Million Dollar Duck

Million Dollar Duck. Walt Disney Productions 1971.

Before watching the movie:

There’s a tendency for the family comedies Disney made in the 50s-70s to blend together, unless they reached you early enough to trigger nostalgia. At this point, it’s hard to say if that’s the classics rising to the top, or one generation passing their nostalgia to the next.

This is not one of the well-known ones. At least, I only learned about it by finding it on a shelf. It stars Dean Jones, but so does almost every movie Disney made back then. Disney’s stable of reliable actors reminds me these days of the contract system of the Golden Age of Cinema, where actors contracted to do so many movies of whatever kind they were assigned to with the same studio before they were free to leave or renew their contract, which also created a kind of repertory effect.

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The Astronaut Farmer

The Astronaut Farmer. Spring Creek Pictures 2006.

Before watching the movie:

What I’m most interested in about this story of an ex-astronaut who had to quit NASA to save the farm, but then decides to build his own rocket, is how the movie makes it plausible that one man can build a rocket on his own. The farm must be doing really well to be able to afford that kind of DIY equipment.

It’s meant as a feel-good story about Following Your Dreams™, but it’s just about the most extreme way to depict it. Solo rocketry projects are most likely to end up with the hobbyist spread across the landscape, no matter how much of an expert in engineering the rocketeer is.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Jetsons: The Movie

The Jetsons. Universal Pictures 1990.

I believe I have been told this is the first movie I was ever taken to see. Of course, I was young enough that I don’t remember that at all. It was always a part of our home collection in my memory, one of the Beta cassettes that got run into the ground.

I always understood The Jetsons as having been a 60s series that the movie had revived, but I eventually learned that most of the episodes were produced over 20 years later. I’d thought that was either to justify or follow up on the movie, but some quick research right now informs me that the movie came years later, after the show had done well in syndication. I have no doubt the main reason for the 80s episodes was so there would be enough episodes of the property to sell in syndication.

As a kid, I didn’t pick up on much of a difference between the movie and the episodes I’d seen. Longer of course, and a big deal is made about moving the family to a new location, but pretty much the same. Oh, and the interminable song breaks, that I can now appreciate as pretty good MTV music videos that still don’t belong in the movie. As I got older, I came to recognize the CGI, and the cultural shift that had happened underneath the surface.

The last few times I watched this movie, I saw it as the wholesome 60s family uprooted to place them in a setting more relatable to contemporary audiences, but they’re slightly modernized themselves, Judy’s starstruck melodrama (it was just a date with a touring celebrity, not a long-term boyfriend she’s torn away from, come on) aside. Their roles within the family unit are slightly less regimented and clean.

The environmentalist and coexistence message might be a little pat today, but it’s a movie made when those messages were at their most popular in the industry, especially in children’s media. And it certainly wasn’t an overused message for me as a kid. Star Trek taught us that we can make the future better, but it seems very distant next to The Jetsons, which shows us that in the future, we’ll be much like we are now, but with better technology. And this movie asks us to consider what that kind of lifestyle might cost, and if we can do better than that. Sometimes, that just seems possible.

Innerspace

Innerspace. Amblin Entertainment 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t recall at the moment if this started as a direct remake/sequel to Fantastic Voyage, was merely inspired by it openly, or just has a similar concept, but I do know that I was first made aware of the existence of Innerspace when researching Voyage. I have dim recollections that it might be a “suggested by” treatment of the novel sequel to Voyage?

Anyway, I also just discovered it has Martin Short as the hapless fellow who doesn’t realize he’s got a tiny explorer inside him, which ramps up my interest in it. Also, the idea of cutting back to comedy sequences outside caused by what’s going on inside reminds me of Osmosis Jones, only with live action/VFX instead of cartoon animation.

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Galaxy Quest

Few things have been kept alive by love for half a century. That club will probably be growing enormously for the next few years because so much of our culture was born in the 60s and 70s, but this week, fans are celebrating that milestone for Star Trek. While anything can achieve fifty years since just by the nature of time, fifty years continuous is something special in pop culture. If the Animated Series is included, the longest hiatus in Star Trek is only around five years. There’s a new movie in theaters now and a new series coming direct to home streaming next year. And it all began before men walked on the moon.

So I came to the question of how to celebrate it here. I grew up with Trek. Trek was in the house before I was born. The number of times I’ve watched the first six movies probably adds up to dozens, and the ones worth talking about as representative of the franchise have been talked about to death. I’ve seen every episode of the original series at least once. I saw the new movie a few weeks ago. What can I talk about?

Galaxy Quest. Dreamworks Pictures 1999.

The 90s were the height of Star Trek as a franchise. From 1993 to 1999, there were always two series in production, and from 1994, there were movies on top of that. There was always something new in Trek, and as the internet grew, it became much easier to talk about it with other fans. Continuity was huge even before there was a shared universe across three productions to keep track of. And as the preeminent fandom in the public’s eye, Trekkies were the easiest target to spoof the weird fans who take the things they love maybe a bit too seriously.

 

And then along comes a movie that spoofs Trekkies themselves. What if somebody completely didn’t understand the concept of fiction and dedicated their lives to a show, forcing the actors to be their characters for real? What if somebody loved a show so much they made it real?

What strikes me about describing the story like that is that the idea of a fictional story colliding with the real world is actually pretty common, but it’s always through magic. Last Action Hero comes to mind, and Stranger Than Fiction is a good example of not explicitly being magic, but it’s a weird thing that is narratively indistinguishable from magic. The Thursday Next novels interestingly begin with a bit of technology to jump into the fictional worlds in the first book, but dispense with it subsequently. I’m sure there must be other examples of fiction intruding upon reality through a purely sci-fi mechanism (aliens receive TV broadcasts, model their society around the show), but I can’t think of any.

Of course, Peter Q. Taggart is clearly based on William Shatner. Ego to the brim, alienating the castmates that are stuck with him, and too stuck in the glory days to realize it. That he is the main protagonist makes him sympathetic, but it has to get pretty savage to break Taggart down to the point where a real-life space adventure is what he needs. Everyone else is a bit more vague. Tawny Matheson’s best parallel is Uhura, but they cast Sigourney Weaver and arguably her function is more of a parody of Tasha Yar at tactical. I have a dim memory of the novelization letting her find a function that wasn’t just repeating the computer and looking pretty, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t have time for it and she just ends up embracing the part. Tommy Webber is mainly a Wesley Crusher type, but casting him black invokes Geordi’s season at the helm as well. Dr. Lazarus is kind of a hybrid of Spock and Worf. Dane/Rickman is clearly emphasizing the Spock side, but his cool logic in this case is an attempt to control his hot-blooded warrior tendencies.

I really enjoy Tony Shalhoub’s performance, but they cast him as Fred Kwan/Tech Sgt Chen, and he’s not at all Asian. If they’d given Fred a surname of a more appropriate ethnicity it could’ve at least been a joke about Hollywood casting anyone vaguely not white in any ethnic role, but instead it’s an honest example. Shalhoub is of Lebanese descent, but could be mistaken for Mediterranean European, and so this spoof of a show that was promoting diversity before diversity was a watchword comes off as having a token black guy and a token woman/love interest, and everyone else is white guys. And one green monster.

But they’re just the ones having the adventure. The real heroes of this story are the fans. The alien fans who were united by their respect for the “historical documents” from another world, and the human fans whose knowledge of the show guides the crew to victory. In the end, the Thermians are encouraged to make their own adventures, to be inspired by the Protector rather than devoted to it. Fans that become creators are what keeps franchises going, spawning legacies without bound. The Thermians will make their own history, and Galaxy Quest will live again. And Star Trek, and its fans, will continue the mission.

The Core

The Core. David Foster Productions 2003.
The Core. David Foster Productions 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I think of this movie as “Armageddon with Dirtronauts” (from a Dick van Dyke Show pitch). I really just know the log line, something’s wrong with the Earth’s core and we need to go fix it. Apparently it’s too dangerous to send robots to that kind of temperature and pressure so humans have to go instead.

It’s actually a fascinating idea to send an expedition below the crust, even if the conceit is ludicrous. At least Journey to the Center of the Earth is so divorced from science (I think even in Verne’s day the hollow Earth theory was at least on the way out) that it can be read as pure fantasy. With what we currently understand about the planet, no good can come from sending people that deep inside it, and the only sources of story there come from just how implausible such an expedition would be. So I’m going to try to enjoy this on its internal consistency, because the way it pretends to be science just preemptively frustrates me, but it otherwise looks like fun.

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Battle of the Worlds

Battle of the Worlds. Ultra Film 1961.
Battle of the Worlds. Ultra Film 1961.

Before watching the movie:

I found this while looking for b-movies for Movie Monster Month, but it didn’t look like it had a monster focus, so I left it. However, it looks like it makes up for it by having an insanity focus.

With a title that sounds like an H.G. Wells knockoff, this is a story about trying to avoid a planetary collision between Earth and a rogue planet headed right for it. Pretty much a “turn your brain off and have fun” concept. But then on top of that, this movie was filmed in Italian, but they cast Claude Rains in a prominent role, and his performance is in English. It’s probably going to be distracting having only one character not dubbed, and would be even if I hadn’t found out ahead of time.

I’m not certain if I’ve reviewed any foreign movies in the past (aside from the raw material making up What’s Up, Tiger Lilly?, which is a special case), but I can think of a few I’ve wanted to include but decided against for that reason. I guess that barrier is as broken as documentary film is now.

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