Face/Off

Before watching the movie:

Face/Off. Paramount Pictures 1997.

My strongest memory of this movie being in the world was the giant poster on the side of a building at King’s Island for years. I don’t think it had anything to do with anything at the park, it was just a 50-foot poster nobody bothered to take down across the three to five years my visits were spread across. (Update: apparently they named their head to head roller coaster Face/Off, until Paramount sold the park and the new owner debranded it. I didn’t ride many of the coasters there.)

I later learned the movie is about a good guy and a bad guy trading faces for… reasons, don’t think too much about it. I’m not sure which actor starts as which character, because of course both play both. I’ve heard that Cage as the terrorist gets eccentrically creepy in the way he’s famous for now.

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Stargate

Stargate. Metro Goldwyn-Mayer 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I can probably count on one hand the number of episodes of Stargate: SG-1 I’ve seen, and still have room for the number of episodes of Stargate: Andromeda and Stargate Universe. I think there are two other series now? It was the Star franchise I cared least about.

So Stargate and the Stargates have always been a thing that the show has expected viewers to know about in everything I’ve seen. I’m interested in seeing how the concept is introduced for the very first time, from the very beginning.

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The Avengers

The Avengers. Warner Bros. 1998.

Before watching the movie:

What can be said about this big-budget adaptation of a beloved, long-lasting sci-fi/fantasy/action/adventure franchise? This movie that brought people’s childhood fantasies to the big screen in an ambitious project that had never been done before? The first time moviegoers assembled for The Avengers?

Of course, I mean the 1998 adaptation of the British ITV series from the 60s. What else could I be referring to?

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Blade

Blade. New Line Cinema 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I have no familiarity with the Marvel comics this is based on. For all I know, this movie was made because New Line had bought a package of cheap comics properties to turn a fast profit on. I don’t like to be so dismissive, but Blade is one of the most prominent notably black superheroes I can think of who aren’t carrying a legacy mantle, and I wouldn’t know that the book exists without this movie that exemplifies an era of moviemaking where “based on a comic book” was something to hide.

Lacking any of the brand recognition and shared continuity that makes comic book stories enticing now, this is essentially sold on the strength of Wesley Snipes slaying vampires with martial arts for two hours. Which is exciting enough if you’re into that sort of thing.

After watching the movie:

Thirty years ago, a baby was born to a woman dying of a vampire bite. Now, Blade is a Daywalker, a being without the vulnerabilities of vampires, but with many of the advantages, including super strength and speed and decreased aging. Blade and his partner Whistler save Dr. Karen Jenson from a vampire that eluded Blade’s assault on a vampire-owned rave, and they introduce Karen to the secret war to free human society from the elite order of vampires that secretly rule. As Blade fights vampire activity, a vampire named Frost manages to translate one of the ancient texts of the vampires, unlocking plans for a ceremony to bring about the age of the Blood Gods.

In the time this was made, comic book movies were often trying to be mature and serious while at the same time providing spectacular violence shows. This created a lot of movies that seem afraid to have fun, even as the stunt sequences the plots excuse are really fun and cartoonish. This has some really fun fight scenes, and the plot is pretty cartoonish, but the story and the fights often seem to belong to different movies because of how different they are in tone.

Most of the effects are highly effective. There’s a lot of work with prosthetics and practical creature effects that create convincing looks, and probably a lot of background CG that’s not noticeable. The disintegration of silver-stabbed vampires is really good for the time. The only time I was really taken out of the scene by bad effects was in the finale, with the demonic vampire souls flying around. That might have been partially caused by a frame rate mismatch, like how jarring the ED-209 was in RoboCop.

Even though there have been over 20 more years of superhero movies and Hero’s Journey plots further wearing out their cliches since Blade, the tropes this plot leans on seem particularly lazy. Developments in act one set up developments in act three with a megaphone. At least this movie introduces the character already established and just recaps the origin story, which is a rare approach. 

I have to respect that this was one of the vanguards of the modern rebirth of superhero movies, but it’s not a part of it. The success of movies like Blade and Spawn demonstrated that the market was safe for comic book movies again, but they didn’t do it by revolutionizing or commenting upon the genre, just by playing it straight. Often too straight, but I have to keep in mind how early this was. This is still a fun movie that doesn’t need too much of an excuse to explode some vampires, and that’s really all it had to be.

Forbidden World

Forbidden World. New World Pictures 1982.

Before watching the movie:

I didn’t even know this was a Roger Corman movie when I selected it, but as a B-movie that looks a fair bit exploitative, it’s not terribly surprising. I’ve been drawn lately toward b-movies as it becomes harder to find suitable major releases through the channels I’m accustomed to.

It’s even confusing just what the threat is. The poster depicts an insectlike creature, the tagline refers to a human-alien hybrid, and the summary in front of me talks about “Subject 20” having been created with an eye toward preventing a food crisis. I’m not sure any of the promotional materials are all that concerned with the movie they’re promoting.

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Air Force One

Air Force One. Radiant Productions 1997.

Before watching the movie:

Ah, 1997. A simpler time when the President of the United States could recognize and deal with a Russian threat.

It’s pretty clear that this is trying to be in the spirit of the Jack Ryan movies Harrison Ford was in, but even though apparently in the books Jack Ryan spent time as the US President, this is not a Jack Ryan story.

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Filmauro 2004.

Before watching the movie:

This is such a bizarre movie on the face of it. It ostensibly takes its influences from pulp adventure and German Expressionism, but it comes off like it’s part of a franchise that doesn’t exist (which may be part of the artistic intent of imitating pulp serials), and the audacious scope has a hint of Anime plotting to me (as well as the man being called “Sky Captain” sounding like a translation beating out the subtlety of it).

The origins remind me of how Lucas created Star Wars because he wanted to do a Buck Rodgers movie, only this looks more successful at that idea in some ways. This seems like more of an update of the pulp feel than Star Wars achieved. (Perhaps it’s because I’ve always lived in a world where it existed, but that franchise has always seemed more like its own thing of its own time than something that could screen next to Buck Rodgers, but I’ve already digressed too much.)

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