I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?
I really hadn’t planned on doing this, but after writing last week’s essay on the Mission: Impossible television series and noting that I hadn’t actually watched any of the new movies that were based on it, I decided to give at least the first one a go.
Actually, this one’s pretty easy to summarize: take the basic plot from Three Days of the Condor but remove all of the attendant complexity of that movie because of course today;s blockbuster-seeking audience doesn’t want to have to follow anything too complicated, throw in an abbreviated and much less tension filled riff on the silent heist scene from Rififi, give it a James Bond -esque cold opening, then throw it all under a nostalgic Mission: Impossible mask (which does carry through the opening format of play the theme complete with scenes from later in the movie, then the assignment tape – appropriately for the times, a video tape which also integrates the dossier scene, then the apartment briefing scene), finish it off with an actually pretty well done action set piece climax, and there you have it.
Of course, it’s fairly easy for the film makers to “homage” those earlier movies, since today’s audiences will likely have never seen either of them, and I’m sure that was true of audiences in 1996 as well. (My ghad can it actually be almost 20 years since this movie first came out?)
None of which is to say that Mission: Impossible is a bad movie. It’s actually fairly entertaining in that typical summer blockbuster fashion. Plus, I do have to give it credit for at least not completely disrespecting its television predecessor, a move that unfortunately is quite typical with this kind of movie today.This is one TV-to-movie adaptation that works pretty well.
So yeah, I’d say say if you’re a fan of the original series, go ahead and give this one a look. It may not be completely original, but it delivers on its promises and works pretty well for what it is.
***Spoiler Warning*** Yes, once again, I’m writing about a 50+ year old movie, but to me that doesn’t matter. As I’ve noted before, if you’ve never seen the film, it’s a new movie to you, and there are certain twists in the plot that I will be discussing that you might not want to know about, so I’m gonna go ahead and throw a general warning up here just in case. ***End Warning***
I’m not sure when exactly the English title of Akira Kurosawa’s Tengoku to Jigoku got changed from it’s literal translation of Heaven and Hell to High and Low, but either one fits the movie quite well, for it is definitely a film of contrasts not only in social hierarchy and settings, but in the very structure of the film itself.
We often talk about films and plays having a three-act structure, but I can hardly think of a more clearly delineated example of this idea than what Kurosawa chooses to put before his audience here.
The first act, which lasts around 55 minutes is an almost pure chamber drama which could just as easily have been a one-set play. That’s not to say that it’s in any way static, for a master film maker like Kurosawa would never let that happen, but simply that it all takes place on one set, the interior of protagonist Kingo Gondo’s house (rarely even straying from his living room), a decision that serves very well to ramp up the tension and the increasingly strained relationships between the characters that appear on screen.
The second act of the film is set on a speeding bullet train, which constrains the movement of the characters even more, and in doing so not only heightens the tension and places an unexpected emphasis on every move that they make, but because of the constant movement of the train and the nature of the scenes taking place there, also gives this second act a feeling of only having one chance to get the actions that must take place there right, a tension which also, according to interviews with the participants, seems to have permeated the shoot itself.
Then in the third and final act, the movie turns into a pure police procedural, expanding out into the cities of Japan itself even as the police force begin to close in on the kidnapper who has set all of this in motion.
Based on one of American writer Ed McBain’s 87th precinct novels, King’s Ransom, which Kurosawa read and decided he wanted to adapt as a film, High and Low may very well be one of the best – at least in terms of getting the atmosphere correct, even if the plot (and of course, the setting and a number of the characters) is not exactly faithful to the original – adaptations of any of McBain’s works. For those who are not familiar with the 87th Precinct books (I’ll note here that I am a huge fan of them, having discovered them in my youth and have read a number of them over the years, though if I’ve actually read King’s Ransom I have to admit it was so long ago that it has faded into the depths of distant memory) I’ll simply say that he was way ahead of his time, writing realistic and very detailed police procedurals before the format became “cool”, and one of the things that Kurosawa does right is to take the time to let the audience feel the tedium and amount of work, manpower, and sheer drudgery that goes into solving a case like this, unlike so many of today’s CSI offspring which make it seem as though just the right clue is simply waiting to jump into the investigators’ hands, and that getting precisely the information that is needed to crack the case is a mere phone call or five minute test analysis away.
Getting back to the idea of contrasts, Kurosawa (and again, I can’t really speak to how much of this is in the original novel and how much is Kurosawa and co-screenwriters Eijirō Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni invention, so I’m simply going to credit it to Kurosawa) also makes the most of the contrasts not only between the protagonist, Gondo (played, as usual, to perfection by Kurosawa favorite Toshiro Mifune) and the antagonist/kidnapper Ginjirô Takeuchi (portrayed with just the right combination of desperation and sleaze by Tsutomu Yamazaki), but even in the cultural hierarchy between Gordo and his assistants, most especially chauffeur Aoki, whose son it is the kidnapper has taken by mistake instead of Gondo’s own son. It’s this hierarchical distance which means that there is nothing that Aoki can do to save his own son except to plead on hands and knees for his boss to pay the demanded ransom even though he knows that doing so will ruin Gondo financially just when Gondo was seemingly on the cusp of securing his own fortune and his family’s future forever.
Of course, it’s also this hierarchical chasm that separates Gondo from the kidnapper, who claims to have been motivated to take the actions that he does because he has had to spend his life always looking up at the seeming heaven of Gondo’s home which sits high on a hill while he has been living in the hell that is the depths of the city. (And yes, this is where the more literal interpretation of the title – whichever translation you prefer – comes into play.)
Before I move on, there is one other hierarchical contrast that I feel is worth pointing out, and that is the one between the kidnapper and the dwellers in “dope alley” where those who are hooked on the heroin that he is using to make the murder of his accomplices look like an accidental overdose eventually wind up. The sad reality that is pointed out here is that no matter how low the kidnapper may feel in contrast to Kingo Gondo, at least he is still living a life far above that of these desperate souls, a fact that Kurosawa never explicitly feels the need to point out, yet being the master story teller that he is, makes clear.
There are, of course, many other examples of highs and lows that can be found in the film, including, as I’ve already mentioned, the change that occurs in Gondo’s fortunes when he makes the fateful decision to go ahead and pay the ransom no matter how it may personally affect him financially.
Interestingly, it is Gondo himself who provides the major link between the worlds of the high and low. Yes, it is his wealth and his mansion on the hill that provides the spark for the action in the movie, but at the same time, largely thanks to Mifune’s masterful portrayal of this emotionally torn character, he can just as easily be seen as a man who is as trapped by that wealth as anyone who lives below him.
This first becomes apparent in the opening scene where we see an informal meeting taking place between Gondo and a number of the members of the board of directors of the shoe making corporation of which Gondo is the president. They are threatening to oust him from his position unless he goes along with their plans to make lesser quality shoes that they have designed which they can still sell at the same price as they would the ones they had been making, but will cost less. Tearing an example of the shoes that they wish to manufacture apart before their eyes, Gondo refuses to even consider their idea because he is not willing to put his hard-earned reputation behind a shoe that he knows will quickly fall apart.
The board members, on the other hand, threaten a hostile takeover of the corporation, saying that they can get “the Big Man” (the never-seen majority stockholder of the corporation) to side with them if he doesn’t go along with their scheme. After they leave, giving him the rest of the night to come to a decision, Gondo reveals that he has anticipated this threat and made arrangements to buy just enough stock to thwart the board’s plans by making himself the majority stockholder. Of course, this has required him to mortgage his house and all of his belongings to raise the necessary capitol, so if the deal falls through, then he will be penniless.
This, then is the dilemma that Gondo faces when the demand for ransom comes through: Does he put the life of his chauffeur’s in danger and refuse to pay it, thus saving himself and his family from destitution, or does he use the money to pay the ransom, saving the boy’s life, but ruining his own family?
Which will he choose? To continue to live in Heaven while forcing his servant into a particular kind of Hell? Or potentially losing everything and return to his own low birth status which he has spent his entire life trying to climb out of?
I really feel like there is so much more that could be written about this movie, and there are quite a few aspects of it that I have barely even touched on, such as the grittiness of the the entire third act where we see the action move from the first act’s high outlook of Gondo’s hilltop house into the streets that lie below it, or how Gondo’s own low beginnings eventually provide him with succor as he faces his own personal hell, but to do these topics justice would really take this essay beyond the scope of this blog, so I think I’ll just end here by saying that I think it’s obvious that I consider High and Low to easily be a perfect example of a masterwork by a master storyteller at the height of his craft, and a movie that deserves more recognition and one that you should definitely seek out if you’ve never had the opportunity to see it.
Here’s a trailer:
Finally, it’s time for a return to my look at movies on Sight and Sound’s most recent Top 250 All-Time Greatest Films list. Yes, it’s been awhile since we’ve visited the list, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been watching them, just that I’ve had other things going on that have kept me from writing about them. So I’ve actually got quite a few that I’ll be trying to get written up over the next little bit. Anyway, today it’s #77, Robert Altman’here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.
There can be, of course, a huge gulf between appreciating the technical aspects of what makes a movie “great” and actually enjoying the experience of watching the film itself. After all, opinions about any given movie are probably as diverse as the number of people that see them. That’s why lists like this are made in the first place, and why they are often quite hotly debated among those of us who love movies, especially when it comes to those top few spots and which movies should or shouldn’t occupy them.
Maybe that’s also why, when I find myself in such opposition with the critical (and apparently popular) opinion of a movie like Robert Altman’s Nashville, I feel some intimidation and wonder if perhaps I just don’t “get it” from either a technical/critical viewpoint or from one of “liking” it.
Okay, that’s actually not quite true, but I’ll get to the one thing that does work in a bit.
So let’s get a few caveats out of the way that may also add both some color and perspective to my viewing of this movie. First of all, yes, I am a native Nashvillian. When this movie was released in 1975 I was a not-quite teenager so I (honestly rather vaguely) remember some of the hubbub that accompanied both the shooting and the release of the movie.
There are of course scenes in the movie that were contemporary at the time but now provide a mini time capsule look back at the Nashville that was.
Yeah, some of the street scenes show places that used to be and give a sort of “Oh, yeah, I remember when that used to look that way” reminiscence to someone like me, but unfortunately the shots like that are few and far between. Instead, Altman chose to shoot most of the movie indoors in places that, while they are certainly a part of the Nahville-at-the-time (the Grand Old Opry House, the Exit/In, etc.) really could have been anywhere that served up country music at the time.
And as far as the music goes, well… in a way, I feel like the less said, the better. This is a film the features over an hour of musical numbers, many of which I understand are there to provide atmosphere and a few of which actually do serve to move what little plot there is along, but most of which are also very, very bad. By allowing the actors to write their own songs Altman does achieve… well, something, I’m sure, for the sake of argument let’s call it a level of veracity, but beyond that, considering the immense number of actual songwriters to be found in Nashville, this seems like a truly missed opportunity. Plus, because of the poor quality of these songs, there’s at least thirty minutes worth of these numbers that could have been cut entirely from the movie without it losing anything at all, and that tightening would definitely have helped the film.
Actually, that’s really my major complaint with this movie from both a critical and audience-member perspective. To put it bluntly, Nashville simply rambles too much. Yes, I understand that this is a part of what marks a Robert Altman movie as an Altman movie, but it’s also part of why I feel like maybe Altman’s movies just aren’t for me. It’s actually the same feeling I had while watching The Long Goodbye. (A film I felt was quite aptly named because if it was anything, it was far too long, and it too felt as though it was taking far too much time before getting to its final “goodbye”.)
Anyway, this is where we get back to the opening of this essay where I noted that I acknowledge that it’s possible to recognize the expertise of a movie without necessarily appreciating or enjoying it. I’m definitely willing to admit that I see what Altman was going for here, that he was trying to use these musical scenes as atmosphere while the rest of his players furthered the plot through dialogue taking place alongside them, and that’s something that I can appreciate in theory, but in practice, at least in this movie, it just doesn’t work for me anywhere near as well as it should.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the music that rambles, nor the dialogue. There are also characters, such as Jeff Goldblum’s tricycle-riding magic man, whose existence in the movie I could forgive if he actually served the purpose of progressing the plot along at all, providing some kind of commentary on the city, or even represented some type of character that might have actually been found in the Nashville of the time, but none of that really is the case. Instead he simply seems to be there as an indulgence by Altman as someone he wanted to throw in. The same seems true of Geraldine Chaplain’s BBC reporter character, who really is simply given far too much screen time than her importance to anything else happening in the film can excuse.
Okay, at the first of this essay I also mentioned that there was one part of the movie that does work well for me, and I promised I’d get around to it. So what is it?
No, although I can see why you might expect it given what I’ve written so far, I’m not going for some kind of snarky “At least it finally ended” comment. The truth is, I felt that the ending of the movie was not only perfectly timed, but was completely in keeping with the type of climax that we see in so many other films of the time.
As a matter of fact, it was so spot on that as the movie was unfolding, my thought was “This had better be the last shot of the movie”, and it actually was.
I’m not going to give away the ending of the movie here, but I will simply say that although I can certainly see why some viewers would be left with a feeling of lack of closure or full explanations of why certain characters act the way that they do, that is actually one of the things that makes this feel similar to other movies released during that period of time that I tend to refer to as the decade of the “70s movie”, though it really begins for me roughly in 1968 and ends in 1977.
But that’s a digression for another time. For now let’s just say that taken in that context, the ending of Nashville is just what and where it needs to be.
I just wish it had been a lot less of a slog to get there.
Here’s a trailer:
I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.
Last time in this column we took a look at some classic Fantastic Four covers from issues 1-100. (BTW, I am talking about the original series which started in 1961 here, not any of the later reboots, restarts, renumberings, what-have-you that have been published since. This time I thought we’d just take a quick glimpse at a few more covers from issues 101-200.
Let’s start with issue 103. There are a lot of things to like about this cover, but what makes it stand out for me is that not only do you have the Human Torch arcing into the picture in a pose that is iconic for the character, but you have Reed’s arm paralleling that arc so that the two figures encircle the action and help to focus the viewer’s eye on the main event, the fight between the Thing and Namor.
Issue #106 spotlights one of the recurring themes of the series by using a kind of split-screen format: separately each of the team members is very vulnerable to attack. It’s only when they come together and fight as one that they are truly at their best.
With issue #07 we get another of the series main themes, that of self=sacrifice. No matter how much Ben Grimm may wish to regain his human form, he is willing to forsake that and become the Thing again when doing so is the only way for him to rescue and save the rest of the team.
Last time around, I spotlighted issue #25 which gace us one of the earliest battles between the Thing and the Hulk. Of course, this was a fight which would call for many rematches over the years, and one of them is highlighted on this cover to issue #112.
This cover to issue #116 is another one of those which was created to really draw in the more casual reader along with those who picked up the series regularly. After all, who couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly get the team to follow Dr. Doom into battle, and what has happened that forced Reed Richards to the sidelines?
The floating heads of the Thing’s fellow team members on this cover to issue 129 was a theme that recurred quite a few times over the years, not only with the FF, but with many team books, once again visiting the idea of one member’s vulnerability when he is forced to fight alone as opposed to when the team is fighting as a cohesive unit.
Issue #140 uses a technique that really wasn’t often seen on covers, that actually breaking the cover into separate panels, just as would be done with the interior pages. Also, it’s worth noting that this is actually the British version of the cover as designated by the 6p price in the top left corner.
I noted last time that one of the themes that would reappear any time the Sub-Mariner showed up was his unrequited love for Susan, which is the reason for her face being featured in the small circle on this cover to issue #147. Also worth noting is the change of costume for Namor from his traditional trunks-only look to this more traditionally costume-like design. (Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing him wear something similar to this should he ever manage to appear in a Marvel movie, as I think it would fit in nicely with the tone that they have established for their cinematic universe.)
Ah, issue #150. Another “anniversary issue” means another wedding, this time between Crystal (a member of the Inhumans who was also a long-time girlfriend of the Torch) and the mutant Quicksilver. And look who’s there to interrupt the proceedings – none other than the Avenger’s frequent (and recent cinematic) foe Ultron!
Earlier I mentioned the floating head cover concept which focused on one of the main themes of the series, that of one member of the team having to fight alone while the others could only look on. This cover for issue #161 gives us another variation on that, with the rest of the team being able to only observe on a viewscreen as “The Thing fights alone!”
Issue #168 takes another look at what happens when Ben gets his greatest wish and regains his human form. How can the FF still be the Fantastic Four when only three of them can race into battle? In this case the answer is to replace him with Luke Cage. Of course then the question becomes one of whether, like the Avengers, the members of the FF are really that interchangeable or if there is some other, more special quality that makes this particular grouping of characters special.
The cover to issue #183 again revisits the “split-screen” style, (one which works very well with this particular team since the splitting of the cover into four panels echoes the four of the title, but in this case it’s used not as much to suggest the separate vulnerability of the characters, but the sheer amount of action to be found inside the comic. Of course, there’s also the question of what’s going on in that fourth panel and who the purplish guy is that seems to be there instead of Reed.
Issue #189 had to be intriguing for fans of the team, especially those who might not be aware that there even was an earlier version of the Human Torch – though in hos case, the appellation was kind of ironic, since he wasn’t actually human at all, but an android who, in the comics universe would actually later be shown to figure prominently in the origin of another recent addition to Marvel’s cinematic world, the Vision. (Though even that connection would eventually be ret-conned away.)
And finally we come to issue #200. I mentioned before that #150 was an “anniversary issue”, and obviously #200 was cause for even greater celebration. This particular issue saw the climax of a feud which had been going on since almost the very beginning of the FF, and a storyline which had been dominating the series for about six months: the “final” showdown between Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom!
Okay, I think we’ll wrap up our look back at FF covers with that one. Obviously, there are a lot that I’ve skipped over, and there would be a lot more exciting covers to come, and maybe we’ll get to some of those in a future “Covering Comics” installment.
Are there any of your favorites that you think I’ve overlooked or later ones that you’d like to see featured? if so, be sure to let me know either in the comments below or over on the Durnmoose Movies Facebook page.
Oh, and just as an added bonus: I mentioned earlier the original Human Torch, so I thought I’d throw in this cover which not only spotlights him, but is actually the comic that started it all, 1939’s Marvel Comics #1.
(You might note, by the way, that the cover also mentions “Submariner”. Yes, this is the same Namor who would reappear in the modern day Fantastic Four comics. As far as the Angel mentioned on the cover, no, that is not the same character who would be one of the original X-Men, though this version would later make his own way into the later Marvel Universe. Oh, and I think the Masked Raider may also have made at least an appearance or two. As far as whether the Ka-Zar mentioned here is the same character as the current version, well, the last time I checked I think the verdict was no, but hey, it’s Marvel, so…)
I know that I said I would be following up the last Classic Television Thursday post with more on the Amos and Andy TV show, and I will be in a couple of weeks, but I decided that could wait a little bit when, during a discussion with one of my younger co-workers of the new Mission: Impossible movie he mentioned that he didn’t know that there had been a Mission: Impossible TV show. Incredible as that seemed to me, I realized that of course there would be many of the younger generation that had no idea of the series as it existed before the film revival.
(Not having seen actual episodes of the show I can understand, especially since it’s not one of those that gets much replay, but not even knowing there was a show was just a bit more startling for me.)
Anyway, Mission: Impossible debuted in the fall of 1966 on CBS. The basic premise was actually fairly atypical from the usual TV series, in that, at least in it’s initial conception, the only real recurring regular would be the team leader (Steven Hill playing Dan Briggs in the first season, then Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves in later seasons) and the rest of the operatives would either be chosen from a rotating cast of characters or would be special guest stars who would be brought in for a particular episode so that there was no real set team. Of course, in practice, this was a bit harder to pull off, so there eventually evolved a regular cast which consisted of Greg Morris who played Barney Collier, the electronics genius, Cinnamon Cater (Barbara Bain) who was a fashion model and actress, Willy Armitage (played by Peter Lupus) who was the muscle of the team, and makeup artist and magician extraordinaire Rollin Hand, played by Martin Landau.
Of course, as the seasons went on, these regulars would change (Leaonard Nimoy was even a regular cast member for a couple of seasons), but that was at least the initial core group.
The show almost always followed a standardized format: After the initial title scene (btw, it’s interesting to note that while it always featured Lalo Schifrin’s unmistakable theme song this sequence was actually different from week to week as it would actually show short clips from the episode to follow as it traced the path of a lit fuse) which saw Briggs/Phelps receive a tape recording, phonograph record, phone call, etc. which would give the general outline for the plot of that week’s show.
This “tape scene” was a great way to get the viewer intrigued in what was to follow. Here’s a description of how that scene would usually play out taken from Wikipedia:
Most episodes begin with the leader of the IMF getting the assignment from a hidden tape recorder and an envelope of photos and information that explains the mission. The tape almost always begins with “Good morning/afternoon/evening, Mr. Briggs/Phelps.” Then it explains the situation and ends with “Your mission Dan/Jim, should you decide to accept it” or words to that effect, with a brief explanation of the mission. The listener is reminded, “As always, should you or any of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” At the end of the instructions, Phelps/Briggs is notified, “This tape will self-destruct in five [or, occasionally, “ten”] seconds. Good luck, Dan/Jim.” Then smoke would rise from the tape, and the instructions would be destroyed.
After that, at least initially, when the make-up of the team in each episode was more in flux, there would be a dossier sequence which would show Dan or Jim shuffling through a selection of photographs and biographies of available team members, sorting them into yes or no piles depending upon the skills necessary for the upcoming job. This scene not only allowed new viewers to quickly pick up on just who was who, but was the chance to introduce any guest stars that might be appearing in that episode. This would be followed by a briefing scene during which the plan, and each member of the team’s part in it would be outlined. Of course, it also provided the viewer with certain expectations for what was to follow which would add to the tension when either the plan would have to be changed mid-stream, or something would occur which would make it seem that the plan, as outlined, had been disrupted beyond repair.
(I know, it seems like a lot of each week’s episode was dedicated to set-up, but really all of this was handled expeditiously, and considering that there was no over-arching plot or location which the audience would immediately recognize it really was the most efficient way to get people up to speed on the drama yet to come.)
Unfortunately, I have to confess that I don’t think I’ve seen any but the first of the recent M:I films all the way through, so I can’t comment on how well or whether they follow this format. On the other hand, the release of the latest in the series, Rogue Nation, has brought along with it the perfect chance for those of you who are curious to check out this high quality television series: Target is currently carrying season box sets for less than $10 apiece, and if you;re a fan of the movies, or just of spy or caper/heist shows in general, I highly recommend giving them a try.
As I noted above, the opening title sequence actually differed in the scenes that it showed from episode to episode, but here’s a typical example:
Next time we’ll take a look at the other television to movie adaptation that’s currently in theaters.
The Final Girls appears to be this year’s entry into the The Cabin in the Woods wannabe sweepstakes, and from the looks of the trailer at least, it could have a pretty good shot at at least being quite entertaining, though I doubt it;s going to be the game-changer that CitW turned out to be.
This first trailer definitely looks promising, but I think this is also probably the last one I will watch before the flick makes its Halloween debut, because I don;t want to have all the best gags/what more plot there might be spoiled for me before I enter the theater. which is always the risk one runs with movies like this.
Anyway, we’ve got some time before the movie does hit theaters, and while this one does seem to give a pretty good feel for the tone and basic plot, I don’t think it’s too spoilery (though if you want to go in completely fresh, you might even want to skip it) so I say go ahead and check it out.
I really don’t want to get into all the “he said/they said” about who’s to blame for the new Fantastic Four movie, as I suspect there’s plenty of blame to go all around. Instead I’ll start things off this way: I really can’t consider it a good sign when I find myself actually dozing off during what should have been an exciting new take on one of Marvel comic’s most prestigious properties.
Instead of that, however, what we got was at best a rather bland movie that tries to up the ante and bring in some actual conflict at the very end, but by then it’s far too late.
Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will know that I’ve really considered this movie to be a mistake ever since it was announced that Josh Trank would be directing it. I have absolutely no problem with his first film, Chronicle, but from the start I felt that his style – that of a more earthbound, serious, and “let’s throw every speck of CGI dust and dirt that we can on the screen” style simply was the wrong fit for a movie that should be evoking a sense of wonder and sparking the imagination of the audience. After all, the original Fantastic Four comic was the flagship of what we now know as the Marvel Universe. It was the foundation of everything that came after, from Spider-Man to the Avengers to the X-Men to… well, I could go on and on, but you all know exactly what I’m talking about.
Then there came the casting announcements. Of course, most of the focus at the time was on the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch. As it turns out he may actually be the most appropriately cast character in the entire movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Miles Teller, and was appropriately impressed with his starring role in last year’s Whiplash, but he’s simply not the right choice for the role of super-professor Reed Richards. As for Kate Mara’s Susan Storm and Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm, let’s simply leave it at “the less said, the better”.
I will, however, allow that Toby Kebbell, who is given the rather thankless task of taking on the role of the main villain of the piece, Victor von Doom (hey, why should I call him Doctor Doom when the only reference to him as that comes from a snide aside by Sue Storm before they even begin the fateful trip that gives them their powers?) does the best he can with the material that he has to work with.
Okay, so I suppose this is the point in this write-up where I should get down to the nitty-gritty and begin pointing out all of the things that are wrong with this movie, but if I really tried to do that, then I would be sitting here all day writing this, and it would actually be giving the movie more time than it’s actually worth. (Which, I admit, I may very well have done already.) Plus, there are plenty of other writers out there who are perfectly willing to do that, and personally I’m just salivating over the thought of watching the Cinema Sins guys dig their teeth into this one. Instead, I’ll simply state that from the script level up, this movie so completely misunderstands not only these characters, their motivations, and what actually binds them together as a team that one begins to suspect that Trank (who was also at least partially responsible (I almost wrote “to blame”) for the script has never read any of the comics on which the film is supposedly based, but was simply given an outline of the characters and their powers and was told by Fox to go make a movie.
And the thing is, I’ve come to accept that I’m not necessarily going to see the comic books that I grew up with brought to life when I sit down to watch one of these movies. After all, it’s a different time, there are different audience demands, and I’m willing to accept that, as long as you don’t violate the core concepts of the characters and what makes them unique.
Want to change the origin? Well, okay, I may not like it, but I’m willing to accept it, especially since Marvel already set the precedent of making the voyage they are taking about going into another dimension as opposed to outer space in their Ultimate line of comics.
On the other hand, I really don’t need that revamped origin to take up 4/5ths of the movie. Heck, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby only needed eight or so pages of the first issue to get the ball rolling, and they were introducing not just a new team to the comics world, but an entirely new style of story telling. (Well, okay, maybe there’s a bit of hyperbole in that sentence, but you get the idea.) As far as the argument that the movie is using that time not just to show the origin but to establish the characters, I’d argue back that a) there’s not that much to these characters that needs to be established, and b) that’s the kind of thing that can be done just a well as the story moves along and you actually give us something worthy of the word “fantastic” to watch as opposed to simply more talking heads.
Oh, and as far as that sense of the fantastic goes? I’ll actually pass comment on that to my daughter who stated that she’d actually seen better special effects in some Disney Channel movies than what was on display here – a statement I find it hard to disagree with.
Of course, the movie really isn’t a total loss. At least when it comes out on disk I’ll know that if I ever have insomnia I can simply pop this one in and I’ll be sleeping like a babe in no time. So I guess I should at least thank Fox for that.