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Posts Tagged ‘my movie collection’

Final Destination 3 (2006)

06/13/2011 1 comment

One of the most intense fears humanity has, one that is almost unique to our species, is the fear of losing control. This fear can run under the surface of many disorders, like OCD and its milder cousin, the “control freak” instinct. Of course, no matter what people do to control their environment, to make things as safe as possible, all that gets tossed out the window when Death points a bony finger in your direction…

Final Destination 3 is a horror film directed by James Wong, the third movie in the Final Destination series. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche, Alexz Johnson, Sam Easton, Jenne Moss, with Tony Todd providing the voice of the Devil (no, really).

Six years have passed since the Flight 180 tragedy (see also Final Destination). A group of high school students visit an amusement park as a last huzzah before graduation, and they decide to ride a roller coaster called the Devil’s Flight (with a giant fiberglass devil out front hawking the ride). Control freak and school photographer Wendy has a premonition that the ride will crash and kill everyone aboard, and freaks out enough to get herself and a bunch of her fellow riders removed, while her boyfriend rides on in another train. Hilarity ensues as she foresaw, and as she mourns the loss of her boyfriend, life goes on. She plans to pick up her diploma and get the hell out of McKinley and its tragic memories, never to look back. Of course, this being a Final Destination movie, the laws of physics and narrative horror have other plans in mind, as the people scheduled to die in the roller coaster crash start getting picked off in the order they would have sat on the roller coaster train, Wendy finds herself in a race against time to unlock the clues in her amusement park photos and save people from the laws of physics…

The overall concept of the third movie remains sound within the FD-verse, opening with the roller coaster as a metaphor for loss of control and the “safe” scares of horror movies in general. This time, though, the cast of victims are unconnected to Flight 180 aside from knowing about the events surrounding it (whereas the bunch in FD2 had been saved in roundabout ways by the initial survival of the cast of the first movie), and therefore their place in Death’s plan is incidental at best; they were supposed to die, and they didn’t. Regardless, Death seems to be getting a little peeved at people surviving the disasters he cooks up, so the deaths are becoming more brutal: death by burning in a tanning booth, an engine fan to the back of the head, death by nailgun, and so forth. After the engine fan death, Wendy even notes that the accident seems pretty vicious. It seems that this time around it is less about balancing Death’s books and more about punishing the escapees. Cleverly, though, if you pay attention during the opening, an alert viewer will notice that every single death is foreshadowed at the amusement park, and not just through Wendy’s prophetic photos.

Of course, escalating the level of violence in a horror movie can still work, if you have a good cast of talented actors portraying sympathetic characters. Here, you have three fairly sympathetic characters (Wendy, her sister Julie, and her boyfriend’s best friend Kevin) alongside a couple of snobby Paris Hilton clones named Ashley and Ashlynn (urgh…), an oversexed douchebag with a video camera named Frankie, an arrogant football star named Lewis that cares more about the game than the harbingers of doom, and the Wonder Goth Twins Ian and Erin, who call each other Zip and Pip. However, amid the expected failures in failsafe devices and basic common sense, Ian is briefly redeemed by following basic safety procedures on the forklift at the hardware store where he works with Erin, narrowly avoiding turning that sequence into a rehash of Forklift Driver Klaus and instead turning it into a freak-accident shout-out to The Nailgun Massacre. Then he snaps out after Erin’s death and we start waiting for him to die horribly. However, while FD3 tries hard to put the fear of freak accidents into its viewers, and at least one of the death sequences does offer a nod to urban legend (the tanning bed sequence), it appears that the Final Destination franchise is starting to lose steam in this installment, relying more on gore and shock value for its scares than building suspense.

While Final Destination 3 is starting to show signs that the franchise is going a bit stale, fans of the first two installments and slasher movies in general should largely enjoy this contribution to a world where mechanical safeguards can be rendered moot by a force of nature. Afterwards, why not go to a park this summer and ride the roller coasters? After all, they’re perfectly safe…

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Iron Man (2008)

06/09/2011 1 comment

Hello, ladies. Look at Tony Stark. Now look at your man. Now back at Tony Stark. Does your man look like Tony Stark? No. Can he smell like Tony Stark? Well, maybe. Is your man the heir to one of the most lucrative weapons manufacturing industries in the world? Does your man have three summer homes and 26 expensive cars? Look down. Look up. Where are you now? You’re at a party, with the superhero your man could smell like. Anything is possible with Tony Stark.

Iron Man is a superhero film directed by Jon Favreau, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name created by Stan Lee. It stars Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges.

Tony Stark is an engineering genius, rich playboy, and currently the head of Stark Industries, a military contracting company he inherited from his father. While his father’s old partner Obadiah Stane takes care of things stateside, Stark travels to Afghanistan to demonstrate the new Jericho missile, only to have his convoy attacked by terrorists on the way back to base. Stark is injured in the attack and taken hostage by a group called the Ten Rings, where he finds that a fellow hostage, Dr. Yinsen, has installed an electromagnet in his chest to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him. Raza, the leader of the Ten Rings, tells Stark that he can buy his freedom by building them a Jericho missile. Doubting Raza will keep his word, Stark instead builds a suit of powered armor that runs off an arc reactor he builds to power his electromagnet. During the course of his escape, Stark discovers the Ten Rings has weaponry built by Stark Industries. Shaken, he vows that Stark Industries will no longer manufacture weapons. However, he thinks his suit is neat and just needs refinement, so being a good little nerd he hacks away at the design in his workshop. When he discovers that more Stark Industries weapons have been delivered to Ten Rings, Stark realizes his new calling – to use his suit for good to atone for the destruction that Stark Industries has caused with its weaponry. Little does he suspect that someone close to him has other plans for his powered armor…

I will admit that when I first saw Iron Man, I wasn’t as familiar with this particular Marvel character as I was with, say, Spider-Man or the X-Men, and with most of these established characters there just too much continuity across too many alternate universes to justify trying to dredge up everything with their name on it. Fortunately, the movie offers a crash course in all things Tony Stark, and quickly gets the viewer up to speed, as befits a retelling of his origin story. He is at once arrogant and loveable, a charming rogue who had never needed to take any responsibility save publicity stunts and hobnobbing with the beautiful people. Fortunately, when reality slaps him across the face, he rises to the occasion, proving that under the fun-loving playboy lies a genuinely good heart. While the Ten Rings portion of the plot seemed to be banking on the Afghanistan War, the writing was tight enough that the terrorists never stumbled into Sterotype Land, making them seem like a genuine threat. Back on American soil, it was fun watching Stark’s personality simply bounce off the people around him, particularly in his interactions with his long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts, who acts in turns as a secretary, potential romantic interest, and mother figure to the wayward Tony. Their relationship is deeper than mere professionalism, but while they tease with romance nothing ever seems to come of it.

The story is exciting and action-packed, offering a first look into this budding superhero that never feels forced or artificial. Each event flowed naturally into the next, from the introduction of our disgustingly wealthy hero to his transition into a force for good, without sending him spiralling too far into brooding Batman Land. The plot was a lot of fun to watch, especially as he is tinkering with his original suit, trying to improve it, even as he tests of the various weapons and propulsion systems send him careening into walls. His first flight in the iconic red and gold suit offers shades of Icarus’ first flight; Stark enjoys the hell out of his newfound freedom, even as he learns about the suit’s critical weakness (which, like Icarus, he discovers by trying to fly a high as he can). Stark makes a fun, enjoyable superhero, in stark contrast to his DC counterpart Bruce Wayne. Iron Man fans will also notice a lot of nods to the various comics stories, like the proposed cover story that Iron Man is a bodyguard to Tony Stark, as well as early warning signs of his alcoholism.

Whether you’re a longtime reader of the Iron Man comics or a newcomer who really digs superheroes, I highly recommend Iron Man. Tony Stark offers a fun-loving superhero to the mix that you wouldn’t mind partying with, in between him saving the city.

Cast Away (2000)


In this day and age, it seems that we have become too connected. We can communicate instantly with people all over the world, and we live and die by the whims of the clock. As a result, we often lose sight of what it is to really live. Chuck Noland is about to rediscover his own humanity, courtesy of Federal Express.

Cast Away is a drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, a remote island, a volleyball, and Helen Hunt.

Chuck Noland is a time obsessed systems analyst, in charge of improving the efficiency of Federal Express hubs all over the world. Although he is in a long-term relationship with the love of his life, Kelly Frears, whom he plans to marry, his demanding hours often interfere with his social life. When Christmas with relative is cut short by a Fed Ex emergency in Malaysia, Chuck leaves Kelly with a wrapped ring box, telling her not to open it until he returns on New Year’s Eve. However, it appears fate has other plans for him, when his plane crashes somewhere in the Pacific Ocean while trying to navigate through a violent storm. He is saved by the inflatable raft, but the emergency transmitter breaks off. Clinging to the raft, he floats all night and eventually washes up on the shore of an uninhabited island. Good news: Now Chuck has all the free time he could ever want. Bad news: He has nothing else but the clothes on his back, the contents of a few Fed Ex packages that wash on shore, and whatever else the island has to offer. Chuck must embark on a journey that mirrors the development of the earliest humans in order to survive, and in the process he learns what is truly important in life…

Tom Hanks is a great actor. There are very few people who can carry the bulk of a movie like this essentially on their own, and Hanks nails it. Add to this the directing chops of Robert Zemeckis, and you have the formula of a dramatic example of minimalism done right. The first half hour sets up the character of Chuck Noland, a tightly-wound corporate analyst who hardly has time to breathe, let alone develop a social life. While he lives by the clock and demands nothing short of the best from the employees he oversees, he does lend some sympathy to the character, so that he comes off as efficient and analytical rather than an obnoxious bureaucrat (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play an unsympathetic role in his life. Then the plane crash tears away everything he thought was important, and he is forced to learn how to survive with virtually no knowledge. Basically, he’s rediscovering what it is to be human, but at the same time he is determined not to forget what it is to be Chuck Noland.

Of course, the huge chunk of movie that takes place on the island is at once maddeningly quiet and terrifyingly loud. It lacks the usual noises of civilization (and a musical soundtrack), but possesses unexpected noises of virgin wilderness. It is not only the setting for Chuck’s personal journey but also a character in itself. It offers no advice, only the barest essential things he needs. He has no companionship save for a volleyball, with whom he has one-sided conversations to stave off loneliness. The plot is boiled and distilled and concentrated down to one thing – Chuck trying to survive. There is no antagonist except for the trials of scraping out his own existence, and you will either find it engaging or boring as hell, depending on your opinion of Hanks’ skill in this movie. Personally, I am in the former camp, and any actor or director that can make you cry for a volleyball deserves any awards he gets.

If you’re a fan of Tom Hanks and you’re in the mood for a modern-day take on Robinson Crusoe, absolutely check out Cast Away. You will soon find yourself journeying alongside Chuck into the heart of his own humanity, brought to you by Fed Ex.

The Dark Knight (2008)

06/03/2011 2 comments

In 2005, after the sheer goofiness of Joel Schumacher’s tenure in Batman movies, a little-known director named Christopher Nolan decided to retool to Batverse through a more real-world lens. His contribution was called Batman Begins, and it happily left its recent predecessors in the dust. In 2008, he directed a sequel to this retool, featuring his own take on one of the best-known and most frightening Bat-villains ever: the Joker. How did he do? Let’s find out.

The Dark Knight is a superhero drama directed by Christopher Nolan, based on the DC Comics character Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. It stars Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckart, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gotham’s criminal underworld is currently facing pressure from two fronts: on the one side, a bank that the mob uses for laundering money has just been robbed by a band of hood led by a mysterious figure called the Joker. On the other side, Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon have just recruited idealistic district attorney Harvey Dent to dismantle the mob through legal channels. When their accountant, Lau, reveals that he has hidden their money and fled to Hong Kong to pre-empt the D.A.’s plan, the Joker crashes the meeting, offering to kill Batman for the simple fee of half their funds. Nothing happening, they say. Kill the Joker, they say. Whatever, the Joker says. A little tip to all future mob bosses: if a complete psycho offers to show you a magic trick, SAY NO. It might not help, but at least you tried. Needless to say, nobody is likely to argue with a man that just jammed a pencil into their boss’s eye socket. However, the Joker’s motives, insofar as he has any, seem to be unrelated to money or power, and rather based on the theory that anyone can be corrupted, even the legendary Dark Knight himself. When he sets his sights on white knight Harvey Dent as an object lesson in this, things take a horrifying turn that has Batman questioning his own role in keeping the city safe…

Let me start out my saying that prettyboy Heath Ledger has managed to pull off the impossible: he can be scarier than Jack Nicholson. His portrayal of the Joker in this film was no sadistic clown with a circus shtick, no merry giggler with a fondness for deadly laughing gas and explosives. He as completely frapping out of his mind. He was chaos – a spanner in everyone’s works, determined to make everyone as psychotic as him, convinced that all it takes is one sufficiently bad day to make someone snap. He laughs because life and death and our insipid little rules of human interaction mean nothing to him. The Joker is the iconic villain of the Bat-mythos. He’s meant to be scary. He’s one of the reasons clowns are scary. He’s the villain we love to hate, but can’t kill because he’s just too damn awesome. Ledger absolutely nailed it – which kind of sucks in a way, in light of the actor’s death, because there is little hope that anyone could replace him as the Joker in the Nolanverse.

In a mild contrast to the Joker, Eckhart’s portrayal as the tragic, fallen paladin Harvey Dent/Two-Face works not on chaos but on law – but law can be just as unforgiving as chaos. The Two-Face effects were well-done – not cartoony and extreme like the Batman & Robin portrayal, but realistically disturbing, looking like he actually had his face dipped in flammable chemicals and set alight. (Incidentally, the effects guys were going to have the burns look more subdued and more realistic, but test audiences were literally getting sick in the theaters, so they said, “Screw it – dial up the burns all the way!”) It is easy to draw parallels between Dent’s fall and the tightrope that Batman walks every day: “Look at how hard he snapped; if I’m not careful that could be me.” While Dent walked in the sunlight, Bats walks in darkness, meaning that his tipping point is potentially both thinner and murkier – how far does he need to go to keep Gotham safe? How far is he willing to go to keep Gotham safe? How far can he go before Batman himself becomes a danger? Nolan’s multilayered portrayal of good and evil (and all the shades of gray in between) gives the Bat franchise a depth and complexity that hasn’t been seen in a while; you can’t always tell who the good guys and bad guys are. Under the right circumstances, they can be the same person.

If you enjoyed the gritty “real-world” vibe that Nolan has imparter to the Batverse, and you like your heroes flawed and your villains terrifyingly plausible, check out The Dark Knight. It deserves a place in any Batman fan’s movie collection.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)


History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.

Welcome to the 80’s, where fashions are loud and the teenagers are incomprehensible. Welcome to California, where everyone, like, totally talks like a surfer. Meet Bill and Ted, two average high school students righteous dudes who are about to embark on an excellent adventure in order to pass history class.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a sci fi comedy film directed by Stephen Herek, based on characters created by writers Ed Solomon and Chris Mathesen for improvisational theater. It stars Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin, and a motley handful of historical figures.

In the year 2688, San Dimas is a peaceful utopia, inspired by the music of the historical band known as the Wyld Stallyns. However, this future is in danger, because in 1989 the founding members, one Bill S. Preston, Esq., and one Ted “Theodore” Logan, are just a couple of metalhead slackers who are in danger of failing history class. If that happens, Ted’s father, the Chief of Police of San Dimas, will send Ted off to a military school in Alaska, forcing the band to break up. And that would be bogus. An agent named Rufus is sent back in time to offer aid in the form of a time-travelling phone booth, while the Stallyns try to hammer out a report on how various historical figures would react if presented with the modern day, without much success. After a bit of convincing from themselves from 24 hours in the future, the lads decide to give it a shot. When they accidentally bring back Napoleon from a foray to Austria in 1805, they are struck with the idea of actually bringing historical figures to the San Dimas of 1989 and setting them loose to see what they think. Naturally, a lot of hilarity ensues.

This is one of the classic comedies of the late 80s, and the movie that introduced the world to Keanu Reeves. It’s goofy and fun and plays merry hell with both time travel and history, just because it can. The two leads are unabashed slackers who start out thinking that Joan of Arc is Noah’s wife and don’t understand the historical significance of many key figures beyond their being a bunch of “old, dead dudes”. However, despite their baseline boneheadedness, the Wyld Stallyns are genuinely good-hearted people and care about each other in a hetero life partner sort of way, and the idea of being separated potentially forever clearly distresses them for reasons other than the breakup of their band. George Carlin’s portrayal of Rufus is somewhat nearer the “Mr. Conductor” end of his acting spectrum than the “Foulmouthed Cynic” end, and while his mentorship only lasts as long as pointing the Stallyns in the right direction for success, his handful of scenes are memorable as he acts as a Intertemporal Yoda.

Now, while at first blush this might appear to be just another stoner comedy (even though the boys don’t appear to be stoners so much as ditzy Californians), if you pay attention you will notice some very clever points scattered throughout the pure comedy. For example: Rufus never tells the Stallyns his name – they learn that bit of info from their future selves. In fact, they learn a lot about time travel from their future selves – and they seem to grasp it fairly readily once proof is offered (indicating they may be smarter than they appear). All the jokes involving Sigmund Freud (him getting attacked by the drape attachment on a vacuum cleaner, his corn dog drooping after he gets shut down by some girls in the mall), Genghis Khan in the sporting goods store (he actually assesses an aluminum baseball bat as a potential weapon, testing its strength and balance before going on a merry rampage), Beethoven tearing it up on electronic keyboards in a music store (even though he is close to deaf at the time they nab him, the speakers could easily be cranked up loud enough that even he could hear it), Napoleon’s exploration of San Dimas (he gets recaptured at a park named Waterloo, which is incidentally the name of the city where he was captured in real life) and the multiple temporal gambits the lads set up at the end to make sure they get their historical figures set up in the auditorium in time (which would require a hell of a lot of linear thinking on their behalf) combine to make you think while you’re laughing your ass off, and with a bit of afterthought you realize that all the potential paradoxes have been tidily ironed out (though this doesn’t seem quite so funny when you realize that all the historical figures most likely died shortly after being sent back).

If you’re looking for a multilayered time-traveling comedy that takes standard history and runs off giggling with it, I highly recommend Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. You will be laughing your ass off at the stoner moments and the “aha!” moments alike, and the time travel, while mainly a vehicle for comedy, is very well done. Get this one for your collection.

28 Days Later (2002)


After waking from a long nap, there is always that feeling of disorientation as you try to get your bearings. This is especially difficult if things have changed drastically since you went to sleep. Meet Jim. He’s been in a coma for 28 days. In that time, the world has ended.

28 Days Later is a zombie horror film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. It stars Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and Christopher Eccleston.

When a group of British animal liberation activists break into a lab to free some monkeys being used in medical research, they are warned that the monkeys are infected with a “rage virus” in the hopes of curing aggressive tendencies in humans. They don’t listen, and of course once they free one of the monkeys, one of the activists gets bitten, and hilarity ensues. Fast forward to 28 days later. Jim, a bicycle courier, awakens from a coma to discover that apparently London is completely devoid of human life, in one of the eeriest sequences in the whole movie. Then he discovers that, no, London is not abandoned – it’s populated by rage zombies. Yay. Fortunately the merry chase that ensues ends with Jim being rescued by a pair of uninfected survivors, Selena and Mark, who fill him in: the rage zombies are not dead, just really, really pissed off, and they try to kill anyone who isn’t infected. Trouble is, the rage virus spreads through bodily fluids, so a bite on even a bit of slobber getting in the wrong spot means that in a matter of seconds you’re one of them. Selena has hardened herself to this way of life, killing Mark without hesitation when he is cut in another fight with the Infected. It is not long, though, before they find another pocket of survivors, Frank and his teenage daughter Hannah, who offer them a place to stay and a glimmer of hope: a pre-recorded radio broadcast apparently being transmitted by an Army blockade in Manchester claiming to hold the solution to the Infection. Sounds great, right? Of course it does. Think it’ll be that easy? This is a zombie movie – of course it won’t. However, with dwindling supplies, the survivors have little choice but to investigate, and hope that they can survive the hordes of infected Rage zombies on the way…

I love zombie movies. They can be goofy and fun, or terrifying and claustrophobic, sometimes even within the same movie. 28 Days Later offered an interesting twist on the classic zombie – the living zombie, something previously explored by Romero’s original version of The Crazies but nearly forgotten until now. 28 Days Later crosses the living zombie with the fast zombie – something used extensively in the Return of the Living Dead series but since discarded until fairly recently with the Dawn of the Dead remake. This combination of zombie traits makes for a frenetic, terrifying take on the zombie movie. You don’t have time to react. You have to kill them or be torn apart. Infection takes seconds. And they absolutely hate you. The military subplot also reminds me a lot of the military subplot in Day of the Dead; the Army dudes have their own ideas about what constitutes a “solution” to the Infection, and once it is discovered you’re left with a general feeling of, “Well, we’re screwed now.” Because that’s what the military does in these movies: they take a bad situation and make it worse in the hopes of making it better.

The cast was tight and well-cast. Cillian Murphy works well here as disoriented coma patient Jim, the guy to whom the London situation must be explained by the others. He just wants to survive and get back to a normal life, and he is just as desperate and terrified as one would expect an uninfected human in a zombie apocalypse would be, but when he snaps – boy howdy. His woobie-ness goes away instantly, turning into a savagery that makes his later role in Red Eye look like Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Selena is another aspect of the zombie survivor, reluctant to make any human connections because she know that she might have to kill any allies without hesitation. Frank and Hannah comprise another aspect, the caregiver playing at normality to avoid traumatizing his young ward too much. And Major Henry West… you know, I’ve seen Christopher Eccleston in three roles so far, and only one of them, the Ninth Doctor, has been even remotely benevolent. I would call him Pragmatic Evil here.

Overall, 28 Days Later is a worthy addition to the zombie subgenre, effectively walking the line between subtlety and blind terror in its depiction of a once-bustling city given over almost completely to the Rage Virus. I highly recommend this one to all zombie fans.

The Abyss (1989)


About two-thirds of the Earth is covered in water. While science has pretty well figured out what lives on all the landmasses, the depths of the ocean remain a mystery. So far we’ve only caught glimpses of the strange, nearly-alien lifeforms that can withstand the crushing pressure in the deepest portions of the ocean, and its unlikely that were can ever know everything about the sea. We can only hope that whatever’s down there is friendly.

The Abyss is a science fiction film written and directed by James Cameron, starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Beihn, and some really neat CGI effects created the hard way. Because it’s a James Cameron film, that’s why.

It is the height of the Cold War. When the U.S.S. Montana sinks near the Cayman Trench after an encounter with something unknown, the Soviets waste no time in sending ships and subs to recover the submarine and its warhead. With a hurricaine moving in, the Americans decide that the quickest way to get to the sub before the Soviets do is to insert a team of Navy SEALs into a privately-owned experimental underwater oil platform called the Deep Core and use that as a base of operations. Lindsay Brigman, the designer of the platform, insists on going along, even though she knows that her estranged husband, Bud Brigman, is serving as the platform’s foreman. Things get complicated when the salvage team tries to determine the cause of the Montana‘s failure, and spot strange, apparently intelligent creatures down there with them. The situation goes from bad to worse when the hurricaine hits above them and they are unable to untether themselves from the Benthic Explorer before its crane breaks off in the storm, nearly pulling the Core into the Trench. Now trapped far underwater, they must decide the best method of recovering and disarming the Montana‘s nuclear missile, while all the time something unknown and inhuman is watching them…

James Cameron does not make small movies. Even when he has a small budget, he makes big movies. For The Abyss, he had a big vision that, unfortunately, outstripped the capabilities of special effects at the time. As a result, almost a half hour of footage was cut out of the theatrical release until Cameron was able to find a way to make it look good. Fortunately, I had the privilege of watching the Special Edition (sometimes erroneously called the Director’s Cut, even though Cameron did the original surgery himself), and it definitely fills in a few of the holes leftover in the theatrical release, like why are the water beings there and what the hell happened to the hurricaine at the end. The underwater setting is spooky and haunting, reminding us how little we know about this particular biome, and the interior shots are claustrophobic in a way that reminds me of the original Alien, and for similar reasons: there is nowhere to run. There is no escape. In this case, though, the main internal threat comes in the form of a Navy SEAL suffering High Pressure Nervous Syndrome, one of many true-life phenomena that Cameron included to give the story a nice ring of verisimilitude.

The plot was slow to develop, but engaging all the same. While the first third seemed like it was just going to be a deep sea drama, giving the audience time to meet the characters and learn about the setting and its hazards offered a chance to identify with the cast before weird stuff starts happening. As such, I had a chance to sympathize and care about these people, and I was definitely rooting for Bud during his moment of truth in the Trench. Some people criticized the Brigman estrangement subplot, pointing out the possibility that it had been inspired by Cameron’s own pending divorce, but I felt it added a layer of human drama to it, setting up a believeable reconciliation at the end. The alien beings were alien enough that they were definitely outside the realm of People in Suits, and the fact that all their technology was water-based offered a glimpse of the true possibilities of intelligent alien life. Interesting note: At the time this movie was made, CGI technology didn’t exist to create effects that shared a scene and interacted with human actors, so for example with the water tentacle Cameron made live-action models of the tentacle, and filmed the set from every angle so it could be digitally recreated with the water tentacle in place. In the end, ILM spent six months to create 75 seconds of really awesome looking footage.

If you’re in the mood for a sci fi drama with just as much drama as sci fi, check out The Abyss. It doesn’t get overwhelmed by the special effects, and in the end the human plot is every bit as crucial to the story as the alien plot. James Cameron wins again.