Posts Tagged ‘1984’

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

05/13/2011 2 comments

In many long-running franchises, there is often a movie that the filmmakers intend as the “end” of the franchise, only to have it be so successful that a sequel (or multiple sequels) is made. Saw III. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Some of these are obvious – others less so. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was intended to be the last of the Star Trek movies, ending as it did with the heroic sacrifice and funeral of Spock. As expected, it was so popular that the studio wanted to make a sequel. How well did they do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the third movie in the Star Trek film franchise, based on the original Star Trek television series, and serves as a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy (his condition for returning to the franchise), and it stars William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, the Enterprise had just had its ass kicked across half a solar system by Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered superhuman tyrant who hated Admiral Kirk with the intensity of a thousand desert suns for a bunch of stuff Kirk indirectly caused. The casualties of this battle included half of Captain Spock’s fledgling crew, and Spock himself, who sacrificed himself to allow the Enterprise to escape Khan’s impending detonation of the Genesis device in a final last-ditch attempt to reduce Kirk to atoms. Khan’s plan failed, but the Genesis device appeared to work as designed, causing a nearby lifeless planet to burst into life, the same planet around which Spock’s funeral torpedo was placed into orbit. Now for the problems: Dr. McCoy has started acting a bit loopy, and is detained for observation. Starfleet Admiral Murrow orders the Enterprise to be decommissioned, and its crew are not to speak of the results of the Genesis detonation due to political concerns. Kirk’s son David and the Vulcan Saavik investigate the blooming Genesis planet, and find an inexpected life-form: a Vulcan child, minus his mental operating system. Finally, Sarek, Spock’s father, confronts Kirk about Spock’s death, and the two managed to piece together the reason behind McCoy’s erratic behavior: McCoy is carrying Spock’s katra, which Spock transferred over to him just before his sacrifice. Spock’s katra and body must be reunited in order to properly lay Spock to rest on the planet Vulcan, before the strain kills McCoy. Kirk has explicit orders not to go near the Genesis planet, where he suspects Spock’s body to be (and where it technically is), and his ship has been decommissioned. Will this stop him? Hell no – he’s Admiral Goddamned Kirk! Naturally, Klingons ensue.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a while, and all I really remembered about it was Kirk and Kluge battling on the crumbling Genesis planet. However, when I watched it recently, I was quite pleased by how well it followed up on the tragic events at the end of Khan and led nicely into The Voyage Home (mainly by explaining why Spock was so loopy during most of the latter). Did the Federation really think that Kirk would do something as silly as follow orders when to do so would put several of his close comrades at serious risk? Hell no! And the events on and around the Genesis Planet went a long way towards establishing the Klingons as a race, and offers the first glimpses into the Klingon language, since developed fully by Marc Okrand. We also get a look at Vulcan spiritualism and culture, and how it ties into the race’s natural processes. The ritual of Pon Farr is glimpsed when Saavik finds herself helping adolescent Spock through a rather violent puberty, and expanded materials have implied that she conceived a child by him offscreen. In all, the cultural development of the Vulcans and Klingons is excellent, and would play a significant role in later movies.

There were a few surprises in the casting here. Saavik, previously played by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan, is played here by Robin Hooks, who fared decently well in the role. Also, I recall staring at Kluge for about half the movie, thinking, “I know that guy, I know that guy, I know that guy”, before it hit me – that was Christopher Lloyd under all that makeup! It especially comes out when Kluge starts getting upset, but he did very well outside his usual spectrum. The crew of the Enterprise remains tightly knit by years of mutual experience (in-universe and out), even considering the conspicious lack of Spock through much of the film, and it was fun seeing McCoy getting in disputes with his unwanted katra passenger, considering how much the two had bickered when Spock was alive and in one piece.

Star Trek: The Search for Spock followed well in the footsteps left behind by Wrath of Khan, and easily continues the story of the crew of the Enterprise, as well as developing two of the major alien races of that universe. I recommend this to all Trek fans and everyone who enjoyed Khan.


2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

04/04/2011 2 comments

Okay, raise your hand if you watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. The whole thing? Good. Keep your hand up if you understood 2001: A Space Odyssey. Uh huh. Keep your hand up if you understood it without reading the tie-in novel? Yeah. I thought so. That’s why Arthur C. Clarke wrote a sequel, which was naturally made into a movie, in an effort to help explain what the hell was going on to audiences who have been confused for the last 16 years. Did it work? Let’s find out.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a science fiction film directed by Peter Hyams that serves as the sequel to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film was adapted from Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two, which also serves as a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Steady… no use getting confused already.) It stars John Lithgow, Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Kier Dullea, and the uber-creepy voice of Douglas Rain.

Nine years have passed since the epic mind-screw that was the failure of the Discovery One‘s mission to Jupiter, caused when HAL 9000 lapsed into Killer Robot territory and killed four out of the five crewmen, while the fifth, David Bowman, disappeared into an alien monolith about 2 kilometers long orbiting Jupiter and suffered an acid trip so bad that he evolved into a giant space fetus and left audience horribly, horribly confused. Somehow, the blame for all this (though maybe not the giant space fetus thing) has landed on the shoulders of one Dr. Heywood Floyd, who resigned his position as the head of the National Council of Aeronautics in shame. Tension has been growing between the United States and the Soviet Union (which in this timeline still exists, complete with Cold War, in the year 2010) as both nations prepare to go find out what the hell happened aboard the Discovery, with a slight wrinkle: The Russians will have their ship, the Alexei Romanov ready first, but American technicians will be needed to parse out the nature of HAL’s malfunction and to operate the American Discovery. Since the Discovery‘s orbit is decaying, it is likely to crash into the moon Io before the Americans are able to get their shit together, Russia and America decide to team up to find out what the hell happened. Once there, they make a few interesting discoveries: one, there is chlorophyll on Europa. Two, Europa gets really mad when they try to figure out where the chrorophyll came from. Three, HAL wasn’t homicidal, he just got confused when told to conceal information about the monolith and decided the best way to follow his orders was to kill everyone. Four, David Bowman is back. Sort of. Five, something wonderful is about to happen. And six, Dr. Floyd discovers the best way to get close to a hot cosmonaut who can’t speak English is to just be handy during a terrifying aerobraking maneuver. Down on Earth, however, tensions between America and Russia continue to intensify, and the force of both countries are starting to get ready to seriously throw down. However, when it appears that “something wonderful” is manifesting as countless thousands of little monoliths devourin Jupiter, the respective crews of both ships will have to work together to get clear of Jupiter, lest something wonderfully annihilate them all.

Good news: This is a straightforward narrative. You can all relax on that account, secure in the knowledge that you won’t have to watch it with a team of philosophy majors and compare notes afterwards. HOWEVER – you do have to have at least a vague idea of what happened in the previous film. They do recap what happened, as far as anyone on Earth can tell, but for obvious reasons they don’t explain anything about part four (remember, the acid trip?). You can catch up pretty quickly, though, so that’s good. However, something strange happened between 1968 and 1984: the space effects got slightly worse. They didn’t have greenscreen effects in 1968 (so far as I know), so they worked around it, to great effect. They did have greenscreen effects in 1984, though, and they used them to add a bit of realism to the spacewalking effects. They mostly succeeded, but if you know what to look for you can see the outlines. Not bad, though, and it gets a pass. Also, they get bonus points for getting Kier Dullea and Douglas Rain to reprise their respective roles as David Bowman and HAL 9000, though creepily Dullea doesn’t appear to have aged at all in 16 years. The addition of Roy Scheider, previously seen in Jaws was also a good choice, and would set him up for the sort of “wonderment of exporing new worlds” vibe he would give off in seaQuest DSV.

They also explain a lot of the trippy stuff that happened in the previous movie, which is good, but I can’t help but wonder if that would have even been necessary if the first movie had simply been a bit more straightforward. It doesn’t help that moth movies were trying to compress about two hundred pages of narrative into two hours of movie, but in that respect I think 2010 manages a clearer interpretation than its cinematic predecessor. It doesn’t jump around (let alone the first one’s jump of several hundred thousand years), and it follows a straight path to a definite conclusion. The story is tight and linear, and it actually makes itself understood. Yay.

If you liked 2001 but were left a bit light on explanations, try out 2010. It’ll help you understand most of what happened in 2001, and brings the whole story arc to a very impressive conclusion.

Ghostbusters (1984)

Number one rule of marketing: Find out what people want, and find a way to provide it. Waterborne plague? Sell bottled water. Zombie apocalypse? Shotguns, food, and ammo. Outbreak of hauntings? Paranormal extermination services. It’s simple, really, especially considering the growing market that three New York parapsychologists are about to discover…

Ghostbusters is a comedy film produced and directed by Ivan Reitman, and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. It stars Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Sugourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson.

When three quirky parapsychologists – Drs. Peter Venkman (Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Ramis) – lose their jobs at Columbia University, they decide to use their knowledge of the supernatural in a slightly different field: extermination. After their first attempt ends in hilarity, they develop equipment to help them capture and contain the ghosts, and set themselves up for business, advertising themselves as “the Ghostbusters”. Things appear to be set for failure until they finally get their first call from a posh hotel with a recurring haunting; after they capture this one (destroying most of the ballroom in the process), the calls start rolling in, with more and more people in New York City finding themselves vexed by wayward spirits. Business is so good, in fact, that they must fire a fourth member of their team, Winston Zeddemore (Hudson) to help distribute the workload (and to have someone to explain the supernatural stuff to), but before long the boys starts to wonder if their newfound success might not be a symptom of a building menace that has the potential to endanger the world…

Ghostbusters is one of those old favorites that I first saw while growing up, and it still holds up well today. The core cast are all close friends of Ivan Reitman, and in fact a similar combination (Reitman-Murray-Ramis) can be seen in Stripes. The actors worked well together, and you could tell that they enjoyed the hell out of whemselves while filming. In addition, I have been assured that Aykroyd is that big of a paranormal nerd in real life. Of course, the best part about this movie is that it works as a comedic scare film for both kids and adults – it isn’t that bloody, and the sexual stuff is more suggested than shown (at least, I wasn’t sure what that female ghost was doing with Ray until years later when I first heard of the succubus).

The special effects were well-done for their day, with the proton pack effects and ghostly apparitions still holding up well. The stop-motion terror dogs are a bit dated, but this is only a minor nit is what is otherwise a well-made and well-acted movie. The Godzilla-ish miniature effects used in the Stay-Puft sequence were well-crafted (though that suit must have been stuffy as hell), and I could actually believe that there was a fifty-foot snack mascot walking down the street, no matter how absurd it would look in any other context. The cast reacted well to the spooks and monsters, and nothing felt forced or half-assed.

If you like supernatural comedies, I strongly recommend adding this one to your collection. It’s an old favorite that has lasted for years, and will continue to last for years to come.

The Last Starfighter (1984)

Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.

Some recruitment tools are obvious: A firing range. A standardized test. A military training course. Other training tools, not so much: an arcade game cabinet in a trailer park. Alex Rogan doesn’t know this, of course. All he knows is that he wants to do something more with his life than bounce around with the same people forever. Little does he know that opportunity is about to knock.

The Last Starfighter is a science fiction adventure film directed by Nick Castle and written by John R. Betuel. It stars Lance Guest, Robert Preston, Catherine Mary Stewart, Dan O’Herlihy, and Norman Snow. In addition to Tron, this movie has the distinction of being one of the earliest films to use extensive CGI for all the special effects that were not makeup or concrete props, a decision that ultimately brought the computers they had at the time to their knees.

Alex Rogan (Guest) is an average teenager living in the secluded Star Light Star Bright trailer park with his mother and little brother. He feels trapped, working as the sole handyman for the trailer park and hoping to go to college in parts distant, but in the meantime his sole method of escape is playing Starfighter, an arcade game that has the player defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada in space battle. It says something for how little goes on in the trailer park that when he beats the current high score, it is noteworthy enough to bring everyone running to witness the event. Shortly afterwards, Alex is approached by a man identifying himself as Centauri (Preston), the creator of Starfighter, who invites Alex to take a ride with him. Alex accepts, but soon discovers that Centauri is a disguised alien who whisks him off to the distant planet of Rylos, leaving behind an android named Beta (also Guest) to impersonate the new recruit and ensure his absence goes unnoticed.

Upon arrival at Rylos, Centauri leaves Alex to discover a number of further surprises: the characters and locations depicted in the Starfighter game are real, depicting an actual war between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Armada, led by the traitor Xur, who quickly proves himself to be batshit insane in addition to hating his father, Ambassador Enduran, the commander of the Star League. The Ko-Dan Emperor has promised Xur rulership over Rylos in exchange for the secret to getting past the Frontier’s force fields – and, incidentally, if this should come to pass, Earth would (eventually) be in grave danger as well. The Starfighter game was intended as a recruitment tool to find those with the “gift”, but was actually supposed to go to Las Vegas. Alex, as the recruit with said “gift”, is expected to pilot a Gunstar alongside the rest of the Starfighters to defend the Frontier. Alex does what anyone would do under these circumstances: He has a panic attack. However, Alex will soon discover that there is no escaping his fate, and he will need to search within himself for courage befitting a Starfighter, and completely disregard the complete and utter mess the naive Beta unit is making of his social life back home.

I recently watched this movie for the first time in decades, and while the effects were relatively unimpressive by modern standards, they were light-years ahead of what anyone else had done with computers up till then. The innovation of making photorealistic CG effects rather than simple ray-traced objects (as they had done in Tron and Star Wars) allowed them to create almost the entire exterior of Rylos within a computer, much to the computer’s dismay. For much of production, the computers simply weren’t powerful enough to render the numerous spaceship effects before they were put to film, and the animators had to develop new software and invent new techniques to make the fledgling effects viable. Of course, real props had to be made for scenes where the actors had to interact with the ships, but overall the two blended well. The creature effects were otherwise traditional latex masks, offering the viewer a diverse cross-section of alien races for Alex to discover and almost get killed by (once by complete accident). In particular, Alex’s eventual co-pilot Grig was well-done, though I could only imagine how uncomfortable the reptilian latex mask had to be after a while.

Of course, all the effects and monsters in the world can’t make a good movie without good acting. As with many movies from the early 80s, the human actors had their work cut out for them, as they were the key to making the monsters and CG believeable – and in this they largely succeeded. Guest’s dual role as the bewildered Earthling teenager Alex and the bumbling android doppelganger Beta demonstrated decent diversity that leaves me a bit disappointed that he apparently hasn’t been in much since. Robert Preston’s last role as Centauri is essentially Harold Hill from The Music Man, only from outer space – a quick-talking con man who knows how to get things done, even if it means forcibly recruiting an unsuspecting video game enthusiast for an interstellar battle.

Overall, while the effects were a bit dated, they were well-done for their day and well-supported by the story and actors, the true test of a good sci fi movie – not the number of alien creatures and special effects. The Last Starfighter has all the story elements that the Star Wars trilogy had already established, and while the story is evocative both of Star Wars and The Sword in the Stone, it manages to blend everything together into an enjoyable wish-fulfillment fantasy epic.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

When Wes Craven was growing up, a classmate of his with whom he shared a paper route frequently bullied him. His name was Fred Krueger.

Three, four, better lock your door…

Several newspaper articles printed in the L.A. Times told of a group of Cambodian refugees from the Hmong tribe who had died in their sleep.

Five, six, grab your crucifix…

In each case, the men would suffer terrifying nightmares, and then refuse to sleep for as long as possible. When they would finall succumb due to exhaustion, they would wake up screaming, and then fall dead.

Seven, eight, gonna stay up late…

It is still widely debated whether dying in a dream will kill you in real life.

Nine, ten, never sleep again…

A Nightmare on Elm Street is an American slasher film written and directed by Wes Craven and produced by Robert Shaye. It stars John Saxon, Heather Langenkamp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, and Robert Englund. It was distributed by New Line Cinema.

Tina Gray (Wyss) has a nightmare of being stalked through a shadowy boiler room by a mutilated man with razor-sharp blades for fingers. As he catches up to her, she wakes screaming, only to find four slashes in her nightgown, identical to those in her dream. The next day, she learns that her friend Nancy (Langenkamp) is dreaming about the same menacing figure, but Nancy is convinced that it’s nothing more than that – a dream. Tina is uneasy sleeping alone in the house after her nightmare, so she invites Nancy and her boyfriend Glen (Depp, in his first major role) to sleep over and keep her company. Tina’s boyfriend Rod (Corri) crashes the party, and they shag like horny teenagers in an 80’s horror movie. However, that night Tina’s nightmare finally catches her, and Rod is awakened to find her being attacked by something unseen in the real world. He is helpless to intervene as he watches her slashed again and again by invisible knives, dragged up the wall and across the ceiling by her spectral attacker. When she finally drops, dead, onto the bed, Rod flees, certain he will be blamed for her murder. And, you know, he is.

Nancy starts having recurring nightmares of the razor-gloved figure, and she decides to talk to Rod about what he saw in the bedroom on the night Tina was killed. While he didn’t see her attacker directly, he did notice that it was like she was being slashed with four knives at once, and he recalls that he has also been having nightmares of the razor-fingered man. After Nancy has another dream of the nightmare figure attacking Rod in his cell, Rod is found dead, hanged with his own bedsheets. The police think he committed suicide, but Nancy isn’t so sure. However, her mother is concerned that Nancy isn’t getting any sleep, and takes her to a sleep clinic. During a nightmare there, Nancy returns to reality with a souvenir: a battered fedora with the name Fred Krueger written in it. She learns that Krueger was a child murderer who avoided conviction on a technicality but was killed when a vigilante group of parents burned down his hideout with him in it. But now it appears he has returned to stalk the teenagers of Springfield through their dreams – but how can Nancy fight a nightmare?

A Nightmare on Elm Street is widely regarded as a classic slasher, with the sinister Freddy becoming one of the iconic figures of the genre. In his initial appearance here, he is genuinely sinister and threatening, rather than the master of black-humored one-liners he became later in the series. The dream world is his realm, to do with as he pleases, and if you don’t know how to fight him there (and even if you do), you’re pretty much screwed. The nightmares here are surreal and frightening, with typical being-chased-by-an-unknown-menace imagery interspered with weird shit like a sheep coming out of nowhere for the early cat scares. The special effects were well-done, considering the era and the budget, with the only obvious fake coming in the form of an obvious mannequin getting pulled through the window at the very end.

The acting was pretty good, considering what I’ve come to expect in slasher films, and to my surprise the 80s doesn’t burn quite as bad as it does in films from the second half of the decade. The performances are solid, and they don’t act quite like the brainless victims one might find in lesser imitators. And the adults, while useless, are at least logically so – they would prefer that this chapter of their lives stay behind them, and to be honest, if your teenager told you that somebody in a nightmare was trying to kill them, would you believe them? On the other hand, if they started talking about someone they had no logical reason to even know about, I might sit up and listen, but it appears that Nancy’s parents were divorced and her mom had turned to alcoholism to cope with the horrors of the past. Depp as Glen doesn’t play a huge role in the plot aside from emotional support for Nancy, but his death is pretty damn spectacular.

Nightmare is a nice look back into Wes Craven’s early work and the first incarnations of Freddy Krueger, before the executives warped him into a simple marketing tool for New Line Cinema. It pours on the paranoia fuel of a completely inescapable killer (after all, everyone has to sleep sometime) and pokes at our primal fears to tweak up in ways only a nightmare can. Slasher fans will enjoy this one.

The Terminator (1984)

“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

In 1984, the idea of the implacable, unstoppable killer was not new. Halloween did it in 1978, and Friday the 13th did it in 1980. Then James Cameron had himself a nightmare about an implacable, unstoppable, cyborg killer from the future, and a franchise was born.

The Terminator is the first movie in that franchise, which Cameron directed, as well as co-wrote with William Fisher, Jr. It stars Arnold “I’ll be back” Schwarzenegger, Linda “not an action girl yet” Hamilton, Lance “Aliens” Henriksen, and Michael “Come with me if you want to live” Biehn. It is worth noting that O. J. Simpson was considered for the role of the terminator, but Cameron didn’t think he would be believable as a cold-hearted murderer.

In 2029, intelligent machines seek to exterminate what remains of the human race. Standing in their way is John Connor, a freedom fighter who has united humanity against them. With the Resistance on the verge of victory, the machines send back a cybernetic T-800 (Schwarzenegger) to hunt down and kill Connor’s mother Sarah (Hamilton) before he is even conceived, thereby accomplishing a retroactive abortion. The humans, however, send back an agent of their own, a soldier named Reese (Biehn) to defend Sarah from the terminator. Sarah, meanwhile, is a mere waitress at a diner, and has no idea yet what’s going on. However, there are three Sarah Connors listed in the local phone book, and the two time travelers race to find the correct one first, in order to either kill or protect her.

This is one of my favorite sci fi movies. James Cameron’s twist on the Implacable Killer theme works on so many chilling levels, even with the tiny budget he had. The “post apocalyptic future” scenes were plausible, considering that they were accomplished with scale models, forced perspectives, and matte blocking, and Stan Winston’s stop-motion endoskeleton, though slightly dated, is thoroughly calculating and looks like it really wants to eat your face. The facial surgery sequence doesn’t look quite as real at is might have, but I heard they scaled back the realism to keep it from being too disturbing. Seriously, the Terminator just sliced out his eye with an Exacto knife – how is that not supposed to be disturbing?! Stan Winston was and still is an FX genius.

And of course, rather than riding completely on special effects, this movie (like so many 80s sci fi films) relies on its acting to carry the terror of the concept. Biehn, as usual, plays an intense military type desperate to convey the gravity of the situation to his terrified charge in a limited period of time, and Hamilton is plausible as the unsuspecting civilian caught between faction in a war that hasn’t even happened yet. And… Arnold. Arnold, you terrifying, machinelike bastard. Where would this franchise be without you? (Probably trying to do the same thing with another bodybuilder, with less impressive results, but I digress…) He has maybe 18 lines in the whole film, but he makes it work, even with his heavy accent, almost like they were still ironing the kinks out of the vocal synthesizer. Although, if you’re acting like an emtoionless machine, is it still really acting?

In all, if you want to see a thrilling, suspenseful sci fi action flick, if you want to see where the whole Terminator franchise started, or even if you just want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger clad only in shadows for about a minute and a half, rent this movie. You will not fail to be impressed.