silvestri Cast: Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice-T, Kevin Pollak, Lindsay Wagner, Sherman Howard, Mary Ellen Trainor, John Amos, Miguel Sandoval, Jesse Ventura
“I guess a Beretta in the butt beats a butterfly in a boot, huh?” – Nick Styles
Man, this may be the most Fred Dekker movie ever put to celluloid. It’s got his fingerprints all over the story and Steven E. de Souza’s script really encapsulates the spirit of Dekker’s style. Beyond that, the director, Russell Mulcahy, then turns everything up passed eleven! I’d say he turned it to about seventeen!
I haven’t seen this since it was a new movie on VHS but I’ve got to say that even though I remember enjoying it, I didn’t realize how over the top and crazy it was. I guess that’s because this was fairly normal for an early ’90s edgy boi action flick.
Seeing greats like Denzel Washington and John Lithgow clash in this was fucking incredible, though! These guys brought their a-game, their balls and then, I’m assuming, shot a bunch of steroids and extra testosterone into their man bits. That’s the only way I can really explain their intensity in this movie.
This is a high octane action thriller from the very beginning. It follows a young cop that takes down an extremely violent criminal in the first few minutes. The cop becomes a hero and a bit of a celebrity and eventually starts working for the district attorney’s office. He ends up getting married and has two daughters. All the while, Lithgow rots in prison, fighting and murdering other prisoners, waiting for his chance to escape and get vengeance on the cop that put him there.
Once out of prison, the criminal creates an elaborate plot to break the cop down, destroy his personal life, his career, pump him full of heroin and have him get raped by a hooker with an STD. This story goes to some dark, bonkers places.
In the end, Denzel sets his own trap by utilizing the gangsters he grew up with. The big, legitimately awesome finale takes place on the famous Watts Towers. The finale is fucking great! Especially, for those who loved these type of over-the-top, bar pushing action flicks of this era.
All in all, this is far from a perfect film and it has its flaws but it is perfect escapism, chock full of that “toxic” masculinity that modern Hollywood loathes.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: other cop thrillers of the ’80s and ’90s.
Release Date: November 27th, 1985 Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman Music by: Henry Mancini, Leslie Bricusse Cast: Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston, Judy Cornwell, Burgess Meredith, Carrie Kei Heim, Christian Fitzpatrick, Jeffrey Kramer, Christopher Ryan
Calash Corporation, GGG, Major Studio Partners, TriStar Pictures, 107 Minutes
“Now, all those within the sound of my voice, and all those on this Earth everywhere know that henceforth you will be called Santa Claus.” – Ancient Elf
Anyway, seeing this now, it’s a much better movie than I remembered and I kind of enjoyed it in spite of my complaints in the previous article and how it destroyed Santa Claus for my seven year-old brain.
This is a movie with really odd pacing and plot structure where the first act seems like it takes up the first full hour of this 107 minute movie. But I do really like the first act, which shows the fantastical origin of Santa Claus. It’s so well shot and orchestrated that the picture feels otherworldly but incredibly magical and soothing.
David Huddleston was perfectly cast as Santa and his wife and the elves were also great, especially Dudley Moore and Burgess Meredith. We also get to see Christopher Ryan in a small role as an elf, which I thought was really cool. He’s best known, at least to me, as Mike from The Young Ones and as different Sontaran commanders from Doctor Who.
After the first hour or so, we are introduced to the film’s villain B.Z., played by the great John Lithgow. As a kid, I always loved this character and sort of saw him as the Lex Luthor of Christmas. I guess I remembered his role and his presence in the film being bigger than it actually was but that’s probably because Lithgow was so solid that it left a big impression on me.
There are also two little kids in the movie but they’re kind of annoying and overly happy all the time. But I guess you need kids in a Santa movie and they’re supposed to be the narrative stand-ins for the kids in the audience, imagining themselves hanging out with Santa and the elves.
The film looks really dated though and I remember thinking that it looked older than a 1985 movie in 1985. Also, the special effects aren’t great but the matte painting work and sets kind of make up for that.
The story isn’t great either but trying to see it through the eyes of a kid, it’s fine.
In the end, this is a weird but comforting movie. I feel like it’s been lost to time and mostly forgotten but I still think that people would like it if they gave it a chance.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with: other family Christmas classics.
Also known as: 2010 (original title), 2010: Odyssey Two (original script title) Release Date: December 7th, 1984 Directed by: Peter Hyams Written by: Peter Hyams Based on:2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke Music by: David Shire Cast: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain (voice), Madolyn Smith, Dana Elcar, Elya Baskin
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 116 Minutes
“[message relayed from monolith] All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.” – HAL-9000
Since I did 2001: A Space Odyssey as my 2001st film review, I figured that I’d also revisit 2010: The Year We Make Contact for my 2010th. Both are great films: the first being an absolute masterpiece and this one being one of the best science fiction films of its decade, as well as one of my favorite of all-time.
Unfortunately, 2010 gets compared to 2001, which really isn’t fair, as there was no way that this movie was going to live up to the hype that a 2001 sequel would’ve gotten, even back in the early ’80s. As its own film, though, it’s exceptional even if it wasn’t necessary.
Now there were four Odyssey books written by Arthur C. Clarke, two at the time of this film’s release, so I don’t see why further movies couldn’t have been made, as the story already existed and for fans of the novels, this was probably something they wanted to see. Hell, I’m still hoping that someone eventually adapts 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Tom Hanks was going to do them about twenty years ago and there were rumors that Syfy was going to take a crack at it as well but neither of those really materialized.
From what I remember from the novel, this is a pretty good adaptation that takes some liberties but tells the gist of the story. It also changes the location of the monolith from being near Saturn to being near Jupiter for some reason. But I also kind of see this as existing in its own continuity, as it’s really hard to envision what could’ve even come after the 2001 movie despite this story trying to follow it up. As far as it being a movie sequel to the first book, as it is written, it works. The Kubrick 2001 film was much more mystical and fantastical than the book and it left a lot open for interpretation where the novel was more clear cut and explained things better.
Like the books, this film tries to define the strange things that are happening within the plot, unlike it’s cinematic predecessor. In fact, this film starts with an opening recap of the first movie with actual explanations of plot details to try and ground the story and set certain events in stone. I actually really like that, as it immediately shows that this movie is indeed different in its style and how it is going to present its fantastical journey.
Additionally, I really liked the casting of Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd, as he felt like a better version of the character than what we got in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Granted, he was more of a minor character in the first film and we needed someone with more presence and gravitas, as he becomes the main character in this story.
Scheider was a great choice, though, as he had just come off of the first two Jaws movies and was one of the top actors of his era. He had a certain panache and a good level of manliness but also came across as a smart guy that would think before reacting and usually had a clear head and felt like a natural leader.
The rest of the cast is also good with Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, the return of Keir Dullea as Bowman and the rest of the Russian crew. I especially liked Elya Baskin as Brailovsky, as his chemistry with Lithgow’s Curnow was superb. Some of you may know Baskin from his role as Peter Parker’s landlord in Spider-Man 2 and 3.
I also love that the story is anti-Cold War, as it forces the Americans and Russian astronauts and scientists to work together, despite their countries being on the cusp of war. In fact, the countries do go to war while the crew is on their mission and what they may return home to is a somber, dark cloud over the rest of the story. Late into the story, the crews are forced to separate by the orders of their feuding governments but in spite of this, the two crews still end up working together to complete the mission and attempt to solve the universe’s greatest mystery.
Some people have said that the ending was underwhelming but I don’t think that’s true at all. It kind of felt like the ending to a really good classic Star Trek episode where the crew must solve a cosmic mystery. The reward for doing so is actually quite profound, as it forever changes the solar system and man’s place in it.
The movie also has incredible special effects and I especially liked how well they did in recreating the Discovery. It really pulls you back into the iconic ship and it just adds an extra level of legitimacy to this film, marrying it to the original one, aesthetically. Having the same voice for HAL-9000 was also a nice touch, as the character wouldn’t have been the same with someone else doing the performance.
Ultimately, this isn’t on the level of 2001: A Space Odyssey but what is in the science fiction genre? As it’s own motion picture, it’s cool, imaginative and it expands upon the greater work before it while also entertaining and boasting some solid acting performances across the board.
Rating: 9/10 Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Odyssey series of books by Arthur C. Clarke.
Also known as: Planet of the Apes: Genesis, Genesis: Apes, Caesar, Rise of the Apes (working titles) Release Date: July 28th, 2011 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: Rupert Wyatt Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver Based on:Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle Music by: Patrick Doyle Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis
Chernin Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 105 Minutes
“Caesar. I’m sorry. This my fault. This has to stop. This isn’t the way, you know what they’re capable of. Please come home. If you come home, I’ll protect you.” – Will Rodman
I’ve already reviewed the two films after this one but this film came out in a time where I wasn’t writing movie reviews. So I figured that I’d go back and give it a rewatch because I had fairly fond memories of it and because I want to revisit and review the original film series as well.
All three of the films in the most modern reboot series are consistently good. This one sits in the middle for me between the other two but they’re all pretty close in quality and enjoyment.
This film focuses on the events that started the ape takeover of the planet. It handles that in a great way too, as it focuses on science run amok but with good intentions behind it. So it’s really not too dissimilar from science run amok in the real world. It’s also not too dissimilar from how some corporations are willing to compromise ethics for profit. Social and political critique aside, the setup to the ape takeover feels plausible within a real world setting.
In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the fourth Planet of the Apes film from the original series, in that it goes back in time to the early stages of the uprising. It also does this film some favors in that the fourth original Apes movie had my favorite story out of the lot.
This is well acted from James Franco, Freida Pinto and John Lithgow as the main human characters, but it is superbly acted by the living legend, Andy Serkis, who performed in a motion capture suit in order to play the main ape, Caesar.
The bond and emotion between Serkis and Franco is uncanny and you feel everything that both of them feel, every step of the way through this story. While it has to be somewhat difficult to pull performances off when motion capture is involved, Andy Serkis truly nailed it as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and I think that he’s even a bit better in this. Serkis has truly mastered how to speak through his eyes, his posture and subtle movements.
What’s really impressive, is that even though I’ve already seen this film and knew about the moment where Caesar speaks for the first time, it was still chilling to see it again and it’s the moment that really cements this film as something special.
I really liked this trilogy and I don’t think that it would’ve existed if this film hadn’t worked as well as it did.
Rating: 8.25/10 Pairs well with: the other Planet of the Apes reboot movies that followed this one.
Release Date: June 24th, 1983 Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison, Jerome Bixby Based on:The Twilight Zone by Rod Sterling Music by: Jerry Goldsmith Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan, Burgess Meredith (narrator), Dick Miller, Steven Williams, Al Leong, John Larroquette, Selma Diamond, Priscilla Pointer, Nancy Cartwright, Christina Nigra, Donna Dixon
Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes
“Hey… you wanna see something really scary?” – Car Passenger
After recently watching the Creepshow television series, as well as revisiting the movies for the umpteenth time, I got the itch to rewatch Twilight Zone: The Movie, as it has a lot of similarities and I hadn’t seen it in at least a decade.
I like the highpoints of this movie almost as much as the Creepshow films. However, Twilight Zone is pretty inconsistent, as the first two segments are weak while the latter two are really good. And maybe it was put in this order in post-production because Steven Spielberg felt the same way, even though one of his segments was one of the crappier ones.
The prologue and the first segment were both directed by John Landis, coming off of An American Werewolf In London, a true horror classic. The prologue was a pretty good setup and I loved it when I was a kid. Landis’ segment, however, plays more like an episode of Amazing Stories.
Although, two of these segments play like Amazing Stories episodes and maybe this movie is what inspired Spielberg to create that show just two years later.
Anyway, Landis’ segment is actually incomplete due to an accident involving a helicopter on the set of the film. The accident killed two kids and actor Victor Morrow. It was a pretty controversial event back when it happened (see here) and it forever ruined the working relationship between Steven Spielberg and John Landis.
Moving on to the second segment, it’s the one directed by Spielberg himself and it is also the other segment that feels like an Amazing Stories episode. It’s also really boring and slows the movie to a crawl. But thankfully, Joe Dante’s segment gets the movie back on track.
By the time the third segment rolls around, you might find yourself in a comatose state that even the gentle, kind and always fly Scatman Crothers couldn’t pull you out of during the previous story. But once you get to the midpoint of the film, everything picks up, gets better and the movie delivers.
The third and fourth segments feel almost as good as the best segments from the Creepshow franchise and they save this movie from being a total disaster.
Where the first story dealt with an unlikable, old, racist piece of shit and the second dealt with old people getting to feel young again, the third deals with a young boy with special powers and a nice lady that eventually wants to help him, played by Kathleen Quinlan. It has more energy, it’s a more interesting story and the monster effects that Dante had created for this are superb. I love the third segment and it’s actually a story I would revisit if ever there were a followup to it. Plus, it has Dick Miller in it.
Now the fourth segment is directed by George Miller, the man behind the Mad Max franchise, and it is a remake of the most famous Twilight Zone episode.
The story sees an airplane passenger freak out over a monster on the wing of the plane. It may sound like an odd setup but it is a great segment that builds suspense incredibly well and also benefits from the great talent of John Lithgow. I also really liked the young Christina Nigra in this, as she added some good comedic seasoning at just the right moments. She was also really good in Cloak & Dagger, alongside Henry Thomas, a year later.
The final segment features the best (and only real) monster of the movie. The special effects are outstanding and the payoff in the finale makes the rest of the movie worth sitting through.
In the end, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a good example of what I don’t like about anthologies: consistency. The first half is bogged down by dry, slow, boring stories that one has to suffer through in an effort to get to something better. Thankfully, the second half of the picture is good.
In retrospect, though, it feels like this is almost a movie length pilot to Spielberg’s anthology television series Amazing Stories. If you’ve ever seen that show, this feels like an extension of it more than it feels like it fits within the Twilight Zone franchise. However, this would also lead to the Twilight Zone getting resurrected on television. In fact, it relaunched just a few days before Amazing Stories debuted.
Going back to the Spielberg segment with the old people experiencing their youth again, there are a lot of parallels to it and Ron Howard’s Cocoon. I’m not sure if this was an inspiration for that movie and its sequel but it’s very possible.
In fact, Twilight Zone: The Movie seems to have had quite the impact between launching a new TZ television series, influencing Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and its similarities to Cocoon, all of which came out two years later in 1985.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: other horror anthology films of the time: the Creepshow movies and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, as well as the television shows Amazing Stories and Tales From the Crypt.
“Ya know, the only trouble I ever got into was when I was too careful!” – Sally
After watching Dressed to Kill about a week ago, I didn’t want to waste much time before checking out another neo-noir thriller by Brian De Palma. I decided to go in chronological order so I picked Blow Out over Body Double but I do plan to watch that other one in the very near future.
Another reason why I wanted to get into this one was to see how it measures up to Dressed to Kill, as it came out just a year later and it featured some of the same players in Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz. Also, this re-teams Allen with this film’s lead, John Travolta. The two also starred alongside each other in De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie.
While this is the second film in a row where Allen plays a lady of the night, this character is very different from her character in Dressed to Kill. Here, she is more ditzy and too trusting where in Dressed to Kill, she was sharp as a tack and weary of those around here. I actually really like her in both roles and despite playing similar characters, they’re both different enough to show her range as an actress. And honestly, I’ve underrated her work and didn’t really recognize her ability until seeing her in De Palma’s films.
John Travolta is also on his A-game here and in fact, he’s dynamite. This may be one of the top two or three performances I’ve seen from Travolta and it’s surprising to me that not too long after this, his career sort of floundered and he didn’t bounce back till 1994’s Pulp Fiction.
The real scene stealer though is John Lithgow, who just has the uncanny ability to play crazy, really damn well. He’s played these types of characters multiple times but this is the oldest example of it that I can think of or that I have seen. He’s got the incredible ability to be a lovable patriarch on one had and to be an absolutely chilling bastard on the other. And here, with De Palma’s direction, he is a pretty intense predator that exudes danger from his very presence.
The fact that Travolta’s day job in this film is as a sound engineer for slasher pictures actually adds a lot to the film’s tone and narrative style. While this isn’t a slasher picture, it does present Lithgow as a slasher like character, as he stalks his prey (pretty women) and brutally murders them.
While this film shares a similar tone to Dressed to Kill it is less cerebral and is more of a straightforward political thriller. That certainly doesn’t mean that it is lacking. It still carries on De Palma’s Hitchcockian vibe that has been alive and well in his pictures before this. Because of that, though, this film has an energy and a style to it that is enthralling and intriguing. And despite channeling Hitchcock, De Palma’s films still have a certain panache that is all their own.
Looking at Dressed to Kill and Blow Out side-by-side, I prefer the former. But that doesn’t mean that Blow Out is less of a film. Dressed to Kill was more my cup of tea because it’s damn twisted, somewhat taboo and a bit darker.
That being said, Blow Out is still a fantastic thriller and in the upper echelon of Brian De Palma’s oeuvre.
Rating: 8.75/10 Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other noir-esque films: Dressed to Kill and Body Double.
Release Date: March 16th, 2019 (SXSW) Directed by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmayer Written by: Jeff Buhler, Matt Greenberg Based on:Pet Sematary by Stephen King Music by: Christopher Young Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo & Lucas Lavoie
Di Bonaventura Pictures, Room 101 Inc., Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes
“Hug your daughter.” – Louis Creed
I should preface this by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the original Pet Sematary movie. It’s mostly okay and I do enjoy it but I don’t consider it a classic, as many people do.
This film made me appreciate the original and its sequel more, however. But that doesn’t mean I disliked this. It just felt mostly hollow and the things it changed didn’t feel necessary and actually made it less shocking and emotional than the original adaptation.
Now this could actually be closer to the book but I never read it. If that’s the case, I’ll give it a pass on its alterations. But that still doesn’t make it a better film than the two that preceded it.
The thing that is better in this movie is the acting. Top to bottom, the cast here is damn talented. And yes, John Lithgow is a more talented actor than the late, great Fred Gwynne but I still prefer Gwynne’s Jud. Still, Lithgow was solid.
The real scene stealer though was Jeté Laurence, the young daughter who dies and comes back from the dead. She was absolutely dynamite! And frankly, she carries scenes even when sharing them with actors that have been at this for decades longer.
On a side note, I liked the casting of twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, as the young Gage. Mainly, because the kids looked a lot like a toddler aged Miko Hughes, who played Gage in the original.
The film has pretty good atmosphere and it does a decent job of building towards actual feelings of despair and dread. I think that also has a lot to do with a very capable cast pulling you into the proceedings.
But in the end, this doesn’t feel special, it doesn’t feel necessary and it doesn’t really stand on its own two feet. I feel like it was rushed out to capitalize off of the recent success of the It remake. While that’s okay, I would’ve rather seen a new Stephen King adaptation than another remake for the sake of cashing in on an already established property.
Even with all its moody, dark tones throughout nearly every scene, this couldn’t generate enough real darkness to really stand next to its visually lighter predecessor. The acting saves the film from being a disaster but it still isn’t enough to carry it on its own.
Maybe it lacks heart or maybe it just tried too hard. Either way, it’s a carbon copy with the contrast boosted too high and a much weaker resolution when looking at the details.
Rating: 5.25/10 Pairs well with: the other Pet Sematary films and other modern Stephen King adaptations.
Release Date: 1995 Directed by: Jeffrey Schon Music by: Thomas Wagner Narrated by: Richard Widmark Hosted by: John Lithgow
PBS, 54 Minutes
I have been casually watching episodes of PBS’ documentary television series American Cinema. Since I have been watching a ton of film-noir movies for Noirvember, one of my favorite cinematic celebration months, I had to dig up the episode Film Noir. Luckily, it is streaming on YouTube, as many old PBS documentaries are.
What makes this cool when compared to other film-noir documentaries is that it doesn’t explain away the style or the elements that make noir. It focuses more on talking head interviews of actors, directors and scholars who simply just discuss film-noir. While the interviewees are alone, it still plays more like an open forum of ideas and thoughts on the noir style and its importance in American filmmaking.
It was a really nice touch that Richard Widmark, my choice for a 1950s Joker if ever there was a serious Batman movie made back then, got to narrate this short documentary. I also enjoyed seeing John Lithgow host the episode, even though he is way too young to have been in classic film-noir. But Lithgow is certainly a guy that understands film and the important things in the long history of the art.
Film Noir is one of my favorite episodes of the American Cinema series but then again, I have a strong bias in favor of noir. Ultimately, though, this is a really good educational piece on the style and its significance.
Release Date: October 26th, 2014 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere) Directed by: Christopher Nolan Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan Music by: Hans Zimmer Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Matt Damon, Timothée Chalamet, Wes Bentley, William Devane
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt.” – Cooper
Man, where to begin?
Let me kick this off by saying that overall I did like this film. It wasn’t this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as I had hoped and granted, those are massive shoes to fill, but this was a fairly okay effort by Christopher Nolan at trying to emulate Stanley Kubrick. And I say that because this film felt like Nolan trying to create his 2001 and his brother, who co-wrote the film, admitted to channeling 2001 while penning this story. Unfortunately, it fell short of coming close to the level of grandeur and wonder that is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, it falls short of what Nolan has proven his skill level is capable of.
As far as visuals and sound, this film knocks it out of the park. I deliberately didn’t see this in IMAX, as I wanted to be wowed on a regular screen because that is how the majority of eyes will see this picture and to compare it to the amazing visual effects of other films throughout history, I wanted to see it on a level playing field and not on steroids. And truthfully, I’ve come to look at the IMAX thing as a fad like 3D. Until it is the norm in every theater, it isn’t what I consider the industry standard. It’s certainly a cool experience but films that rely on it, as greatly as Nolan has been over his last few films, just tell me that they are pushing their visual style and effects over their film as a whole: sparkle over substance. And that is what this film was. I got to the point where I was like, “Fuck these bells and whistles, just show me the damn film!”
There were amazingly shot sequences that used practical effects, which gave a lot of the important visual elements a sense of realism that can’t be manufactured digitally. This didn’t feel like a cartoon like the recent Star Trek films, it felt cold, dreary and authentic. In that regard, it had the real organic and realistic soul that 2001 had in 1968.
The score to the film and the sound in general were perfect. It definitely has an Oscar-caliber vibe to it and if the film isn’t nominated for the score by Hans Zimmer and for a best sound category, that would be a pretty shitty snub by the Academy. Additionally, it definitely deserves a nomination for visual effects.
The pace and editing of the film was pretty disjointed as things would pop in and out of the film that just didn’t seem to fit or be necessary. I feel like a two hour version of this film would play much better. The time spent with Matt Damon’s character on a dangerous planet is way too drawn out.
When delving into the story of this film, it is a convoluted mess. Yes, things are pretty straightforward but there are a few minor plot twists and developments that come out of nowhere and don’t fit the overall narrative of the film. For instance, Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper has a son who, for whatever reason, is obsessed with staying on his M.I.A. father’s farm even though it is killing his wife and child. This is a bizarre side story that just doesn’t fit within the film. And after his sister burns his crops and tries to kidnap his family, after he punched her husband in the face, he just stands there like a mute retard when confronted by her babbling about her dad’s magic watch sending Morse code through space and time through the power of love. It was reminiscent of the plot to a bad 80s music video.
Another bizarre plot twist that we are introduced to is when Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia Brand uncharacteristically pushes for the explorers to use the last of their fuel to visit the planet with her former lover on it. After being a hardcore scientist and being bred for this mission, probably all of her adult life, she is willing to throw all of humanity away on her own selfish heart. This just doesn’t fit her character leading up to that point and this also leads to the film pushing the concept that love is a dimension that can transcend space, time and every other barrier. Love is a force similar to gravity. The film lost me with this mystic woo. It suddenly felt like a Manga written by a 12 year-old girl.
And speaking of mystic woo, we come to discover that getting sucked into a black hole brings a person to some weird alien-crafted maze of windows that look into Cooper’s daughter’s bedroom at different points in time. This led to Cooper reaching out through love to send messages to his daughter years prior, which earlier in the film, were dismissed as a ghost. Cooper discovers that the ghost was real and he was the ghost. Cue panic-ridden crying and yelling by McConaughey for fifteen minutes as he is stuck behind his daughter’s mystic bookshelf in the center of a black hole.
The film confusingly represents love as a force like gravity and somehow love can make a wristwatch’s second hand talk to someone in the past with Morse code.
What is somewhat irritating is that Christopher Nolan consulted with a very knowledgeable physicist on this film but the scientific accuracy was pretty shitty. What I had hoped would be a scientific film where we might encounter another intelligence beyond our scope of comprehension, was instead a fantasy film wrapped in fairy tale where the superior intelligence was just fifth dimensional human beings trying to help their own race evolve and get off of a dying planet. I’d have to write a series of blogs or a book even on the amount of paradoxes here.
In regards to the black hole sequence, Nolan used his physics expert to help him create a realistic scenario and to make the sequence visually authentic. What we got was neither. Now while the black hole looked absolutely fucking amazing and grandiose, when McConaughey flew into it, we never experienced spaghettification. Also, black holes are so powerful that even light cannot escape them, hence the name “black hole”.
As McConaughey pilots his craft into the core of the cosmic maelstrom, we can still see things and the lights inside the ship give a nice cool glow in the cockpit. Maybe it is hard to tell a visual story in darkness but I feel like a black screen with the sounds of a ship being torn apart would have been more haunting, more realistic and added more credence and authenticity. What we got was Nolan’s version of the lone astronaut entering the monolith, except this one finds himself behind his daughter’s bookshelf. It wasn’t anywhere near as cool and epic as where David Bowman went in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hell, it wasn’t even as cool as where the crew went in Disney’s 1979 film The Black Hole. At least they flew through Hell filled with evil robots.
It is worth noting that this film also borrowed from 2001 in the character of the computer/robot named TARS, who was this film’s version of HAL 9000. Except TARS didn’t kill astronauts, he just joked about it and served more of an R2-D2 role.
In the end, Matthew McConaughey’s mission is a failure, in a sense, but I guess it inspired his aging daughter to work hard on equations and save humankind from their dying world. Her work leads to humans ending up on some Saturn-orbiting space station that is a complete rip-off of the cylindrical spaceship Rama from Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. Being that Clarke penned the original 2001 novel and all its sequels, this brings Nolan’s “borrowing” of Clarke’s ideas and concepts full circle.
What you have, in my estimation, is a good looking, often times visually amazing film, that unfortunately sells itself short by tapping into the Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke well too often. The major difference, is that Kubrick took risks and did things that challenged filmmaking and changed it forever. Nolan played it safe and didn’t leave us with anything daring, as he seemed to be more interested in making a commercial success and an homage, as opposed to something more authentic and true to his heart. However, this is the difference between Kubrick and Nolan. One is the professor, the other is a really good student that idolizes the professor a bit too much.
Is the film worth a watch? Definitely. Is it destined to be a beloved classic? Probably to some but it lacks the depth and originality to truly make it stand on its own legs.
Rating: 6/10 Pairs well with: other Nolan films that don’t feature Batman.