It’s back! More tales from my blu ray player. Expect some more articles very soon with this series as I get my Netflix queue whittled down.
THE MUMMY (1999)– I wonder if someday the kind of early CGI exemplified by Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy will be viewed the same way we look at stop motion/optical effects today. Barely 15 years old, the difference between it and newer films is utterly staggering. I remember people being dumbfounded by the digital work upon release. Now it is laughable at best. But is that necessarily a bad thing? One of the reasons I am a big fan of the sequel, The Mummy Returns, is because the effects aren’t perfect. I think the imperfections add to the goofy, playful nature of The Mummy’s Saturday matinee throwback nature. (I’ll elaborate on the differences between the first film and the sequel when I talk about it in these very pages, which I’m sure will happen soon.)
I love Ray Harryhausen’s work despite it being far from realistic. Is it really far fetched to believe that there will be people that develop an affinity for the kind of imperfect but then cutting-edge effects that littered the multiplex 10-20 years ago in the same way? I say no. There has long been a big anti-digital chip on the shoulders of many film fanatics. It’s hard for me not to sympathize with them because of my wailing and gnashing over the death of hand-drawn feature animation, but I don’t really count myself among them. Many of these purists are my age because they grew up with the last batch of blockbuster pre-CGI effects films in the 80s. Most of them are older. But the generation of film zealots after mine shouldn’t have that issue. Just as they never lived in a world without the internet, they never had movies without ILM weaving computer magic. I think they’ll be able to appreciate the effects of The Mummy, The Frighteners and The Mask the way I appreciate King Kong, The Bride of Frankenstein or the original Godzilla (pre-googly eyes.)
I hadn’t seen the first or second film in quite some time so I went ahead and ordered the box set on blu ray. For some reason I think I recall that they were some of Universal’s first releases in the format? The first one at least still looks pretty good despite its limitations. The ‘real’ stuff in film, like the actors, have a great level of detail as one would expect from a title created since the advent of digital home media. But the CG elements, especially backgrounds, are often blurry and not as sharp. I’m almost certain this is not a problem with the transfer, but a simple issue of the source material and the fact that the effects weren’t as well realized. Perhaps even on purpose in order to help mask them. Whatever the case, it doesn’t hurt the film which remains one of the best pure adventure yarns in recent memory, in my opinion. This is the kind of “remake” I can deal with. Rather than attempt to film a pitiful, cash-grabbing shadow of the 1932 Karloff vehicle, which let’s be honest isn’t scary at all, but is a classic nonetheless, Sommers and Universal took the film in a completely different direction. There are a few bare bones similarities. Both have an eponymous mummy named Imhotep and both involve a lost, forbidden love, but the similarities largely end there. It does not ride the coattails (or bandages rather) of the original film. It is a rip-snorting Indiana Jones style period piece full of colorful characters, humor and action. It’s also probably Brendan Fraser’s best role outside of George of the Jungle. Combined with Rachel Weisz’s underrated balancing act as the librarian that is competent enough that it doesn’t feel obligatory when she becomes the damsel in distress and John Hannah as the slightly weasely comic relief and you’ve got a really fun cast.
I actually showed my brother’s kids the movie when I went home last weekend and it didn’t go so well though. Now before anyone gets upset with me, keep in mind that these are kids I’ve seen watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. You know, bugs, chilled monkey brains, hearts being ripped out? I really thought they’d be okay with something as innocuous as a cartoony CGI mummy, but they only got about a third of the way through. We didn’t even get to the opening of the sarcophagus. And when they got home it seems all they could talk about were bugs that eat people, despite the fact that I stopped it and put on the Batman movie with Adam West. Sorry about that. So lesson for me, don’t let them pick their own movie and if they say they like it when things are a little scary, don’t necessarily believe them. Maybe if I’d shown them the second one instead…
ZATOICHI CHALLENGED- Zatoichi Challenged puts a new twist on an old story that they’ve already done in saddling him with a child, by making it a toddler rather than a baby that he escorts. (He’s become a father figure to other kids before, but this is only the second time he’s taken responsibility for one to deliver it to a family member.) It also varies in how that story ends, being much more pleasant than the previous family’s reactions.
Most importantly, it features a new storyline, just varied enough to make up for the parts that seem redundant. Inchi still is going up against gangsters and politicians, but he’s also not just trying to stop them or protect common folk from them, but help someone flee after being caught up between them and a myopic official trying to wash crime away with blood, leaving him literally trapped due to a single mistake that they can’t escape from.
As often is the case with these films, the ending is the best part, with Ichi facing off against a samurai obsessed with honor in the wake of becoming a ronin. Not only does he present a valid threat from which Ichi actually has a prolonged battle (rather than having to slice n’ dice his way through dozens of underlings) but he actually grows and changes in such a way to make their parting not exactly anticlimactic, but certainly a break from formula.
STAR TREK: NEMESIS- I finally finished seeing all of the Star Trek movies with the last Next Gen film. I guess they knew the writing was on the wall during production because they make some pretty big shifts as per the personnel. (Then again, they shipped off Worf to Deep Space Nine, yet he always managed to show up in every film.)
My reaction to the film is a big, fat “meh.” I’ll grant you, part of that may be because I’ve just never been a Next Gen fan, but I know I’m not alone in that assessment, even among Trek fans. While given to hysterics (they proclaimed Into Darkness to be the worst film in the franchise, which is not even close to being true), enough time had passed to allow a decently fair review on the four films regarded as being part of that particular cycle and only First Contact fared well. I can’t disagree with them as it’s the only one I truly enjoy as a casual movie goer. I’m not sure exactly what it is about Contact that works so well compared to the others, but this crew just seemed ill equipped for the transition to the big screen. Insurrection felt too much like a long episode rather than a movie, while Nemesis seems like too big a departure. I know it’s not really fair, but it’s just really hard for them to win.
Fetish model Picard (aka skinny Bane) is a villain I don’t particularly get unless it’s to show ‘our’ Picard what a blowhard he is. But then it seems like they’re changing Picard Classic’s personality for a decent amount of the film what with his sudden penchant for four-wheelin’ over fragile alien ecosystems.
The Romulans/Remans should have been interesting enough without having to shoehorn the clone plot inside and the political flips and twists to put him in power seems like too much trouble for the payoff.
I’ll admit that the big battle at the end has its moments, even though I have to wonder if they’re ever going to get tired of destroying the Enterprise. At least this time we have something new happen with the bridge. The sacrifice at the end, trying so hard to echo Wrath of Kahn, doesn’t work because Data simply isn’t Spock. And there is a backdoor to the “death” so wide open and obvious that I don’t see anyone actually thinking it would stick if they’d done another film with that cast.
Now I know this is a completely contrary thing to say thus far into my ranting, but even though I’m not nearly as big a fan of the Next Gen characters as the original series or even the new cast, I wonder if Paramount wasn’t too hasty in ending the series. I think they could have kept making money by making modestly budgeted films with the Next Gen/DS9/Voyager casts spaced between the Abrams films. What’s wrong with having two continuities simultaneously? Japan does that kinda stuff all the time. Especially with how the current films are actually sequels to the previous series that take place in a different universe. But instead of doing what they’d been doing, they could have followed Riker’s command with new and old characters populating the ship and allowing for the type of flexibility needed to really create cinematic adventures of characters that people already loved. Maybe I’m crazy.
More to come soon!