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Fifteen years later, the bad memories will not leave.
15 October 2005
The Voyage of the Mimi is definitely an experiment in pain. It was a serious attempt on the part of the creators to provide an entertaining and well produced story that could convey the educational foundations of Earth Science throughout the episodes. Unfortunately, the lousy characterizations and epidemically catchy theme song are still resonating violently in my long term memory. I can still hum the tunes to both the original theme song and the "jazzed up" theme song they played for the educational follow-up to each episode. Oftentimes, I wish that I couldn't.

I just found out now that Ben Affleck played C.T. Granville back in the day. Holy gosh, this show just got that much worse.

Absolute most horrifying memory from this show: Aging Captain Granville stripping down into his underwear and crawling into a sleeping bag with Ramon, rubbing up against him to cure his hypothermia.
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I really wanted to like this film, but...
21 December 2004
I've been told that people either love or hate this film, that it was weird and random; that it made very little sense, and that it would appeal to my appreciation for the bizarre. Though initially skeptical, I was sold by these words of warning. These were all the proper ingredients for a perfect film.

Yet The Forbidden Zone, a compromise between Rocky Horror and Monty Python, directed with questionable funding, talent, and motives, didn't work for me. I feel that it's my duty in life to support all misunderstood cinematic acts of deranged genius, so it therefore troubles me that I don't feel compelled to celebrate this one. What could have gone wrong? I guess my search begins by attempting to define what makes a "weird" film work. In my opinion, there are two ways. The first is when a director leads you through the weirdness with care and craft. Even in a film like Napoleon Dynamite, which makes no attempt to explain or even acknowledge its own purposeless randomness, the director is very consciously presenting this as if it were perfectly normal of both life and cinema, creating carefully calculated reactions of confusion and humor. These films work because the directors make them work. They cause you to either embrace the weirdness or to at least appreciate it.

The second way in which a "weird" film can work is quite the opposite. A "weird" film can succeed when the director has no intention of making it weird. These are the much beloved "b-movies" made by directors who had fully intended to be taken seriously, but who were simply too bizarre to be seen as anything else. Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda is my favorite specimen of this kind of film. No one really knows what expectations Wood had for this film, but unrestrained laughter at a Satan with pipe cleaners for eyebrows certainly wasn't it. These films work because they present weirdness in its truest form, without the hindrance of a conscious lens attempting to frame and explain it. They are pure weirdness incarnate. No artificial ingredients added.

But The Forbidden Zone falls into neither of these categories. Its particular brand of weirdness can best be compared to a party. Imagine arriving at a friend's party and discovering that you don't know any of the guests. They all grew up together and know your friend intimately, which makes matters all the more awkward. Your friend makes only the most meager of attempts to introduce you and make you feel welcomed, so the conversation quickly descends into old stories and in-jokes with which you have no familiarity. The Forbidden Zone is this friend, whom you are dependent upon for clarity and involvement, but who makes no effort to tailor the conversation (film's content) to your level of understanding. Rather than make any effort to present it to you, it merely leaves you to bear witness to the madness, watching gags and humor that seem very entertaining to the actors and director, but which only manage to evade and confuse you.

I'm the kind of person who can find the unexpected use of the word "carrot" funny, so I don't consider myself a prude when it comes to off-kilter weirdness. But "carrot" can only be funny when we have some guess as to why it was said; what reaction it was intended to provoke. A stranger on the street, muttering "carrot" without context or helpful facial expression, is someone who causes us to move to the other side of the street and avoid eye contact. It's more an anomaly than humor. The Forbidden Zone rubs me the same way. The plot is incomprehensible, the humor is odd, over the top, and carelessly delivered, and as we watch this whole mess unravel, we're given no entrance point. We don't identify with the characters, we don't care about the plot, and we're not given any context for understanding the weirdness (which is everywhere). Granted, a film can do without any two of these things. But for all three to be absent, it leaves an audience with no incentive for following along.

The production value of this film is a similar problem. Imagine an amateur home video that some eight year old kids put together. Now imagine a masterpiece of cinematography, complete with ingenious special effects and evocative, expressionistic backgrounds. Now imagine a compromise, somewhere between the two, but far from being either. It's hard to tell when this mediocrity is fully intended, and when it's entirely accidental. No doubt the cardboard walls of Cell 63 are an intended part of the film's look and feel, but what do we make of the characters' entryway into the Forbidden Zone, which includes them pressing themselves against a wall with a giant mouth painted on it, for one second too long, before the scene cuts to a cartoon of them journeying down the esophagus? I personally have no idea.

This film does have some high points that almost make the view worthwhile. Danny Elfman's appearance as Satan is highly amusing for the first two seconds, before his subplot descends into similar incomprehensibility and then ends just as quickly. My favorite moment had to be the death of the queen, which was surprisingly well done and clearly quite funny. Unfortunately, it was not enough to redeem the film for me.

In all fairness, this film has no responsibility to make itself understood. It's important to keep in mind that this was a college project, no doubt produced for the pleasure of a very small and specific audience. In this sense, exclusive humor might well be appropriate. It's not Richard Elfman (director) who owes me a response to my dumbfounded "What the F***?" It's the fan base that I don't understand, the people who have kept this alive as a cult classic phenomenon. Clearly, they're seeing something in the film that I'm not, and that frustrates me beyond belief.
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The Cinematic Masterpiece That Almost Was
29 October 2004
I have nothing against bad films, particularly in the horror genre. In fact, my collection is split between the great masterpieces (Nosferatu, Dr. Caligari, Night of the Living Dead) and the best of the worst (Glen or Glenda, They Saved Hitler's Brain, the Evil Dead series), but the one thing I have no tolerance for is a film that starts like a masterpiece and ends like, well, something else.

House begins well enough. Pitch black and scary sounds that are actually kind of scary set a brilliant tone. Elisha Cook's floating head then makes for an awkward first visual, but his unsettling acting quickly compensates. From there on in, Vincent Price takes the stage (as he properly should).

The premise is interesting enough, and the acting is mostly acceptable (with the exception of Carolyn Craig, who's been bashed enough in these reviews). Carol Ohmart is, in contrast, a jewel of an actress who truly holds her own in scenes with Price. Hers ultimately becomes the only character with whom I feel any connection in this film.

But what really sets the tone for this film is the cinematography. The camera does an excellent job of manipulating in highly subtle ways. It always manages to find a door or passage way in the background, which the actor does not see, leaving us to wonder if anything will come out of it. This is done in a very subtle way that hardly calls attention to itself. Similarly, there is no change in pacing or character movement, whether a character walks across the room and gets attacked by a monstrous hand or not. The camera bluffs quite well, never letting you know what's coming.

Unfortunately, after only a few short scenes, the movie falls on its face. The special effects are fourth rate, even considering the time period. Severed heads are hardly recognizable, and never deserving of a healthy suspension of disbelief. Worse yet, the climax of the film is utterly ruined by poor effects. Shown out of context, the dancing corpse would make for a fantastic laugh. At least the writers find a way to explain this utterly lousy effect, but the drama is quite lost by the time any explanation is delivered.

Worse yet, the film presents itself as a horror with a strong undercurrent of clever mystery to it. It's actually structured as a "Who Dunnit?" parlor mystery; a ghouls and ghosts version of Clue. Yet the final explanation is thoroughly unsatisfying and full of holes. It explains almost none of the film's bizarre occurrences.

All in all, this is probably a film everyone should see, if for nothing more than its brilliant potential (and let's not forget Vincent Price), but don't expect much more than a lot of screaming and running, prompted by dancing skeletons and plaster of Paris severed heads.
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Bold, under-rated and misunderstood
5 May 2004
Star Trek: The Motion Picture often gets a lot of flack from Trekkies and non-trekkies alike for being slow-moving, awkward, and unlike the television show it was expected to follow. Fans remember Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock as being much closer to the feel of the show they grew up with, and non-fans remember that a lot more things blew up in those films, which always makes for superior entertainment.

What these people fail to see in The Motion Picture is ambition. The creative team (staff writers, the director, and even the actors) took a beloved and well-anticipated follow-up to the Star Trek legacy and tried to do something more with it (gasp!). TMP gives us ample time to revel in reintroductions. Kirk's five minute glimpse at the exterior of the Enterprise is one such moment which scored major points with the fan base of the day who'd waited ten years to see the Enterprise again (and a much more realistic looking one too!), but which is hard to understand 25 years later, when you can't channel surf for twenty minutes without seeing a variation on The Enterprise in one of the myriad of Star Trek shows that have since been produced.

Indeed, much of the beauty of TMP can only be glimpsed if you're willing to approach it as if the year were 1979, and you'd been waiting ten years to see more Trek. While it's true that a two hour film of William Shattner's butt would similarly seem more pleasing in such a light, I can say with relative assurity that TMP has more to offer (no offense to Mr. Shattner intended).

The special effects are a particularly stunning element of TMP which is now all to easy to gloss over. The new model of the Enterprise, which actually looked real enough to make the overall shape look sort of corny, the warp speed effect (which paved the way for the warp effect we see in Next Generation and later shows), the interior of the energy cloud, and many of the ship sets are highly elaborate, and bring a new sort of credibility to the formerly silly looking world of Trek. Assorted visual effects are disproportionate (sometimes mind-boggling considering the time period, and sometimes looking like they were done with sheets and flashlights), but the new director's cut does a good job of replacing and improving upon the latter.

But most importantly, at the heart of TMP is a sincere desire to evolve Trek. An easy crowd-pleasing film would have found the original crew on their third five year mission, caught up in a war with the Klingons. Yey battles, special effects, and familiar territory! Instead, we're given estranged characters who have grown apart, as well as some (namely Kirk and Spock) who are battling with internal demons that they've never had to face before. These characters are darker and less prone to smiling than they had been before. This complexity is more likely to be appreciated by a fan who is familiar with these characters and would notice the change. Unfortunately, stubborn fans still miss the point, lamenting that this is not the same old Kirk and Spock doing the same old song and dance.

Perhaps most risky is the plot, itself. Rather than a clear-cut storyline, in which the characters are faced with a problem that involves conflict, struggle, and ultimately a master plan, TMP centers around a vague and undefined threat that slowly and barely maliciously unveils itself, appealing more to reactions of the mind than of the gut. The two final realizations (what V'ger is, and what V'ger wants) are similarly brilliant, standing out amongst some of science-fiction's best twist endings.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not a perfect film. The look of the film is a bit odd, with atrocious colors, contrasts, and uniforms, clearly reminiscent of Alien (1979) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), two of the three major sci-fi pictures that proceeded TMP. Both were also horror films, and their uses of visual styles were intended to create discomfort and a sense of foreboding. These visuals and their corresponding emotions are grossly inappropriate on the starship Enterprise, cherished home to our protagonists.

Similarly odd is the introduction and presence of Commander Decker and Lieutenant Eileya, two left-overs from the unproduced second Star Trek television series, who seem to have no place in this film. An inappropriate amount of time is given to introducing these utterly flat characters, as well as their relationship to one another, when neither contributes much to the film, aside from one being used as a pawn by V'ger. V'ger might as well have used a random ensign. Decker finally manages to get a crucial moment at the end of the film. However, based upon the clues and character momentum building since the start of the film, Spock would have been a more logical choice for this role. It certainly would have given more impact to the ending.

Of course, then we wouldn't have a Spock left to kill off in Wrath of Khan.

Finally, some of the music cues in this film are disasterous. While TMP features some sensational scoring, including the new Star Trek theme (which will eventually become the Next Generation theme), and a stunning love theme, both themes are reused ad nauseum, especially when the love theme pops up while Kirk leaves the enterprise in a space suit, looking for Spock. Perhaps the fan fics about those two were on to something?

Worse yet, instead of a theme, V'ger gets a simple haunting sound that could be best described as an electronic "boom". While terrifying and alien at first, the "boom" is quickly over-used, becoming comical as it's played on a beat every single time something new about V'ger is discovered. "Captian, I believe there's a craft within that cloud" (boom!). "V'Ger seeks the Creator" (boom!). This gets quite funny after a while.

All in all, however, the director's cut does an excellent job compensating for these flaws in judgement whenever possible. Rambling scenes are trimmed, odd and unnecessary scenes about the new lieutenant's chastity are (mostly) omitted, and minor details are subtly improved. Unfortunately, the new cut continues to leave out several short but key moments omitted in the original film version but later included in the made-for-TV edit. Decker's comment about creating God in one's own image is most clearly missing in this version.

To rap up a rather lengthly review, this is not the film to see if you're just in the mood to catch up with Kirk and the gang. Any of the other films could be considered far more trivial and light-hearted; far more fitting for the original series tone. This is neither a film for Trekkies nor for new-comers looking for easy entertainment. This is a complex thinking film, and it requires an understanding of the time, place, and audience for which the film was made. Clocking in at 136 minutes, it also requires a healthy attention-span. But if you can bring all that to a viewing of this film, you will not be disappointed.
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The Magical World of Disney: I-Man (1986)
Season 30, Episode 9
A show I've never forgotten
7 April 2004
Apparently, I was 7 years old when I caught I-Man on television. I had no idea what it was, and I have no idea why I was watching it, but even at that age, the premise was so unique to me; so fascinating. Nearly twenty years later, the memory of that one viewing stayed with me until this very moment when, in doing a search on Scott Bakula, I found the entry for this show. Previously, I'd had no idea what it was called, who was in it, or even that it had been a pilot for a TV show that was never picked up. I had thought it was a made for TV movie.

It's hard to work from an 18 year old memory, but what stood out about I-Man was the combined science fiction premise of a man who's unique power is to heal (an understated ability, but one with many uses), as well as the family-oriented heart of the show. After all, the father and the son both share their unique ability. They work together with a Batman/Robin sort of dynamic, though their relationship obviously runs deeper.

Essentially, it's a feel good family show with a kick-butt sci-fi premise. I would have been fascinated to have seen where this would have gone, and would love to track down a copy of the pilot. And, of course, with Scott Bakula in the lead, you can never go wrong.
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The scariest film I've ever seen in my life.
3 July 2002
I don't watch horror films to be horrified. I've sat through enough monster and slasher flicks to realize that fake gore and makeup combined with bad acting doesn't even get me to flinch. Dawn of the Dead was a film that made me think and care, but it never actually scared me. Still, the film was so much fun to watch that I had to try the third part of the series.

Day of the Dead is nowhere near as much fun, though very much worth seeing. As a previous reviewer commented, you don't really root for the humans. You don't like them. In fact, they scare you. And that's what really becomes the point. In the third film, this last group of human survivors in an underground bunker prove to be far more horrifying than the clumsy, thoroughly predictable living dead. Romero gives a terrifying glimpse into an apocalyptic future in which people can no longer cope with their situation, and so break down and become monsters to one another. This is the only film I've ever watched in which I had to pause and take breaks because the film was getting too intense. If you like to be scared....really really scared in a way that doesn't easily go away as soon as the film is over, I strongly recommend this film. Just don't watch it alone.
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