Posts Tagged ‘the 1970s’

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Star Trekkin’
Across the universe
On the starship Enterprise
Under Captain Kirk
Star Trekkin’
Across the Universe
Boldly going forward
Coz we can’t find reverse!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a science fiction film based on the original Star Trek television series. It was directed by Robert Wise and stars the core cast of that series: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.

In deep space, a Starfleet monitoring station detects an alien force hidden in a cloud of energy, headed for Earth. As Space Anomaly #237 continues on this route, it eats three Klingon ships and the monitoring station in question, prompting Starfleet to recommission Admiral James T. Kirk, currently languishing as a desk jockey in San Francisco as Chief of Starfleet Operations. While the Enterprise is undergoing a refit under the supervision of a new commander, Captain Decker, Kirk’s superior experience with Hinky Shit in Space makes him a superior choice of captain in this case, and Decker is unhappily kicked downstairs while Kirk’s old crew is hunted down and reassembled for the mission, including Spock, who was undergoing a Vulcan ritual to purge all emotion from him when he felt a consciousness that he believes emanates from the cloud. A new addition to the crew is the navigator, Ilia, a member of an alien race that pumps out mad pheromones but, per regulations, she has taken a vow of celibacy so she doesn’t disrupt the crew. When the Enterprise intercepts the cloud, it probes the enterprise and abducts Ilia, replacing her with a robotic double with a single mission: to gather information. All the while, though, the cloud continues barreling for Earth, hell-bent on completing a mission started over 300 years ago, and it is a race against time for the Enterprise to find out what this mission was, and how to help the alien entity fulfill it before it destroys the planet Earth.

When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry recognized the potential that the franchise still held and lobbied Paramount to continue the series through feature-length films. Based on the continued success of Star Trek in syndication, the studio started bashing away at a Star Trek film in 1975, but the project hung in limbo until 1978, after the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind convinced them once and for all that sci fi films other than Star Wars could be successful. Consequently, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (expanding a plot intended for the pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, a show that ultimately never materialized) became a Proof of Concept that Trek could work in the film medium. As far as that went, ST: TMP fared well. It opened the door to more impressive films like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and a multi-film story arc involving the heroic sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Spock.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. The special effects were decent for 1979, especially considering that CGI wouldn’t even be a twinkle in Hollywood’s eye for two more years, but the Chromakey effects seem dated by today’s standards. The acting is pretty good, though, and the story keeps you engaged throughout without lagging or padding. I suspected right off that Ilia and Decker were going to be one-off Red Shirts for the movie, but the way they executed their final fates was imaginative and ingenius. The ultimate identity of the being V’Ger came as a nice surprise, too, and helped to link the Trek Verse with the “Real World”, albeit centuries in the future. There were a few points I didn’t immediately understand, having only seen a handful of episodes from the original series, but my roommate, a huge Trek fan, was able to help me fill in the gaps.

While it is not necessary to watch this film to understand the later entries in the Star Trek film series, I would recommend this to Trek fans as a glimpse into the beginnings of the Star Trek film franchise. While many points may go over the heads of non-Trekkies, it fares well as a stand-alone science fiction story, and I think most fans of the genre will enjoy it.

Blogger’s note: “Star Trekkin'” is owned by The Firm, copyright 1987. I am using it here without permission. All rights reserved, live long and prosper.


Man of La Mancha (1972)

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To be with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love, pure and chaste, from afar
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

Man of La Mancha is a film adaptation of Daniel Wasserman’s Broadway musical of the same name, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. It was inspired by Wasserman’s non-musical teleplay I, Don Quixote, which in turn was inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote de la Mancha. Directed by Arthur Hiller, this movie stars Peter O’Toole, Sophia Loren, and James Coco.

It is the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant are imprisoned after putting on a play making fun of said inquisition. Their fellow prisoners rifle through the trunk containing Cervantes belongings, which include stage props, costumes, and a manuscript of which Cervantes is very protective, as it represents his life’s work. The prisoners seize the manuscript and hold a mock trial to see whether Cervantes should get the manuscript back, and the playwright presents an impromptu play as his defense, telling the story of Alonso Quijana, a daft old man who has decided to live out his days as a knight-errant named Don Quixote de la Mancha, seeking out advantures with his “squire”, Sancho Panza, who privately agrees that Quijana is crazy but sticks around because it’s a likeable sort of crazy. And, either despite or because he is out of his gourd, Quijana/Quixote leaves a lasting impression on a number of people in the small town that hosts him, particularly a jaded whore named Aldonza whom he takes for the fair maiden Dulcinea, treating her like a queen when everyone else treats her like trash.

I don’t watch many musicals. I don’t know why. However, I enjoyed the hell out of Man of La Mancha. It was made during a time when Hollywood actors first had to claw their way up from the stage, and thus many of them were expected to sing and dance as well as act. Peter O’Toole is an obvious alumnus of this school of acting, but surprisingly so is the beautiful Sophia Loren (whose looks still hold up twenty-mumble years later). O’Toole is charming as both Cervantes and his creation Don Quixote, with both preferring to see the world as it should be rather than as it is. Loren’s portrayal as Aldonza initially rails against Quixote’s sweet romanticisms, having lived her adult life as a plaything for travelers, but even he brings her hope in the end, a spark of promise that perhaps she can be more than the lowly Aldonza, that perhaps Dulcinea lives within her after all. Running interference between madness and sanity is Sancho, who doesn’t believe in his master’s delusions but does consider him a loyal friend and is willing to defend him if need be (though he is not stupid – he hangs back and watches Quixote’s disastrous and iconic charge against the four-armed giants unsuspecting windmills).

While the source novel was intended as a satire of chivalrous fiction popular in the day, here Quixote’s madness is an allegory for idealism, for following your dreams, and for reaching for the stars even as life pushes you down into the mud. The fact that this clearly delusional knight is able to affect the “sane” people around him to the point that he does demonstrates the need for dreams, and it is heartbreaking to watch Quijana’s well-meaning family turn his own delusions against him, confronting him with a shattering dose of reality that nearly breaks his spirit entirely.

If you’ve ever wondered how important dreams and fantasies were an age of cold facts and harsh reality, watch Man of La Mancha. It’s an older classic that still holds up well today, and the tale of Don Quixote’s quest for humble greatness (if only in his own mind) is likely to inspire even modern audiences to reach for the stars.

Jaws (1975)

04/05/2011 1 comment

Sharks are pretty badass. On their own, many species of shark are the closest thing nature has come to a living chainsaw/garbage disposal combination. They are perfectly suited to hunting in the water, and they’re shaped a lot like torpedoes with teeth. Of course, of all the species of shark that stalk the seas, the one with the most bloodthirsty reputation has got to be the great white, thanks to a little book by Peter Benchley and a little-known director named Steven Spielberg, who combined forces like the Wonder Twins (only less lame) to produce a horror movie that made audiences of 1975 mortally afraid of cellos at the beach.

Oh, yeah, and they were afraid of being eaten by sharks, too.

Jaws is a horror film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and a frequently-malfunctioning animatronic shark named Bruce.

When a swimmer off the shore of Amity Island is killed, torn apart by an unseen force, the new police chief, Martin Brody, finds himself confronted by the possibility that there is a shark hunting the waters off the beach. However, the mayor is reluctant to close the beaches, as rumors of a shark attack will ruin the summer tourist season. The medical examiner reverses his initial ruling of death by shark attack and records it as a boating accident, and Brody reluctantly goes along with it, hoping it was just a freak incident. However, when a boy is attacked by a shark on the beach not long after, the evidence can no longer be ignored; the beaches are closed and a bounty is placed on the killer shark’s head. Brody ultimately finds himself teaming up with an oceanographer and a mercenary shark hunter to try to hunt down a killer great white that’s determined to snack on the denizens of a small island…

As with many horror movie series that started off good and then spiralled off into stupidity, the original Jaws is excellent. The accepted progenitor of the summer blockmuster, Jaws broke box office records of the day and put the fear of Bruce into moviegoers, with the result that beach attendance dropped sharply in 1975. Not bad at all, consider that you don’t even see the shark for the first half of the film. This decision (which legend holds is due to the animatronic shark repeatedly acting up on set) wound of the tension beautifully, to the point that you just about shit yourself when you see the thing for the first time. While nowadays the animatronic shark might seem a bit goofy and fake, nothing quite compares to that initial “OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?” moment.

The core cast was also excellent. Roy Scheider as reasonable authority figure Chief Brody was well-casted, and we share his frustration as he is forced to weigh OMG SHARK against the tourist season (which just proves that mayoral types in 95% of these types of movies just need a kick in the head). Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper makes his role as Captain Exposition fit in well, explaining the ways of sharks to non-Islander Brody as well as the audience. He’s the expert – that’s what he was called in to do. Hooper’s foil is Robert Shaw’s Quint, who also knows what sharks can do (his story about the sinking of the Indianapolis is based on actual history) and thus absolutely hates them. This film is surprisingly character-driven for a monster movie, making the plot every bit as much about the human cast as it is about the killer shark. The logical result is that the shark menace is more convincing – you are actually concerned about the people of Amity Island rather than waiting for a bunch of obnoxious sterotypes to get eaten.

If you’re sick of cookie-cutter monster flicks and just want a tense, engaging thriller, step into the Wayback Machine and check out Jaws. It’s by far the best and the scariest of the series, and the progenitor of the summer blockbuster and the modern monster movie.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

There are certain noises that will always inspire a certain level of fear in a sane human being. Explosions. Thunder. Someone screaming. And since 1974, the sound of a chainsaw being powered up. Thanks, Tobe Hooper. Thanks for making an entire generation afraid of power tools.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an American independent horror film by Tobe Hooper, starring Marilyn “I Had Laryngitis For a Week After This Movie” Burns, Edwin “He Looks Trustworthy” Neal, Paul A. “Can’t we just leave him on the side of the road or something?” Partain, Allen “I won’t survive the movie” Danziger, William “Why am I wearing this red shirt?” Vail, Teri “granola girl” McMinn, Jim “I loves me some barbecue” Siedow, William “You dumbass” Vail, and Gunnar “Holy shit get in the car!” Hansen, with a stunt voiceover by John “Night Court” Larroquette.

Presented as a true story (it’s not), the movie follows Sally Hardesty (Burns) and her brother Franklin (Partain) as they travel with three friends, Jerry (Danziger), Kirk (Vail), and Pam (McMinn) to the cemetary where the Hardestys’ grandfather is purported to be buried, after hearing reports of alleged grave robbery and vandalism. Afterward, they decide to visit an old Hardesty property; on the way there, they pick up a hitchhiker, but he turns out to be deranged and slashes himself and Franklin with a razor before they force him out of the car. They stop at a gas station, only to be told that the tanks are empty, but the refueling truck should be by that afternoon. They continue to the homestead, planning to stop at the gas station on the way out. When they arrive, Franklin tells Kirk and Pam about a watering hole nearby, and they decide to check it out and go for a swim. Instead, they find a house, home to a gruesome family that all share a common taste in meat.

Having picked this movie up to round out my experience in classic slasher movies, I walked into this movie knowing that it had influenced a whole subgenre of horror, and was considered a horror classic. After all, who hasn’t heard of Leatherface and his deranged clan, and how many cannibal redneck movies had been inspired by this one? The tiny budget (around $60,000) and the sensibilities of the mid-seventies naturally limited how much could be shown, but I’d seen campy horror from the seventies and eighties before, so I thought I was in for more of the same.

Afterward I was left with a single thought:

What the hell did I just watch?

This movie is uncomfortable to watch. The protagonists are bland and unremarkable (except for Franklin, who is whiny and obnoxious) and appear to exist only to get butchered. While most of the slasher conventions had yet to be created in 1974, some of their actions seemed beyond stupid (like picking up a hitchhiker who appears to have mental problems and blood smeared on his face, or not being alarmed by the discovery of a human tooth on someone’s porch, or taking a guy in a wheelchair out sightseeing in the middle of nowhere). Leatherface & Co. seemed to be more interesting than the heroes, and only then because they actually seemed to have personalities. The violence, though abundant in the second half was largely bloodless (and one would expect some of the red stuff when a guy is getting stabbed in the abdomen repeatedly with a chainsaw.

Now, I will grant that for a first effort Hooper overall did a decent job. He had a tiny budget to work with and did the best he could. The camera angles are tight, the directing is good, and the antagonists are terrifying and more or less realistic enough that you could imagine something like this happening somewhere on the fringes of civilization (and sort of did, as Hooper’s inspiration was the real-life serial killer Ed Gein). As far as slasher movies go, I would call this one an acceptable entry on most lists.

Alien (1979)

“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Thus the world was introduced to one of the most terrifying movie monsters ever, a nearly unstoppable killing machine designed to pour on the paranoia fuel in every possible way, including its nightmarish breeding cycle.  The Alien franchise would go on to span movies, books, video games, and eventually an official crossover with the Predator franchise to create one of the biggest franchise grudge matches this side of Freddy vs. Jason.

The original Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon (who would go on to direct Return of the Living Dead) and directed by Ridley Scott (who would follow his success with Blade Runner and Gladiator).  It starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton as the crew of the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo whose return trip to Earth is sidetracked by an apparent distress signal from a derelict ship, where they find the pilot is long-dead, his ribcage apparently exploded from within, the rest of the crew is not in immediate evidence, and a lower hold is filled with leathery eggs.  When Kane (Hurt) investigates one of the eggs, it hatches, releasing a spiderlike organism that attaches itself to his face.

Over the objections of Ripley (Weaver), Ash (Holm) allows Kane and his passenger back on board the Nostromo, carried by his teammates Dallas (Skerritt) and Lambert (Cartwright).  In the infirmary, the crew unsuccessfully attempt to remove the parasite, discovering in the process that it has corrosive acid for blood.  Fortunately, it ultimately detaches on its own and is found dead, while Kane recovers apparently unharmed.  However, over dinner, the crew discovers that the true terror is just beginning, in a scene that has been referenced and homaged many times since, most notably when Hurt himself reprised his role for a cameo in Spaceballs.

Alien still holds up well today as a tense horror movie set in the “used future” that would be depicted in future sci fi films, and the Alien itself (designed by H. R. Giger, the master of biomechanical body horror and symbolic penises, and amazingly played by a 7’2 Nigerian design student named Bolaji Badejo in a suit) continues to terrify even today, with its overall design blending in perfectly with industrial surroundings, and its chilling, insectile efficiency letting you know right off the bat that it does not care about you.  If you are lucky, you are food.  If you are unlucky, you will be an incubator.

It is worth noting that the original script did not specify the genders of the seven leads, making Sigourney Weaver’s casting as Ripley less a matter of her being the Final Girl of a horror movie and more an inspired bit of serendipity that would lead to her pioneering the Action Girl archetype later in the franchise.  Indeed, the crew of the Nostromo are not action heroes – just government contractors who discover that EvilCorp Weyland-Yutani is quite willing to throw them to the wolves if it will get them the finest weapon they could ever hope to find.  The role of W-Y regarding the Xenomorphs continued to be explored in the Expanded Universe, showing savvy viewers that sometimes the worst monsters are completely human.

Overall, Alien is an excellent example of science fiction/horror subgenre.  The characters are sympathetic and believable, and the creature effects still hold up well and make us believe that this is a monster that would gladly eat your face as soon as look at you.  If you want an example of a hostile alien movie done right, look no further.