Hi again, Cynthia Hawkins! I guess this was inevitable-we’ve spoken about the past history of action films (or at least, that part of it that fell in the 1980s), we’ve waxed lyrical about The Expendables and how it’s a modern-day retelling of those older stories… but we haven’t covered the extensions of those series; your Predators, your Die Hard 4.0s, your-and I’m sorry to use this words on such an august site as TNB-your Crystal Skulls.
Man, I hated that film.
And hello again Simon Smithson! Inevitable, yes. Also inevitable, the skewering of Crystal Skull first thing. Shall we get this one over with quick and painless like Rambo knifing a Burmese pirate lax enough to glance down at his shoe laces for two seconds?
I don’t think I can bring myself to say I hated it, but I will say Crystal Skull left me feeling deeply disappointed, despondent even, wandering the theater parking lot afterward with my hands in the air, crying, “Why? Why?” (Note: Doing so scares small children.) Perhaps more than any other we’ll be discussing, this one suffered from heightened expectations. Absolutely everyone who’d gotten back on board after nineteen years of hesitation said they finally did so because the script was “amazing” and “true to the original characters.” George Lucas even claimed he’d learned a hard lesson from the abysmal Temple of Doom. I’m willing to heap the blame for Crystal‘s failures on Shia LaBeouf (get him!) and the screenwriting team who seemed to be under the impression that they were writing dialogue for a Humphrey Bogart parody.
I know. I know. Jesus, I know. What a terrible, awful, objectively bad piece of film-making. The whole ‘nuke the fridge’ abomination, the inclusion of Shia LaBeouf, who inches closer to becoming Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s non-union equivalent with every role he plays, that god-awful scripting and horrible over-use of plastic and over-exposed CGI and dull spectacle… it had all the hallmarks of Lucas’s inability to see beyond his own delusions of competence, and, unfortunately, retroactively tainted the original trilogy. I mean, aliens? Fucking aliens? Seriously? In an Indiana Jones film?
God damn it.
One thing I noticed is that Indy didn’t cap a guy the whole film. The closest thing he got to it was throwing a gun on the ground, I think, and it went off and shot some Commies in the legs. If you’re going to make an Indiana Jones film, he needs to shoot some bad guys.
Wait. Having post-traumatic-stress flashbacks of Shia LeBeouf swinging from vine to vine after some Russians. Did that … really happen?
So, Lucas and Spielberg had confessed in interviews prior to Crystal Skull‘s release that one of their biggest hurdles was deciding how to handle the cinematic-advancement gap, I guess you might call it, between The Last Crusade and Crystal Skull. I mean, a lot has changed since the eighties: directorial style, technology, audience expectations and tastes, etc. I would say Crystal‘s faults are a result of trying too hard (aliens! Shia LaBeouf!) to appeal to a new generation instead of staying true to itself. Hell, they could have stayed true to Temple of Doom Indie and it would have been better. Do you think there’s at least one latter-day sequel in this bunch that handles that gap with greater success? Can eighties-born franchises still be cinematically relevant? And what’s your shoe size? Doing some holiday shopping.
Also, please note: I’ve exceeded my LaBeouf-reference allowance for this year and the next. Don’t make me say LaBeouf again.
I wish I could tell you the vine-swinging scene and the alliance of monkeys was all a terrible dream.
Instead, unfortunately, it was all a terrible Dreamworks film.
I think the biggest difference between now and then is the fact that people used to be able to say no to George Lucas, and reign in his tendency to come up with ridiculous inanities he thought up – possibly while on the can; history is silent on this front-never applied any internal quality control to, and immediately decided he wanted to commit to celluloid. No one can do that anymore. To quote Fargo… he’s too big for that now.
Also: I can’t remember the last time I saw as smooth a segue, and I wear a 10.
What comes to mind is Predators. It neatly circumvented Predator 2 and the atrocities of AvP and AvP2; reformatting the franchise into a lean sci-fi action piece. The original jungle setting returns, the original movie gets referenced, and the idea of a group of highly-trained killers being hunted by a superior and better-equipped intelligence is, once again, front and centre. I enjoyed the film; I really did. I thought Brody was a great piece of casting for the lead (it’s always nice to see Oscar winners getting their hands dirty); and, aside from a few mis-steps, I thought the film hit its marks admirably.
How did Predators stack up for you?
The camera lens works like beer goggles on Adrian Brody. That’s the only way I can explain how such a lanky, Ichabod Crane-esque guy could so thoroughly take on the appearance of a hulked-up action bad-ass in Predators. I don’t think they could have done better than Brody, actually. And they needed someone with chops after AvP and AvP2 had collectively turned both of those series into run-of-the-mill, talent-free horror fare.
I’d read that Robert Rodriguez, who’d produced Predators, had been a big fan of the original and was adamant about Predators being reflective of Predator. It’s amazing how well it is reflective while still offering something new. I think that’s probably what it takes to revive an old series in a new era, someone who understands all of the subtle mechanics that made the original film work in ways that someone steeped in CGI and self-importance (ahem, Lucas) would lose sight of.
By the way, Predators was filmed in part about forty miles from my house. Which makes me so Hollywood I don’t even know it
You really are Hollywood. Now all you need to do is rip Walton Goggins’s head and spine from his body (is it just me, or is he the poor man’s Garrett Dillahunt?) and you’ve got it made.
Speaking of losing track of the subtle mechanics of the original… Die Hard 4.0. I know we’ve touched on this in the past, but it went so badly wrong that I can’t help but want to mention it again. Because I grew up with Bruce Willis; he’s one of those icons who I feel that childhood connection to, as if he’s my uncle and we’ve both somehow forgotten, but some day, we’ll bump into each other on the street and remember. Unless he does another film like Die Hard 4.0. Then he’s not invited to Christmas, because that film took everything good about the first film and ruined it. Suddenly, John McClane was not the everyman having a bad day, he was the guy who knows how to fling a car into a helicopter.
Why? Just… why?
I think the biggest let down of Die Hard 4.0 is Willis himself. Not only is he no longer the everyman, he’s no longer charming or funny. What happened to this guy? I want my old Bruce back! How can we make this happen? A pack of Seagrams Wine Coolers and a pool cue?
I think maybe a really, really good hairpiece could be in order as well. And a memory wipe with the words ‘The Whole Ten Yards’ on it.
You’ve got a good point with the humorlessness. That’s Willis’s great appeal; the one-liner with the slight twist of the mouth. Odd question though this may be, was Willis ever a sexy man? I can’t remember ever seeing him marketed as such, but I guess back in the days of Moonlighting he had it going on some. Again, that was before the action-hero persona really came to the fore.
I’d say for much of his early career, anyway, Willis was viewed as the unlikely sexy man, the everyman sexy man, I guess you might say. He’s become such a droll, expressionless actor that he sucks the life right out of Die Hard 4.0. When your sequel includes an original character, the consistency of that character is just one more thing the audience is going to be particularly mindful of in judging the film. That’s what Predators might have done right: fresh blood … or fresh meat, if you’d rather.
So, Harrison Ford summons the old Indie as best he can with the crap dialogue he was given, and Willis misses the mark. The one good thing I can say for the fourth Rambo is that Sylvester Stallone still knows that character inside and out. And he should because he wrote it. His aged John Rambo tooling around on a river in Thailand, wrangling snakes, is exactly as I would have expected an aged John Rambo to be. What did you think?
I think it’s very important to note that no matter what the scenario or how wooden the dialogue is, Harrison Ford remains a hugely attractive man.
If there’s only one thing we can, and should, take from this discussion, it’s that.
Rambo‘s success, to me, lay in the fact that it didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it just took the wheel, made it bigger, and then exploded a bunch of evil Burmese dudes with it. Maybe it’s that direct connection to the character that Stallone had; he wasn’t going to mess with the concept, just make it even more badass. Which he did admirably-the throat-ripping scene is one of the most ridiculously hardcore scenes I’ve seen put to film. And I loved it.
It seems to be about an even match, so far. Crystal Skull and 4.0 miss the mark and devalue their franchises, Rambo and Predators make the grade. So that leads us into the sad truth of Terminator: Salvation.
Harrison Ford does remain a hugely attractive man. Smithson and Hawkins have declared it so. Let it be written.
Rambo would have been an amazing action film if only it had had a budget to match its carnage. That was my one gripe with it, and that’s something that can’t really be pinned on the film itself, can it. I found the overall look of the film and the special effects disappointing. I think it was filmed in the ditch behind Stallone’s house with a surplus of ketchup packets. The story and characters, though, spot on for Rambo. I dare say that on that score I liked it better than The Expendables.
Is it my imagination or was this far, far bloodier than previous Rambo flicks? Hardcore is right! It was like a Gallagher show, only with heads and torsos instead of watermelons. I’d really like for someone to take the time to do a proper Rambo body count for all four films. It’s surely phenomenal. In this one alone, he offs the equivalent of Burma’s population twice over.
Uh-oh, “the sad truth of Terminator: Salvation” … I sense our tendency to agree is about to be challenged.
Oh, Rambo was carnage! The massacre scenes, the interpersonal combat, the sniping… chunks were flying everywhere.
I concur on the production; Stallone seems to favour a certain gritty style in post-production which doesn’t always look great, to me. It’s something about the death scenes – gruesome, yes, but also, undeniably fake. Ketchupy. In a very obviously CGI way. Apart from the above-mentioned throat-ripping scene. That never would have made it into First Blood.
Speaking of Burma, apparently rebels took up the phrase ‘Live for nothing, die for something’ as a catch-cry after the release of Rambo. Which made Stallone very proud, as I guess it would. Now for him to release that long-awaited sequel to Oscar.
Oh no! Are we going to come to internet blows? Because Salvation was a testament to just how far a ball can be dropped. All the right elements were in place. Competent, experimentative director? Check. Big-name action star? Check. Huge production budget? Big check. And a fanbase clamouring for something to forever erase the taste of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines from their mouths.
Oh no, I don’t know if we’ll come to internet blows because I don’t think I’m passionate enough about Terminator: Salvation to defend it entirely. I did find it really entertaining, however. Here’s the story. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the Terminator movies because they raise my anxiety levels like no other film, which is both horrifying and fun. And mostly horrifying. But fun!
Terminator: Salvation, for instance, begins with that very intense scene with terminators everywhere and Connor going down in the helicopter, all delivered with a claustrophobic, tunnel-vision perspective. You can see a little bit, but not enough — and what the hell’s going on and where the hell is everybody and wait, what’s that moving just barely in my periphery! The viewer is right in the middle of the shit-storm, and I have the urge to claw my way out of the theater row. And this is just the beginning of the damned film. I mean, I’m sold on the tension and suspense at this point. Therefore sufficiently entertained.
I have a feeling, though, that your complaints are going to be about the details of the story. And maybe, just maybe, Sam Worthington.
Actually, I thought Sam Worthington acquitted himself well. For a man with no ability to expunge his Australian accent, he did OK. He was the dramatic core of the film; the heavy lifting when it came to emotion.
My doubts began with the credits. For a Terminator film, you have to stick with the original formula. The fact that McG did away with that was a bad, bad sign. C-Bale rapidly descended into shouting rather than acting, the plot made little to no sense by the end, and it wound up being far schmaltzier than any Terminator flick should be. It’s not that it was a total loss, but it was a missed opportunity.
The rumor is that Bale was originally slated to play Marcus but demanded the role of John Connor, who was originally to be nothing more than a disembodied voice on the radio, and then, during script sessions and in post-production, started making his own cuts to beef up his own performance.
Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But this was a case when the school of broad strokes – evil machines, heroic humans, shouting and explosions – not working as well as it did in, say, Rambo.
Ah, I thought for sure you’d be in the anti-Sam camp! I felt he was pitch-perfect in Terminator as that emotional core you mentioned, and then I was terrifically underwhelmed with his follow-ups in Clash of the Titans and Avatar. So much so that I now snarl at his appearance in Terminator: Salvation retroactively, as it were.
Connor as a disembodied voice, that’s a cool idea! That would have changed everything. I’d heard about the role switcharoo that Bale had reportedly insisted on and thought he’d made a bad call. It’s always good when Bale gets away from stoic and angry. He needs to give those veins bulging in his neck a rest now and then.
So, I think we can survive this (rather civil) dustup intact. I can concede that the plot was clunky if you can concede that robots are scary.
If this is the worst disagreement we ever have, I think we’re going to be OK. And yes, robots are scary. I check beneath my bed nightly for Christian Bale.
It’s amazing how quickly Worthington has gone Hollywood. A friend mentioned an interview with Worthington where he spoke about how completely different the upcoming Clash of the Titans 2 will be from the first. Worthington then backed this claim up by saying: ‘Perseus is going to have long hair!’
So, I have two important questions. If you could see any action film given a revised and updated latter-day sequel, what would it be? And can you pick three of your favourite scenes from this new generation of action films?
Three favourite scenes. There was a moment in Rambo when he was sneaking around a camp in Burma in the middle of the night that felt just like an equally suspenseful moment in Rambo II. I choose that one for sentimental reasons. I also loved the whole dropping-from-the-sky opening in Predators and the chaos that followed as they tried to decide which one of them might be the enemy. Danny Trejo was so underused in this film, but he has some prominence in this sequence. That’s a plus in my book. He’s badass. I’m sticking by that whole crashing helicopter scene from Terminator: Salvation as my third favourite. The directorial perspective in that one makes it so visceral. Well done, I think, even if the rest of the film has its faults.
Now let’s hear your update wish and three faves, sir!
I’d like to see another really well-done film in the Aliens franchise. When you think about it, the number of bad films made with those things outweighs the number of good ones.
My three favourite scenes? The Hanzo/Predator fight in Predators. I loved what they did with the rolling grass, I loved that suddenly a secondary character stepped up, and I loved that the film-makers seemed to have the same idea as I did, that it was missed opportunity in the original Predator that Billy bought it off-screen. I liked the pit scene in Predators, also, even if it was something I knew was coming. And in Rambo, the closing scene, where John Rambo is walking up to his father’s house, and the mailbox reads ‘R. Rambo’. Because my friend Dean suggested that maybe his father’s name is Rambo Rambo.
So it seems the recipe for a successful update is to: a) keep the same characterisation, b) have good effects and storyline (duh), and c) respect what made the original film/s popular, not just in terms of box office, but fan affection.
Indeed, that’s a good recipe. I’d throw in a limit-Lucas clause as well.
George Lucas to never make a film again. I’ll drink to that.