Posts Tagged ‘1997’

Air Force One (1997)

06/14/2011 1 comment

Air Force One is the official air traffic call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. The two jets to which this title is officially assigned are the most technologically advanced and most secure aircraft in the world, designed to protect the President from any threat. You practically have to give a kidney and your firstborn to get the clearance to board. However, little do bad guys know that the real threat to intruders is not the hordes of Secret Service agents and countermeasures that populate the plane during Presidential excursions – at least not when the President is Indiana Jones.

Air Force One is an action film directed and co-produced by Wolfgang Petersen, and written by Andrew W. Marlowe. It stars Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, and Paul Guilfoyle.

It is 1993. A crack team of elite Spetsnaz and Delta Force commandos have just captured General Ivan Radek, the leader of a terrorist regime in Kazakhstan. Three weeks later, American President James Marshall gives a speech in Moscow, rejecting the idea that he should be congratulated for this victory, instead expressing dismay that it took the United States this long to act. He vows to take a hard line against terrorism, political self-interest be damned. Of course, this is certain to get up somebody’s nose. As he, his wife and daughter, and most of his political posse of advisors and cabinet members board Air Force One to head back to the States, a group of terrorists loyal to Radek board the plane under the guise of a Russian news crew. In the middle of the flight, they seize control of Air Force One and take its passengers hostage with the goal of forcing the President to call Moscow and have Radek released. Meanwhile Secret Service agents hustle Marshall to the escape pod to keep him out of harm’s way. Marshall has other ideas, though; these people are threatening his family and national security, and he is not going to let this stand. It isn’t long before the terrorists realize that they are trapped aboard a highly advanced aircraft with a very angry ex-military Battle President, who is willing to do anything to get them the hell off his plane.

It is clear from the premise itself that this is a pre-9-11 movie. Petersen himself said that with the tightening of national security protocols both civilian and presidential, it would be nigh-impossible for anyone to get the level of access to (and inside) Air Force One, let alone highjack it. As it was, at the time film crews were not even allowed inside either of the Air Force One jets, forcing the filmmakers to make educated guesses about the interior. However, the fact that the setup is dated and the immediate setting for the bulk of the movie was pretty much made up does not make this an uninteresting movie. The idea that terrorists would manage to get this far into the U.S. government’s inner sanctum is thrilling and terrifying, considering that they would be able to wipe out the top tiers of American political authority with frightening ease. While it is still an extremely difficult plan to execute in today’s political climate, this is the scenario that all the security-tightening is designed to prevent, and all it would take is a single hole to render everything moot.

Of course, while this is an action movie, it largely depends on a skilled cast to execute properly. Harrison Ford is excellent as James Marshall, an ex-military man trying to outwit some very dangerous people aboard a relatively tiny space. While he has come a long way since his Indiana Jones/Han Solo roots, he is resourceful and clever, using the resources he has at hand to foil the enemy forces swarming his jet. Glenn Close, playing his Vice President, is a protective and helpful voice on the ground, doing her best to negotiate with dangerous terrorists and guide Marshall to the knowledge he needs while working to prevent the Presidency from being usurped by well-meaning cabinet members. On the other side of the coin, Gary Oldman is a terrifying villain, willingly threatening women and children in pursuit of goals that could throw the civilized world into chaos, in ways that seem a far cry from his villainous role as Zorg in The Fifth Element, released the same year. He is ruthless. He is fanatical. He is unquestioningly loyal to Radek. He will eat your children. (And off-camera, he’s apparently a fun guy to be around.)

If you enjoy gripping, claustrophobic action movies and you’re a fan of Harrison Ford, I highly recommend Air Force One. While the premise may be nearly impossible today, it still plays on modern terrorism fears and keeps you hooked the whole way through.


The Fifth Element (1997)

05/23/2011 1 comment

What do you get when a teenaged art student writes a sci fi film?? What do you get when a French director noted for his contributions to the cinema du look style direct it? What do you get when they’re both the same person? You get this.

The Fifth Element is a Friench sci fi film co-written and directed by Luc Besson, starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, and Chris Tucker.

In 1914, when planet Earth is on the verge of World War I, an alien race called the Mondoshawan arrives at an ancient Engyptian tomb to retrieve a weapon capable of fighting a Great Evil that appears every five thousand years: four stones representing the four classical elements, plus a fifth element that can unite the other four. They promise to return when the Great Evil returns, presenting a key to be kept safe until then. Fast forward 349 years. Planet Earth is now a bustling, futuristic, visual cacophany, and the Great Evil is drawing closer, eating a Federated Army starship. The Mondoshawans attempt to return to Earth with their anti-evil weapon, but their ship is ambushed and destroyed by Mandalores, a race of shapeshifting mercenaries hired by one Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg. In the remains of the Mondoshawan ship, Earth’s scientists find a sample of astonishingly complex genetic material, and reconstitute it into a supreme being named Leeloo, who escapes and winds up in the company of Korben Dallas, an ex-Army Major with the Federated Army Special Forces turned cab driver. After the situation is explained to him, Dallas is ordered to recover the stones from their current holder, an opera singer. Dallas isn’t so sure about the saving-the-world thing, but he thinks Leeloo is hot, so what the hell. And a very beautiful action movie ensues.

The first thing you will notice about this movie is its beauty. The Fifth Element is a definite treat for the eyes, giving you plenty to see as the story unfolds. The future Mr. Besson offers us is colorful and chaotic, from the costumes to the sets to the vehicles, with everything enhanced with CG just enough that the effects don’t get in the way. New York City of 2263 is just as busy as its modern counterpart, but in three dimensions – perfectly understandable in a setting with flying cars – leading to a unique twist on the car chase seldom seen in science fiction. The costumes are garish and exotic, offering a unique flavor to the setting without making the eyes bleed, though this is turned up until till the dial breaks with Chris Tucker’s near-brush with drag queen fashion as Ruby Rhod (incidentally, the costumes he wears during the Phlogiston scenes are not the most garish the costume designer had cranked out; those were shown to Tucker first to make the actual costumes seem tame by comparison). Pair the Technocolor palette with a handful of unique alien designs (without having the whole movie crawling with weird races), and The Fifth Element is a lot of fun to watch without even touching the story.

Fortunately, unlike some other pretty movies I’ve seen, the plot rises to meet the challenge and doesn’t drown in the spectacle, offering a unique take on the “saving the world” plot, set against the flashy backdrop of this colorful future. The action parts are about average for 90’s Bruce Willis, with gunfights, bad guys, car chases, and snarky one-liners tossed about. Dallas is delightfully deadpan about the whole thing: with his history in the Special Forces, absolutely nothing phases him about getting chased by cops after an alien woman falls into his cab from about five stories up, hostile Mandalores shooting at him while opera plays in the background, or even the impending destruction of Earth by a Big Ball of Hate. He assesses, he reacts, he powers through, and he goes about his business. One unusual point that I didn’t notice for a long time after I watched this movie for the first time, though: You have the hero, Korben Dallas. Fine. You have a human antagonist serving the Hateball, Zorg. These two people never meet. At all. They’re never in the same room with each other at any time in the movie. They never see each other. This seems like it wouldn’t work, until you realize that the movie isn’t about Dallas vs. Zorg, but rather Dallas vs. the Hateball. Zorg becomes an incidental pawn in the Hateball’s plans, and while he’s entertaining to watch, he’s only a part of the grand scheme for the annihilation of all life. Brilliant.

If you’re tired of the same old sci fi action movie with the same cookie-cutter settings and conventions, check out The Fifth Element. It’s sheer eye candy, backed by a solid plot that will entertain any sci fi fan.

Cube (1997)

You wake up to the sensation of metal pressing against your cheek. You have a slight headache, and you can’t remember what happened last night.


You open your eyes to find yourself in a 14-foot cube crafted of cold metal, lit with blue lighting. There is a door in the center of each face. You see a pamphlet lying on the floor nearby.

>read pamphlet

Cube is a Canadian psychological thriller movie directed by Vincenzo Natali, presenting a Kafka-esque situation: seven strangers separately find themselves trapped in a cubical device made of thousands upon thousands of identical rooms, some of which are rigged with deathtraps. It stars David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Nicole de Boer, and Nick Guadagni. Despite its minimalist plot and simple premise, Cube was a successful product of the Canadian Film Centre’s First Feature Project and achieved minor critical success upon its initial release.

I first saw this movie on the Sci Fi Channel one afternoon, and while I expected the channels usual fare of bad acting, stupid plot, and shitty special effects, Cube was actually a damn good little movie. Its cast was primarily obscure unknowns, through Stargate SG-1 fans will recognize David Hewlitt as a proto-Rodney McKay. (He gets the crap beat out of him. Twice. You’re welcome.) The plot is presented only in its broadest strokes, and while the outside is referred to, it is never shown except as fathomless darkness between the rooms and the outer shell, or as white light when the exit is found. Later installments in the film series do little to clear anything up, and instead the storyline raises more questions than it resolves. Instead, as the movie progresses and their situation starts to look hopeless, the inevitable happens: one of the prisoners snaps out. If you’ve seen any of the Saw films, you will expect this to happen. The acting is decent, given the distinct lack of details they have to work with, though I have some minor issue with Holloway’s non-profanity of “Cats! Holy, holy cats!” Not because I was offended, but because it was a damn goofy way to avoid swearing.

Now for an issue that would be minor were it not a plot point. Leaven, one of the two resident math experts, must figure out whether the room coordinate numbers are prime, indicating “safe” rooms. Some of the numbers are obvious non-primes, like two numbers ending in 5 and 2 – very simple. Also, figuring out powers of primes is apparently not as “astronomical” as Leaven claims, though probably only the bigger math nerds would have known the methods of figuring out three-digit primes or the powers thereof without a calculator on hand. Fortunately, this doesn’t detract too much from the movie.

Cube is an obscure little treasure from Canada that will probably please fans of Kafka-esque plots or sci-fi thrillers. Keep an eye out for this one in your local video store.

Titanic (1997)

He was a boy, and she was a girl.
Can it be any more obvious?
He’s lower class, she’s upper crust–
What more can I say?
He wanted her, she’d never tell
Coz she was betrothed to somebody else
And all of her friends stuck up their nose;
They had a problem with his ratty clothes.

Titanic is sweeping, epic romantic disaster movie written, co-produced, and co-edited by the god of epic movies, James Cameron. It features a soundtrack by James Horner and stars Leonardo “Inception” DiCaprio, Kate “Quills” Winslet, Billy “The Phantom” Zane, Kathy “Misery” Bates, Frances “Unforgiven” Fisher, Gloria “The Invisible Man” Stuart, Bernard “True Crime” Hill, Victor “Legally Blonde” Garber, Danny “Crimson Tide” Nucci, and Bill “Twister” Paxton.

In 1996, a treasure hunter named Brock Lovett (Paxton) and his team search the wreckage of the RMS Titanic for a necklace set with a large blue diamond called The Heart of the Ocean, last known to be in the possession of one Cal Hockley (Zane). Instead of the necklace, in Hockley’s safe they find a nude sketch of a young woman wearing the necklace, dated the night of the Titanic‘s sinking. An elderly woman named Rose Dawson Calvert (Stuart) learns of the drawing and contacts Lovett, telling him that she is the young woman in the drawing. She and her granddaughter visit Lovett’s team on their salvage vessel, revealing that she is actually Rose Dewitt Bukater, a passenger believed to have perished, and tells them the story of her experience aboard the Titanic.

In 1912, Rose (Winslet) boards the Titanic with her abusive boyfriend fiance Cal, the son of a wealthy steel tycoon, and her mother Ruth (Fisher), who plans to use Rose’s marriage to solve their family’s financial problems. Too bad Cal is a dick – so Rose plans to commit suicide by jumping off the stern of the ship, only to be rescued and dissuaded by Jack Dawson, a drifter and artist who won tickets for his voyage on the Titanic in a card game. Ruth and Cal forbid her to see Jack, considering him a bad influence, but she vastly prefers Jack to Cal, and the two enter into a whirlwind romance, two star-crossed lovers fated never to be together, while they evade the violently jealous Cal, with whom Rose wordlessly breaks her engagement by leaving in Cal’s safe Jack’s nude sketch of her wearing the Heart of the Ocean, intended as Cal’s engagement gift to her.

And somewhere along the way a ship sinks or something. I wasn’t paying attention.

I found Cameron’s recreation of the ill-fated Titanic to be absolutely breathtaking, rendered down to the tiniest detail like the patterns on the china. Something like this simply couldn’t be done believeably with models alone, and the CGI blends almost seamlessly with the live action shots in most scenes. Admittedly, in a few shots (like the iceberg strike) you could tell that certain things were fake, but they are quickly swept over by how completely amazing everything looked. I read that he’d researched the hell out of the Titanic for this movie, and it definitely shows. The costumes are beautiful, and the scenery shots are made even more beautiful for the fact that you know they’re all going to be trashed and flooded by the end.

To my surprise, the love story between Jack and Rose doesn’t seem shoehorned in; rather, the Titanic is a symbolic backdrop for the ultimate fate of their relationship. Both events carried the hope of a long and happy future, and both were doomed to utter failure. I did find the car sex to be a bit awkward, though; I mean, it’s only 1912, and people are already having sex in cars? I was very tastefully done, though, and more a factor of Rose trying to break away from her accepted role in society than Cameron going, “We need a sex scene here, viewers love boobs!” In fact, the only nudity was during the sketch scene, and elderly Rose was cheeky enough to point out that the salvagers were all thinking that OMG ROMANTIC ART SCENE would naturally turn to OMG SEX SCENE.

Even considering the retelling of a famous historical event, this movie had me engaged the whole way, to the point that I was genuinely in tears at the sight of all the floating bodies of those who had drowned or frozen to death in the wake of the sinking. I was expecting a straight-up disaster movie, but Cameron had taken it and made it into so much more. If you want a heartbreaking love story and/or a disaster movie that genuinely feels tragic, try Titanic.

Event Horizon (1997)

Hell is only a word.  The reality is much, much worse.

In the year 2040, the faster-than-light starship Event Horizon embarked on its maiden voyage to test an experimental gravity drive that used an artificial black hole to create a temporary wormhole, allowing instantaneous travel between any two points in space.  It disappeared without a trace. 

Good news:  In 2047, the Event Horizon was spotted in orbit around Neptune.

Now for the bad news…

The experiment was a complete success.

Event Horizon is a British science fiction horror film written by Philip Eisner, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, and starring Laurence “The Matrix” Fishburne, Kathleen “Apollo 13” Quinlan, Joely “The Patriot” Richardson, Jack “Idle Hands” Noseworthy, Jason “Lucius Malfoy” Isaacs, and Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill.  Since its release it has been happily adopted by fans of Warhammer 40,000 as part of that universe’s backstory, and readers of Lovecraft will find many familiar elements in its concept of a realm infinitely worse than hell waiting just beyond the fabric of the known universe.

When the Event Horizon reappears within our solar system, a salvage team is sent to recover it.  Led by Captain Miller (Fishburne), the crew of the Lewis and Clark are accompanied by Dr. Weir (Neill), the original designer of the Event Horizon, who explains how the gravity drive was supposed to work.  The team discovers that the crew has been massacred, but all the final entry in the ship’s video log tells them is that everything was Just Fine until they activated the gravity drive – at which point everything went completely (and literally) to hell.

As the salvage mission continues, Engineer Ensign Justin (Noseworthy) is pulled into the gravity drive’s core, returning in a catatonic state and later attempting suicide due to whatever he saw within.  It is not long before the rest of the crew starts having hallucinations of their various fears and regrets: Miller sees a former teammate he was forced to abandon, and Weir sees his dead wife (missing her eyes, for bonus scary points).  After a cleanup of the log show the crew going insane and violently mutilating each other (deleted footage also depicted a sadomasochistic orgy recorded on the log that probably would have made Clive Barker blush), the salvage crew is faced with the possibility that the Event Horizon’s maiden voyage actually dropped it into Hell (or worse), and brought something back with it… something that plans to return home with this new batch of victims.

While the script is pretty much an excuse plot and some of the dialogue turns cheesy at times, the cast of Event Horizon do a good job in carrying the horrific concept of the film.  Sam Neill is delightfully unnerving as he allows the darkness of That Other Place to corrupt his soul, his obsession with recovering his baby slipping easily into insanity with only a nudge.  The Event Horizon itself even comes across as its own character before they start anthropomorphizing it, with its almost actively malevolent design inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral with more spikes and alien geometries than any sane man would put into a scientific vessel.

The special effects are well-done and subtle throughout this movie thanks to the studio’s decision to go with a smaller FX company to keep the budget down, with only a few points where they were obvious (the late Mrs. Weir’s empty eye sockets and the clearly animatronic legs in one shot of Miller’s burning comrade).  The cleaned up video log is a true nightmare, a surreal bloodbath that stabs you right in your primitive animal brain while making your logical brain demand to go back and make sure that it really saw what it thought it saw.  While the “chaos dimension” that induced all the madness is only mentioned and never seen, it is clear that, whatever the FX guys could come up with to depict it, the reality of it would have been much worse.  Worth noting is the fact that the original cut was 130 minutes, with more gore and a longer segment of vlog to enjoy, but test audiences and the studio were both so disturbed by the result that Anderson was ordered to scale it back, to his regret, and the footage has since been lost.

In the end, despite its flaws, this movie is a chilling and welcome addition to sci-fi horror.  If you want a little horror in your sci fi, go see Alien.  If you want a little sci-fi in your horror, go see Event Horizon.  Alone.  With the lights off.