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Lost in Space (1998)
Not as bad as some want it to be
I watched Lost In Space recently after not having seen it in a while, and felt the desire to post a quick review of this movie.
When it came out, it seemed that everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon of panning this movie. It seems people felt that the acting was not up to par, the script was almost laughable, the FX shots were cheesy and this was just generally a bad movie.
They didn't get it.
I would never have considered myself a fan of the original TV series, though I do remember in my teens watching it on British TV on a Sunday afternoon when there was little else to do, often with lunch. Let's be honest here; it was hokey, campy and its relationship to "science fiction" as a genre started and stopped at the spacecraft and the robot. The rest was filler. Given that though, the original pilot was actually pretty dark; obviously a failed attempt at a very serious TV series that was degenerated to a comedy by the public impression that Irwin Allen could not produce a serious show.
And so we come to the movie. If you go into this expecting a campy sci-fi series bought up to date you'll be disappointed. Similarly if you go in expecting a serious movie more along the lines of the original pilot you'll also be disappointed. However, if all you want is to be entertained for two hours and not think too hard about the science, this is about as good as a typical summer blockbuster gets. It's a comic-book rendition of the concepts laid out in the pilot, and it shows.
While the script is sometimes a little "off", the well established actors such as Mimi Rogers, Gary Oldman and William Hurt chew up the material and create a charged and enjoyable atmosphere. Gary Oldman especially whips out yet another character who's intelligent, thoughtful and utterly evil. A comic-book stereotype if ever there was one and I can't think of anyone else who could've pulled it off quite so well.
Although the pacing trips a couple of times throughout the movie, the story generally moves along at a rapid and enjoyable clip. Don't expect good science from this; there isn't much here for the real science geek... but while the science may not be perfect it's at least not so glaringly and annoyingly wrong as in Armageddon for example which I can't sit and enjoy due to the stunningly bad science especially in "Act Two" of that movie (right after takeoff).
I truly feel that this movie could've been the start of a reasonably enjoyable franchise, but there were too many people who were ready to pan it because it wasn't what they expected. Granted, the trailers probably had much to do with that since they either made the movie out to be a campy takeoff of the TV show, or a serious Sci-Fi movie. This is neither, but put in perspective of being a comic book in and of itself, this is actually a highly enjoyable movie for anyone who just enjoys the pleasure of being told an engaging and enjoyable story.
I doubt there will ever be a sequel to this movie for all the reasons I detailed above; for a start the actors are getting older and are no longer the people as portrayed in this movie, the children especially. However, if there were ever a sequel then I know I would be first in line at the theatre to see it. Yes, I enjoyed it that much.
On that note, I usually find children in movies distracting and detracting from the rest of the movie. However, Lacey Chabert and and Jack Johnson do a wonderful job of being both fun to watch and a believable pair of siblings who mask their true affection for each other in barbs and insults... I know, I have younger siblings as well!
Take a chance; sit down with some popcorn and someone you love... if you have kids then there's nothing here that will really negatively affect them either. Let the world melt away and just enjoy this movie as it was meant to be enjoyed; as a comic-book bought to life. You might find it better than many other movies that tried the same formula.
Try as I might I just can't hate it!
When I first heard about Scooby Doo being turned into a movie, I will confess to being rather reticent about seeing it. I am just old enough to remember the original Scooby Doo cartoons on rerun, and was at the high end of the right target age group when Scrappy Doo hit the scene, and of course remembered Scooby Doo with a certain love. Of course, the cartoon was actually pretty terrible; the writing was bad, the cliches came in at a rate of knots, and the animation was second rate... but that's what we all expected of Hanna-Barbara cartoons.
I digress: I had heard about SD the movie on the Internet quite early in production and let out a groan; my childhood was being raped again for a buck in Hollywood. Why? Why bother??? Then when I heard Scooby was going to be CGI I actually groaned again. Of course, there is no other way you could have pulled Scoob off on-screen without CGI, at least not realistically... but CGI... that's just so passe any more! I still enjoy the artistry in modern CGI, but to me it felt like SD was going to be done just to prove that it COULD be done with modern technology... not to tell a story.
So it came, I read a few online reviews that panned it and failed to be surprised. I caught the trailers and failed to be inspired. I steadfastly avoided the movie theatres and just didn't go see it.
Fast forward to July of 2003; SD is playing on Cinemax (I think) and I've got some time to kill. Aw, what the hell... could be good for background noise if nothing else...
So having sat through SD the Movie, what do I think? Well, as much as I wanted to hate it because it was Hollywood raping my childhood, I just couldn't. I'm not going to say I loved it because that wouldn't be true, but I'll be darned if I can't admit that it was a whole hell of a lot better than I expected. Let me fill you in;
The cast is incredible. They have a real on-screen chemistry that really makes the movie for me. Especially Matthew Lillard as Shaggy... if he hasn't just completely NAILED the character as perfectly as you could in live action, then I'm the queen of France. There's the romantic attraction between Daphne and Fred that comes out on-screen pretty much throughout, and of course the distant attraction Velma had for Fred is right there too. But do I detect a little bit of an attraction to Shaggy? Don't remember that in the cartoon... but I can accept that.
The story? Well, it's a hell of a lot better written than the cartoons! Yes, it borrows heavily from them (and borrows from some of the SD animated movies that have been made in the interim), but still it's an interesting story with a nice twist at the end that had me actually laughing out loud. Not Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination... but a fun and engaging story that keeps your attention.
So what about the CGI Scoob? Wow is all I can say! I don't know what makes it more, the quality of the CGI or the way in which all the actors really made me believe they were sharing the screen with a 6'5" intelligent dog. The interactions were believable, and not once did I catch anyone making the mistake of looking in the wrong place on-screen (which is clearly evident in many instances where CGI characters are used). The personality is captured perfectly and translates Scooby from the two-color animation of my youth to a perfect rendition of how I envisaged him in my minds eye.
I'm sure many have heard about them already, but there are plenty of in-jokes that pepper the movie for those willing to pay attention. I won't say they're all laugh-out-loud funny, but they are amusing... and it was obvious pretty early on that the film-makers didn't like Scrappy Doo either (I know I didn't... I didn't even like him as a kid), but rather than pretend he never happened (*cough* Galactica 1980 *cough*) they actually bring him to life in this movie too... and actually he has one of the lines that made me laugh out loud (to those who have seen it, it's the line he never finishes saying...)
So did I love it as much as I loved Scooby as a kid? No. The movie was definitely not without flaws, and it did depart from the cartoons in some pretty major ways; for example one of the nice things about the cartoon (looking at it now from an adult's perspective) was that at the end of every episode it was reiterated however lightly that there are no such things as monsters, ghosts, ghouls etc. and that we as people are always responsible for these things. This is something I picked up on as a kid but didn't understand until I was an adult; and kids should be given that reassurance early in life that there are no monsters. The movie departed from that part of the formula... so personally I couldn't recommend the movie to younger (under about 8 or 9) children. However, even with these kids, recommend that a parent watch it with them... but of course there's plenty of adult-type humor in there too that will completely pass the kids by. To me that's the mark of a great kids movie these days; the ability to appeal to all ages.
Overall, I'd say a 7 out of 10.
The Time Machine (2002)
Not your father's time machine...
... almost literally.
The 1960's version of the fabulous H.G. Wells book was good in its day, and was a pretty good version of the source material. However, if you're expecting either a remake of the George Pal movie, or a word-for-word translation of the book, look elsewhere.
Instead, this movie is an interpretation of the source material (the book) viewed from a slightly different and more contemporary angle. At its heart, the movie is a tragic love story set against a science fiction background, with some fantastic special effects thrown in for good measure. The sight of the crumbling moon alone got my attention!
Looking past the usual glitz and glamor, the story is somewhat formulaic (so was the original book, even in its day!), but that's not a condemnation. This is decent escapism and a fun ride even if you don't normally like science fiction. My wife usually hates sci-fi, but loved this movie for the messages about humankind it portrayed (that life goes on). Personally, I loved the ironic twist revealed by Jeremy Irons as the Uber-Morlock that caused Alexander (Guy Pearce) to suddenly look like he was thinking "Now, why didn't I think of that??".
The ending is somewhat tragic, but also extremely uplifting. I was impressed and enjoyed it thoroughly. My only complaint? Probably about 20 minutes too short. Oh, but that score... wow is the only word that suffices!
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
Flawed, but still a masterpiece
First of all, reading these comments it drives me insane to see that no-one seemed to get the ending. Although it's not absolutely stated, those weren't aliens!!! They're mecha... the evolution of the very machines that were so persecuted by the orga! And the final outcome of the mecha/orga battle? The Earth froze and orga died, leaving only the disenfranchised mecha to "evolve". There are enough hints that this is the case.
On to my opinions of the movie itself; I think it's a wonderful story that's masterfully directed and fabulously acted. Oh, and did anyone else notice the "Pooh" relationship between David and Teddy? Seemed pretty blatant to me.
Anyway, Jude Law (a sadly underused actor in Hollywood) is fantastic in his role as Gigolo Joe, the poor mecha sex-droid who can't stop getting in trouble.
The movie's flawed; the first act is rather slow to find its footing and does give the start of the movie a somewhat schizophrenic feel. However, this beginning in retrospect also seems to echo the naievete of David in the early portion of the plot, confused and somewhat childish. By the end of the first act though it has found its footing and given us a lot of insight into the world into which David has been "born".
The second act is David's pursuit of his Blue Fairy. Everyone has a blue fairy; a dream that may take forever to make come true, but that we all must pursue in order to remain human ourselves. Without dreams and goals we are nothing better than the cold mecha that we (as humans) are shown persecuting in this act.
The third and final act is a beautiful climax to the story; happy enough to satisfy that the whole journey hasn't been for nothing, but ambiguous enough to leave you guessing even as the final credits roll.
Throughout, the imagery is beautiful and evocative, but this is NOT a movie you just mindlessly sit in front of and watch. It's a movie that requires you to think, which I think is why it's been so universally panned; most people go to movies to take their minds out of gear for two hours. Demanding movies tend to be a hit-or-miss thing.
I'll just wrap this up by pointing out that this movie now sits in my short-list of favorite movies, which is still topped by the wonderful Gattaca... which ironically also stars the fantastic Jude Law! Worth seeing just once... but be aware this movie demands a lot of the viewer! You have been warned.