Have You Seen… ‘The Rocketeer’?

Film and TV you might not have checked out but really should…

Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton star in ‘The Rocketeer’ (image credit: Disney).

Year:  1991

Starring:  Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Terry O’Quinn

Directed by:  Joe Johnston / written by:  Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo (story by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo & William Dear.  Based on The Rocketeer, created by Dave Stevens)

What’s it about?

Test pilot Cliff Secord comes into possession of a prototype rocket-pack that allows him to soar into the skies as the heroic ‘Rocketeer’…

In review: why you should see it

An unfortunate financial disappointment for Walt Disney Pictures on its theatrical release (barely recouping its budget of around $40 million) in the summer of 1991, The Rocketeer has thankfully earned more appreciation in the years since to become something of a cult favourite.  Based on the graphic novel by the late writer/artist Dave Stevens, itself inspired by 1940s adventure serial King of the Rocket Men, The Rocketeer is a charming film of a more innocent and less cynical time and is a fun, heroic adventure taking place in late 1930’s America.  With lots of heart, an adventurous spirit and a nostalgic magic it’s impossible not to fall under its spell.

A charismatic and likeable Bill Campbell (recognisable by fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation from his guest role in the 1988 episode “The Outrageous Okana”) plays Cliff Secord, a daring young stunt pilot who comes into possession of a hi-tech rocket-powered jet pack invented by Howard Hughes (a fictionalised version of the real-life aviator portrayed by Terry O’Quinn), lost by its creator and desperately sought after by both Nazi agents and the FBI.  Unaware of the origins of the rocket pack and the danger he faces, Cliff uses it to rescue his friend, who runs into trouble during an aerial performance at a local air show.  His deeds witnessed by the crowd, the mysterious helmeted hero is celebrated by the media as “The Rocketeer”.  Needless to say it isn’t long before Cliff is embroiled in troubles of his own as enemies who will stop at nothing to possess the rocket-pack begin to close in on him.

The ever-stunning Jennifer Connelly is wonderful as Cliff’s actress girlfriend, Jenny Blake, who is more than just the token love interest or a mere damsel in distress and comfortably holds her own as she gets involved in the action.  There’s great chemistry between Connelly and Campbell and together with Secord’s friendship with his mentor, “Peevy” (Alan Arkin) helps drive the emotional core of the story.  Played with a seething menace and maniacal intensity, Flash Gordon’s Timothy Dalton (following his all-too brief and undervalued stint as super-spy James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill) is brilliant as the central villain, arrogant box office star Neville Sinclair with a sinister agenda and a true identity that only enhances the threat he poses to not just Secord and his friends but also the entire world.

Cliff Secord blasts into the skies in ‘The Rocketeer’ (image credit: Disney).

Director Joe Johnston (later to helm Jurassic Park III and Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger) is the perfect fit, his experience working with Steven Spielberg on the Indiana Jones films lovingly infused into the retro-pulp action adventure of The Rocketeer.  Johnston skillfully directs the aerial sequences and delivers some solid action set-pieces, including a climactic duel between Sinclair and Secord aboard the airship Luxembourg which provides a suitably exciting finale that tops things off nicely.  The high-flying action is facilitated by Industrial Light & Magic who produce some commendable special and visual effects work.

The Rocketeer is something of a lost gem, a film that is incredibly entertaining with likeable characters, a good script and decent special effects.  It’s disappointing that the film’s lack of success (despite receiving favourable reviews) nixed the prospect of any sequels and sobering to think that Disney might have ever had a comic book flop on their hands, but this was some years before the corporation would acquire Marvel Studios and reap the benefits of the popular and lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Still, despite the further adventures of The Rocketeer appearing in comic book form and an animated series aimed at young viewers (for which Bill Campbell would reprise his role), it’s a shame that the property has not been revived for the big screen, something it is more than ripe for.

Geek fact!

Screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo had another comic book property under their creative belts, the writing duo responsible for the development of the short-lived 1990 television series of DC’s The Flash, featuring future Henry Allen, John Wesley Shipp in the lead role of Barry Allen.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“I’ll be back…”

Edward Furlong joins a returning Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger for James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (image credit: StudioCanal).

Year:  1991

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton

Director:  James Cameron / written by:  James Cameron & William Wisher

What’s it about?

A reprogrammed cyborg is sent back in time to protect John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance against Skynet, an advanced A.I. that once attempted to have his mother ‘terminated’ and has now sent another killing machine to eliminate John…

In review: why it’s a classic

Irrefutably one of the greatest sequels of all time and a science fiction action classic on its own merits, Terminator 2: Judgment Day takes everything that was achieved with 1984’s The Terminator and amplifies it with the gift of a generous production budget in the region of $100 million (making it the most expensive film ever produced at the time) and cutting-edge special effects presenting a blockbuster film on an epic scale.  Returning to direct is James Cameron (who also produces and co-writes with William Wisher), whose career was launched with the surprise success of The Terminator and quickly assured by Aliens in 1986.  Cameron’s direction is both masterful and meticulous ensuring that T2 engages and thrills whilst having the same commitment to innovation the filmmaker had demonstrated previously.

At this point a household name as one of the world’s biggest stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises the role that made him – the Terminator.  Having become more familiar to audiences as the hero rather than the villain, T2 makes a creative switch with its lead actor and this time out Arnie gets to play the good guy, a reprogrammed T-800 model Terminator sent back in time by the human resistance to protect a young John Connor from being murdered by Skynet’s (the genocidal A.I. attempting to exterminate mankind) own Terminator, the morphing liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  Also returning is Linda Hamilton in a career high, providing an intense performance as a hardened and weary Sarah Connor, a credible evolution of the underdog everyday girl of The Terminator, physically and emotionally transformed into the troubled and burdened woman we meet in T2, now institutionalised and unable to safeguard her son.  Edward Furlong hits the ground running in his introductory film role as the rebellious pre-teen John Connor.  The young Connor’s ‘hero’ arc in T2, together with the surrogate father relationship he establishes with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is the core of the film without which it simply would not have succeeded.  The excellent Joe Morton is also suitably cast as Miles Dyson, the man whose work would lead to the creation of Skynet and there are some great moments with him as he learns of what the future holds.

Not enough can be said of Robert Patrick, who puts in a chilling and predatory performance as the relentless and formidable T-1000, brought effectively to life using revolutionary computer-generated effects (supervised by Denis Muren, who would work with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park) which builds upon the pioneering CGI utilised by James Cameron in The Abyss.  The equally impressive practical effects and prosthetic/makeup designs are once again handled by Stan Winston and his team, integrating seamlessly into the film to provide a sense of authenticity and believability.  The superb technical work on T2 would rightfully result in Academy Awards for make-up, visual effects and sound.

Robert Patrick as the relentless T-1000 Terminator (image credit: StudioCanal).

The action set-pieces remain phenomenal and really hold-up when viewed today, enhanced by Adam Greenberg’s Oscar nominated cinematography.  From the opening sequences depicting the war-ravaged future of 2029, the T1000’s tanker truck pursuit of John Connor and his Terminator guardian and the rescue of Sarah Connor from the Pescadero mental institute to the assault on the Cyberdyne labs and the gripping steel-mill finale it’s all thoroughly entertaining, culminating in a crushing emotional pay-off.  Adding to this is composer Brad Fiedel who provides another memorable score, his electronic-synth music building upon the themes he crafted for The Terminator, highlighting all the excitement, tension and emotion of T2.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day would go on to gross over $500 million worldwide, a significant sum back in 1991 and a huge hit for the once mighty Carolco Pictures.  James Cameron would revisit the film to produce a ‘Special Edition’ extended cut (including a dream sequence that features Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, reprising his role from The Terminator) two years later and a 3D theatrical re-release in 2017.  Beyond its ambitious effects work and action spectacle, T2 is a film with a great deal of heart and humanity at its core and it’s the successful marriage of those components – together with its wonderful cast – that makes it a film that continues to resonate with viewers thirty years later.

Standout moment

Tracking John Connor to a mall, the T-1000, disguised as a police officer, gives chase to its target.  But John is not alone as a large, shotgun wielding man comes to his rescue…

Geek fact!

Whilst Earl Boen is another actor to return from The Terminator, as Dr. Silberman, there is one more face from James Cameron’s 1984 classic to appear in Terminator 2: screenwriter William Wisher, who cameoed as an L.A. cop in The Terminator is seen as one of the mall patrons, taking pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fallen T-800.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’

Two iconic Titans clash in the latest chapter of Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse series…

A monstrous clash: two cinematic titans collide in ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ (image credit: Warner Bros’ Pictures).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Eiza Gonzalez, Shun Oguri

Directed by:  Adam Wingard / written by:  Eric Pearson & Max Borenstein (story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields) / 117 minutes

What’s it about?

The King of the Monsters faces the King of Skull Island as Apex Titans Godzilla and Kong grapple for their place as the victor…

In review

Not since Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice has there been such an anticipated cinematic smackdown between two titanic pop culture icons and thankfully Godzilla vs. Kong delivers.  The latest entry in the Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures ‘MonsterVerse’ series, Godzilla vs. Kong is grandiose, bombastic fun (embellished by Tom Holkenborg’s music score) and fully embraces its roots, melding epic scale action with the bonkers, outlandish B-movie comic book sci-fi (complete with flourishes of ropey character dialogue and moustache twirling villainy) of Japanese kaiju films with the worldbuilding and ancient mythology of King KongGodzilla vs. Kong therefore succeeds by just being what it is – a big, dumb roller coaster popcorn blockbuster that doesn’t falter in its efforts to entertain.  It’s unlikely to sway the opinion of anyone who hasn’t enjoyed 2014’s Godzilla, 2017’s Kong:  Skull Island and 2019’s Godzilla:  King of the Monsters but for fans of those films it’s a satisfying treat.

Opening with Godzilla seemingly going on the offensive against humankind as he demolishes a facility owned by the shady Apex Cybernetics, the Monarch organisation, having captured Skull Island’s Kong for study and fearing untold devastation should the two Titans meet, hastily draws up plans to return Kong home.  Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) delivers the incredible effects-laden action with aplomb and with clear joy and enthusiasm (the recently announced ThunderCats feature film is in good hands).  From Godzilla and Kong’s scintillating initial face-off, an ocean-bound, battleship-sinking clash to the city-crumbling decimation of their brawl amongst the searing neon-lights of Hong Kong it’s all kaiju fans would want or hope for and an enthralling sugary delight for that inner-child.

Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein’s screenplay provides a functional framework to drive the narrative from point to point (alas lacking the post-war nuclear terrors and environmental concerns allegorically woven into classic Godzilla flicks) between the various showdowns of the two Apex Titans.  As was the case with the previous MonsterVerse instalments, the script draws on the rich history of both characters and laces it with fan-pleasing Easter eggs and reverence to the established mythology whilst creating some of its own – the most notable example being Kong’s wondrous journey into the home of his kind, the subterranean realm known as the Hollow Earth (culminating in a gratifying moment where the giant ape demonstrates the ‘King’ portion of his title).  Whilst the writing doesn’t seek to overly service the human characters, there’s enough interest to hold the viewers’ attention and keep them invested.

Millie Bobby Brown returns to the MonsterVerse in ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

Of the human cast, the returning Millie Bobby Brown (the Stranger Things actress reprising her role from Godzilla: King of the Monsters) is a standout as the sparky Maddison Russell, as is Iron Man Three’s Rebecca Hall who plays scientist Ilene Andrews, joined by Alexander Skarsgard (The Stand) as ridiculed author/scientist Nathan Lind.  Also returning is Kyle Chandler in the role of Maddison’s father, Mark Russell (it’s worth noting that Chandler also starred in Peter Jackson’s King Kong) albeit in a much smaller capacity and bafflingly, despite being billed in the opening credits, the excellent Lance Reddick makes an all-too brief appearance – leaving one to believe there may be extra scenes left on the cutting room floor.

Newcomer Kaylee Hottle provides a sweet and touching performance as Jia, a deaf Skull Island orphan, under the care of Hall’s Andrews.  Saved from devastation on Skull Island by Kong, Jia is a key presence as she utilises sign language to communicate with the great ape, providing some surprisingly heartfelt moments.  There’s some goofy humour courtesy of conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) and Maddison’s school chum Josh (Julian Dennison, of Netflix’s The Christmas Chronciles:  Part 2) to lighten the tone whilst Demian Bichir, Eiza Gonzalez and Shun Oguri make for a trio of suitably cheesy villains.  The cast are all fine and enjoyable in their parts, although there is a genuine lack of gravitas in the wake of Ken Watanabe’s absence…his character’s fate in King of the Monsters obviously precluding his involvement, sadly.

Again, it’s not the human characters that the audience is here for and Godzilla vs. Kong treats their true leads with awe and reverence.  Given ‘Gojira’ was last to have his own MonsterVerse film, the focus of Godzilla vs. Kong shifts a little more towards Kong who by all intents is the main protagonist and the only hope of halting Godzilla’s rampage.  Like the previous films, there is a definite sense of personality to both characters conveyed through the intricate CGI animation and their interactions with the human players – more specifically in the case of Kong here.  A little slow in its first act, Godzilla vs. Kong ramps up to a mostly even pace, carefully positioning Godzilla and Kong’s confrontations throughout the film.  The finale is perhaps a bit predictable, but the climactic Hong Kong battle facilitates an exciting finish as the two silver screen leviathans face a threat that might be greater than them both, as hinted at in the film’s marketing.

Godzilla vs. Kong obviously isn’t profound or meaningful (at least in terms of intellectual high-art cinema) nor does it intend to or need to be, it’ simply bold, awesome spectacle and the kind of entertainment that’s needed right now.

The bottom line:  Godzilla vs. Kong does what it should by bringing audiences an epic, effects-filled extravaganza that pits cinema’s (literally) biggest monsters against one another for an all-mighty clash that’s popcorn entertainment at its purest.

Godzilla vs. Kong is now in cinemas where available and is also viewable (for a limited period) via HBO Max in the U.S. and Premium Video on Demand internationally.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Thoughts on ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

A league united…and redeemed?

DC core heroes are brought together to face cosmic evil in Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

After much anticipation and feverish expectations, Zack Snyder’s Justice League – affectionately known in fan circles as the ‘Snyder Cut’ – arrived this Thursday courtesy of a long fought, passionate fan campaign and a costly endeavour by Warner Bros. Pictures and the burgeoning streaming platform HBO Max (the film available to U.K. viewers via Sky Cinema/Now TV as part of its international roll-out).  $70 million dollars and some hard but dedicated work later, Zack Snyder’s original vision for Justice League has been ceremoniously brought forth into the light and the differences are significant and often astonishing.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a spectacular effort that provides an almost completely different viewing experience from that of the more compromised theatrical version which saw Marvel Studios veteran Joss Whedon (director of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron) brought in to replace a grieving Zack Snyder, following the tragic suicide of his daughter Autumn (to whom this version of Justice League is lovingly dedicated), to oversee post production and studio mandated rewrites/reshoots.  It can be argued (though few would) that there is still entertainment value in the flawed but fun theatrical version of Justice League (read the review from 2017 here), as it’s perhaps more easily digestible and no doubt more palatable to the general viewer unaware or less troubled by the commercially-driven ills that befell the final product.  For those more inclined to commit to a four-hour running time then there is much to offer in Zack Snyder’s film.

Less of an extended cut (in the vein of Snyder’s superior ‘Ultimate Edition’ of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) of Justice League and more of a total reworking of it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a longer, deeper and in many ways more satisfying, often more mighty effort.  It’s not for the timid or for audiences attuned, or accustomed to, and with a preference for the brighter, tirelessly upbeat popcorn blockbuster fare of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as phenomenal as they often are, of course) as this is unmistakably a Zack Snyder film.  Visually grand, operatic, mythological and of serious mind and intention, it’s an unconventional superhero epic that demands more from the viewer with a tone that’s more adult (beyond an uptick in bloody violence and peppering of bad language) and delves more deeply into it’s characters, providing expanded back stories and greater depth for the likes of newcomers Cyborg (Ray Fisher, whose role is greatly enhanced), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) joining the already established Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and the resurrected Superman (Henry Cavill – thanks to digital tooling, here dons a version of the iconic black rebirth suit from the 1990s Death/Return of Superman comics).  The film takes an existing villain, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarin Hinds) and adds more dimension – as well as tweaking his physical appearance with stronger CGI – as well as reinstating the overlord of proceedings, the formidable power-hungry cosmic conqueror Darkseid (Ray Porter), who was excised from the theatrical cut.  There are a few small character moments from the theatrical version that are sorely missed, such as Batman’s encouragement and reassurance to an overwhelmed and inexperienced Flash during the tunnel battle, but on the whole there is a lot more to chew on (and less goofiness) in Snyder’s cut.  Another major change of note is the music score with Tom Holkenborg’s (who, as Junkie XL, collaborated with Hans Zimmer on Snyder’s Batman v Superman) music replacing Danny Elfman’s score and proves stylistically more suited to Snyder’s film.

Admittedly, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is only likely to appeal to hardcore fans of not only the director and his vision for these core DC characters but also is more of benefit to readers invested in the rich mythology of DC comics history, well-versed in classics such as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come (to cite a couple of celebrated works). The film treats the titanic DC heroes seriously, recognising the fundamental differences between the DC and Marvel universes.  Marvel succeeds greatly by putting the human in superhuman and whilst there is some element of that within the DC pantheon, the DC Universe is largely concerned with mythological fantasy.  Is this all to say that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is perfect?  No, it’s a little slow in it’s set-up and perhaps a tighter three-hour cut would be more refined, leading more quickly into the pacier urgency of the second half.  Is it the greatest superhero film of all time?  Again, no, but in many ways it is ground-breaking in delivering something different from the maligned rough-edged romp of the theatrical version.  Sadly, Zack Snyder’s Justice League leaves us hanging with the narrative doors wide-open for the envisioned sequels that are no longer on the table with the theatrical edition remaining part of the official DC Films canon, but ignoring it’s epilogue the story is fairly complete, if only to now occupy its own abandoned corner of the multiverse.  Whilst Zack Snyder’s Justice League is left as a sort of DC Elseworlds one-shot live-action graphic novel and a promising glimmer of what might or could have been, just as the icons of DC Comics endure, the DC Extended Universe goes on.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Superman II’

It’s Superman vs. General Zod in the 1980 sequel to ‘Superman: The Movie’…

Christopher Reeve returns as the Man of Steel in ‘Superman II’ (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

Year:  1980

Starring:  Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Susannah York

Directed by:  Richard Lester / written by:  Mario Puzo and David & Leslie Newman (Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster)

What’s it about?

Relinquishing his powers to become mortal so that he can be with Lois Lane, Superman soon faces the threat of General Zod and his fellow Kryptonian criminals who have escaped the Phantom Zone…

Retrospective/review

Not quite the classic that Superman: The Movie is, Superman II is still a fun and generally pleasing sequel with its light-hearted, family-orientated and occasionally goofy approach making it a product of its time.  As is now widely known, Superman II began shooting back-to-back with Superman: The Movie under the direction of Richard Donner.  The demands and pressures to get the first Superman completed in time for its December 1978 release resulted in suspension of work on Superman II and mounting tensions between producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and Donner would see the filmmaker’s departure from the sequel.  This led to Donner being replaced by director Richard Lester who would go on to reshoot much of what Donner had already filmed, establishing a slightly less dramatic and more comic strip tone.

Debuting in time for Christmas of 1980, Superman II sees the return of Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman who finds he is forced to reveal his true identity to an increasingly suspicious Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and decides to relinquish his powers in order for the pair to be together.  It’s a sacrifice that comes at a cost when Kryptonian criminal General Zod and his cohorts are released from imprisonment in the Phantom Zone (as per the opening act of Superman: The Movie) and arrive on Earth, the yellow sun’s radiation blessing them with super abilities.  Realising his advantage, Zod sets about subjugating the people of Earth and seeks vengeance against the son of his jailor, Jor-El – Superman himself!  The de-powered Man of Steel has no choice but to find a way to defeat Zod before it’s too late.

Superman II is pure comic book entertainment of a simpler time and whilst inferior to Superman: The Movie it’s a highly enjoyable follow-up.  Unsurprisingly, Christopher Reeve shines as the Man of Steel with all the confidence, nobility and humanity audiences expected.  Margot Kidder likewise puts in another sparky performance as the determined Lois Lane and shares great chemistry with Reeve.  Terence Stamp is excellent in the role of General Zod, with a lighter take on the villain that can’t really compare to the fiercer and more formidable version portrayed by Michael Shannon in Man of Steel but Stamp brings gravitas and a believability to the character and together with Sarah Douglas’ uber femme fatale, Ursa, and Jack O’Halloran’s hulking mute, Non, provide a suitable threat to challenge Superman.  The central hero has more than ‘just’ a trio of Kryptonian adversaries to contend with as Superman II brings back Gene Hackman (once more receiving top-billing) for another enjoyably sinister turn as the devious Lex Luthor, who having escaped prison (facilitating a cameo by Ned Beatty as the bumbling Otis) locates Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and unlocks its secrets, then seeks to form an alliance with Zod to achieve his own villainous ends.

Terence Stamp stars as General Zod in ‘Superman II’ (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

The script from Mario Puzo and David & Leslie Newman is fun, balancing humour, drama and action with numerous heart-felt moments.  Whilst some of the effects work now appear a little dated, the action sequences remain engaging under Richard Lester’s capable direction – especially Superman’s battle with Zod in the heart of Metropolis and the climactic face-off in the Fortress of Solitude.  There are some odd abilities on display in terms of powers – Zod’s telekinetic eye beams, the Kryptonians’ game of teleportation during that aforementioned showdown in the Fortress of Solitude and of course, Superman’s throwable chest symbol (affectionately parodied in the hit animated comedy, Family Guy)…a little bizarre, but not totally ridiculous when considered alongside Silver Age Superman comics.  The resolution to the restoration of Superman’s powers is a little quick and convenient as is the amnesia kiss Clark employs to erase Lois’s knowledge of his identity, acting as a reset button for further instalments.  These are all little moments that although a tad silly, have their charm if accepted at face value and taken in the right context.

In 2006, Warner Bros. Home Video would release Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, where all of the footage shot by Richard Donner would be restored and edited with the gaps filled in by sequences from Richard Lester’s theatrical version of the film, screen test footage and some CGI elements.  In a number of ways it’s a superior version, not in the least for the restoration of scenes with Marlon Brando’s Jor-El (replaced by Susannah York as Lara-El in the theatrical version to avoid having to pay Brando another hefty fee), a more serious tone and the incorporation of music by John Williams from Superman: The Movie.  It’s definitely worth checking out but the at times cumbersome assembly of the cut (Donner’s Superman II was after all an incomplete production) leaves it feeling less definitive and admittedly there are some moments from Lester’s film that are arguably better…Superman asking Zod if he’d care to “step outside” has much more impact than the original line regarding “freedom of the press”, a small but significant example.  There’s no doubt that if Donner had been able to complete his version of Superman II back in 1980 there’s every chance that it would have been something special but as it stands the Donner Cut is a curiosity that’s a treat for fans to be able to experience.

Superman II is solid entertainment and despite falling short of the high bar set by Superman: The Movie is a worthy sequel to a beloved classic and a comic book adventure that’s suitable viewing for all ages.

Geek fact!

Appearing in Superman II is the late Shane Rimmer, voice of Scott Tracy in Gerry Anderson’s classic puppet series Thunderbirds and would also go on to have a small role in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

Flashback: ‘Spider-Man’

Before the genesis of the MCU, Marvel’s most treasured icon made his big-budget silver screen debut in Sony’s ‘Spider-Man’…

Poster art for director Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Entertainment).

Year:  2002

Starring:  Tobey Maguire, Willem Defoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson

Directed by:  Sam Raimi / written by:  David Koep (Spider-Man created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

What’s it about?

Bitten by a genetically engineered spider, teenager Peter Parker finds he is endowed with enhanced strength and senses which he utilises for good as the heroic costumed vigilante ‘Spider-Man’…

Retrospective/review

Whilst the great explosion of comic book films began in the summer of 2000 with the release of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men, the continued success of the genre was undoubtedly secured by the debut of Sony/Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man two years later.  Helmed by Sam Raimi, director of The Evil Dead – and a huge Spider-Man fan – with a screenplay by David Koepp (Jurassic Park), the first big screen outing for Marvel’s iconic webslinger is well worth revisiting.  Being Marvel’s most treasured character, Spider-Man had previously been adapted into live action in a short-lived late 1970s television series and had more recent success on the small screen with the hit animated series which ran between 1994 and 1998.  After an aborted attempt by Aliens and Terminator 2 director James Cameron to bring Spidey to the big screen in the mid-90s with Carolco Pictures, Sony’s Spider-Man would hit cinemas in the summer of 2002.

An origin story, Spider-Man sees high school student Peter Parker, gifted with the proportionate strength, enhanced senses and wall-crawling abilities of an arachnid after being bitten by a genetically engineered spider (a modernised take on the more atomic age inspired radioactive one of the comic book), turn to a secret life of costumed crime-fighting following the murder of his uncle, Ben – an act he finds he could have prevented but fails to do so.  His heroic vigilante alter-ego identified by the public as ‘Spider-Man’, Peter is soon faced with the challenge of the ‘Green Goblin’, a deranged villain who begins terrorizing New York from the skies above with his aerial military assault glider.

Kirsten Dunst as the iconic red-headed girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Entertainment).

In the lead role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man is Tobey Maguire, bringing to the screen the awkward, nerdy underdog qualities of the smart but meek Parker boy, with all the cares and ills of an everyday teenager to life whilst infusing his guise of the ‘Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man’ with the requisite dose of heroism, humour and good-heartedness.  He shares good chemistry with co-star Kirsten Dunst, who plays Mary Jane Watson, the seemingly unattainable red-headed girl next door he yearns to be with.  Equally suited is James Franco as Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborne, completing the central trio who will grow and develop over the course of the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy.  Filling the important parts of Peter’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May are, respectively, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris with both actors deftly providing the supportive and loving parental roles that are a key component of the Spider-Man mythos.

As Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, Willem Defoe delivers an increasingly unhinged turn with Osborn’s path to insanity unfolding as the chemically induced persona of the Goblin takes hold.  The scenes in which Osborn ‘converses’ with the Goblin (in the mirror/via the Goblin armour helmet) are an irrefutable highlight of Defoe’s performance.  Granted, the design of the Goblin suit is a little like something out of Power Rangers but that doesn’t detract from the overall threat.  There cannot of course be any discussion of Spider-Man without praise for the inimitable J.K. Simmons as the cantankerous chief of the Daily Bugle newspaper, J. Jonah Jameson.  Simmons’ energetic portrayal of Jameson is such a delight and his crusade against what he perceives as the menace of Spider-Man bringing another essential ingredient to the mix.

Sam Raimi directs with a genuine passion and clear understanding of the Spider-Man character and his world.  Raimi’s horror background adds a pleasing hint of the gothic and a dash of dark humour to proceedings accentuated by the music score from composer Danny Elfman, who also provides a main theme as recognisable as that of the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon and as epically sweeping and heroic (complementing those exhilarating web-slinging scenes superbly) as Elfman’s previous work for Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns.  The action is engaging and expertly staged, with an exciting and tense finale that’s also shockingly brutal as Osborn’s Goblin proves his physical might over the young and inexperienced hero.

The friendly neighbourhood web-slinger faces the deranged ‘Green Goblin’, played brilliantly by Willem Defoe (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Entertainment).

Spider-Man remains largely faithful to the source material and despite the contemporary setting it very much feels like the classic Lee/Ditko comics of the early 60s, adhering to the spirit and core elements of those original stories – not in the least the tragic death of Uncle Ben.  Driven by Ben’s wise words that “with great power comes great responsibility” (invoking Stan Lee’s immortal phrasing from the Marvel Comics) to use his abilities for good, it also reminds us that the burdened hero is often the most interesting and identifiable and part of the reason why Spider-Man is such an enduringly popular fictional character.  There is one significant change from the established lore in Peter’s ability to shoot webbing organically from his wrists, as opposed to the mechanical web-shooters and web fluid he would invent in the comic.  It’s a slightly odd element that was (supposedly) retained from James Cameron’s treatment that would later be rectified with The Amazing Spider-Man reboot and continued in the recent Marvel Studios iteration.

Received favourably by audiences, Spider-Man is a solid, highly entertaining first big-budget cinematic outing for the Marvel Comics character which would lead to a sequel that many still consider one of the best comic book films of all time.

Geek fact!

The Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell cameos as a wrestling ringleader and would also go on to appear in Spider-Man 2 and 3.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

Flashback: ‘X-Men’

Summer 2000 saw the arrival of Marvel’s ‘X-Men’ on the big screen, leading to an explosion of superhero blockbusters at the cinema…

X-Men Xavier & Magneto

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan provide heaps of gravitas in Bryan Singer’s ‘X-Men’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  2000

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Rebecca Romijn (as Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Bruce Davison

Directed by:  Bryan Singer / written by:  David Hayter (Story by Tom DeSanto & Bryan Singer.  X-Men created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)

What’s it about?

The not-too distant future: as the U.S. Government contemplates the introduction of a registration act for mutants – evolved humans with paranormal abilities – the benevolent ‘X-Men’, led by Professor Charles Xavier must stop Xavier’s old friend, Erik Lensherr and his Brotherhood of Mutants from igniting a conflict with the rest of humanity…

Retrospective/review

Although it could be argued that the contemporary explosion of comic book superhero films was initiated by the success of Blade in 1999, it was actually X-Men that brought the genre to the masses – leading to an (at least presently) endless crop of big screen comic book adaptations.  Helmed by The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, X-Men would become a smash hit for film studio 20th Century Fox in the summer of 2000 and although it may now seem a little tame when placed alongside Marvel Studios releases such as the colossal Avengers Endgame, it remains an enjoyable superhero action adventure that has an important place in the history of superhero cinema.  It would also spawn a lucrative film franchise spanning almost two decades, concluding with last year’s unfairly maligned (albeit flawed) X-Men: Dark Phoenix…or technically, will conclude with the still as-yet unreleased New Mutants spin-off.

By enlisting a director of proven calibre and having its cast include two of the world’s most talented and experienced actors, Star Trek legend Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier – leader of the ‘X-Men’ and a mutant with incredible mental powers – and Ian McKellan as Xavier’s old friend turned enemy, fellow mutant Erik Lensherr – aka ‘Magneto’, with the ability to control magnetism – X-Men would take a serious and somewhat believable approach to the source material without betraying the core fantasy and socially aware elements Stan Lee and Jack Kirby infused into the original Marvel comics (and which was so well portrayed in the classic 1990s Fox X-Men animated series).  Some may have been upset by the lack of more colourful costumes, but the cool black leather X-uniforms are indicative of the style and creative intentions favoured in Singer’s film.

X-Men Wolverine

Hugh Jackman debuts as Logan/Wolverine (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

In X-Men, as U.S. senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) debates the perceived danger of those with mutant abilities and presses for the Mutant Registration Act, Erik Lensherr, with his ‘Brotherhood’, believing that a war between mutants and the rest of humanity is all but inevitable, plots a pre-emptive first strike which Charles Xavier and his benevolent mutant X-Men must prevent.  In order to uncover Magneto’s plans, Xavier must investigate the link with two stray mutants – the young and afraid adolescent girl going by the name ‘Rogue’ (Anna Paquin, future star of TV hit True Blood), with the ability to absorb the powers of other mutants and the mysterious Logan, otherwise known as the cage fighter called ‘the Wolverine’, who is unable to recall his past or how his skeleton was grafted with the indestructible metal adamantium – a process he only survived thanks to his mutant-healing factor.

Although he may be taller than his comic book counterpart, Hugh Jackman – receiving top-billing – is instantly and effortlessly Logan/Wolverine, perfect casting in a role that would quickly become popular with audiences and fans alike.  Jackman simply is Wolverine, aside from matching the obvious physicality of the character (minus the height difference, which really isn’t an issue given the strength of Jackman’s performance) he embodies the spirit of Logan, from the raging temperament to the emotional depth arising from his nightmare flashes of lost memory and his befriending of Anna Paquin’s Rogue.  It’s a sublime portrayal right from the outset in X-Men and one that would only become more refined and assured in later instalments.

The cast of X-Men is filled out commendably with a generally strong group of actors who are a good fit for their characters.  James Marsden, Famke Janssen (previously a femme fatale in the James bond film Goldeneye) and Halle Berry make for pleasing live action versions of fan-favourite X-Men, respectively: the optic-blasting team leader Scott Summers/aka Cyclops (the conflict between Cyclops and Logan intact from the comics), the telekinetic Jean Grey (with no X-alias) and Ororo Munroe/aka Storm, with the ability to control weather effects.  Magneto’s Brotherhood boasts Rebecca Romijn as the shape-shifting Mystique, Tyler Mane as the feral Sabretooth and Ray Park (Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) as the agile, whip-tongued and slime-spitting Toad.  They may not be afforded anything in the way of character development, but non-the-less help facilitate the threat to the central heroes.

X-Men Cyclops

‘Cyclops’ (James Marsden) leads the X-Men as they attempt to prevent a war with the rest of humanity (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

From a story by Singer and Tom DeSanto, the script is provided by David Hayter (best known for voicing iconic video game character Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid) which captures the essence of the X-Men comics, it’s characters and the themes of prejudice and persecution which sadly remained as prescient in 2000 as they were in the 1960s, transposing it all into a more grounded reality.  Despite the more serious elements of the story (immediately evident from the bleak flashback opening at a World War II concentration camp, where the young Erik Lensherr is separated from his parents and his mutant abilities are first demonstrated) there’s still some fun to be had with a smattering of black humour and entertaining action sequences which complement the human and emotional aspects of the film.  The narrative wisely focuses on Logan and Rogue as the lone outsiders who cross paths with the X-Men, acting as a mirror for those in the audience unfamiliar with the world and characters of Marvel’s X-Men.  Bryan Singer’s direction is tightly and expertly executed, with a clear sense of visuals, tone and character deftly balanced with the action set-pieces which meld seamlessly with the special/visual effects which make full use of the $75 million budget (a princely sum back in 2000 but small change compared to today’s cinematic superhero offerings).  The Liberty Island finale is suitably tense and exciting bringing X-Men to an action-packed crescendo which may pale in comparison to the more epic and effects saturated climaxes of subsequent entries but is a satisfying close for Singer’s first effort.

Whilst the overall quality of Fox’s X-Men franchise may be inconsistent, the films are generally entertaining and sometimes excellent (see: X2, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Logan) and Bryan Singer’s X-Men is certainly one of the better early Marvel Comics big screen adaptations, the success of which (along with Sony/Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man) would allow more comic book blockbusters to hit the big screen and inevitably become the dominant genre in film and television.

Geek fact! 

Amongst the serving producers of X-Men was later Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, mastermind and guardian of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘The Terminator’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Come with me if you want to live!”

Terminator a

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the iconic killer cyborg in ‘The Terminator’ (image credit: MGM).

Year:  1984

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henrikson, Earl Boen

Director:  James Cameron / written by:  James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd

What’s it about?

An unstoppable cyborg is sent back through time from the year 2029 to murder Sarah Connor, a waitress who will be mother to the leader of the human resistance waging a future war against the machines…

In review: why it’s a classic

Prior to 1984 it would be hard to believe that James Cameron would become one of modern cinema’s greatest auteurs.  Having previously worked as an art director on Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (and later increase his profile by co-writing the screenplay for Rambo: First Blood Part II with Sylvester Stallone), Cameron had made his directorial debut with the dreadful horror sequel Piranha II: The Spawning.  Yet his fever-induced vision of a robot killing machine would spawn not only a successful filmmaking career but also a pop culture phenomenon.

Setting out to create the definitive technological science fiction terror tale, Cameron would drive The Terminator above its perceived B-movie trappings and create an all-time classic.  Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role, The Terminator sees a formidable and seemingly unstoppable cyborg sent back in time to the then present day of 1984 from the year 2029, where mankind faces extinction in a war against Skynet – an advanced form of A.I. – and its army of war machines, to murder Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the human resistance’s leader, John Connor, before he is born and can lead the human race to victory.  There’s hope for Sarah in the form of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn – later to star in Cameron’s Aliens), a resistance soldier also sent back to 1984 with a mission to find and protect her from Skynet’s ‘Terminator’ at all cost.

Terminator b

Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in ‘The Terminator’ (image credit: MGM).

Say what you will about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting abilities, but his balance of subtlety and intensity created a truly terrifying adversary, a shark-like robotic predator driven relentlessly to fulfil its programming in a career-defining role that would propel him to superstardom and a performance that is a crucial component in the success of The Terminator.  The film is a tense, exciting and often terrifying sci-fi action chase-thriller that posits a frightening scenario in which the advancement of technology and humanity’s hubris results in its obliteration.  Its dystopic elements are levied by the romance that builds between Sarah and Reese and together with the hope of humanity’s survival, creates a sense of hope amidst the bleakness.  Michael Biehn is great as Kyle Reese in a performance that conveys more depth than the average action hero.  Biehn is certainly adept at handling all of the required physicality but there’s a vulnerable quality to Reese that brings a lot of humanity to the character and a believability to a man out of time who has only ever known a life of hardship and struggle.  Linda Hamilton is perfectly cast as Sarah Connor with a fine portrayal of the everyday girl-next-door who has the fate of humankind literally placed in her hands.  Despite the fantastical aspects of the story, Sarah’s arc and her growth unfold naturally as she begins to unlock her inner strength and ultimately accept her destiny.  She is the heart of The Terminator and Linda Hamilton helps to create one of the most iconic screen heroines, inspired by Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Terminator c

No escape? The Terminator continues its relentless pursuit (image credit: MGM).

The film’s special effects have aged extremely well and bely the $6 million production budget.  Younger viewers may scoff at the more practical nature of The Terminator but the ambitious blend of miniatures, puppetry, stop-motion animation and rear screen projection are a testament to Cameron as a pioneer in filmmaking.  Of course not all of the credit should go to Cameron, sure, through his tenacity the film’s grand vision was realised but it mustn’t be forgotten that the film’s groundbreaking effects and design would never have been achieved without the works of effects company Fantasy II and Hollywood legend Stan Winston (who would collaborate with Cameron again on Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day as well as creating the deadly alien hunter in Predator).  The Terminator is the successful sum of numerous parts and would not have been complete without Brad Fiedel’s score, undoubtedly one of the greatest revelations in motion picture music.  As strong as the film’s concepts and visuals, the metallic clunks and thrumming beats infused within Fiedel’s electronic score bring the killer cyborg and ravaged future Los Angeles to life.

Whilst the franchise may have faltered in recent years, James Cameron’s The Terminator remains forever a classic piece of science fiction cinema and with its laudable technical achievements, thrilling action and a captivating story it’s a film that will continue to endure.

Standout moment

Homing in on its target, the Terminator tracks Sarah Connor to the Tech Noir nightclub – making its way through the crowds on the dancefloor, drawing a handgun as it approaches Sarah and prepares to make the kill.  But Kyle Reese is already there, waiting to spring into action…

Geek fact!

Initially under consideration for the role of the Terminator were Lance Henrikson (who would go on to appear as LAPD cop Vukovich, alongside Paul Winfield’s Lt. Traxler) and O.J. Simpson.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was also originally put forward by his agent for the part of Kyle Reese.

If you like this then check out:

RoboCop (1987): the ‘other’ iconic 80s techno sci-fi action classic, director Paul Verhoeven executes a violent and satirical film with a superb central performance from Peter Weller as the titular part-man, part-machine future cop.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’

The Enterprise crew battle to save a cosmic paradise in the ninth ‘Star Trek’ feature film…

Star Trek Insurrection a

Patrick Stewart and Donna Murphy in ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ (imaged credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1998

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe

Directed by:  Jonathan Frakes / written by:  Michael Piller (story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and the loyal crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise disobey Starfleet orders to protect the B’aku, whose homeworld produces rejuvenating effects which a race called the S’ona plan to exploit…

Retrospective/review

The success of Star Trek: First Contact was surely a tough act to follow and although 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection would not prove to be as good, the result would be an enjoyable, if inferior, big screen instalment of Star Trek.  With Jonathan Frakes back in the director’s chair, the screenplay for Insurrection would be tackled by former Star Trek: The Next Generation head writer (and co-creator of television spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager) Michael Piller, who had helped to guide that series to greater creative success and penned various standout episodes including the beloved two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds”.  From a story by himself and producer Rick Berman, Piller’s script provides a very Star Trek-like narrative that deals with moral themes and ethical quandaries traditional of the franchise and the types of character-driven stories that Piller favoured.  As the title implies, Star Trek: Insurrection see Captain Picard and his crew defy orders to protect the population of the planet Ba’ku, the rings of which produces a rejuvenating radiation (making the world a sort of galactic fountain of youth) which Starfleet and the Federation, in partnership with a race called the Son’a – who are trying to preserve their lives via genetic manipulation and cosmetic surgeries – seek to harvest and share for the benefit of the many.

Star Trek Insurrection b

F. Murray Abraham as Ru’afo – the main villain of ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ (Image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Picard learns from his superior, Admiral Dougherty (Licence to Kill’s Anthony Zerbe), that the 600-something population of Ba’ku are not indigenous to the planet – a fact that the Federation cites as justification for its actions, which the Son’a (lead by F. Murray Abraham’s Ru’afo) have manipulated to their advantage – and that the process of collecting the ring’s particles will render the world uninhabitable.  Yet the Ba’ku people are a peaceful group and Picard feels that to forcefully relocate them is a betrayal of everything he believes in and the core values upon which the Federation was founded, for which he is prepared to risk his career…and possibly his life.

Insurrection may seem, for better or worse, more like an extended episode of The Next Generation (albeit on a larger scale and with a much higher budget) and fails to match the overall excellence of First Contact but it’s still an entertaining watch with a good dose of drama, action and humour.  Jonathan Frakes once again directs with skill and a knowledge and appreciation for the history of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its characters.  As Commander Riker, Frakes is afforded a larger and slightly more significant role than in First Contact (notwithstanding him shaving off his beard) – the youthful effect of the Ba’ku radiation leading to a rekindling of romance between Riker and Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and the plot leading to Riker’s command of the Enterprise in its battle with the Son’a as Picard and his team fight to protect the Ba’ku on the ground.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart (who is also credited as ‘Associate Producer’) is great in the film, with another strong portrayal as Picard and Insurrection provides him with a romantic interest in the form of Donna Murphy’s Ba’ku villager, Anij.  Brent Spiner, again, proves solid support as Data and his befriending of one of the young Ba’ku (Artim, played by Michael Welch, who would go on to appear in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes) is a highlight.  The rest of the TNG cast also get their moments, Michael Dorn’s Worf once more joining his former crewmates for their latest adventure – the B’aku radiation hilariously causing “aggressive tendencies” as it triggers the hormonal effects of Klingon adolescence – and blind Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) finds his eyesight temporarily restored.  As Doctor Beverly Crusher, Gates McMadden has less to do but does share some fun and humorous scenes with Patrick Stewart, Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner.  Leading the threat against the Enterprise crew is Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) who is superb as the Son’a leader, Ru’afo, with a hefty and maniacal performance providing a worthy antagonist for Patrick Stewart’s Picard to face.

Star Trek Insurrection c

The U.S.S. Enterprise plays her part in helping to save paradise (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The narrative may flow more like an episode of TNG and not necessarily fulfil the grander high-stakes ambitions of a feature film, but at the heart of Insurrection is a Roddenberry-esque morality tale and the script contains a few neat twists and turns, including the true motivations of the Son’a rising from their surprising history with the Ba’ku.  There are also a number of decent action sequences, the standouts including the Son’a attack on the Ba’ku village, the battle in space as Son’a vessels pursue the Enterprise and the climactic confrontation between Picard and Ru’afo aboard the Son’a collector ship.  The film is blessed with Matthew Leoneti’s beautiful cinematography, wonderfully captured from the Californian landscapes doubling for the Ba’ku planet.  Jerry Goldsmith earns kudos for producing another excellent music score that draws on his previous Star Trek themes whilst creating new cues fitting of Insurrection’s story.

So, there are certainly positives in favour of Star Trek: Insurrection and although it doesn’t raise the bar for the Star Trek film series and may seem a little underwhelming when placed alongside First Contact, it still makes for entertaining viewing with solid cast performances, direction and neat action set pieces.

Geek fact! 

Star Trek: Insurrection was the first Star Trek feature to move completely away from model effects work, utilising CGI for all its exterior spaceship sequences.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Have You Seen… ‘Escape From New York’?

Film and TV you might not have checked out but really should…

– 

Escape From New York a

Kurt Russell as “Snake” Plissken, the iconic anti-hero of John Carpenter’s ‘Escape From New York’ (image credit: Studiocanal).

Year: 1981

Starring:  Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau

Directed by:  John Carpenter / written by:  John Carpenter and Nick Castle

What’s it about?

1997: New York is now a maximum-security prison and when the President of the United States is taken hostage after terrorists seize Air Force One, the authorities enlist the help of “Snake” Plissken – a convicted criminal and ex-Special Forces solider…

In review: why you should see it

John Carpenter’s Escape From New York may not be as widely known to contemporary viewers as the director’s more iconic mainstream hits – Halloween and The Thing – but it’s a science fiction action cult classic and comfortably one of Carpenter’s best films.  Taking place in the dystopic then-future of 1997, the U.S. crime rate has risen to uncontrollable levels leading to the conversion of Manhattan Island into a maximum-security prison, the city of New York being walled-off and mined in order to contain the most dangerous of criminals.  When the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) – on his way to a critical peacekeeping summit – is taken hostage after fleeing a terrorist-seized Air Force One, the U.S. Police Force enlists the help of “Snake” Plissken (Kurt Russell – who would subsequently star in The Thing) a former Special Forces operative incarcerated after attempting to rob the Federal Reserve.  Offered a full pardon if he can rescue the President and get him out of New York alive within 24 hours, Snake is unwittingly given an extra incentive:  explosive charges injected into his arteries that will only be neutralised if he succeeds and returns in time.  Free to roam the decaying New York landscape and live as they please, with no hope of ever leaving, the prisoners within bow to the rule of the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes) – the city’s overall crime boss – and Snake, with his life already on the line, must fight his way through the deranged and deadly gangs of a place that once stood for peace and liberty before it’s too late.

Escape From New York b

Oscar-winning music legend Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York (image credit: Studiocanal).

As the gruff, eye-patch wearing and no-nonsense Snake, the excellent Kurt Russell, with some Clint Eastwood-esque delivery (and accompanying attitude), creates an iconic action anti-hero (who would be the basis for the “Snake” character of the popular video game series Metal Gear Solid) – a disillusioned man, jaded and apathetic to the Stars and Stripes, whose only real interest here is his own survival.  It’s a central character we’re not initially supposed to like but quickly find ourselves rooting for.  Co-starring with Russell is Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) as the equally no-nonsense police chief, Bob Hauk, whose grudging dislike for Snake begins to soften as he monitors the mission’s progress from the Liberty Island control centre.  Also appearing is Alien’s Harry Dean Stanton as “Brain” a genius engineer serving as an advisor to the Duke, Adrienne Barbeau (wife of Carpenter and star of one of his previous films – The Fog) as Brain’s tough-as-nails girlfriend, Maggie and Airwolf’s Ernest Borgnine as “Cabby”, the New York cabdriver who helps Snake get about in his armoured taxi.  Donald Pleasence, best remembered as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the classic James Bond film You Only Live Twice, provides a wonderful performance as the slightly buffoonish U.S. President and music legend Isaac Hayes (later the voice of Chef in South Park) makes for an appropriately menacing villain as the proclaimed Duke of New York and is aided by Frank Doubleday (previously from Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13) as the oddball and eccentric Romero – named after George Romero, director of legendary zombie-horror classic Night of the Living Dead.

Considering its modest $6 million budget and the technical limitations of the time, the production of Escape From New York remains impressive.  Without the by now all too easy reliance on computer generated wizardry, John Carpenter and his team employ incredible ingenuity to combine miniatures, physical sets and matte-painted backgrounds (all helping to effectively create Snake’s stealthy insertion into New York by glider plane) with the St. Louis locations, practical effects and stunts that blend to create a suitably declining and rotten New York (that feels as indelibly dangerous as it looks, even more so given much of the film takes place at night – kudos to Director of Photography Dean Cundey) complemented by the expertly staged action sequences – whether it be gun battles or fist fights…even the arena match Snake is forced to submit to.  It’s been said before but despite the great wonders that can be achieved with CGI, its now predominant usage has diminished the true art and craft of filmmaking.

Escape From New York oozes atmosphere and is populated with colourful characters backed up by a great script.  Writing with Nick Castle, Carpenter produces a pleasingly lean and uncomplicated action-narrative laced with political subtext, social commentary (the real-world escalating New York crime rate feeding the core concept) and flourishes of black humour.  The film’s memorable synthesized music score is also composed by Carpenter (with Alan Howarth) and like much of his directorial output is an important component, elevating all the tension and excitement as the stakes begin to stack up.

Escape From New York would prove another success for John Carpenter and after teaming up for The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell would later reunite for a disappointingly poor sequel – 1996’s Escape From L.A. – but that doesn’t erase the appeal and the pure entertainment value of Escape From New York.

Geek fact!

Working with Carpenter on Escape From New York is future director James Cameron (credited as “Jim” Cameron) as part of the visual effects team and a matte artist, just a few years away from his breakout success with The Terminator.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.