CrazyFilmGuy

CrazyFilmGuy
Sisters Movie House, Sisters, Oregon

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Summer. 1982. Steven Spielberg's E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTIAL was the biggest  hit of the summer. My personal favorite George Miller's THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) was actually released in the United States in the summer of '82 (it came out in Australia in 1981). But the third most interesting film that emerged that summer was BLADE RUNNER (1982). Although not initially a hit at first, director Ridley Scott's vision of the future would garner cult status and influence science fiction films ever since. And it had Harrison Ford, fresh off his breakout performances as Han Solo in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) and Indiana Jones in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), in a decidedly darker hero role.


BLADE RUNNER is based on science fiction author Philip K.  Dick's novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Directed by Ridley Scott (ALIEN, GLADIATOR), BLADE RUNNER was a groundbreaking vision of the future set in Los Angeles in 2019. A mixture of science fiction and film noir, Scott created a crowded, gritty world of perennial rain, mist, and smoke where most of humanity has fled to Off World colonies. What's left on earth are the poor, the sick, and a hodgepodge of different ethnicities and cultures all crammed together.  Replicants, the next evolution of robots, virtually identical to humans, have been created as slave labor to explore hazardous new planets or serve as sex workers on Off World military bases.

Like the recent MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) which followed thirty plus years after THE ROAD WARRIOR, the film world was greeted with the news that a BLADE RUNNER sequel was finally going to be made after thirty five years.  I never felt BLADE RUNNER needed a sequel, that it was one of those films that could stand alone.  Ridley Scott was originally tapped to direct again but then it was announced that French-Canadian director Denis Villenueva (SICARIO, ARRIVAL) would take the reins of BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017).  Nonetheless, I was excited to see what could be added to the franchise and to my surprise, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a nice book end to the BLADE RUNNER saga with Ryan Gosling playing a new Blade Runner cop named K and Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard.

With a screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and directed by Ridley Scott (only his third feature film), the original BLADE RUNNER is takes place in Los Angeles in 2019.  Corporations are huge monolithic structures, almost like pyramids. Gigantic floating billboards advertise Off World colonies as well as Coca Cola, TDK, and PanAm airlines. Four Nexus 6 replicants (also known as skin jobs) have revolted from an Off World colony, stolen a spaceship, killed the crew and returned to Los Angeles seeking to find their creator and advance their four year life span.  It is illegal for replicants to inhabit Earth. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired  LAPD cop is pulled back into his Blade Runner Unit by his former boss Captain Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) when Deckard's predecessor Holden (Morgan Paull) is wounded by Leon Kowalski (Brion James), one of the fugitive replicants.


Deckard is assigned to retire (euphemism for execute) the four AWOL replicants, aided by the origami making Gaff (Edward James Olmos). Deckard is sent to the Tyrell Corporation to run an empathy test on Rachael (Sean Young), a Nexus 6 replicant. She's the latest model created by Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the CEO of Tyrell Corporation. Rachael doesn't know she's not human. Following a lead from Holden's interview with Leon, Deckard visits Leon's apartment looking for clues, finding strange scales in the bathtub. Meanwhile, the leader of the renegade replicants Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) sends his replicant lover Pris (Daryl Hannah) to the apartment of J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a genetic designer who works for the Tyrell Corporation.  Their plan is to coax Sebastian to help them infiltrate Tyrell Corp and meet with their maker Dr. Tyrell.

Deckard follows the scale lead to a burlesque show where Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), another of the replicants, works as a snake dancer.  Deckard retires Zhora but then almost dies at the hands of Leon until Rachael appears and saves Deckard's life, killing Leon with Deckard's gun.  Roy shows up at the toy filled home of J.F. Sebastian. Sebastian agrees to take Roy to the Tyrell Corporation to meet Dr. Tyrell. Tyrell's been expecting them but he tells Roy there's no way to prolong their lives.  In a fit of rage, Batty kills Tyrell and Sebastian.


Deckard goes to Sebastian's apartment.  He battles Pris and kills the acrobatic android.  Batty returns to the apartment to find Pris dead.  Batty chases Deckard around the empty building, culminating in a final showdown on the roof. Instead of killing Deckard, Batty shows the blade runner compassion and lets him live as Batty's lifespan comes to an end. BLADE RUNNER is unique in that there are actually a couple versions of how the film ends.  In the original theatrical release (which I saw in 1982), Deckard and Rachael are seen fleeing in his flying police car, headed north over a snowy landscape.  In the DIRECTOR'S CUT (which was discovered and released in 1992), Deckard and Rachael leave his apartment but notice a unicorn origami left by Gaff on the ground, hinting that they may not get away (more about that unicorn symbolism in a moment). The DIRECTOR'S CUT ends there.

BLADE RUNNER was a perfect summer movie in 1982, full of special effects and a visual design like none we had ever seen inspiring future films like Luc Besson's THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) and even George Lucas in STAR WARS:ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002). But BLADE RUNNER was more thoughtful, exploring deeper themes than a typical summer blockbuster. As these replicants are made to be more human like, they begin to want to be human.  Genetic designers give them memory implants but they want real memories, real feelings. As Blade Runner cop Deckard becomes more and more dehumanized hunting and "retiring" these replicants, the replicants become more human. Batty feels pain and loss when Zhora and Leon are killed. Batty has feelings for Pris, they snuggle and kiss like young lovers.  The replicants are fallen angels of their God, Dr. Tyrell. Some critics see Roy Batty as Lucifer, the lead fallen angel. And in the end, it's Batty the replicant, the skin job who shows compassion and mercy, letting Deckard live (granted after breaking several of Deckard's fingers). It's deep, heavy stuff for the summer popcorn crowd.


Further adding to the mystique of BLADE RUNNER was the discovery of different versions of the film. The original theatrical release from 1982 had a happier ending and a voiceover by Deckard, a Philip Marlowe detective like narration to explain the story and give it that film noir feel. Harrison Ford hated it and tried to ruin it with his rendering of the narration.  Then, in 1992, Ridley Scott's Director's Cut was discovered.  The narration was gone. The ending was different, more ambiguous. There's an International release of BLADE RUNNER with a little more sex and violence for foreign audiences. And most recently, director Ridley Scott oversaw what's known as BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT which is really the Director's Cut but Scott really had final artistic approval on this version, fixing up sound and picture along with the few added scenes from the DIRECTOR'S CUT.

The biggest talking point for BLADE RUNNER has always been is Rick Deckard himself a replicant.  In the original theatrical version, I don't think there was any question he's human. He's a burnt out policeman with a drinking problem who hates his superiors and his job. He begins to have empathy for the replicants as the film progresses, even falling in love with one - Rachael.  When Rachael saves his life, he tells her he owes her one. He won't retire her. But in the DIRECTOR'S CUT, director Scott adds a few things that suggest Deckard might be a replicant.  There's a brief scene where Deckard sits at a piano. The film cuts to a unicorn running in the forest - a Deckard memory? It makes no sense until the end when Gaff leaves the unicorn origami on Deckard's front door.  How does Gaff know about Deckard's memory?  Has he seen Deckard's file?  Is the memory an implant? The replicants are often shown with a weird light in their eyes.  In the DIRECTOR'S CUT, Deckard is shown with that glow in his eyes. I will always believe Deckard is human. A replicant hunting replicants doesn't have the emotional pull like a human hunting replicants (although the sequel flips that theory).


Ridley Scott's casting in BLADE RUNNER is so good.  Just as BLADE RUNNER was only Scott's third film, his cast are all fairly newcomers who would go on to nice careers because of BLADE RUNNER.  Harrison Ford who had toiled earlier in his career in small supporting roles like George Lucas's AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) and Francis Coppola's THE CONVERSATION (1974) was just becoming a breakout star from STAR WARS (1977) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Deckard is a futuristic gumshoe, a jaded knight wading through the rain and muck of 2019 Los
Angeles to terminate androids that have rebelled against their creator.  It's a grimmer, more restrained character than Ford's more recent swashbuckling roles. Sean Young as Rachael had just done STRIPES (1981). BLADE RUNNER was her third film when she got this important role as Deckard's artificially intelligent love interest. Young would be one of the It girls of the 80s starring in hits like Roger Donaldson's NO WAY OUT (1987) and Oliver Stone's WALL STREET (1987).

Like Young, Daryl Hannah was another fresh face in the 80s that Scott picked to play the punk replicant Pris. BLADE RUNNER was only her fourth credit.  Hannah's athletic and ballet abilities suit her perfectly for the role. Hannah would go on to success as a mermaid in Ron Howard's romantic comedy SPLASH (1984) and in Herbert Ross's STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989). Rounding out the main cast is Dutch actor Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, the leader of the mutinous replicants. With Billy Idol like spiky white hair and a childish, inquisitive delivery, Batty is captivating, alternating between wide eyed wonder and brutal retribution if his demands aren't met. BLADE RUNNER was one of Hauer's first English speaking films after appearing in numerous Dutch films like SOLDIER OF ORANGE (1977). Hauer could play both heroes and villains as American audiences would come to discover in films like Richard Donner's LADYHAWKE (1985) and Robert Harmon's THE HITCHER (1986).


Supporting characters are vital to BLADE RUNNER'S success.  Veteran character actor M. Emmett Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE) as Deckard's racist supervisor, Joe Turkel (THE SHINING) as the God-like Dr. Eldon Tyrell, William Sanderson (HBOs TRUE BLOOD) as the kindly genetic engineer J.F. Sebastian, and Edward James Olmos (STAND AND DELIVER) as the enigmatic, origami shaping cop Gaff all deliver memorable performances. Although BLADE RUNNER is great, it's not a perfect film. The finale is a bit dragged out with Batty chasing Deckard around the dilapidated Bradbury building. Scott seems more focused on style over content for the ending but oh what style he brings.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the creative production team that gave BLADE RUNNER it's memorable look and texture from special effects all the way to music.  Special Photographic Effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull was responsible for the awe inspiring visuals for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977).  But his work on BLADE RUNNER is truly ground breaking.  Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (ALTERED STATES) shoots BLADE RUNNER as neo-noir with swaths of light and dark mixed in with rain, mist, neon, and smoke. Syd Mead gets the credit as the visual futurist who had to imagine what 2019 might look like. He came up with Los Angeles as a cross between Tokyo, Seattle, and Detroit. Production Designer Lawrence G. Paull turned the Warner Bros back lot into the futuristic downtown Los Angeles. And composer Vangelis (CHARIOTS OF FIRE) created a melancholy, haunting synthesizer score (haunting) that evokes awe and sadness. Each artist delivers under the guiding hand of director Ridley Scott.


BLADE RUNNER 2049 brings the BLADE RUNNER story full circle. Directed by up and comer Denis Villanueva (just as Ridley Scott was up and coming back in 1982), the new film has the benefit of original screenwriter Hampton Fancher co-writing the screenplay this time with Michael Green. While BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a totally new story, Villanueva shows a reverence for the original BLADE RUNNER even bringing back Edward James Olmos (Gaff) and Sean Young (with some digital help) as Rachael to reprise their characters in small but vital scenes. Villanueva keeps the overall visual look of the original but builds from it as the story has jumped thirty years into the future.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 opens as the original did with a scrawl explaining to us that a global blackout occurred in 2022 sending the world into darkness. The Tyrell Corporation had collapsed but rising from its ashes sprung the Wallace Corporation, founded by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Wallace now produces replicants which have been incorporated into society still as slave labor (in BLADE RUNNER, replicants were banned from earth). But a replicant freedom movement exists made up of older models.  Blade Runner cop K (Ryan Gosling), himself a Nexus 9 replicant, hunts down these fugitive replicants and "retires" them.


K is sent outside of Los Angeles by his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) to retire a rogue Nexus 8 replicant farmer named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). After eliminating Sapper, K's drone makes an interesting discovery. A box buried beneath a dead tree next to Morton's farm.  Analysis of the box reveals the bones of a female replicant.  Even more stunning, the female replicant had died while giving birth to a child. Replicants were never designed to conceive.  A serial number is located on one of the bones. K is assigned by Joshi to find the child and destroy the evidence. The knowledge that replicants can procreate might plunge the world into chaos and lead to a war between humans and replicants.

K visits the Wallace Corporation where Wallace's emissary Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) escorts him to audio records from the Tyrell Corporation. K traces the serial number and DNA to Rachael, an advanced replicant from the Tyrell days, interviewed by former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been missing for the past thirty years. K's investigation leads him to suspect that he may be the child born from the replicant mother Rachael. Wallace wants the child found to learn the secret to replicant reproduction. He orders Luv to steal the bones and keep track of K's movements. K revisits Morton's farm. He finds a date etched on the dead tree that matches Rachael's death. The date also brings to surface a memory K had when he was a child. A toy wooden horse he once owned with the same date carved on it. K seeks solace with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), the perfect 3-dimensional Siri.


K's quest will takes him to devastated San Diego where he finds a warehouse full of orphaned children (did K grow up here?) ruled by Mister Cotton (Lennie James). K finds his toy wooden horse where he remembered hiding it as a child. K interviews Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a top designer in replicant memories who confirms K's memories are real. K has the wooden toy analyzed by Doc Badger (Barkhad Abdi) who finds traces of radiation in it. This clue sends K to the nuclear wasteland of Las Vegas where K finds the missing Rick Deckard. But Luv and her men follow K and kidnap Deckard.  Luv brings Deckard back to Wallace who threatens to torture Deckard if he doesn't reveal who the replicant child is. Deckard refuses. As Luv prepares to take Deckard off-world to be tortured, K intercepts her transport and fights to destroy Luv and keep Deckard and Deckard's child's secret safe.

The hook that makes BLADE RUNNER 2049 so interesting is the discovery that replicants can reproduce.  Like the artificially intelligent robots in the new HBO series WESTWORLD, BLADE RUNNER 2049 and the original have always been about the desire to be human. In Tyrell's mission to make replicants "more human than human" as he tells Deckard in BLADE RUNNER, the replicant Rachael has become virtually human with the discovery she gave birth to a child. Batty, Pris, or K, the replicants seek the same things humans do: love, memories, compassion, emotion. BLADE RUNNER 2049 gives us many more replicants. Even the Blade Runner unit that tracks and hunts down replicants uses replicants (like K) to do their work now. We even learn there's an underground replicant movement led by the mysterious Freysa (Hiam Abbass).


I still feel after watching BLADE RUNNER 2049 that Deckard is human. Yes, we learn that replicants can age and grow older but I don't believe Deckard was one of those models back in 2019.  I think the unicorn imagery was just a red herring that Ridley Scott threw out to tease audiences. Deckard could have had a real memory about a unicorn and it came up on his empathy test when he joined the Blade Runner unit. That's how Gaff knew about it. It's also more powerful that it was a human like Deckard who made a child with a replicant woman.

Sticking with the golden rule of sequels, if it's not broke don't change it, director Villanueva takes some of that adage to heart in BLADE RUNNER 2049.  Ryan Gosling's K like Ford's Deckard takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Broken bones, knife cuts, or gunshot wounds, Blade Runner cops are like punching bags but they bounce back. Both films have strong lethal female replicants (Pris in the original; Luv in the remake) that can inflict serious pain. Ironically, Rutger Hauer who played Batty in the original and Sylvia Hoeks who plays Luv in the sequel are both Dutch. Both films have replicant creators although Dr. Tyrell comes off a little more corporate while Wallace is played more sinister, hinting he may want to take over the world with his replicant army. Although Villanueva (with the help of cinematographer Roger Deakins and Production Designer Dennis Gassner) create some amazing visual set pieces (a nuclear orange Las Vegas, giant holographic human advertisements), BLADE RUNNER 2049 never quite captures Scott's gritty street atmosphere in BLADE RUNNER.


But BLADE RUNNER 2047 also does what sequels do, mixing things up the second time around so it's not exactly the same, going the opposite way in some choices.  In BLADE RUNNER, we had a human Blade Runner cop in Deckard.  BLADE RUNNER 2049 flips that as the cop K is a replicant himself.  The Blade Runner boss has changed gender for the sequel. K's boss is a woman; Deckard's superior was a man.  Deckard falls in love with the replicant Rachael in the original. K doesn't even have a real love interest in the sequel, human or replicant. K's girlfriend Joi is a holographic girlfriend that he can't physically hold or kiss although she's a perfect confidante and never argues.

Although we know Ryan Gosling is good at playing the strong, silent type (with that smoldering gaze) in films like DRIVE (2011) or GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), I think Brad Pitt (had he been younger) would have been perfect as K in BLADE RUNNER 2049.  Gosling is fine as K, giving him a slightly na├»ve quality as he unravels the mystery. I like Gosling's chemistry with Harrison Ford as Deckard. But I think Pitt is better at playing morally haunted characters. The filmmakers play up the appearance of Harrison Ford as Deckard.  Like Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in THE THIRD MAN (1948), we hear more about Deckard before finally setting eyes on our flawed hero from BLADE RUNNER in the last third of the film.  Ford gives the sequel cache. He's at the core of the mystery and he doesn't disappoint.


Villanueva casts some fresh faces to go along with familiar actors in BLADE RUNNER 2049.  Ana de Armas as K's 3-D girlfriend Joi, Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace's assistant and muscle Luv, and Mackenzie Davis (who reminds me of Daryl Hannah's Pris) as punk hooker Marietta are all compelling because we don't recognize these up and coming actresses.  Villanueva mixes them in with more recognizable actors.  Robin Wright as K's superior Joshi (or Madame as he calls her at times) continues her recent spate of roles as a tough chick (she recently played the Amazonian general Antiope in the 2017 version of WONDER WOMAN).  It's hard to believe the sweet Wright we remember from THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987) as a cold, ruthless police lieutenant. Jared Leto as the creepy replicant creator Niander Wallace finally finds a good role after winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) and following it up as the Joker in the dud SUICIDE SQUAD (2016). Even Dave Bautista who has exploded into stardom as Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films has a small but crucial role as replicant farmer Sapper Morton. It is the discovery at Sapper's farm that propels BLADE RUNNER 2049 forward.


It's always interesting to see a film set in the future and then when we reach that year, see how accurate the filmmakers were with their vision. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel) thought man would be exploring Jupiter in 2001.  That never happened but when 2001 came around we had been sending space probes to Mars and Venus that sent back photos (and Jupiter and Saturn since then).  Kubrick's film did have space stations circling earth and that came true. BLADE RUNNER promised us flying cars and vacations to Off World colonies in 2019.  We're only a couple of  years away but so far, we don't have flying cars (although a news story this week says they're coming). We have seen the advent of driverless cars. Science is drawing closer to artificial intelligence although we don't have it in the guise of human replicants, androids, or robots. But like K's holographic girlfriend Joi, we do have Siri and Alexa to do our bidding via voice command.  How accurate will BLADE RUNNER 2049 be?  Let's hope we don't have any global blackouts or nuclear ravaged cities.


I was surprised when BLADE RUNNER 2049 bombed at the box office.  It was critically well received and visually stunning to look at. It had an ambitious story that took the BLADE RUNNER saga in a fresh, daring direction.  But the filmmakers, the studio, and even this fifty two year old CrazyFilmGuy overlooked that the sequel is thirty five years after the first BLADE RUNNER.  So many young people probably had no idea what the new film was about let alone that it was a sequel. Maybe BLADE RUNNER 2049 needed to come out a few decades earlier when my generation remembered the original and hungered for more BLADE RUNNER.  But time is a funny thing. Just as BLADE RUNNER became more and more beloved as the years went by, BLADE RUNNER 2049 might just need the same thing.  Give it time.







Sunday, October 15, 2017

Christine (1983)

It was inevitable that the King of Horror fiction in the 1970s and 80s Stephen King and the King of Horror films in the 1970s and 80s John Carpenter would unite at some point for a film adaptation of one of King's novels. I was a huge fan of Stephen King and John Carpenter in high school. I had read most of King's early novels (check my book shelf) including Salem's Lot, The Shining, and The Stand. I loved Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982). Yet the one King novel that Carpenter would choose to direct was the one King novel that I snubbed and refused to read. The novel and then movie was CHRISTINE (1983).

You would think I would want to see a film named after my wife (even though I didn't know her at the time CHRISTINE was released). But I didn't (she spells her first name with a K by the way). Until recently, I was never into vintage cars. The Christine in CHRISTINE is not a woman but a 1957 Plymouth Fury. Lastly, the cast for CHRISTINE was not on my who's who of actors I had to race to a theater to see on the big screen. Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul.  All fine actors but unknowns that I wasn't aching to watch for 110 minutes.


Having now watched CHRISTINE a couple of times, it's a taut, atmospheric film by director John Carpenter.  Carpenter creates a sense of dread as CHRISTINE becomes more and more powerful. Themes and motifs emerged from CHRISTINE that appear in other Stephen King novels (and film adaptations). CHRISTINE provides us with another ugly duckling (like Sissy Spacek in the title role of 1976's CARRIE) who discovers a power that won't end well for them. King also introduces a new type of evil, not a hotel or a town, but an automobile with a mind and agenda of its own. My initially not wanting to see CHRISTINE as a teenager might have been prophetic as CHRISTINE would not be a box office hit.

CHRISTINE was adapted by Bill Phillips based on King's novel. The film opens with the origin of Christine. From George Thorogood's Bad to the Bone playing on the soundtrack, Carpenter tells us that Christine was a bad seed from the moment she came off the assembly line in Detroit in 1957. Her hood clamps down on a worker's hand, mangling his fingers. Later, a manager sits in the car, smoking a cigar, a butt falling on it's nice leather seat. He's found dead a few hours later, the Fury's radio playing "Not Fade Away" by Buddy Holly.  Jump ahead to 1979. Rockbridge High School football star Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell) picks up his nerdy best friend Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) as a new school year begins. Dennis and Arnie are an unlikely pair. School stud and school geek. But some things never change. In shop class, Arnie is terrorized by school bullies Buddy Reperton (William Ostrander), Moochie (Malcolm Danare), and Don Vandenberg (Stuart Charno) until Dennis comes to the rescue.


On their way home from school, Arnie sees an old piece of junk car sitting in a deserted lot. It's a 1958 Plymouth Fury. Arnie buys the car from the lot's owner George LeBay (Roberts Blossom). Against his mother Regina's (Christine Belford) wishes, Arnie keeps the car and takes it to Darnell's Do It Yourself Garage run by the cantankerous Will Darnell (Robert Prosky). Arnie sets about restoring the Plymouth. As the Plymouth undergoes a transformation from junk to cherry, Arnie begins to change. He's no longer the nerdy, unsure teenager. He becomes confident, dark, dangerous. He's taken on Christine's evil persona.

Arnie begins dating the new girl in high school Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul) to the surprise of jock Dennis.  Arnie and Leigh watch Dennis's football game, leaning on Christine.  Dennis is injured, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. Dennis begins to look into Arnie's metamorphosis which began as he refurbished Christine. Dennis revisits George LeBay and discovers that LeBay's brother and family all died inside Christine.  Arnie treats Christine like a girlfriend.  At a drive-in movie theater, Leigh almost chokes in the car.  Christine has become jealous of Arnie's friends like Dennis and Leigh.

Buddy, Moochie, and Don sneak into Darnell's garage one night and vandalize Christine.  Horribly disfigured, Christine supernaturally rebuilds herself on her own. Christine stalks the vandals, killing them one by one . A local police detective Rudolph Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton) begins investigating. He first looks into who vandalized Arnie's prized car but soon has to deal with the deaths of Buddy and his gang and the garage owner Darnell. Meanwhile, Dennis confides with Leigh that they need to destroy Christine to save Arnie.  They lure Christine and Arnie back to Darnell's garage for a final battle between car and Caterpillar tractor.


I imagine Stephen King (and possibly John Carpenter) may have been outcasts in high school, uncool to the regular crowd. King's stories often focus on underdogs and the disadvantaged that rise up to confront evil. Corey Haim in a wheelchair confronting a werewolf in his town in SILVER BULLET (1985). Little Danny Lloyd fighting off deranged Dad Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING (1980). The four young boys from STAND BY ME (1985) beating the bullies to see the dead teenager's body first. The Losers Club in IT (2017) battling Pennywise the Clown. But King also makes some of these cast offs and ugly ducklings have unique powers to deal with bullies and evil incarnate. They don't always handle their new found powers very well. Drew Barrymore using her telekinesis to start fires in FIRESTARTER (1984). Sissy Spacek in CARRIE destroying her entire high school and classmates with her vengeful telekinesis after they humiliate her one time too many. In CHRISTINE, it's Keith Gordon as Arnie transforming from geek to cool dude only he's possessed by the demonic Plymouth Fury he restored. Christine is overprotective. She's one jealous girlfriend. Arnie takes on Christine's persona, killing and maiming anyone who gets in their way.

King and Carpenter have both dealt with pure evil before in their works. In Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978), the killer Michael Myers is evil personified, seemingly indestructible. In THE THING, it's the alien stuck in the Arctic, hiding in various human host bodies, attempting to reach civilization and end the world. For King, we've seen evil living in a mountain hotel in THE SHINING or a vampire bringing horror to a small Maine town in SALEM'S LOT (1979).  In CHRISTINE, it's a classic 1958 Plymouth Fury that represents evil.  She becomes attached to her owner and hurts anyone that tries to come between her and Arnie.  Arnie starts out a nice, awkward teenager but becomes transformed into a brooding, angry dangerous person.  Arnie and Christine become one.


Stephen King's choice of car for CHRISTINE is a good one.  The Plymouth Fury, in a way, resembles a shark.  Big tail fins, teeth like grill, and twin headlights that flash on like big eyes.  The Fury is cherry red, almost like the color of blood.  If Satan had a hot car, it might be a '58 Plymouth Fury.  The console lights up with a creepy green glow, the supernatural life force of Christine. Carpenter makes the car like a predator especially when it's on the prowl, hunting the hoodlums that vandalized it.  Buddy's death is especially wicked, the flaming Plymouth following Buddy down the road like a wolf until it runs him over, Buddy's body roasted.

CHRISTINE is the perfect union of Stephen King and John Carpenter.  Besides both men ruling the horror genre, both King and Carpenter are big rock and roll fans. CHRISTINE has plenty of vintage rock and roll music in the film. King played in a rock and roll band made up of other writers.  Carpenter made the TV film ELVIS (1979) with Kurt Russell.  Christine pumps out classic 1950's Rock and Roll tunes to convey what she's thinking by the likes of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Dion & the Belmonts, and Little Richard.  Carpenter along with Alan Howarth composed the music for CHRISTINE. CHRISTINE returns Carpenter to suburbia where he scared the living daylights out of people with HALLOWEEN. Instead of scaring us with empty sidewalks and hedges that could hide a killer in HALLOWEEN, Carpenter gives us dark driveways and streets where CHRISTINE lurks.

We've talked about one type of hero in Stephen King stories.  The handicapped kid, the nerd, the overweight kid or the kid with asthma fighting evil.  But CHRISTINE gives us Dennis (John Stockwell), the typical hero. Good looking, ladies man, star athlete. Yet Dennis is to some degree a failed or flawed hero.  Early on, Dennis sticks up for Arnie in front of Buddy and his gang. But then Dennis suffers an injury during a football game (did Christine influence it by distracting Dennis?). He has to have crutches. He's handicapped in his ability to protect Arnie or Leigh. Arnie becomes the alpha male and Dennis the weak one. When he's called a hero by Detective Junkins, Dennis laments, "A real hero could have saved Arnie." It's a nice juxtaposition between weak Arnie and strong Dennis. They switch roles as the film progresses.


Stephen King has been intrigued by the idea of cars (and other vehicles) having a mind and soul of their own previously.  King wrote a short story called Trucks about a world where cars and trucks and all types of vehicles ruled mankind.  In his only directorial effort, King would write and direct a film version of the short story called MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) starring Emilio Estavez. The movie would be a flop. My hunch is CHRISTINE materialized from King's Trucks story but on a much smaller scale. The granddaddy and best movie of this sub-genre is still DUEL (1971), a TV movie directed by a young Steven Spielberg and written by horror/science fiction master Richard Matheson about a semi-truck menacing Dennis Weaver. One last bit of car trivia. CHRISTINE'S production team used 28 Plymouth Fury's for the film.

I honestly didn't want to see CHRISTINE earlier in my film watching career primarily because of the three leads.  They were mostly unknowns. I liked Keith Gordon in Brian DePalma's DRESSED TO KILL (1980) but like his character in that film and CHRISTINE, Gordon is more of a nerd than a matinee idol.  After watching CHRISTINE, I discovered that I thought John Stockwell who plays Dennis was John Pankow, an actor who I never really liked (even though he's in a film I like 1985's TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. directed by William Friedkin).  I found Pankow to be an irritating actor.  But Stockwell is actually very good in CHRISTINE. It turns out Stockwell also appeared in TOP GUN (1986) and would later become a director himself, directing INTO THE BLUE (2005) starring Paul Walker and Jessica Alba. For Alexandra Paul, CHRISTINE was one of her first films and it shows.  Her acting is hesitant and not very assured early on. She's supposed to be the new beautiful girl on campus but I didn't find her alluring until the end of the film when hair and makeup finally made her look stunning.  Paul would go on to star in TV's BAYWATCH from 1992 to 1997.


Making up for his young talent, Carpenter wisely casts two veteran actors in CHRISTINE who chew up their supporting roles.  Harry Dean Stanton (ALIEN, PARIS TEXAS) plays the small but vital role of Detective Junkins.   Junkins is one of the few positive adult role models in the film. Stanton worked with Carpenter on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  Robert Prosky (THE NATURAL) as Will Darnell has fun as the ornery garage owner who lets Arnie rebuild Christine in his facility. William Ostrander who plays the lead bully Buddy Repperton is terrifying but looks much too old to be in high school (he was 24 when the film was made).  But then we all went to high school with kids who looked older than their age, right?  Look for a young Kelly Preston (TWINS) in a small role as high school cheerleader Roseanne.

Stephen King was a hot commodity in the early 80s.  I began to stop reading his novels after Misery. King was branching out into new types of horror stories but I didn't find them as compelling. Like CHRISTINE, you can't keep a good horror storyteller down (although King never really went away). Today, Stephen King novels and short stories are popping up in the theaters and television like never before.  The blockbuster 2017 remake of IT, GERALD'S GAME on Netflix, and a new version of THE STAND in the works to name but a few. Some of King's adaptations have been hits like CARRIE or THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994). Others like CUJO (1983) or THE DARK TOWER (2017) flopped. CHRISTINE falls into that in-between category. Having John Carpenter direct CHRISTINE made the film more interesting than if someone else had directed it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

It was Christmas season and I was at my best friend's annual family Christmas party, the best Christmas party I've ever been to. We all got presents, the parents drank too much, and Santa Claus would make his yearly visit looking very much like my Dad's best friend Art.  But one year, I was more dazzled by what was on television than holiday gifts or egg nog or Santa Art.  DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) was on television and I couldn't pull myself away from it.  Sean Connery was back as James Bond, this time in Las Vegas, battling his nemesis Blofeld once again only it was a different actor playing Blofeld (Charles Gray instead of Donald Pleasence or Telly Savalas).  There were car chases and sexy assassins Bambi and Thumper and oh yes, the voluptuous red head Jill St. John. I was in double O seventh heaven.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is the swan song for Sean Connery in his last appearance in a Broccoli/Saltzman production of James Bond. Connery had appeared in five of the first six Bond films so far (George Lazenby stepping in as Bond for 1969's ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE). Most of DIAMONDS takes place in Las Vegas which seems like a perfect location for the gambling/womanizing Bond. It's directed by Guy Hamilton who directed GOLDFINGER (1964), probably the best Bond film to date. The screenplay is by Bond veteran Richard Maibaum and newcomer Tom Mankiewicz who would bring some fun and levity to the Bond series. And some of the best talent involved with the Bond series are along for the farewell including Production Designer Ken Adam, Cinematographer Ted Moore, Composer John Barry, and the great Shirley Bassey (GOLDFINGER) who sings the catchy "Diamonds Are Forever" theme song over the opening credits.


For the first three quarters of the film, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is a funny, action packed, globe trotting Bond film that I rank as one of my favorites. The finale is a bit of a let down, perhaps the filmmakers hands tied by the location (an oil platform off the coast of  Baja) and some lazy direction and staging. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER opens with James Bond (Sean Connery) chasing down leads on the whereabouts of his arch-nemesis Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Charles Gray). Bond finally tracks him down at a South American spa where Blofeld is attempting to make duplicates of himself. Bond disrupts the plot and supposedly kills Blofeld under a blanket of mud.  Back in London, Bond and M (Bernard Lee) meet with Sir Donald (Laurence Naismith) who is troubled by a rash of stolen diamonds in South Africa.  Instead of appearing on the black market, someone is stockpiling the diamonds. Even more distressing, everyone who touches the stolen diamonds ends up dead, courtesy of possibly cinema's first gay killers Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover).

Bond's pursuit of the diamonds takes him from Amsterdam where (posing as a diamond courier) he picks up the stolen gems from the beautiful Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) to Las Vegas where he's nearly cremated at the Mort Slumber mortuary after delivering the diamonds (only Bond brings fake stones as insurance for his life). Teaming up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Norman Burton, the 4th different actor to portray Leiter), Bond turns his attention to hotel and casino magnate Willard Whyte (singer and sausage spokesman Jimmy Dean), a Howard Hughes like millionaire who hasn't been seen in years.  Tiffany outfoxes the agents and gives the real diamonds to a confidant of Whyte, German scientist Dr. Metz (Joseph Furst). Bond follows Metz and the diamonds to one of Whyte's holdings, an aerospace company in the desert outside of Las Vegas.

Metz takes the diamonds to a lab to place on a satellite he's working on for Whyte.  After escaping through a mock Moon landing set, jumping into a moon rover, and chased by ATV's, Bond reports back to Felix his findings. When they return to the desert facility, it's empty.  Bond decides to pay a visit to the reclusive Willard Whyte catching a ride on top of  Whyte's private elevator to the top of his hotel where he supposedly resides. Inside, Bond discovers it's Blofeld who has hijacked Whyte's operations and impersonated Whyte (courtesy of a voice scrambler). Blofeld is behind the stolen diamonds and satellite. Blofeld still has another version of himself but Bond dispatches one of the Blofeld's leaving just one Blofeld remaining. After escaping yet another attempt by Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd to kill him, Bond and Felix raid Whyte's summer home  where they find the real Willard Whyte held hostage by Blofeld's female bodyguards Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks).

Blofeld sends Whyte's right hand man Bert Saxby (Bruce Cabot) to kill Whyte at his summer home but Saxby's shot instead.  Blofeld sends the satellite into space, the diamonds used as a laser to destroy military targets and even cities unless his global extortion demands are met. Bond and Whyte return to the Whyte House (Whyte's hotel) to figure out Blofeld's whereabouts. When Bond mentions Baja, Whyte exclaims, "Baja! I haven't got anything in Baja!" Cut to an oil platform off the Baja coast where Bond parachutes in to defeat Blofeld and save Tiffany while Felix and several U.S. Army helicopters fire missiles to destroy the control center that operates the diamond laser satellite.


So what is it about DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER that captured the imagination of a young CrazyFilmGuy and kept him from participating at his favorite Christmas party? DIAMONDS has a fun, breezy vibe to it, moving from set piece to set piece, location to location at a good clip, not taking too long to unfold plot like THUNDERBALL (1965). It's very much in the same style as director Hamilton's previous Bond outing, the fantastic GOLDFINGER. The film has a nice helping of cleavage and fascinating characters one would expect to find in Las Vegas.  Although DIAMONDS is full of fights, chases, and explosions, it's the dialogue, puns, inside jokes, double entendres and sexual innuendos that might be the best in the series. We know we're in for a good time from the beginning when a bad guy at a blackjack table tells the dealer "Hit me" and Bond gives him a right cross to the face.

We have a great opening prologue in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER that could serve as the finale for any Bond film with Bond supposedly dispatching Blofeld in a bubbling mud pool. But it's only a tease. We've got  two excellent Bond vehicle chases. First, we have Bond hopping into a moon buggy and chased by three ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) out in the desert. Then, there's Bond and Tiffany racing a Mustang like Steve McQueen around downtown Vegas, chased by the local redneck cops (shades of LIVE AND LET DIE'S Clifton James to come) with Bond flipping the Mustang up on its side to escape through a narrow alley. DIAMONDS is the beginning of some great practical vehicle chases in Bond films after too many rear projection chases in the older films.


Assassins and killers also come in two's in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. We have the gay, odd assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd who dispatch dentists and little old ladies with aplomb and wit. Wint and Kidd are like a murderous married couple. They will get their comeuppance on a cruise ship in a perfect ending to the film. Then, we have Go-Go girl killers Bambi and Thumper. These acrobatic hit women nearly kill Bond in their bikinis and short shorts as they hold Willard Whyte hostage. DIAMONDS reminds us that women are just as lethal as men in the world of James Bond.

Screenwriters Maibaum and Mankiewicz make DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER one of the more humorous Bond films in the series. The double entendres and inside jokes are fast and furious. When Tiffany asks Bond if he prefers blondes or brunettes, Bond remarks, "As long as the collar and cuffs match." Don't worry. I had to ask someone what it meant as well but the answer will make you chuckle. Later, when Bond hides the diamonds on the body of the dead courier at Customs, CIA agent Felix Leiter can't find them until Bond makes a crack about family jewels. I believe new writer Tom Mankiewicz brought a lot of these jokes to the film. He would continue the one liners and sexual innuendos when Roger Moore took over the Bond role. Mankiewicz would also write LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974).

The filmmakers also have fun with an enigmatic legend of Las Vegas and a conspiracy theory.
Reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes (HH) lived in Las Vegas, owned hotels, casinos, and aerospace companies, and stayed out of the limelight later in life. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER gives us millionaire hotel, casino, and aerospace magnate Willard Whyte (WW) played by Jimmy Dean who we hear about through most of the film but never see until toward the end.  We're led to believe the enigmatic Whyte may be up to no good. But his allusive nature stems from a more sinister reason.

Around the late 60s and early 70s, conspiracy theorists postulated that NASA and the government faked the moon landing, filming it instead on a television sound stage possibly by director Stanley Kubrick. This has never been proven . DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER has fun with this conspiracy at Whyte's aerospace facility. When Bond is discovered to be snooping around, he's chased by security guards. Bond stumbles across a soundstage where two astronauts are walking around a moon set. Bond almost does a double take before jumping into the moon rover to escape. It's a funny bit.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is a nice nostalgic viewfinder of Las Vegas circa 1970s. The car chase around the night time streets and casinos of Main Street was the main strip.  Now it's known as the old section of Las Vegas circa 2017. Hotels that appear in DIAMONDS like Circus Circus, the Mint, and the Tropicana no longer exist, torn down by demolition and expansion. In their place have risen modern hotels and casinos like the Wynn or the Monte Carlo. My first visit to Las Vegas in the early 80s, I specifically went into Circus Circus because I had seen it in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Sadly, neither James Bond nor Tiffany Case were anywhere in sight.


The Bond films have always had inspired casting from Miss Universe beauty queens such as Daniela Bianchi (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) to former wrestlers like Harold Sakata in GOLDFINGER. With the series making its most significant foray into the United States, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER has some of its most eclectic casting. Who would have imagined country western singer and sausage spokesman Jimmy Dean as the seemingly reclusive millionaire Willard Whyte? But it works. Jill St. John as Tiffany Case makes the jump from B movies like THE LOST WORLD (1960) to the first American actress to play a Bond girl. St. John is flirty and has good chemistry with Connery. The supporting Bond girl Lana Wood who plays Plenty O'Toole in DIAMONDS has an interesting six degrees of separation with St. John. Lana's sister was actress Natalie Wood. When Natalie Wood drowned off Catalina Island in 1981, she was married to actor Robert Wagner (PRINCE VALIANT). Wagner would later remarry...to Jill St. John, making St. John and Lana Wood sisters-in-law (which would not go well).

Some familiar faces from the golden age of cinema also appear in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Bruce Cabot who would battle King Kong for Fay Wray in KING KONG (1933) plays Whyte's traitorous lieutenant Bert Saxby.  And film noir veteran Marc Lawrence (THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) appears as one of Blofeld's henchmen.  Even Las Vegas comedian Leonard Barr makes a brief cameo as Shady Tree, another colorful Vegas performer working for Blofeld. Look for actress Valerie Perrine (LENNY) as one of the showgirls standing next to Shady Tree during his opening act.

This would be Sean  Connery's last go around as James Bond in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (unless you count his return as Bond in Irvin Kershner's 1982 NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, a remake of THUNDERBALL). James Bond would make Sean Connery an international movie star. Connery would define the James Bond role. He would make white dinner jackets, martinis shaken not stirred, and Aston Martins forever popular. In my opinion, he will always be the best 007. Connery gives his best for his final performance in a Broccoli/Saltzman Bond production, tongue firmly in cheek. Connery would continue to have a fantastic career appearing in hit films like John Huston's THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975) and Brian DePalma's THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) in which Connery would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

I had raved how great Donald Pleasence was as Blofeld in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) but I have a soft spot for Charles Gray's take as Blofeld in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Pleasence's Blofeld was more cold and sinister with that vertical scar across his eye. Gray's Blofeld is a bit more cuddly, white haired and urbane, with a better sense of humor and irony (again I feel writer Mankiewicz's hand involved). Because of the whole plastic surgery subplot, Blofeld can look different in DIAMONDS. He doesn't have the bald dome or scar (Sam Mendes' SPECTRE would reveal how Blofeld received that scar). If DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER had come out a few years later, Blofeld could have just cloned himself instead of creating surgically altered doubles. Charles Gray also appeared in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE as Henderson, a British agent over in Japan. It was a very brief appearance i.e. he's killed quite quickly. Gray's Blofeld is a memorable role and one of the main reasons I love DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.
As enjoyable as DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is for three quarters of the film, the climactic siege of Blofeld's oil platform is a let down of epic proportions.  YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE had huge explosions and somersaulting stunt men. DIAMONDS has poorly choreographed action and stunts.  Blofeld's security is as lax as his tongue when Bond parachutes onto the platform. Blofeld is overly confident and pretty much lets Bond sabotage his master plan. It's a bad lapse in judgment by the filmmakers.  They redeem themselves with one final scene as Bond sniffs out (literally) the deadly team of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd on his cruise with Tiffany, disposing of the gay assassins.

Although the final climactic battle is weak, the majority of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is the perfect film to wrap up Sean Connery's portrayal as British agent James Bond. After countless fights with assassins like Red Grant and Oddjob, numerous confrontations with arch villains like Dr. No and Ernst Stavros Blofeld, and endless romantic encounters with the likes of Honey Ryder, Pussy Galore, and Tiffany Case, it was time for Connery to move on with the next stage of his career and hand over the reins to the Bond series to the next James Bond -- Roger Moore. I wonder if SPECTRE sent Connery any balloons or a singing telegram or a cake to bid their sworn enemy goodbye.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

I loved Ray Bradbury short stories growing up but I was kind of a snob about the great science fiction writer's novels.  I loved Bradbury's short stories like The Sound of Thunder, Marionettes Inc, or The Green Veldt. But his novels like Something This Wicked Way Comes or Fahrenheit 451 did not catch my imagination like his short stories.  Maybe it was the publisher's fault for not being more creative with its jacket cover description of Bradbury's novels.  More likely, I just wasn't mature enough to grasp the significance or power of Bradbury's longer stories. I did like Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles but that was more a collection of stories about man's colonizing the red planet than a straight narrative.

A few years ago, a former co-worker of mine Jeff was reading Fahrenheit 451 on his break. He raved about how even 64 years since it was published, the book was as relevant today as back then. We had a copy in our library at home, my wife's father's copy.  I decided to finally give it a try and read it.  It wasn't quite the book I was expecting.  It was set in the future but not an entirely far away future. There were no space ships or robots (except for the Mechanical Hound). But the hook that sticks in your mind is that firemen no longer put out fires.  Firemen burn books. The written word is forbidden. Books are dangerous to read. That is the terrifying future of Fahrenheit 451.


I would have expected the film version of FAHRENHEIT 451 to have been made in the United States by an American director, maybe John Frankenheimer or Arthur Penn or Sidney Lumet. The turbulent 60s seemed like a perfect time for FAHRENHEIT 451 in America. Surprisingly, it would be French New Wave director Francois Truffaut (THE 400 BLOWS) who would not only co-author the screen play with Jean-Louis Richard but also direct his first and only English speaking film about this dystopian world. Although the film never explains where it's located, Truffaut would film in England with a mostly English cast except for Austrian actor Oskar Werner in the lead. Although considered Science Fiction, there's very little to differentiate from the present save for the stormtrooper like firemen, the same omniscient television host on everyone's flat screen television, and the repressive society that fears individualism. There is no appearance by the Mechanical Hound. Truffaut lets the audience know right away in FAHRENHEIT 451 that the written word is taboo. The opening credits are spoken to us by an unseen narrator instead of appearing superimposed on the screen.

The title FAHRENHEIT 451 refers to the temperature fire needs to reach to burn a paper book. In the world of FAHRENHEIT 451, books are banned.  Books are forbidden to be read let alone owned.  Books give people ideas which in this oppressive society is a crime. Firemen are sent to suspected violators homes to confiscate the books and burn them. The firemen carry flamethrowers instead of firehoses.  Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) is one such firemen. On his way home on the monorail from a book burning, he meets his inquisitive neighbor Clarisse (Julie Christie), a schoolteacher who questions why he burns books. Montage responds it's the law but her question begins to nag at him.

Montag arrives at home to find his wife Linda (also Julie Christie) watching an interactive television program where a TV host (Gillian Lewis) drones on. Casting Christie as both Montag's neighbor and wife fits in with this world of conformity. Same haircuts, same houses, be equal, no individualism. When Montag and his crew led by Captain Beatty (Cyril Cusack) confiscate and burn more books, Montag sneaks one book back home with him.  At night, he reads Charles Dickens David Copperfield.


Montag skips work one day to spend time with Clarisse who doesn't seem to conform like everyone else. Montag's suspicious co-worker Fabian (Anton Diffring) sees Montag playing hooky.  Clarisse takes Montag to a house owned by the Book Woman (Bee Duffell) filled with hundreds of books. Moved by the Book Woman, Montag returns home, interrupting a party Linda is having with her girlfriends. He reads to them from a book, upsetting Linda and her friends.  Montag's fire brigade is sent to the Book Woman's house. Captain Beatty orders her book collection and house to be burned to the ground. But the Book Woman refuses to leave.  She stubbornly stays and goes up in flames with her hundreds of books, an event that upsets Montag, changing him forever.

Beatty and Fabian become suspicious of Montag. At night, Montag hears sirens next door.  His neighbor Clarisse disappears along with the other inhabitants of her house. Montag breaks into Beatty's office to find out what happened to Clarisse.  He reunites with Clarisse who tells him that outside the city is an underground group known as "the Book People."  If he ever wants to join them, he needs to follow the river out of the city.  Montag decides to resign but Captain Beatty takes  him on one last raid, this time to Montag's house.  As Beatty lectures Montag on hiding books and urges him to burn them, Montag turns the flamethrower on Beatty and the other firemen.  Montag flees the city, arriving in the woods where the Book People including Clarisse are memorizing entire books so that they live on -- Jane Austen, Plato, Machiavelli, even Ray Bradbury. Montag joins them choosing to memorize Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

At first glance, FAHRENHEIT 451 feels like Truffaut got it all wrong. It feels like it should be an American film, set in the Midwest (Bradbury was born in Illinois). It should have American actors, not English and German ones. But about a quarter through the movie, FAHRENHEIT begins to feel right. It's a universal story. FAHRENHEIT 451 could happen anywhere in the world. Book burning did happen in Nazi Germany. Libraries in the U.S. South banned certain books. Truffaut, as we know, was a lover of films but he's a lover of books, of the written word too. Who better to make this futuristic cautionary tale than Truffaut? Truffaut makes sure we see the classics torched: Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer; Danie Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, William Shakespeare's Othello to name a few. Truffaut even wickedly shows Hitler's Mein Kampf and the French movie magazine Cahier du Cinema which he used to write for go up in flames.


For his first color film, Truffaut uses color very effectively in FAHRENHEIT 451. Red represents fire. The fire station and fire truck are crimson red, almost like blood. But red shows up prominently throughout the film. Cars, doors, kiosks all painted in a garish red. Red equates to the burning of books. Hundreds of books are burned by the firemen's flamethrowers. Black is another significant color, signifying evil. There's no mistaking the parallel between the firemen in FAHRENHEIT 451 with their black uniforms and boots and the Nazis in the 1930s.  Montag even makes a Nazi like salute to his superior Beatty. Is it a coincidence that Austrian actor Oskar Werner and German actor Anton Diffring are both cast as book burning firemen (English actor Terrence Stamp was originally going to play Montag but backed out at the last minute)?

It should not come as a surprise the influence of Hitchcock on Truffaut's visual style and other choices for FAHRENHEIT 451.  Truffaut was a huge admirer of Hitchcock and had done an extensive interview (which became a 1967 book) with Hitchcock prior to Truffaut filming FAHRENHEIT 451. Truffaut has several long tracking shots and a zoom in, dolly back shot that echo Hitchcock's work in VERTIGO (1958). The biggest nod to Hitchcock is Truffaut's decision to have composer Bernard Herrmann compose the score for FAHRENHEIT 451.  Herrmann had written some of Hitchcock's best music in films like VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), and PSYCHO (1960).  Hermann's score for FAHRENHEIT 451 is haunting and melancholy, different than anything he did for Hitchcock, with some notes that harken to the TV show THE TWILIGHT ZONE which Herrmann also worked on. As much as I like Herrmann's scores for Hitchcock, I rank his score for FAHRENHEIT 451 as one of his best. Hermann would score one more film for Francois Truffaut, the 1967 Hitchcock like thriller THE BRIDE WORE BLACK.


For his first and last English speaking film, Truffaut surrounded himself with excellent technicians.  Besides composer Bernard Herrmann, FAHRENHEIT 451 is photographed by Nicolas Roeg who would go on to become an acclaimed director himself with the psychological thriller DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland and the Sci-Fi THE MAN WHO FELL FROM EARTH (1976) with David Bowie. Roeg gives the film a slightly off kilter feel that fits with FAHRENHEIT 451 society. The film's finale, shot during an unexpected snowfall in England, with the Book People wandering through a forest memorizing books is pure poetry thanks to Roeg.  FAHRENHEIT 451 would be editor Thom Noble's first credit but he would go on to work with directors Ridley Scott, Peter Weir, and John Milius.

Films are difficult to get made. Truffaut's persistence and patience to make FAHRENHEIT 451 is nothing short of incredible. To start with, Truffaut was a French speaking director working with an entirely English speaking cast and crew. Truffaut barely spoke English (although he did have an interpreter with him). Truffaut's first choice to play Montag was Terrence Stamp (who would have been brilliant). But Stamp pulled out of the film at the last moment when he learned Julie Christie would have two roles in the film (ironically, Stamp and Christie would act together the following year in 1967 in John Schlesinger's FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD one would presume because Christie had just one role). Truffaut would then choose Austrian actor Oskar Werner to play Montag. Truffaut and Werner had worked well together in Truffaut's 1962 film JULES AND JIM.


But Werner's ego had exploded since JULES AND JIM. He considered himself a big star now. He didn't want to listen to Truffaut the second time around for FAHRENHEIT 451. The director and actor butted heads throughout the film. Werner even tried to sabotage the film in the finale when he got an entirely different haircut then what he wore for most of the film (it's not that noticeable). Yet through it all, Truffaut persevered and created a profound adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel that may be more appreciated today then when it was released in 1966. FAHRENHEIT 451 is not only Truffaut's only English speaking film but also his only Science Fiction film. Truffaut would act in a Science Fiction film when he appeared eleven years later in Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), a far different film than FAHRENHEIT 451.

We've seen that history often repeats itself but one hopes that the Nazis burning books will never repeat itself again. FAHRENHEIT 451 should be recommended viewing, a cautionary reminder. FAHRENHEIT 451 is not a perfect film but French director Francois Truffaut gives the story all the benefits of his original and eclectic vision, using color and visual effects to great effect.  For if society ever does decide to ban books and the written word again, then CrazyFilmGuy could no longer (THIS BLOG HAS BEEN BANNED. PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTER. THANK YOU.)







Sunday, July 30, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

I can remember it like it was yesterday. A film about UFOs visiting earth called CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) had been released and I wanted to see it. I was a believer in Unidentified Flying Objects back in 1977. My Poppa (grandfather) was visiting from Bend, Oregon with my Nanna (grandmother). Poppa offered to go to the movie with me. I sat through the film filled with wonder, loving the story and special effects. When the film was over, my Poppa and I walked out into the afternoon sunshine. He turned to me and said, "What was that all about?"

Close Encounters of the First Kind is a sighting. Close Encounters of the Second Kind is evidence. Closer Encounters of the Third Kind is contact. The film CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND was my first encounter with a young wunderkind director named Steven Spielberg.  I had tried to see Spielberg's previous work JAWS (1975) as I have chronicled before but my parents would have none of that. But they had no issue allowing me to see a film about man's first contact with extraterrestials. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS had such a profound affect on me that when my family and I moved back to Oregon from Massachusetts in 1996, I made us detour to the northeast Wyoming landmark Devil's Tower (featured prominently in CETK) to see where the spaceships landed. I saw no government base but plenty of ground squirrels and cows.


Spielberg's early films like JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND exhibited his promising technical prowess. But they were also very grounded and organic, showing a deep understanding of the family unit warts and all. His early heroes like Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) in JAWS, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), and Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS are funny, sort of brave, and vulnerable in the face of man eating sharks, head hunters, or huge spaceships. They're all adults grappling with their inner child.

I'm going to focus on the original, theatrical version of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the version I saw with my grandfather in the theater and the definitive version.  Columbia Pictures and Spielberg would release two other versions. CETK: SPECIAL EDITION altered or deleted a few scenes and took the audience into the Mothership. My favorite addition was the UFO trackers finding the giant freighter Cotopaxi in the Gobi Desert that vanished en route from Charleston, South Carolina to Cuba in 1925. Then, Columbia released a DIRECTOR'S CUT that put back most of the original version and kept some of the Special Edition scenes, proving the original is probably the best version.


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND begins with a trademark opening from writer/director Steven Spielberg that would become his signature. It's mysterious, breathtaking, and sets the tone for the rest of the film. A group of scientists led by Claude Lacombe (French director Francois Truffaut) and his interpreter/cartographer David Laughlin (Bob Balaban) arrive in the Sonoran desert of Mexico to find eight pristine World War II fighter planes known as Flight 19. The planes disappeared on a training mission off the Florida coast in 1945. So why are they in the Mexican desert three decades later? This is a close encounter of the second kind. Evidence. A close encounter of the first kind (sighting) occurs when a commercial airliner reports encountering a UFO over Indiana. The pilots decline to register the sighting.

In Muncie, Indiana, strange lights visit the farmhouse of Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her son Barry (Cary Guffey). Electronic toys turn on by themselves. Barry runs off, chased by his mother. Across Indiana, the power grid ebbs and flows. Line man Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is sent out to investigate a power outage in one of the counties. Roy has an alien encounter at a railroad crossing. He follows the lights to a ridge where he, Jillian, and many others watch three spacecraft fly by and disappear into the night skies. Roy tries to explain to his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) what he saw but she's skeptical. This UFO encounter begins to affect him.


Roy and Jillian begin seeing a shape that means something to them. In shaving cream or mashed potatoes, Roy keeps trying to make a mountain, an image left with him from his brief alien probe (if they had Google back in 1977 he would have found that image in seconds). Lacombe and his team travel to India where a village had an encounter with visitors from the sky, singing the same musical motif over and over again. Lacombe and Laughlin figure out the notes are actually map coordinates. The aliens are signaling they wish to make contact in northeast Wyoming.

The UFOs return to Indiana and steal little Barry away from his mother Jillian. Jillian goes to the government about her kidnapped son. At a press conference, the Air Force debunks the UFO theories while the government creates a fake railroad car disaster to block off Devil's Tower where the UFOs plan to land. Roy sees the news footage of Devil's Tower and realizes that's the image he's been seeing in his mind. Roy leaves his family and drives to Wyoming where he meets up with Jillian again. They manage to escape Lacombe and General "Wild Bill" Walsh (Warren J. Kemmerling) and climb close to Devil's Tower to view the first contact between extraterrestials and humans. The giant mothership arrives, unloading dozens of people "kidnapped" by the aliens including the WWII pilots of Flight 19 and little Barry. Lacombe offers Roy the chance to be one of the first humans to return with the aliens to their planet.


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND was only Spielberg's third feature film (he had directed episodes of TVs NIGHT GALLERY and the well received 1971 TV movie DUEL). It's a film filled with exuberance and bravura as the youthful Spielberg continues to find his cinematic footing. It's not a perfect film. The middle section with Roy's breakdown as he tries to make sense of the mountain image in his head runs a little long (hence the deletion of much of that sequence in the SPECIAL EDITION version). But it's Spielberg realizing that story is as important special effects. We need to be totally on board to Roy's almost breakdown (hence the return of the full scene in the Director's Cut).

Whether the aliens are good or evil in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND is kept a secret for most of the film, Spielberg keeping his audience in suspense. At times, they seem playful and curious.  But when they return and kidnap little Barry, we're not sure what they're intentions are, John Williams score terrifying and frightening. Probe? Autopsy? Child slavery? Luckily, CLOSER ENCOUNTERS is about the wonder of making contact with beings from another world, uniting and exploring for a common good.  Barry will be reunited with his mother Jillian, none the worse for wear. Visual Effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) brings Spielberg's vision to reality with spaceships we've never seen before.

Speilberg draws influence from some old masters in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND as well as hints at future films he will make.  The overlapping dialogue of the air traffic controllers has the feel of dialogue in a Robert Altman movie like MASH (1970).  Roy and Jillian's escape toward Devil's Tower (a National Monument) reminds me of Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint in Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) as they stumbled around Mt. Rushmore. Even John Williams's score during that scene hearkens to Hitchcock's favorite composer Bernard Herrmann.  And Spielberg gets to stage a huge scene at a train station a la David Lean (DR. ZHIVAGO) with thousands of extras as Roy and Jillian reunite in Wyoming.


Spielberg would revisit extraterrestials and humans co-mingling on a smaller, more intimate scale with his E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTIAL in 1982.  Later, an older more cynical Spielberg would remake H.G. Welles tale of bad aliens wreaking destruction on earth in WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005). The scenes of toy monkeys, vacuum cleaners, and other electronic gadgets turning on by themselves (with help from the aliens) in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is a harbinger of some similar set pieces in the Spielberg produced ghost story POLTERGEIST (also 1982) directed by Tobe Hooper (with some uncredited direction by Spielberg himself) especially the clown sequence and some other mischief by the angry poltergeists.

Disney's PINOCHHIO shows up several times in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Roy's toy train crashes into a Pinocchio toy early in the film. Later, Roy wants to take his kids to see PINOCCHIO (1940)instead of playing Goofy Golf. Roy and Spielberg are still boys like Pinocchio who are not ready to be men just yet. Composer John Williams will even insert a small riff of 'When You Wish Upon A Star' from PINOCCHIO  as the scientists gaze at the Mothership which itself resembles a colorful, twinkling star.


Richard Dreyfuss catapulted to fame with Spielberg's JAWS but CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND further established him as a rising star.  He exudes awe and astonishment as Roy Neary but also sorrow and pain when his wife and kids leave him. Dreyfuss would have a great run winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in Herbert Ross's THE GOODBYE GIRL (also 1977) and starring in the successful STAKEOUT films with Emilio Estavez in the late 80s/early 90s.

I don't know if it was a Hitchcock blonde thing but Spielberg cast blondes at the beginning of his career. Goldie Hawn in THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974), Lorraine Gary in JAWS, and later Dee Wallace in E.T. THE EXRATERRESTIAL. For CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND he went with two blondes. Melinda Dillon as Jillian and Teri Garr as Roy's wife Ronnie Neary.  Dillon and Garr were sought after actresses at the time.  Dillon appeared in SLAP SHOT (also 1977) and ABSENCE OF MALICE (1981) both with Paul Newman. Dillon will forever be remembered as Ralphie's Mother in Bob Clark's A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). Garr showed her comedic talents in Mel  Brooks YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) and played the jilted girlfriend of Dustin Hoffman in Sydney Pollack's TOOTSIE (1982). In CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, Garr has a more dramatic part, trying to hold her family together as her husband Roy appears to be losing his mind.


What inspiration by Spielberg who was leading this American New Wave movement of young American directors (like Coppola and Scorsese) in the 70s to cast one of the leaders of the French New Wave film movement of the 60's director Francois Truffaut as research scientist Claude Lacombe. Lacombe is as child-like as Roy in his search for the truth as he crosses the globe following the extraterrestials path and signs. Like Truffaut, Spielberg shows great skill for directing children whether it's Cary Guffey as little Barry in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND or Henry Thomas in E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTIAL or young Christian Bale in EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987).

Spielberg also shows a knack for casting actors who look like nerdy scientists and government officials. Bob Balaban as Lacombe's interpreter Laughlin, J. Patrick McNamara as the Project Leader, and Merrill Connally as the Team Leader are all uniformly square looking and perfect.  And look for familiar faces Lance Henricksen (ALIENS) and Carl Weathers (ROCKY) in small roles in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.


After hits like JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the world was Spielberg's oyster.  But as often happens when success comes quickly (see Michael Cimino), Spielberg would hit a bump in the road in 1979 with his next project, the over budget, very loud, out of control World War II comedy 1941 about an imagined Japanese attack on the west coast of the United States. It would be a bomb and nearly sink Spielberg.  But George Lucas would step in and hire Spielberg to direct an idea he had based on the adventure serials he loved as a kid called RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). Spielberg would learn from Lucas how to be economical and practical and stay on budget and the rest is history.Spielberg would never look back and go on an incredible run of blockbuster hits.

When I decided to review CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, I had no idea that this would be its 40th Anniversary in 2017.  As I said at the beginning, it seems just like yesterday that I went to watch it with my grandfather.  Like STAR WARS (1977), CLOSE ENCOUNTERS was another joyous film watching experience for me.  Watching it again, that feeling hasn't changed.  I guess the only that that has changed is my belief in UFOs.  With all our camera phones and dashboard cameras and Go-Pros, no one has been able to capture a credible photo of a flying saucer or large bulbous-headed alien. I want to believe there is life out there. And filmmakers want to believe it too.  More recent films like INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) and ARRIVAL (2016) were inspired by CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and continue our fascination with the possibility of alien life.  The working title for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND was WATCH THE SKIES. I guess all we can do is continue to watch the skies. And wish upon a star that someday we will meet visitors from another planet or galaxy.