ReelThoughts: What if Man of Steel was made in 1978?

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My first editorial on ReelReviews!

WHAT IF ‘MAN OF STEEL’ WAS MADE BACK IN 1978?

A constant refrain we hear from Synderverse fans is that their crappy movies only got awful reviews because people “unfairly” compared them to the earlier big screen adaptations. That is why Wonder Wonder was “fairly” rated and got a positive review, they say. If Man of Steel had been released first and made in 1978, audiences and critics would have seen IT as the “definitive” version of Superman and loved it.

So let’s examine this scenario.

Go back to 1978 and imagine Superman: The Movie was never made. POOF! It’s gone from existence. No Salkind producing team, no Richard Donner as director, no sweeping iconic John Williams theme, and Christopher Reeve remains an unknown young stage actor from Julliard.

Without that movie to “taint” audience’s views of Superman, the creative team behind Man of Steel arrives in a time machine and Warner Bros. gives them the go-ahead to film THEIR “vision” for Superman using 1978 filming techniques and actors. Zack Snyder uses a 1978 film crew to capture David Goyer’s script exactly as it originally written. 1978  actors are hired to fit Snyder’s vision for DC comics: Obscure TV actor Grant Goodeve (who is the same age as Christopher Reeve and looks very much like him and Henry Cavill, but plays dour, serious roles) is cast in the title role. Ann Margaret (then a redhead actress in her late 30s) is cast as Lois Lane. Yaphet Kotto is Perry White. As in real life, Warner Bros. insist on hiring big name stars, so screen legend Orson Welles is hired to play Goyer’s version of Jor-El, Dustin Hoffman is hired to play Goyer’s version of General Zod, and Bruce Dern gets to be David Goyer’s Pa Kent and is killed on screen by a tornado.

The film eats up a HUGE budget as the screenplay calls for massive destruction porn and is done in the tone of a dreary, ugly, humorless, late 1970s action filled disaster flick (in “sci-fi” drag) about an “alien invasion”. Grant Goodeve has almost no dialogue and doesn’t have much to do on set but stand around and look glum, and spend weeks on end shooting fight scenes with Dustin Hoffman, as use wire work to plow into each other while “flying”. Meanwhile, their stunt doubles throw each other into “buildings”. Pyrotechnics are used to knock down the “Metropolis” set endlessly and blow up half the “city”. Snyder directs Hoffman to talk like he has marbles in his mouth while screaming lines like “I WILL FIND HIM!!!” Ann Margaret gets to say lines like “If we’re done measuring dicks, can you have your people show me what you found?” Since the digital technique doesn’t exist yet, much of the cinematography achieves the desired “shakey-cam” effect that Snyder wants by having overcaffinated camera men riding around set on lawnmowers with handheld cameras. Bruce Dern’s stunt double is injured during the tornado scene, and filming is delayed for several weeks.

Since the PG-13 rating doesn’t yet exist in 1978, the film gets rated R for extreme violence and use of language, with the graphic depiction of Superman breaking a character’s neck shocking 1970s audiences. (Films from that era competing for the same adult audiences include The Deer Hunter, The Fury, and I Spit On Your Grave) This becomes the 1970s audiences first look at a big budget theatrical superhero movie, trying to appeal to audiences who grew up on George Reeves playing Superman as a lovable all-American boy scout.

And there you have it, a world where the original “Superman” movie as we know it was never made, and the world got Hack Snyder’s vision for the character instead.

How well do you think the movie would have been received?

ReelReviews #106: It Lives Again (1978)

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MARCH 14, 2017 SCREENING: IT LIVES AGAIN (1978)

The film poster summarizes this entire two hour movie very easily: The killer mutant baby from “Its Alive” is back: only this time there are three of them.

Following the rule of sequels, the second film in the trilogy gives the audience what was best about the first movie, but ups the ante and delivers more action, thrills, and violence than its predecessor. In many cases, this type of lazy filmmaking (“give ‘em what they got before, multiplied 3X!) results in an inferior follow-up movie. Here, it actually works…although the film is still a step down from its immediate predecessor. Part of the reason “It Lives Again” works so well is that filmmaker Larry Cohen wisely got John P. Ryan back to reprise his role from the first film, but gave him something entirely different to do in the sequel. In “It Lives Again”, he’s there to warn the parents of other mutant babies what they are encountering in their life, and he’s changed course 180 degrees from the film movie, since now he is trying to PROTECT the mutant babies rather than destroy them.

The entire “hook” of the sequel having THREE killer mutant babies instead of just one little nasty monster is actually the most disappointing aspect of the film. This concept could have made for some very interesting scenarios, but it is not merely as fun as its sounds. For starters, evil mutant baby killer #1 and #2 get killed off about halfway through the movie, so the climax ends with a race-against-the-clock to stop just one killer baby, just like the first film. Secondly, the three evil mutant babies don’t even interact with each other or appear on screen in the same scenes, so what was the point of including them in the first place?

Aside from John P. Ryan (who – SPOILER ALERT—gets killed off in this movie, disappointing me since he was the best thing about the first two films) the only other character to return from the first film is the local police inspector, who looks strangely like a 1970s version of 1980s Donald Trump in both movies. The film eventually runs low on steam, but it has a solid “several months later” ending where the poor father in this film assumes John P. Ryan’s role from the start of the movie of visiting future parents pregnant with evil mutant babies, thus hinting that the cycle will continue…endlessly.

Overall, I liked the movie, but it falls slightly short of the first film. Still, given the fact that it’s a sequel to the type of movie that mainstream audiences and critics would immediately turn their noses up at, It Lives Again has something going for it. It’s worth checking out, especially if you liked the first one.

** 1/2 out of ****

ReelReviews #105: It’s Alive (1974)

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MARCH 13, 2017 SCREENING: IT’S ALIVE! (1974)

In a strange twist of irony, I spent the month of March going from the most critically acclaimed Hollywood movies (namely, looking at past “Best Picture” Oscar winners) to the films LEAST likely to win prizes and critical acclaim: nasty B-grade horror films. The 1974 cult classic “It’s Alive” is actually much better than its reputation would suggestion. For an obscure low-budget Hollywood film, it has some A-list credentials. For example, famous Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann did the score for this film – and the music is every bit as memorable as his more famous compositions. The makeup designer is Rick Baker, who would go on to do the makeup for An American Werewolf in London (1981), which launched him to fame as Hollywood’s go-to guy for top-notch special effects makeup. The lead male actor in the film, John P. Ryan (apparently “best known” for the 1985 movie Runaway Train, which I’ve never seen) puts in a terrific performance that requires an entire range of emotions and actions for his character, and writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’ story of a deformed mutant baby going a killing spree was unique and “creative” for the time, to say the least. But with all that, is the film actually good? Surprisingly, yes it is.

A few months earlier, I screened the similarly “ugly cult classic” horror film series Basket Case, which I haven’t yet reviewed on my blog. To put it simply, the first one was really compelling, the second was watchable but stupid, and the third was a pile of dung that I shut off halfway through. I wondered if the It’s Alive trilogy (and its 2009 remake) would suffer a similar fate. They did not. It’s Alive, though certainly shunned by “mainstream” film critics and considered some cheap horror film, is a compelling and dark melodrama. Larry Cohen wisely stuck with the “leave much of the horror to the audience’s imagination” rule, and while this may be partly inspired by the difficulty of showing the killer mutant baby on a rampage using low budget 1974 special effects, it works.

The film has a high level of graphic violence, but between the grisly things that occur on screen, the real heart of the story is the mutant baby’s perfectly normal, middle-America parents, who already have a perfectly normal first child who is sixth grade during the film’s chain of events. The film manages the incredibly difficult task of A) Getting the audience to suspend disbelief that such an awful thing could actually happen to this couple, and B) Making it plausible how society at large would deal with the problem. In the movie, the problem with the “Davis baby” eventually becomes a nationwide panic. As the baby’s father struggles to come to grips with what’s happening, he has a moving segment where he compares his family’s nightmarish life to the story Frankenstein because the audience associates Frankenstein as the name of the monster — rather than the scientist who created him. By the end of the film, the father finally has to confront the fact the baby is still his biological child and identifies him as its father, no matter how inhuman and monsterious s the baby acts and looks. The film has a lot of subtle social commentary on the changing role of the American family in the 1970s, even though its first and foremost a violent “things that go bump in the night” kind of movie. The final line the movie was also an excellent punch-in-the-gut for audiences after the horrific events were seemingly over.

The film was very compelling and exciting, regardless of its low budget and amateur filmmaking origins. Highly recommended.

*** out of ****

RETROREVIEWS #18: PETE’S DRAGON (1977)

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MAY 24, 2013 SCREENING: PETE’S DRAGON (1977)

 

 

 

 

Pete’s Dragon is the second of two Disney cartoon dragon movies I watched during my fantasy film marathon. It was a completely different experience, so usually I’d spend this time telling you whether I felt it was the better or worse of the two films. However, I can’t because it pretty much breaks even. In contrast to 1941’s The Reluctant Dragon (which spent most of its time talking about Walt Disney Studios than telling us the story of the reluctant dragon) this movie lives up to its title – its all about a 10 year old boy named Pete, and his dragon, Elliott. Of course, this twist here is that Pete’s magic dragon has the ability to make himself invisible, so nobody in the film gets to see Elliott except Pete. Originally, this was going to be the case for the audience as well. The final film gives us about 20 minutes of seeing Elliott on screen, and he is depicted in cartoon form. It’s animated well enough, though given how annoying Elliott is, I can’t help but wonder if I’d enjoy this movie if he had been “invisible” the whole time.

Many live action Disney films of the 1970s (The Apple Dumpling Gang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, etc.) haven’t aged well, and I’d probably add this movie to the list. In the film’s defense, if we rated it for being annoying, it ‘s not in the category of big budget, more-modern looking movie George Lucas’ epics like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which both had the most annoying sidekicks on the planet, regardless of what else they had going for it). This film features a number of notable actors as supporting characters (Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters, etc.) and the all do their job well and have a decent script to work with. Elliot seemed like a one dimensional “harmless loveable doofus that everyone is scared of” stock character to me. Much of the movie involves slapstick with him accidentally knocking things over and making grunting sounds showing he’s sorry about it. Again, I’d have to use the George Lucas comparison: I didn’t care for this character, but he’s not as bad as Jar Jar Binks.

 

 

 

This was another slow moving, boring movie, although I had actually gotten into the story and found myself rooting for our heroes by the climatic showdown at the lighthouse. Apparently this film is remembered for its musical number, “Candle on the Water“, though I doubt the song did much for me since I draw a blank when I try to remember any of it. What can be said in the movie’s favor is that it mixes live action and animation pretty well, and has them interact together in much the same way that later films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would do. In this way, I suppose the movie could be seen as a pioneer in its field, though what it gave us in 1977 pales to the type of the stuff they do today in that category. It does deserve praise because this was the first involving animation in which none of the Nine Old Men — Disney’s original team of animators — were involved. Still, I didnt’ care for the green-and-pink design of the dragon with his shaggy hair and stupid grin. It too, comes across as very “1970s” style character designs. This is more of a matter of personal taste, I suppose.

 

 

 

It’s ultimately a fun little movie and I don’t regret watching it. At the same time, I don’t think I’d want to rewatch it, or recommend it to others.

 

 

 

** out of ****