Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Guest Review: Innerspace (1987)

By ScottDS

When Steven Spielberg was at the height of his powers (and still had talent to match), his production company Amblin Entertainment cranked out family-friendly hit after hit, including the masterpieces Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Amblin also produced several other fun films we still fondly remember today, like The Goonies and Gremlins. My personal favorite of those is Joe Dante’s underrated sci-fi comedy Innerspace, starring Martin Short, Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, and a menagerie of character actors.

Dennis Quaid is Lt. Tuck Pendleton, a fun-loving test pilot who is participating in a top secret miniaturization experiment. He’s supposed to be injected into a rabbit but the lab is raided during the process. The scientist in charge escapes with the syringe into which Tuck’s submersible pod has been transferred. He makes his way to a nearby mall and, after being fatally shot, manages to inject the syringe into the ass of Jack Putter (Martin Short), a hypochondriac grocery clerk. Using the pod’s technical capabilities, Tuck is able to make audio and video contact with Putter. At first, Putter thinks he’s crazy but Tuck convinces him otherwise. His oxygen supply is running out and they need to find one of the microchips needed for the re-enlargement process – one is in the pod but the villains have the other one. With Tuck’s investigative reporter girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan) in tow, they manage to find the bad guys, steal back the chip, and get back to the lab so Tuck can be restored to his original size.

The plot is simple but the above paragraph doesn’t do it justice. We complain today about convoluted plots, redundant characters, and unnecessary twists, but it’s a credit to Joe Dante that everything is managed. There are so many characters and ideas on display but we’re never lost. Tuck is working for Vectorscope Labs. Dr. Ozzie Wexler is the scientist in charge and he’s not even played by an actor – he’s played by John Hora, who was Dante’s director of photography on previous films. Character actors Mark Taylor and Harold Sylvester play project leader Dr. Niles and government official Pete, respectively. Putter works at Safeway where his ditsy co-worker Wendy is played by Dante regular Wendy Schaal and his manager Mr. Wormwood is played by the late Henry Gibson. His physician Dr. Greenbush is played by William Schallert. Lydia’s editor is played by Orson Bean.

And now, the bad guys. The late Kevin McCarthy plays Victor Scrimshaw, a man with a criminal past and no principles: he’s only in it for the money. His scientist Dr. Canker is played by Fiona Lewis and their one-handed hit man Mr. Igoe is played by Vernon Wells (who played the villain in Commando), complete with swappable hand accessories. There are a couple of unnamed henchmen who get a couple of funny moments and I haven’t even gotten to the weirdest character yet: a Middle-Eastern terrorist who deals in stolen technology yet loves American culture. He’s known as The Cowboy and is played by Dante regular Robert Picardo. There are also cameo appearances from Kathleen Freeman, Kenneth Tobey, Chuck Jones, Short’s SCTV cohorts Andrea Martin and Joe Flaherty, and Dante perennial Dick Miller.

Scrimshaw needs to get the microchips to The Cowboy so he can sell them overseas. They have photos of Jack and a hitman almost kills him in his apartment. To say Jack is timid would be an understatement but Tuck manages to help build his self-esteem as the film moves along. They make it to the lab where Niles and Pete mention that Tuck only has a limited supply of air. When Pete asks why Tuck couldn’t take the pod down to Jack’s lungs, Niles reminds him that the change in pressure would cause the pod to explode. Their only opinion is to get the chip back. Tuck tells Jack to meet with Lydia. She believes Jack, who’s been ordered by Tuck not to tell her the whole truth. (Things are complicated between the two.) Lydia already has Scrimshaw and The Cowboy on her radar and they follow The Cowboy to a dance club he likes to frequent on his trips to the U.S. Lydia decides to go with The Cowboy back to his hotel room and Jack is to follow. Once there, Jack knocks out The Cowboy and ties him up.

Now here comes the weird(er) part. Tuck is able to alter Jack’s facial nerves, in essence, restructure his face to look like that of The Cowboy’s. What makes this scene work is simple: Tuck puts on reading glasses and looks at an instructional manual – little touches which make the science and technology much more plausible. For the next scene in which he needs to convince Lydia, Jack is played by Robert Picardo with Martin Short dubbing the voice. When they meet with Scrimshaw and Canker, it’s still Picardo but with his own voice, doing a bad Martin Short impression doing a bad Cowboy impression. Scrimshaw shows them the chip but, suspicious of his real identity, Igoe threatens him with his blowtorch hand. This wreaks havoc on Jack’s nervous system and, in a show-stopping display of animatronic effects, his face reconstitutes itself.

They decide to inject Igoe into Jack so he can get the chip out of Tuck’s pod, a process that will most likely kill them both. Lydia overpowers the group with a fallen henchman’s gun and orders everyone into the miniaturizer. (The bad guys’ tech is much more advanced than the good guys’ tech.) Jack and Lydia escape with the chip but not before Igoe is injected into Jack. Scrimshaw and Canker are miniaturized as well, but only by half. After a bizarre car ride in which a pint-sized Scrimshaw tries to get the upper hand, they make it back to Vectorscope. Tuck kills Igoe by dropping his pod in Jack’s stomach acid and Jack manages to sneeze Tuck out onto Niles’ glasses. The scientists re-enlarge Tuck and everyone lives happily ever after. The film ends at Tuck and Lydia’s wedding. Jack now has a much healthier self-image and he’s no longer in need of his doctor’s services. He quits his job and, after seeing that the newlyweds’ limo is driven by The Cowboy, he takes off: “Jack Putter to the rescue!” Sadly, this open ending never led to a sequel.

Wow, what a movie! Despite all the bells and whistles, there’s a genuine heartfelt story here. Tuck is a drunk and he screws up the one night he spends with Lydia at the beginning of the film. At one point, Jack and Lydia kiss and Tuck is thrown into Lydia’s body where he comes face to face with his future child. Jack becomes a better person by virtue of being forced out of his comfort zone and Tuck realizes what he has in front of him as he sees Jack interact with Lydia. We also have a supporting cast of veteran character actors, all of whom have at least one memorable moment. The technical aspects of the film are top-notch. ILM’s Dennis Muren won his fifth Oscar for producing visual effects so realistic that Roger Ebert thought they had put a miniature camera inside Martin Short. Jerry Goldsmith’s score combines elements of romance, sci-fi, Americana, and every time The Cowboy shows up, we get a comical twang.

I’m thankful that I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s. It might be my rose-tinted glasses but I’m beginning to believe that movies were simply more fun back then. I realize many people blame Lucas and Spielberg for the commercialization of movies but even 25 years ago, it wasn’t as bad as it is today, where your film won’t get made if the marketing flunkies can’t picture the poster in five seconds… and if you can’t sell it to China? Forget it! While Joe Dante was never an A-lister, Spielberg is still cranking out hit after hit, but would you rather watch Transformers and Cowboys & Aliens, or Gremlins and Back to the Future? At some point, he went corporate and all of his productions today come across as pre-packaged concepts that play it safe. With the movies in the 70s and 80s, there was a certain “devil may care” attitude on display. Also, filmmakers didn't see the need to put kid sidekicks in a lot of their films. The thinking today is, “Kids need someone in the film they identify with.” Bullshit. When kids saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, they wanted to be Indiana Jones! They didn't need an on-screen surrogate! And as I mentioned in my last review, political correctness hasn’t done film any favors. Even leprosy patients have their own lobby now!

Two quick items. . . there’s a scene a third of the way through the film which doesn’t move the plot, but it’s a nice relationship scene where Jack and Tuck get to know each other. Tuck wants a drink, which means Jack needs to drink. He downs a bottle of Southern Comfort, gets drunk, and dances around Tuck’s apartment to Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away,” as only Martin Short can. (There may or may not be a home movie of my brother and I re-enacting this scene!) And sadly, co-writer Jeffrey Boam passed away in 2000 at the young age of 53. Here are some of his other credits: The Lost Boys, Lethal Weapon 2 and 3, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. I always wondered what he could do with a Star Trek film but let’s face it: today, he’d be working in television!

P.S. I know I've been on an 80s kick lately but for my next review, we're off to the 90s!

“When things are at their darkest, pal. . . it's a brave man who can kick back and party.”


Tennessee Jed said...

I remember this movie Scott, which says something, given the fact it is my "lost decade." My recollection was it was technically extremely proficient and just a tad convoluted; items which were brought out in your review :)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for the review. I haven't seen this in a while, but my memory agrees with Jed -- that it was well done in most departments, but overall seemed to be trying a bit too hard. I'll have more thoughts soon.

Anonymous said...

Jed -

I guess that is saying something. :-) I never thought of it as convoluted, but you bring up an interesting point. When we're young, we accept what we watch without question (for the most part). Only when we're older do we begin to question this sort of thing. For example, I used to watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a kid but only later did I realize, "Man, that movie drags in places!" As a kid, it never occurred to me that people frowned on it.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I don't think the film was trying too hard but I will admit that it walks the line between "overdone" and "just right." Some movies need more material, others have too much of it, and I think this one is right in the middle (maybe closer to the "too much" side of the spectrum). :-)

Now and then, I'll think of a movie where big things are happening, yet the filmmakers can't help themselves. This is a terrible example but take Armageddon (please!): it's not enough that the film has oil drillers shuttling into space to destroy a meteor... no, they need to throw in the military vs. NASA angle at the last minute and one astronaut even has a gun!

That is what I call trying too hard!

Outlaw13 said...

I remember this movie, back when Meg Ryan was likeable.

Anonymous said...

Outlaw -

Not only likeable but natural. Sadly, she's gone under the knife and it shows.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It's not very overdone, it just feels a little busy. I think there too much going on (too many players) for it to find its rhythm completely.

And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it stinks by any means. I'm just saying that I think it is rather convoluted for what it is.

AndrewPrice said...

I agree about Ryan. At one point, she was cute and bubbly and seemed very nice. But a lot of people who met her had very nasty stories to tell. I agree about the surgery too, it's really bizarre.

Anonymous said...

The film does feel busy but I think its managed well. It's a case of "Ooh, what's gonna happen next?" as opposed to "Oh, God, make it stop!" :-)

Doc Whoa said...

Scott, I enjoyed this film a lot. I have a lot of goodwill toward Quaid and I had a lot of goodwill toward Ryan at the time.

Anonymous said...

Doc -

Nice to see a fellow fan. Dennis Quaid is someone I'd like to see more of on the big screen. But it looks like he might be coming to television instead.

I'm indifferent to Ryan but she really was America's sweetheart for a while. Nothing lasts forever.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It definitely doesn't get to that point. What I'm saying though is that it strikes me that the movie is a little too busy and I think they would have been better served narrowing it's focus a bit.

And you know me, I have nothing against complex stories. I just think something this "light" needed a stronger direct focus on one lead and one subplot. So I would either eliminate Short, Ryan or the bad guys and refocus the story.

Now... all that said, I do enjoy the film. I'm just saying I think it could have been better if they had more focus.

On Quaid, I like him a lot and he's someone whose movies I always check out. I liked Ryan a lot at the time, but she slowly lost me as story after story came out of her not being very nice in person. Outside behavior can affect my views of actors and she's one of the casualties. Ironically, I can't even identify a single incident, I just know I kept hearing stories of her being nasty and that took hold. Julia Roberts was the same thing.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. If you really want to lose me, get noticed in the paper for throwing a tantrum at a waiter. That's absolute asshole turf there.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Noted! :-)

As for the film, I think the multiple subplots and characters flesh things out and help it transcend any "kiddie movie" stigma that may have been attached to it. Even other movies of the period (like Joe Dante's Gremlins) had a lot going on and people tend to remember those things, the doodles in the margins, so to speak.

But there is a reason why this film isn't mentioned in the same breath as Back to the Future... a film whose plotting was perfect.

EricP said...

Martin Short at his manic best and Quaid/Ryan a very believably likable team. Scrimshaw definitely one of the best villain names, too. Doing this and UHF fairly back-to-back were genius moves for McCarthy.

TJ said...

I love this movie - it's been a while since I've seen it though. It does have a lot going on, but I agree with Scott's assessment. Sorry Andrew!

Anonymous said...

Eric -

Yeah, some names are just a perfect fit, like Victor Scrimshaw... and I'm usually leery of names that sound "too cinematic," in other words, names that sound like the writer's trying too hard.

I haven't seen UHF in years but McCarthy is just one of those guys who make everything that much better. He worked with Dante on 6 other films, including a little-known HBO political satire called The Second Civil War. It was about immigration and, if I recall correctly, it was a bit ahead of its time.

Anonymous said...

TJ -

Glad to hear it! It comes on TV once in a blue moon. The DVD is hard to find in stores but Amazon has it. I'm waiting patiently for a Blu-Ray release. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, Very well, I know when to retreat! ;)

Interestingly, I've been watching a lot of 1980s films recently. HBO or Max or one of them seems to be running through the entire 1980s catalog and I have to say there isn't a bad movie in the bunch and most have been thoroughly enjoyable. It's almost a forgotten experience to sit down, watch a movie and just forget the world for a couple hours. Hollywood has lost something.

Contemporary Studio Executives said...

Bullcrap! As long as there's lots of CGI, you can cover up the bland characters and gaping plot holes and have all the Transformers and Cowboys and Aliens you want!

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

You subscribe to HBO?! You liberal heathen! ;-)

I do, too, but I've mostly been catching up on new-ish movies. I enjoyed Battle: LA very much. It wasn't perfect but it was very good. Hannah was... something else. Almost like an action flick with a dash of art film. Date Night was stupid and only tolerable because of Carell and Fey. And I mentioned before how pleasantly surprised I was with Black Swan. 3 out of 4... not bad, though I have no need to see any of them ever again.

There are good movies made today but I find myself in no rush to revisit most of them. That said, I'm eagerly awaiting the Blu-Ray release of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol. An acquaintance of mine said, "When it comes to everything big-budget blockbuster studio filmmaking should be, that is it." And it pretty much is.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Apparently, yes, I must be a communist. LOL!

I've caught up on all the new stuff and am currently enjoying the older stuff. Most of the new stuff is garbage, but some of it is ok. Battle: LA was excellent. The others, not so much. I really disliked Percy Jackson. And I've decided to review Clash of the Titans this week. Date Night was stupid.

Anonymous said...

Comrade Andrew - :-)

I have no interest in Percy Jackson though I understand they're doing a sequel. I also had no interest in Clash of the Titans... I believe that sequel opens soon. The TV ads look so... generic.

LawHawkRFD said...

I loved the movie, and still find it fun for myself and the older grandkids. Even the bare butt taxi scene was not too salacious for younger kids. I'm a Quaid fan like many others here, and like them, I've liked Ryan a lot less over the years. I even liked William Schallert in his brief appearance as the doctor trying to calm the hysterical Martin Short. I lived near Kevin McCarthy for a couple of years in Sherman Oaks, and we'd run into each other at the local Hughes supermarket. He was always pompously funny, and a lot bigger than he looks onscreen.

Andrew: Clash of the Titans was so impossibly bad that I may be AWOL that day. The original was fun, sweeping, heroic, romantic, and Harryhausen's special effects, though outdated now, were great (especially compared to what I can only describe as CGI flying dirt in the new version).

Anonymous said...

LawHawk -

Glad to hear it! Yeah, other than a few profanities, there's nothing really inappropriate for kids. Our mother was always strict with that sort of thing but this movie was just fine.

William Schallert is still working. He even showed up in a few Get Smart episodes under heavy make-up as the elderly first chief of Control, nicknamed "The Admiral."

Re: McCarthy, usually actors appear much smaller in person than on the big screen, not the other way around. :-)

Commander Max said...

I woundn't call him a lib/commie. More like masochistic.

Scott that was quite a time in movies, I remember when the Last Starfighter came out. I saw it opening weekend, I wanted to see it again but 2 weeks later it was gone(in a time where movies played for months). Today it was considered a good film, back then it was bomb. It's quite a contrast to today where films couldn't even come close to the level of story the Last Starfighter put out. But are blockbusters.

Movies today are just not as memorable as those old films, I remember all sorts of stuff from some very off beat films. I couldn't remember very much(if anything) from the latest ST movie, but I remember all sorts of stuff from Robotjox. That was a very bad movie but memorable.

I do think they put to much stock in a look of a film vs. the content. Somebody has one really good image in mind and they try to make a movie around it. To me that shows a bit of desperation. Somebody sold a film on an image, not a story.
And they think we are the idiots(at least not all of us).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, This one promises to be 10 times better... or just 10 times more generic. I'm planning to compare this version to the original to point out a few things that went off the rails with this version.

And Percy Jackson made the new Clash of the Titans look like The Lord of the Rings. It was just awful all around.

Lawhawk, The original was great, the new version was horrible.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I agree. When I look back on films from the 1980s, even the bad ones had their moments. They had memorable characters, memorable situations and always had a line or two that you remembered. The great ones of course had so much more.

Today, so many film are entirely generic -- from start to finish, with nothing worth remembering. They all use the same characters, the same tempos, the same bland dialog and the same CGI sequences instead of plot.

There is no comparison between the two eras -- the 1980s films win hands down.

Anonymous said...

Max -

Yeah, it was a good time and I'm glad I came along at the tale end of it. I finally saw The Last Starfighter for the first time about five years ago. I liked it, though it felt... small. It did, however, make me an instant fan of Robert Preston.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I look forward to reading your review. I can imagine the nicknames you'll be using for Sam Worthington. (As if you didn't use enough in your Avatar review!)

As far as stuff worth remembering, that's why I think Innerspace fires on all cylinders and nothing is extraneous, even if it goes a little over the top at times. As I mentioned above, people remember the little non sequiturs... in other words, the doodles in the margins.

That's why The Simpsons isn't as funny in syndication, where all of those little irrelevant gags are the first ones to be cut out.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I called him "Lifeless" in my review of Termination Salvation and he's done nothing to shake that title.

I agree that it's the little moments that people remember and not the broad sweeping plots, and that's what films are missing today because they are so paint by number -- there is never anything in most modern films that isn't 100% prepackaged and meant to appeal to mass audiences. I'm almost tempted to review Percy Jackson just to make this point. That film is full of what appear to be "little moments," but they aren't. They are ALL well-worn moments you've seen many times before. You see them coming a mile away, they are tedious to watch, and when they are done you are thankful they are over. It's like they wanted to make sure that they never took a single risk by doing anything unexpected.

Anonymous said...

If there are little moments, they're stupid or done for shock value which only gets you so far. So the guys in The Hangover (a movie I like) visit a doctor who's giving an exam to a naked old man... oooohh. There's no point to that. Or the moments are pop culture references that will date the movie.

On the other hand, I still laugh at the bit in Innerspace when a lady walks up to Henry Gibson in the supermarket with a piece of meat and says, "Smell this. Go on, smell it!"

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Yep. These scenes rarely feel like they are part of the story anymore, they feel tacked on, and they don't flow naturally from the material -- they feel like the director said, "wouldn't it be great if X happened, let's find somewhere to add that...."

In Percy Jackson, these were mainly cameos and "wouldn't that be cool" moments that made the whole story feel like a film rather than a genuine story.

Anonymous said...

There have been at least a couple great movies that were spawned from "Wouldn't it be cool if..." conversations... Raiders of the Lost Ark being a great example, but Lucas, Spielberg, and Kasdan also paid attention to the Indy character and his relationships and between the three of them, there was always someone to say "No!"

Plus Spielberg wanted to see how efficiently he could make a movie after 1941 so they couldn't afford to "tack" on something. Not to mention this was the early 80s and these guys were on top of the world - they knew how to make good movies.

(I am oversimplifying a little bit. Obviously, there's more to Indy than "Wouldn't it be cool if..." but if you ever read the original story conference transcripts, you'll see a lot of this kind of thing.)

By the way, I thought of some more recent films I've seen lately. Hall Pass sucked. Bad Teacher sucked. Cedar Rapids sucked. Horrible Bosses was surprisingly funny. Drive Angry with Nicholas Cage was exactly what you'd expect from a Nicholas Cage film with that title. :-) The Muppets was cute. Take Me Home Tonight was a pleasant surprise - not a great movie but a nice 80s throwback that didn't deserve to bomb in theaters.

Commander Max said...

It real sad The Last Starfighter was the last film Preston did.

Generic is a perfect term, all of the energy is put into opening weekend and the video release.
With some merchandising thrown in for good measure. I think it's that focus that has been killing the movie industry. It obviously isn't going very well, since the movie industry is getting government help.

Since we are discussing 80's flicks here is some of my favorites-
Spaced Invaders
My Science project
My Chauffeur
Flight of the Navigator
Blind Date
Big Trouble in Little China
Cherry 2000
The Dark Crystal
Earth Girls are Easy
Electric Dreams
The Goonies
Jumping Jack Flash
Making Mr. Right
Masters of the Universe
My Stepmother is an Alien
The Neverending Story
Night of the Comet
Once Bitten
The Pick Up Artist
Pretty in Pink
Real Genius
Return to OZ
Revenge of the Nerds
Short Circuit
Sixteen Candles
Space Camp
StarChaser: The legend of Orin
Teen Witch
They Live
This is Spinal Tap
Transformers: The Movie
Valley Girl
The Wraith
Young Einstein
Young Sherlock Holmes

This is only a participial list. I left out the major stuff, like ST, SW, Aliens, etc. I'm sure there is more, the scary thing is just how much time we spend on entertainment. I'll bet you guys have seen most of the movies on this list(if not all). Talk about putting things in perspective, it would be interesting to make a list of shows seen over a lifetime(tv and movies).

Anonymous said...

Cmdr. -

I've seen 27 of the films on your list, and that includes both films I've seen only once years ago and others I've seen a million times.

And I, too, wish someone were keeping track of everything I've ever watched. I'm sure some of the numbers would surprise me.

Without delving into every film...

I saw Spacecamp for the first time a few years ago and I can definitely see why it's not mentioned in the same breath along with the Amblin films. It's a bit cheesy and the FX are pretty dated. And as if the space program wasn't enough, they had to throw in a fictional kid-friendly robot!

Zapped... oh God. I watched this with friends a year or two ago and we all had a blast. I'm still not entirely sure how Scatman Crothers ended up in the film. :-)

Howard Stern was in talks to remake both Revenge of the Nerds and Porky's and there were even mini-posters handed out at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con, but it never happened.

AndrewPrice said...

Excellent list. I'm not blowing you guys off, I just need to finish something and then will come back to comment.

AndrewPrice said...

Max and Scott,

Excellent list. I’ve seen seen all of those except: Teen Witch, Return to OZ, The Wraith

Let me add a few more of my personal favorites (again excluding BIG stuff):

Back to School
Better Off Dead
Brewster’s Millions
Buckaroo Banzai
DC Cab
Doctor Detroit
The Fog
The Hitcher
One Crazy Summer
Prince of Darkness
Red Sonya
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
Ruthless People
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Short Circuit
Three O’Clock High
Top Secret

Commander Max said...

"Max and Jinx, Friends forever".
Imagine all of the hearings after the shuttle was sent up, "Yes Senator, the robot did it". You know the fictional head of NASA for that movie lost his job.

Better Off Dead/One Crazy Summer how could I forget those films.
Mad Savage Steve Holland that was one director who should have made more films.
"Two dollars!"

Andrew I've seen all but a few on that list. I'm not a big horror fan, so I usually avoid those flicks.

Guys imagine combining the list of movies with TV shows. The number of hours we have all spent watching this stuff is staggering to think about.
How did any of us get through school?

Anonymous said...

Andrew and Max -

Three O'Clock High is a movie that should be better known. I saw it 7 or 8 years ago and was surprised by how much I liked it. Lot of directorial flourishes and style in that one, too.

When I lived in LA, I had the privilege of seeing a midnight showing of Clue done in the style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with actors performing the film on stage. Audience participation was encouraged and it was awesome!

And Max, you mentioned Robot Jox somewhere above and I forgot to comment. I haven't seen the film in years but it used to air on HBO all the time.

Andrew - I also replied to your last comment... look above Max' list. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Max, The number of hours would be staggering. I actually use the TV for white noise these days and so my hours are WAY WAY up, but even before that, I recall people talking about "the average American watches television 5 hours a week" and I was thinking, are you kidding? I've probably got it on that much each day.... I should get out more.

Better Off Dead is my favorite film of the period. I've seen it so much I can quote it. My friends and I reference it ALL the time.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Three O'Clock High is a vastly underrated movie. But few people have heard of it and most of the people I know don't like it. But it deserves to be remembered.

On the issue of "wouldn't it be cool," that's not quite what I meant. Coming up with a whole movie out of "wouldn't it be cool" makes a lot of sense -- that's really how it works... you get a big picture idea for something you'd like to see on film. But that's when the "wouldn't it be cool" stuff needs to stop. At that point, you need to work to meet the demands of the story. Too many modern films, however, take these breaks where they suddenly do a "wouldn't it be cool" idea in the middle of the film, and that's where they go wrong because those scenes are tacked on and feel like the filmmakers are looking for things to pad a thin story.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I think what you're complaining about goes back to the improvisational nature of a lot of comedies today where they just decide to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. There's nothing wrong with this approach (how do you think the Zuckers/Abrahams team worked?) but most filmmakers today lack discipline and don't know when to quit.

As far as taking this approach with sci-fi/fantasy/action films, I don't know. Either the plot is too thin so they throw things in to pad it out... OR the plot is waaay too convoluted. One of the other recent films I watched was The A-Team... which was exactly what you'd expect from a movie with that title, but the plot was entirely too convoluted and I hate to say it, but I got lost about 2/3 of the way through.

Ditto Tintin which, for a kids movie, was way too complicated. Contrast that with Raiders: get the girl, get the ark before the Nazis do, done deal.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think that's right. On comedies, I think it comes from too much improv and too many years of sitcoms, where comedy writers have learned the false lesson that each scene can stand alone. Scenes in films cannot stand alone. And in good films like Ghostbusters, you never see them try to use scenes that are unconnected to the plot. But today, they wrongly think that it fits into the movie if they can come up with a reason to get their characters to that location... "oh hey, let's go to the strip club." Why? What does that have to do with the film? That kind of thinking is what leads to films that feel more like a collection of skits than a complete film.

On the non-comedies I think it's a combo of the plot being thin and the characters being thin. If you have a two dimensional boring as hell character, do a quick scene of them in a casino to liven them up or take a break to let them visit a dying mother to soften them up. None of it means jack for the plot, but the filmmakers don't seem to care because they think is makes the characters more interesting.

I liked The A-Team for what it was, but it was rather convoluted. And by "convoluted," I don't mean complex. Complex is fine, convoluted is not. Convoluted occurs when things happen for no reason other than to give the characters something to do -- it's like a Rube Goldberg plot device... "we could double the plot length if we make them do a scavenger hunt before they can solve the plot!" That's not plot, that's filler.

Commander Max said...

Comedy is a real tough thing to pull off. I think today's comedians just don't have it. I saw Something about Mary, I couldn't figure out what was so funny about it. I only laughed at one scene with the dog. I watched the scene again, it was only good for one laugh. But go back and watch the old Muppet Show, those shows were funny over and over again. I think the old vaudevillian influence had a great deal to do with good comedy. There is nothing like learning to be funny with the audience throwing produce at you.

I think comedy suffers from a generational decline(like a lot of things). The first guys had to work really hard, and gave the next group a hand up. This process continues until you have a Pauly Shore(and the group he was in), would have been covered with rotten tomatoes on a vaudeville stage. Combine that with other factors such as inexperience, only focusing on a pure business model. While trying to recreate the magic of a past hit. Instead of looking for original material, and take huge risks. Heck, if you asked the experts of the day, SW was going to be a huge flop.

One would assume that would be very instructional to later generations.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I agree. I don't find modern comics funny and I think it's for the reasons you state. They don't seem to have the skill to connect with audience like older comics had. Indeed, they seem to lack the ability to tell when the audience is laughing and when it's yawning, and that's probably the result of many of them never having done comedy before an audience. They also seem to rely heavily on repeating what's already been. I see very little that is original these days.

And what I think is absolutely missing is the fantastic wordplay which made the great comics of the past. Most comedians in the past had learned the art of storytelling and then tweaking their stories to make them funnier and that required a strong ability to use wordplay. Today, I'm just not convinced that the guys you see in the Apatow comedies are capable of that. They seem like morons who rely on site gags and people laughing at them because they look funny.... "look at me, I got punched in the crotch, isn't that funny?"

Commander Max said...

Idiocracy, I think we are there.

Anonymous said...

I really liked Innerspace but haven't seen it in at least 15 plus years so it would be a real nostolgia trip for me. That was a good write up on it and I must say that while I liked the movie it never turned into one that I had the need or want to see again like other great 80's movies.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, There are a lot of 1980s films that aren't remembered, but they were all still rather good. And compared to the second tier films today, they were much better than what we get now.

Max, Yep. That is us.

Anonymous said...

Anon -

Thanks for the kind words! Like I said, it's one of those films that I enjoy watching, more so than similar films of the period. I only wish it were better remembered. On the DVD commentary, the filmmakers mention that the studio was never sure how to market the film since it's a genre hybrid: sci-fi, comedy, etc. As a result, it wasn't promoted as much as, say, Gremlins or Back to the Future and it didn't perform well at the box-office.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I've said it before but in many cases (especially comedies), I'd rather watch the second tier films of yesteryear than today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to your commentary, I tried to find the DVD version of "Innerspace" but it wasn't available at the biggest DVD store in the area. Subsequently, I broke out my LD of the movie and enjoyed it thoroughly - in spite of the grainy picture.

Anonymous said...

Anon -

Glad to hear it! If it makes you feel any better, I couldn't even find the DVD when it was released. I never saw it at Best Buy, Target, etc. Amazon had it (of course!).

And now... I eagerly await a Blu-Ray release.

P.S. I went through a brief LD phase when I lived in LA and had access to stores that still carried them. But I ended up selling them all later. I only bought titles that had extras not found on their DVD counterparts.

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