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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Movies of My Yesterdays: Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves

I usually avoid sequels here, and yes, it’s direct to video, but this one means more to me than the original Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I don’t remember if it’s the one I saw first, but it’s the one I saw most back then. I knew it was a sequel to “Kids”, but at first I didn’t realize that there was another one in between the two (Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, which is about the toddler getting bigger and bigger until it gets into “Attack of the 50-foot _____” territory).

This one, and the TV series that apparently came out the same year, but doesn’t seem to be related, came to me right at the time when I was not only in a period of discovering my own new favorites for what seemed like the first time, but also particularly interested in invention, and so stories starring the wacky tinkerer Wayne Szalinski and his quirky inventions especially appealed to me.

Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. Walt Disney Pictures 1997.

Years after making his name with the Shrink Machine, Wayne Szalinski has founded Szalinski Labs, a “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks” R&D company, which he operates as the president of and his brother Gordon heads development projects for. Wayne’s son Adam has no interest in Wayne’s passion for science and would much rather go to baseball camp instead of the math summer camp Wayne has picked out for him. The family is preparing for a weekend where Wayne and Gordon’s wives Diane and Patti go on a vacation and Gordon as well as his and Patti’s kids Jenny and Mitch will be staying with Wayne and Adam. Just as the weekend begins, Wayne has Gordon help him haul a gigantic tiki sculpture that Diane hates up to the attic, where he intends to use the Shrink Machine one last time before it goes to the Smithsonian to shrink it to pocket size. But a mishap with the machine also shrinks Wayne and Gordon, and soon after, Diane and Patti get shrunk too. Returning from an errand to find no parents in the house, the kids come to the obvious conclusion: house party.

Much like Home Alone 2, I think the success of this movie comes from delivering more of what made the original interesting. As I recall, “Kids” is mostly about the shrunken kids spending the weekend crossing the backyard, which is now a harsh jungle from their perspective. While that story was more about surviving in unforgiving nature, this story is set entirely in the house, making even more familiar household objects into an alien landscape for the parents to navigate. There’s also the added angle that the parents are able to observe what their kids are doing when they think they’re unsupervised, and so the dramatic irony is much richer than “where are the missing kids? Right out the back door!”

Of course in the third act, after things get too out of hand for the kids, they start to display the ways in which they were raised right after all. It’s a pretty standard trope, especially for Adam having some of Wayne’s science knowledge rub off on him after all, but I’m impressed now that the culmination of Jenny’s story is that when the boy she has a crush on gets her alone and forces a kiss on her, she pushes him away and tells him off for not asking. For 1997, that seems like a rare storytelling choice.

I have no complaints about the effects. There’s some things that I can’t tell if it’s good puppetry or very good CGI, but considering that it’s the late 90s and a direct to video budget, it’s probably puppetry. Sometimes the greenscreen compositing is a little obvious, but that’s hardly ever a solved problem even today, and it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the story that they basically have a choice between decent compositing and very good but obvious oversize sets. When dealing with the world on a much smaller scale, I’m not sure it’s possible to make things look real, because it will either be more detailed than we’re used to or less detailed than we expect.

This is still a lot of fun for a direct to video family movie. It’s aged incredibly well and possibly aside from Gordon and Mitch’s actors seeming like Wayne Knight and Jonathan Taylor Thomas stand-ins, it feels almost timeless. It’s nice to watch a movie with nostalgia value and not end up disillusioned.

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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The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock

The 30-foot Bride of Candy Rock. Columbia Pictures Corporation 1959.

Before watching the movie:

It seems like the 50s and 60s had a fascination not just with science shenanigans making small things gigantic, but making women gigantic in particular, and apparently even Lou Costello got in on it.

This is notably the only film Costello made without Abbott, and I’m not sure how that will work out because while in modern comedy, comedians work solo just fine, I know that back in the day it was considered correct and proper to pay Abbott more than Costello because anyone could be a comedian, but a good straight man for the comedian to play against was worth his weight in gold, and that’s something that’s evident in the duo’s greatest hits.

After watching the movie:

Artie Pinsetter is a broke garbage collector who studies science in his spare time and hopes to make his name by uncovering an atomic energy source behind the strange activity in the cave outside of town. His girlfriend Emmy Lou wants him to marry her already, but he’s too preoccupied with his research, and after an argument, she runs into the cave and suddenly grows to 30 feet tall. When Artie tries to explain what’s happened to her wealthy uncle Raven Rossiter, he says that Emmy Lou has gotten “big”, and Rossiter assumes he means she’s pregnant, and sends a priest to perform a shotgun marriage so they won’t wreck his chances at being elected to public office. But the problems inherent in suddenly being a giant woman outside of town won’t go away so easily, and Artie and Emmy Lou’s relationship is strained by the hardship. Also the army decides she’s obviously an invading Martian and diverts a war game exercise to shoot her down.

Gale Gordon’s Rossiter is somewhat of a type with Bud Abbott, and he’s certainly the main straight man to Artie’s antics, but it wouldn’t have worked with Abbot because Bud and Lou are always friends or at least partners, and Rossiter is more of an antagonist. He berates Artie constantly and doesn’t want him anywhere near his niece until he thinks she’s already pregnant, and then she’s suddenly just as poisonous to his image and power as Artie is. He’s also reminiscent of The Beverly Hillbillies’ Mr. Drysdale.

Of course, the giant effects rarely avoid having the characters seem isolated. The budget doesn’t have room for much more than high/wide shots and low/tight shots, but they go a long way with tiny props. There are a handful of shots that might have been optically printed, and there’s at least one very successful shot that I think was done with rear projection where the camera actually tracks with Artie as he walks along the length of Emmy Lou’s reclining figure and they actually share a shot while trading dialogue.

The finale gets really weird, to the point that I was anticipating a reveal that it’s all a dream. It’s not really incorrect to say that everything is resolved from Artie’s scientific skill, but it’s much more informed and indirect than earned. It feels more like it’s just time to have exciting comedic hijinks, and then once those are over, so is the movie.

I appreciate that it’s clear throughout that Artie earnestly loves and cares for Emmy Lou. He’s not just quick to reassure her when she’s scared and putting herself down about suddenly being five times her old size, but his reaction seems to come from a genuine place of having more of his sweetheart to love. He only wavers when they have an argument and she goes against his advice and orders, but he’s already ready to forgive her when she comes back. His attempt to assert authority as her husband is not something that’s aged well, but for the kinds of characters that Costello plays, trying to claim authority is kind of a character growth moment, so I try not to let it bother me too much.

This is a sweet, fun movie that tells its story with the visual tools available pretty well. I would have liked the end to have been stronger from a story perspective, but the character work makes up for it. It’s probably not the worst thing Costello could’ve gone out on.

Movies of my Yesterdays: The Iron Giant

I dimly remember actually seeing this movie in the theater, but for whatever reason, what sticks with me more is getting it for Christmas, in a set with a toy figure (example photo, not mine) that was both exciting and yet I don’t think I ever actually played with. I seem to associate the story with winter scenes as well, even though I know there are summer scenes. I guess it takes place over a longer period of time than I thought.

I do recall that seeing the movie in the theater was at least one of the first times I allowed myself to cry at a movie (in a dark theater). The emotion that this movie draws out of celluloid is one of the main reasons that it’s endured as a modern classic and stands out against the more bland landscape of contemporaries that, unlike the perennial vintage cinema, we can still remember. In the nine(!) years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve covered many movies from that year. Only a few of them come close to the legacy The Iron Giant immediately cemented.

The Iron Giant. Warner Bros. 1999.

Hogarth, a boy in advanced classes with an excitable imagination outside of small town Rockwell, Maine, goes investigating his missing TV antenna and comes across a 50-foot tall robot from space! The giant robot, which eats metal, tries to eat a power station transformer, and gets tangled up in power lines, and Hogarth rescues him by pulling the shutoff switch. As Hogarth investigates, the giant befriends him, and they quickly form a secret partnership with junkyard artist Dean for the use of his scrap metal so the giant won’t go hungry. But the reports of strange sightings draw government agent Kent Mansley, a cold war G-man who sees Soviet threats in anything he doesn’t understand. Kent quickly susses out that Hogarth isn’t telling all he knows, and if he can get proof that there’s a dangerous weapon in Rockwell, he’ll finally get the respect he thinks he deserves.

This might not be the first time I’ve watched the movie since that VHS, but it’s the first time I’ve really noticed how much care was put into the art for this movie. I’m not sure I’ve seen better cel-shaded CGI before, but the Giant, Sputnik, and the missile are CG renders blended in so well it’s easy to forget they’re technically a different medium, and if they used it for other things, I couldn’t even tell or it wasn’t major enough to remember. However, the CGI was something I was aware of years ago. This time, I was also looking at the traditional animation, and especially the lovingly-created backgrounds. I think I’ve seen this movie called a love letter to traditional animated movies in an era where everyone wanted to make the next Toy Story, and I got it then, but I see it for myself now. As well, the music is quite evocative of cartoon features of a different age, and sometimes comes very close to evoking Looney Tunes incidental music.

My first instinct was to say that the messages of the movie are what makes it resonate, but there’ve been a lot of bad and forgettable movies with messages of “friendship is good, guns are bad, be yourself, help others, your past doesn’t define you”. What makes it effective is the execution. This story is not just character driven, but the characters express real emotion and profound thoughts that manage to all align to create a package of concentrated Feelings. It’s no wonder Pixar incorporated Brad Bird into their inner circle of creatives after this.

As the 1950s setting evokes a kind of nostalgia for a lost age of childhood, the movie is itself nostalgia for a generation, as it now approaches 20 years since its release. I’m sure that there are professional animators now who were inspired by this opus, and hopefully many of them are actually getting to do something close enough to that to satisfy them, as the market has moved away from traditional animation with any real budget for artistic flair. Being an inspiration is probably the highest honor a work of art can aspire to, and this is certainly one that has inspired careers as well as daily lives.

Missile to the Moon

Missile to the Moon. Layton Film Productions 1958.

Before watching the movie:

This looks like a typical B-movie sci-fi horror shocker. The all-women moon society might be interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how good or bad the monster is, but the most interesting angle is the fact that the ship is stolen in the first place. So that element probably won’t go anywhere.

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I Married a Monster from Outer Space

I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Paramount Pictures 1958.

Before watching the movie:

Much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this is about people getting replaced by alien replicas. But with the added horror factor of following a 50s housewife’s discovery that her husband has changed.

It looks like the main thing that was notable about this movie is that it was released in a double feature with The Blob.

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