CELLULOID WARS: THE MAKING OF BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS by ALLAN HOLZMAN
Battle Beyond The Stars is a cult classic Roger Corman production that was made to cash in on the Star Wars sci-fi craze of the 70s and 80s, but is now recognized on it’s own merit. Allan Holzman was an editor on the film and after four decades, has released his journal of the making of this legendary flick that he wrote while the film was in production.
This is a wonderful and fun look at the making of a cult classic by a man whose task it was to put all the fractured pieces together and make a movie out of them. Holzman’s entries detail a very troubled production, populated by a large group of artists and creative people struggling to make it all work, delivering an FX filled epic on a shoestring budget and tight schedule. There are tales of cramped work spaces, unexperienced directors, demanding producers and almost unusable footage. We get Holzman’s account of trying to make an almost impossible release date, with FX work falling dangerously behind and the shots he was getting, an editor’s nightmare to piece together. It’s is a fascinating look at filmmaking, especially from the perspective of the unsung editing process. It’s also a fun look back at how legendary producer Roger Corman made movies back then and a nostalgic look at how some now acclaimed film talents, like James Cameron, John Sayles, James Horner, Gale Anne Hurd and Holzman himself, started out.
If you love movies, Roger Corman films, are a fan of some of today’s most heralded filmmakers, or all of the above, this is a must have book that also features some great bonus interviews with model builders and FX legends Robert and Dennis Skotak and Battle’s costume designer Durinda Wood! Allan Holzman is planning a sequel about his directorial debut on Corman’s Forbidden World and one can’t wait for that after enjoying this delightful book.
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Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a buck on a trend, Roger Corman put this space opera into production with the hopes of capturing a little of the Star Wars lightening in New World Pictures’ bottle. The story finds the inhabitants of the peaceful planet of Akir, under siege from Sador of the Malmori (John Saxon), a ruthless warlord who conquers worlds and uses spare body parts to keep himself young and tyrannical. Not able to defend themselves, village elder Zed (Jeff Corey) sends the rebellious young Shad (Richard Thomas) out to hire mercenaries to defend their planet against the invading army. Can Shad find warriors bad and brave enough to take on Sador and his planet-destroying Hammerhead starship?
As you can tell by the story description, this is more a take on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai than a retread of George Lucas’ box office titan, though Star Wars rip-off it shamelessly still is. No more obvious than the planet name Akir, which is a tribute to the legendary Japanese director, whose story is being appropriated here. The fun script is by John Sayles (Piranha, The Howling) and it’s directed with a comic book flare by Jimmy T. Murakami, who previously had experience in animation. The film never makes a joke out of the proceedings, but is loaded with humor and plenty of innovative SPFX on a small budget, as designed by James (Terminator, Aliens, Avatar) Cameron. The action is fast and furious, there is a variety of ships to go along with the motley group of mercenaries and it’s all a good time as intended. Sure it’s only got about a fifth of Star Wars’ budget, but the film has loads of heart and the hard work and imagination of everyone that worked on it shows through. The FX can be cheesy and there are a few spots where things slow down a bit, but otherwise it is a cult classic in it’s own right and how can you not like a movie that has a spaceship with a set of boobs…only in a Roger Corman flick, folks!
The cast really make this work especially well. All the actors get the tone and none of them treat the material like a joke, yet still have a good time with their roles. Richard Thomas makes a noble hero as Shad. A young man willing to risk all to save his world and people. Darlanne Fluegel is pretty and resilient as Nanelia, who joins Shad on his quest and becomes his first love interest. John Saxon is simply on target with his portrayal of Sador. He gives him a sense of malice and villainy, yet is careful to never carry him too far into over-the-top territory, so he stays threatening. As our warriors, we have George Peppard as “Space Cowboy” a space trucker caught up in the fight, Robert Vaughn as Gelt, an outlaw on the run, Sybil Danning as the beautiful but arrogant warrior woman Saint-Exmin, Morgan Woodward as the reptilian Cayman, who has a personal grudge against Sador, as well as, a heat communicating duo called The Kelvin and a group of five clones, who act and think as one, called The Nestor. And let’s not forget Sador’s army of patchwork mutants, too. A colorful and diverse group of characters if there ever was.
A cult classic in itself, this is a fun low budget space epic with loads of heart. Sure, the sets are cheesy, as are some of the SPFX, the dialogue corny and the pacing a little erratic, but this movie is a lot of fun. The cast all get the material and give it their all. The imagination of James Cameron and his FX crew is up on screen and it has one of James Horner’s best scores. A Roger Corman cult classic that may have been inspired by George Lucas’ surprise blockbuster, but has earned an identity and place in B-movie history all it’s own.
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Ironically, in Terminator fashion, this new chapter goes back in time to erase it’s past, eliminating, Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys from it’s timeline. The film opens in South America in 1998, a year after the averted Judgement Day was supposed to, but didn’t, occur. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is living there as a fugitive with John (Edward Furlong). They may have misjudged Skynet’s game plan, as another Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives to complete it’s mission. The story then moves to 2020, with a new kind of Terminator, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), appearing in Mexico to hunt factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Arriving to protect her is technologically enhanced super-soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Intercepting Grace and Dani is Sarah Connor (Hamilton) who has been hunting and destroying Terminators since we last saw her decades earlier. The question is…if Skynet was destroyed, avoiding Judgement Day, who is sending new Terminators and why are they after Dani? Worse still, the answers may lie in the memory banks of an old enemy.
Direct sequel to T2 is directed very well by Tim Miller (Deadpool) from a script and story by six people, including producer James Cameron, who returns to the franchise. Usually that many writers is a problem, but the script works very well in explaining how new Terminators are coming from the future when Skynet does not exist. It works very well and Miller’s solid direction, especially in the action sequences, helps get past the familiarities. We are kept in suspense as to why Dani is now a target and are given glimpses of a future that is once again apocalyptic, though for a somewhat different reason. Having Grace upgraded for Terminator combat makes sense and the new Rev-9 makes the lethal machines scary again, despite the whole Terminator of the month feel at this point. The only thing that the six writers didn’t pull off so well, is the reason for Arnold’s T-800 to be an ally. He is now a drapery installer named “Carl” and has an adopted family who haven’t yet figured out he’s a machine. What? He also has developed a conscience being without any guidance from Skynet and want’s to right past wrongs by helping Sarah, Grace and Dani…again, WHAT? Despite this plot hiccup, Arnold has some solid action moments battling Luna’s Rev-9 and does provide some humor that the film needs after all the explosions and bloodletting, this is a hard R, after all. On a production level the effects are top notch, the Mexican and Southwestern US locations give the film a bit of a fresh look and feel and the finale is quite exciting and fitting. There is some crisp cinematography by Ken Seng and Tom Holkenborg provides a good score when Brad Fiedel’s original theme isn’t being used to give it that Terminator flavor.
Miller is supported by a good cast. Linda Hamilton is great as the angrier, older and even more bitter Sarah. Her arrival gives goosebumps and it should, as she is a legendary figure in modern cinematic pop culture. Pretty Natalia Reyes makes an impression as Dani. She starts out a terrified girl and transforms into a fighter over the course of the film, much like Sarah first did over three decades earlier. Mackenzie Davis is noble and strong as Grace. Sort of the “Kyle Reese” part, an enhanced soldier to protect Dani from harm. A welcome addition to the franchise. Gabriel Luna is an intimidating Terminator as the Rev-9. Each film tries to up the game with it’s new model, but here they concentrate more on his lethality than gimmicky abilities. It works. Rounding out, while the story behind Arnold’s T-800 “Carl” being present is the only thing that didn’t click here, It is a return to form in many ways and it’s fun to see him back in action. Still not sure why he’s become the source of humor in this franchise, when he was so formidable in the first flick, but Arnold pulls it off.
In conclusion, it’s still the best Terminatorsequel since T2, even if a lot of the elements are still familiar. The script explains well how the story can continue after the events of T2, even if it’s subplot of Arnold as the T-800 comes across as silly and preposterous. Some solid action scenes, a good cast and some excellent effects combined with an intense and suspenseful climax, help it overcome any story issues and also helps one overlook some of the lesser entries that preceded it. At least for this entry, this franchise is back to being a well-oiled machine.
The summer movie season has started early and it has started with a bang! Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the Gunnm Manga series created by Yukito Kishiro. It’s produced by James Cameron and directed by Sin City’s Robert Rodriguez. The story has cyborg physician Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding the remains of a still active cyborg in a junk heap. Made to resemble a teenage girl, the doctor restores his discovery using a cybernetic body meant for his invalid daughter, who is now dead. He names her Alita after his little girl and soon the two bond as Alita (Rosa Salazar) tries to figure out who she is. Along the way Alita falls for street hustler Hugo (Keean Johnson) and becomes interested in the violent game of Motorball. Alita also finds she is no normal machine and there are sinister forces who want her technology for their own nefarious purposes…and they will hurt anyone to get it. A girl becomes a warrior, as Alita must now protect those she loves from harm.
The plot synopsis above is a simplification as Alita has a bit of a complex story, as many Manga do. It’s adapted to script by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and exceptionally well directed by Rodriguez, in what may be his best film so far. Despite being plot heavy, Rodriguez takes his time with the story, first introducing us to Alita and letting us learn about who she is as she does. It allows us to become endeared to her, so when treachery sets in and the action really gets going, we are emotionally invested in the characters. And that’s one of the pleasant surprises about Alita: Battle Angel, it has a strong emotional center thanks especially to a very strong performance by lead Rosa Salazar as Alita. The actress really gets the emotions of the character through in the motion capture and vocal performance, so we really see the CGI character as a three dimensional one. We feel for her all the way and the film has a “human” center despite being filled with CGI characters and epic battles. On the popcorn level the film also delivers. The SPFX are spectacular, as is the design of the world of the 26th century, Alita herself and her cyborg costars. The action is fast and furious and while having a lot of elements, the plot is far from hard to follow. The flick is surprisingly violent for a movie that could be marketed strictly to teens, but it makes it adult enough for the older crowd to enjoy and adds intensity to the proceedings. Sure there is some corny dialogue and some cliché moments, but Rodriguez uses those elements to the film’s advantage, as it is an old-fashioned superhero story at heart…and heart is something this flick has a lot of.
The cast really play the material well. As said, Rosa Salazar is very good at embodying Alita with a strong character through body language and voice performance. She gives the cyborg teen a lot of charm, intensity, as well as, a sense of wonder and a touch of naivety. Salazar is a star in the making. Waltz is very endearing as the kindly Dr. Ido, who has some secrets of his own. He plays the father figure well, but with a quiet strength. Keean Johnson is also endearing as the rogue-ish Hugo, the boy Alita falls for. He also has some secrets, too, but he remains likable despite Hugo’s sometimes shady activities. The film also features Jennifer Connelly as Ido’s ex-wife, who works for the film’s primary villain, Motorball tycoon Vector (Mahershala Ali) and there is a surprise cameo, that won’t be spoiled here, as the man pulling Vector’s strings, Nova. There are also appearances by Ed Skrein, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez and Jackie Earl Haley as various CGI cyborg characters. A very effective cast.
Overall, this flick was a blast and a really good time that gives a very early start to the summer movie season. It’s a fun popcorn flick, yet one with a more layered story to get us involved in and adds some dramatic weight and intensity to the FX and action. It has a star making performance from it’s leading lady, Rosa Salazar and has more heart than you’d expect from a cyborg. Highly recommended.
I know this is the Movie Madhouse but, I will review a book now and then, one that I really loved or one that pertains to the movie world….and what pertains more than a book by one of the greatest producers that ever lived… Roger Corman!
HOW I MADE A HUNDRED MOVIES IN HOLLYWOOD AND NEVER LOST A DIME by ROGER CORMAN with JIM JEROME
In the pages of this autobiography from legendary film producer/director Roger Corman, he tells firsthand of his journey to becoming one of the most successful filmmakers of all time. He details his humble beginnings in Detroit to his family’s move to Beverly Hills then on to college and his first job at a major studio where the film-making bug first bit. He shares with us how he cleverly financed his first film The Monster From The OceanFloor and thus began his prolific…and sometimes tumultuous…career as a director and producer. Corman takes us on a fun ride of clever financing, seat-of-your-pants film-making, world travel, giving first opportunities to many future stars and legends and even some of the lovely ladies he met making movies, including his wife Julie. It’s a vastly entertaining book from the man himself detailing how he was able to beat the Hollywood system and become the film geek, household name that he is. The book traces his life and career up to the point where he returned to directing after a long hiatus to helm Frankenstein Unbound, which, as of now, stands as his last full length feature as a director.
As a huge fan of Corman, I had a blast with this book. The master producer details how he produced films his way and rarely had a box office disappointment in his illustrious career. He gives generous details on the making of such early classics as It Conquered The World and Not of This Earth to some of the New World classics such as Death Race 2000 and Piranha. We get anecdotes from some of the talents who got their start with Corman and went on to be legends themselves like Joe Dante, Francis Ford Coppola and Sylvester Stallone and also from Corman regulars like Dick Miller, Chuck Griffith and Beverly Garland. It’s a humble telling of a fascinating life from the man who lived it and a host of people who had the honor of working for/with him. If you are a fan of Roger Corman and his films, it is a must read. If you are simply a fan of movies and the film-making process, I still highly recommend you hear these great tales about one of Hollywood’s greatest maverick film-makers from the man himself and some of those who joined him on his ongoing journey.
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31 years after his first appearance in the role that made him a star, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns once again as the T-800 in this new reboot of The Terminator franchise. We do get a new Sarah Conner (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke), a new Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and a new timeline to reset things much like Star Trek did successfully in 2009…but, was it as successful as that redo?
The film opens in the war-torn future where we get yet another representation of the Skynet initiated Judgement Day and then the efforts of John Connor’s (Jason Clarke) rebel forces to take back the world from the machines. We see the discovery of the time displacement device and the sending of Kyle Reese back in time to save John’s mother Sarah from an incoming Terminator. At first the events unfold exactly as they did in James Cameron’s 1984 classic but, then we discover that not only is Sarah armed and ready for the Skynet sent cyborg attack but, the arriving Terminator is met by another Terminator (also Arnold) assigned to protect Sarah since she was a little girl. That and the T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) that appeared in 1991 is already here in 1984. Reese soon finds out that this is a new timeline created by all this time traveling back and forth and the only way to stop Judgement Day now is to go back to the future…without Michael J. Fox! Still with me???
One of the things that really hurts this new attempt to breath life into this tired franchise is obviously, the convoluted plot that simply uses the alternate timeline excuse to rewrite the series lore but, instead of taking it to interesting new places, like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, it just seems to be making things up as it goes along to reset deadlines and give our characters an excuse to leave the 80s and back into a contemporary setting. There are some other curves the film throws us, too, that actually should negate the whole plot, but, at this point you give up trying to figure it all out. One of the characters actually points this out and the question is blown off. The writers obviously didn’t have an answer either. And all this time travel mumbo jumbo would be fine if director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier gave us characters we cared about, a story with some suspense or intensity and one that went some in new directions that were at least fresher than what has come before. New dates and new faces but, it’s the same old song and dance. Taylor directs this very by-the-numbers and with a very moderate pace for a film in which we are supposed to feel like we are under some kind of pressure to avert the end of mankind. We never feel any real urgency and Clarke and Courtney never endear us as Sarah and Reese, so, we really don’t get emotionally invested in their struggle. On the plus side, the action scenes are fun but, the minute they are over, the film slows down and you go back to that emotional void. Schwarzenegger is a lot of fun as the grumpy old terminator and when he is on-screen the film does pick-up. There is also some wonderful recreations and revisions of scenes from the first movie that are a lot of nostalgic fun, but, once we leave the 80s, it becomes just another ho-hum popcorn action movie. It would have been more fun if they had stayed in the 80s and just had a good time playing with our expectations of what we thought we already knew. That was working. Once we are in 2017, it becomes another generic Sci-Fi action flick with humans against a big bad Artificial Intelligence…which we alread got this Summer in Age Of Ultron…and with less confusion.
Cast-wise, Schwarzenegger is obviously having fun and it shows. He plays The Terminator like a grumpy old tin man and it’s fun to watch. He has some fun lines but, nothing as memorable as those he repeats from past films. Emilia Clarke is physically a good match for Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner but, is just very cold in the role. She brings none of the fire and emotion Hamilton gave her Sarah or Clarke’s own Daenerys Targaryen on Game Of Thrones, for that matter. She and Jai Courtney also don’t have nearly the chemistry that Hamilton shared with Michael Biehn. As for Courtney, he is also playing it very by-the-numbers and his Reese seems as confused as we are as to what is going on and doesn’t have the edge of a battle-hardened soldier like Biehn. Jason Clarke has a bit more life as John Connor and his Connor does get to share a lot of screen time due to more time travel nonsense/Skyney hi-jinx. The only other person to liven things up like Arnold, is J.K. Simmons as a cop who witnesses The Terminator in the 80s and then re-enters the picture when our heroes show up in 2017. Too bad the character’s only purpose seems to be some comic relief as he really has no bearing on the plot, other than to give Sarah and Reese a temporary ally when they are arrested. Finally, Lee Byung-hun seems lethal enough as the T-1000 but, doesn’t quite have the relentless intensity of Robert Patrick.
Whether this film is still better than the last two attempts is basically a matter of taste and opinion. In mine it’s better than Salvation but, really not much better than Rise Of The Machines, which I feel is criticized a little too harshly at times. On a positive side it has Arnold having a good time and showing it and some really fun re-creations and re-mixes of classic scenes from the original film. There is some nice action at times but, nothing groundbreaking like in T2. On the downside, the film is directed very by-the-numbers and the script is a borderline mess of time travel hocus pocus used to take things in other but, equally stale directions. The re-cast classic characters have none of the life and intensity that made the originals the beloved characters they are and while the new actors are attractive, they share none of the heat and sexual tension either. Stay after the credits and if you didn’t like this, be prepared to groan in anguish.
Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite films (see full review here). It’s the film that cemented John Carpenter as one of my favorite directors. A starkly original idea featuring one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heroes of all time. There have been a few editions of the film on VHS, DVD and even a feature-only blu-ray, but, now Scream Factory has delivered this classic flick in a special 2-disc edition loaded with extra features that gives this quirky Sci-Fi adventure the treatment and respect it deserves!
The print is a new remaster from the original negative and is absolutely gorgeous. The image is crisp and clear and the colors are vibrant without betraying the look and feel intended by the filmmakers. The movie has never looked better and having seen it on screen, on VHS, on DVD and on previous blu-ray, I can say that with the utmost confidence. It’s never looked better. The audio is DTS-HD 5.1 and sounds great. It’s like seeing and hearing the movie again for the first time. It’s a beautiful presentation of this classic movie. Now on to the fun stuff…
We get some nice audio extras… not one but, three commentary tracks. There is a new track featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Also, previously released tracks from Joe Alves and Debra Hill, as well as, the classic John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary, which is almost as entertaining as the film. More on-set insight than you could ever hope for. As for video treats and featurettes, the second disc holds a mix of new and previously released material. The first featurette is new and is a really cool look at EFNY’s SFX. It contains behind the scenes stills and interviews with Dennis and Robert Skotak, who worked at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, which did the visual effects for the film. The Return To Escape From New York documentary from the MGM collector’s edition DVD is also included here and is filled with interviews from all the principles. We get the now legendary deleted bank robbery/arrest scene with an added new interview with actor Joe Unger, who played Snake’s partner Taylor in that deleted sequence. There’s a fun new look at scoring the film and the legacy of the soundtrack, with co-composer Alan Howarth. There is a great interview/slide show with on-set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who recently released a book (review here) featuring her work as a photographer on a number of Carpenter’s films. We get an interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau, who was working as a PA with New World Pictures at the time and got to visit the EFNY set. The disc then finishes up it’s extra’s section with theatrical trailers and two photo galleries on top of all the rest of the features. A great selection of extras to compliment the film.
As fan of Escape From New York, you couldn’t ask for a better special edition. The film looks great, sounds great and there is a nice selection of nostalgic and informative features and interviews to bring you back to 1980 when the film was being shot. I personally had the opportunity to see this flick in a theater…my beloved Oritani Theater…back in January of 1981 and it instantly became one of my all time favorites. Now I can enjoy it like never before thanks to this newly remastered, extra-filled, loving tribute from Scream Factory.
Watching this double feature tonight and thought I would share it with the rest of you!
THE TERMINATOR (1984)
One of my favorite all time films. A wonderful example of how talent and imagination can accomplish a lot on a small budget. A tenacious little action film with a cool sci-fi premise. Simple and very effective. This is the film that really pushed Arnold into the spotlight and set director James Cameron on his course.
Terminator tells the story of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a waitress trying to make ends meet, but, unknown to her, she has been targeted for death by a machine sent back from the future to eliminate her. The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been sent by a computer network in 2029 to kill Sarah as she will be mother to John Connor, the man who will rebel against these self aware computers, who have taken over the world of the future, and end their reign before they eliminate mankind. The rebels send back a soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect her and Sarah becomes a fugitive on the run as soldier and cyborg battle for the fate of the future in 1984 Los Angeles.
James Cameron’s lean mean fighting machine of a movie is as relentless as The Terminator itself. He crafts a fast paced action classic that never stops moving yet, still tells a good story and builds the characters so we are emotionally invested in them. He gets great work from his cast and brilliant work from his SPFX people who provide some really effective glimpses of an apocalyptic future and the carnage by our title villain in the present. From models to make-up, the film has top notch work on a low budget. The action is simple yet very intense with numerous chases and shoot-outs as the cybernetic assassin will stop at nothing and go through anyone to eliminate his prey.
A bonafide classic that set many careers in motion and started a film franchise that is still going decades later. If I had to make a top ten list of favorite movies, The Terminator would be on it. Also starring Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield as two cops caught in the middle of the conflict and the first acting role for a young Bill Paxton as a punk who unfortunately crosses The Terminator’s path.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Amusing to know that Arnold was originally pursued to play the hero, Kyle Reese, but convinced Cameron to let him play the title villain instead. Furthermore, OJ Simpson was being considered for the role of The Terminator, but director Cameron felt, ironically, that no one would believe a nice guy like OJ as a cold blooded killer. Co-star Lance Henriksen was also considered in early stages when Cameron wanted a Terminator who could blend into a crowd, but Arnold took over the role and the rest is cinema history.
A classic 4 Terminator’s!
Robocop is a bonifide classic, a movie that took me by surprise when I first saw it in 1987 as I thought it was going to be silly fun at best, but turned out to be a well crafted, satirical and delightfully blood-soaked good time with good performances across the board, especially from leading man Peter Weller. It is now one of my all time favorites. The story opens in a future Detroit where crime is rampant and corporations now run the police force, which is sadly being overwhelmed. Omni Consumer Products plans to build a new city, but needs crime put on a leash to insure new occupants. Devious executive Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) plans to use the walking tank, the ED 209 to bring law and order, but when it gruesomely malfunctions, junior executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) jumps in with his Robocop project. This plan focuses on using fatally wounded police officers in a Frankenstein-ish process to turn them into cyborg cops to do the job the ED 209 is failing to. Now they only need to wait till an officer is ‘volunteered’ as a subject… which in crime ridden Detroit, shouldn’t take long. Enter good cop and family man Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) who is transferred to Old Detroit (by Morton who sees him as a high risk in the crime ridden area) and on his first day out with partner Lewis (Nancy Allen), is gunned down by ruthless crime lord Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his henchmen. The deceased Murphy is taken and transformed into Robocop, a cyborg law enforcement agent who is sent out to clean up the streets of Old Detroit. But despite having his memory supposedly wiped, Robocop starts to have recollections of his previous life, memories of a wife and child and of the vicious criminals who gunned him down. With the help of Lewis, Robocop tries to regain his lost humanity and take down those responsible for his murder. But there is a conspiracy of high level executive and low life criminals that stands in his way and once he turns his attention towards them, they conspire to make sure the cybernetic police officer and the man buried deep inside him are destroyed once and for all.
With the combination of a sharp and satirical script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner and the over the top, energetic directing style of Paul Vehoeven, Robocop is a deliriously fun Sci-Fi/action flick with a twisted sense of humor and a giddy use of blood and gore. No more evident then in the film’s gleefully gruesome opening moments when a malfunctioning ED 209 uses it’s massive guns to blast a poor junior executive into mulch during an ill-fated demonstration. There is plenty of fast-paced action as Robocop takes to the streets and then pursues bad guys Boddicker and Jones to bring them down and avenge himself. There is also a healthy dose of social satire woven in between as well, especially aimed at the theatricality and superficiality of the media, as we get to see news clips and commercials of the type that are commonplace in this shallow futuristic world. One can say Murphy’s battle to regain his humanity seems to echo a society where we have lost ours. And what makes this movie so much more then just an action flick, is just how well the social commentary blends in with the story and action. It’s never heavy handed or preachy and is often served with a biting sense of humor, so it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the film. The same could be said about the theme of regaining humanity in a superficial society where excess is the order of the day. Murphy is symbolic of humanity being buried under such excess as he is buried under all the microchips and shiny alloy of his robotic armor. Yet, none of this overshadows that this is also a fast-paced and fun movie about a hero up against insurmountable odds, despite his steel skin and firepower and good fighting to triumph over evil. This is what makes Robocop such a great film, it is on the surface a dynamite popcorn movie, but with a very smart and soulful center. Rarely has a movie with a scathing message and a popcorn flick been blended so well as done here.
And Vehoeven gets great work from a good cast. Weller is perfect in his portrayal of a good cop and a good man who they try to turn into a soulless machine, but instead fights to become an extraordinary human being within his cybernetic shell. Allen is both tough and sweet as Lewis. She makes you believe she can kick your butt and is equally believable in her quest to help the man that is Murphy triumph over his computerized programing. Her joining him in a fight with overwhelming odds also gives her a nice nobility to add to an already likable character. Cox and Smith make a great team of scumbag bad guys with Cox making his Dick Jones the perfect corporate suit dirt-bag and Smith’s Boddicker, a twisted and sick criminal whose not without his charm and an equally twisted sense of humor to go with it. Ferrer is also very effective as an overambitious corporate douche who steps on the wrong toes. Strong heroes and equally strong bad guys are essential to a story like this and the film nails it along with everything else.
The FX are a little dated, but still very effective and add to the film’s nostalgia. We get some great make-up FX, as usual, from FX master Rob (The Thing) Bottin who also designed the Robocop suit and make-up for Weller and even some very charming stop motion model animation to bring the ED 209 to life by another FX legend, Phil Tippett. The FX and production design are unique, yet appear realistic as to how a near future city like Detroit might look and there is a fantastic score by the legendary composer Basil Poledouris to accent the film’s moments and add atmosphere. It is one of his best scores.
Overall, I can’t say enough about one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s recognized as a classic and is exactly that in every sense of the world. I am hard pressed to come up with any criticism about a film which is probably my favorite type of movie alongside Horror, one that is fiercely entertaining on the outside, but has something substantial going on underneath much like Cameron’s Terminator, Miller’s Road Warrior and Carpenter’s Escape From New York. All favorites and all Sci-Fi/action flicks with a solid emotional base and/or some scathing social commentary running beneath the explosions and gunfire. And there is nothing like a little butter for the popcorn. A true classic and one of my all time favorite movies. Also stars Dan (The Last Starfighter, Halloween III) O’Herlihy as OCP’s CEO who appears to be a good guy here, but became one of the villains in the really disappointing sequel, Robocop 2.
UPDATE: 20th CENTURY FOX HAS DECLARED THIS UNTRUE! Too bad, sounded like a cool idea!
If rumors coming from the folks at Latino Review are true, 66 year old action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger will be finally working with his Terminator/True Lies director James Cameron again in Avatar 2. The rumors claim Arnie will be playing the villain in the sequel who is a general. As Cameron plans 3 more Avatar films, it is not known whether this is a recurring role or just a part in this particular installment. At this point this is RUMOR only and there has been no official announcements made.
I know this is the Movie Madhouse but, I will review a book now and then that I really loved and pertains to the movie world and what pertains more then a book about one of the greatest producers that ever lived… Roger Corman!
CRAB MONSTERS, TEENAGE CAVEMEN, AND CANDY STRIPED NURSES-ROGER CORMAN: KING OF THE B MOVIE by CHRIS NASHAWATY
For fans of the films of B movie auteur Roger Corman, this book is a real treat and a blast to read. Tracing his career and a good number of his most famous…and infamous…films from his beginnings as a messenger in the 20th Century Fox mailroom to one of the most prolific producer/directors in film history, author Nashawaty wisely lets the stories come from the mouths of Corman himself and the talented people whose careers he gave start to. We get quotes and anecdotes about this legend of filmmaking from legends in their own right like Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante, John Landis, Sylvester Stallone and Peter Fonda to name a scant few. Obviously we also hear from Corman himself, his wife Julie…who once went into labor on the set of a film she was producing for her husband…and brother Gene. Some of the stories are downright hilarious as we read first hand accounts of Corman thriftiness in action. We get fascinating tales of the making of some of Roger Corman’s most famous and successful productions from the low budget horror Attack Of The Crab Monsters to his Star Wars inspired Battle Beyond The Stars. Among some of the delightfully fun stories is one from Titanic’s James Cameron. The future director of The Terminator tells about his method of having all his workers go on break when Corman arrived at the studio for the production of Battle Beyond The Stars because, if Roger didn’t see anyone working on the sets, he assumed they were done and didn’t get angry that they were actually running behind schedule. But whether it’s stories of the relationships between Corman and the future stars that worked for him, or of Corman thriftiness and inventiveness, this fun book is a very entertaining look at the amazing career of an amazing man who beat the Hollywood system again and again. A man who still is ahead of his time and still stays one step ahead of the latest trends. If I was to have a complaint about this wonderful book about one of my favorite filmmakers, is that it isn’t long enough. Despite all the fun stories and the informative look at some of his most classic films, I closed the book wanting even more…and now that I think of it, that is more of a complement then a complaint! A great read and a MUST for Roger Corman fans or fans of his films.