Since I’m stuck watching Back to the Future every week of 2013 as part of the Cinema 52 experiment, I thought I’d try to retain some sanity by watching some other movies by its director, Robert Zemeckis. And because I secretly love insanity, I thought I’d try to watch his complete filmography back-to-back in one weekend. Here we go. It’s The Full Zemeckis.
(Missed Day One? Here it is.)
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988)
Previous viewings: Several since childhood, the most recent being last year.
We’re now into the Zemeckis films that I’ve already seen, though I’m seeing with new eyes since I viewed Robert’s early work the day before and thoroughly enjoyed his collaborations with Bob Gale. Rewatching Roger Rabbit was still a treat. If you haven’t seen it, it exists in a world where cartoons are real living beings and are the stars of their own popular short films. Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is a hard-boiled, hard-drinking detective who’s not a huge fan of toons since his brother was murdered by one long ago, which makes him extra reluctant when he’s hired to dig up some dirt on the famous Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer). When a man who’s been sneaking around with Roger’s ridiculously voluptuous toon wife Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner) turns up dead, all signs point to Roger as the one who dropped the safe.
Those are the eyes of a cold-blooded killer.
Today’s viewing consisted of three main themes. The first was reminiscing about the movie’s impact on me as a child. It sets up a great dynamic between the grizzled, humorless Valiant and what may be the zaniest, wackiest cartoon in the entire world. The message about the importance of laughter kinda sorta, you know, affected me as a guy who tries to bring out the chuckles in people. Hell, I even tried to be cynical about the sub-plot where one can “die laughing,” but hey, isn’t humor a defense mechanism, after all? Oh, also, Judge Doom, holy shit. Christopher Lloyd was so terrifying that Child Me couldn’t even bring himself to believe that it was the same guy who played Doc Brown. The second topic I couldn’t get out of my mind was wondering if the film should have been darker. Keep in mind, it’s fairly morbid for a children’s movie, but after seeing Zemeckis’s skill with edgy comedy in Used Cars, I pondered if maybe he shouldn’t have tried to make Roger Rabbit a family-friendly outing at all. I hear the book is more for adults, though I haven’t read it. Example: imagine arguing that a film adaptation of Watchmen, a brilliant and mature graphic novel that completely deconstructs the idea of the superhero, needs to be PG-13 because kids love Spider-Man. You’d be laughed right out of the nerdsphere (not that the resulting movie wasn’t also). Sure, if you make a film with humans and cartoons interacting, kids are going to want to sneak in, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a full R. Still, I’m happy with the film we have. Finally, the last idea constantly in my head was, “How did they do that?” The special effects here really are amazing, and I’d almost call them distracting if the story weren’t so enjoyable. Still, remember that thought as the day goes on.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989)
Previous viewings: A dozen or so.
The time travel saga continues with– oh, wait, time travel? Um, we talk about time travel in its own separate section of the blog, don’t we? Well, let’s not break tradition. Head over to the Time Out article for Back to the Future Part II and we’ll meet back here when you’re done.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (1990)
Previous viewings: More than a dozen or so.
Welcome back. So– right, time travel. Saddle up for another Time Out adventure with Back to the Future Part III, and then really, honestly, we’ll get back to The Full Zemeckis. See you soon for Death Becomes Her. I hope.
DEATH BECOMES HER (1992)
Previous viewings: I saw a chunk of it on TV when I was nine or ten.
Well. Yeah. So this movie… right. Let’s do this one quick. Bruce Willis is supposed to marry Goldie Hawn. He marries Meryl Streep instead. Goldie Hawn gets fat. Years later, Goldie Hawn is not fat. Goldie Hawn conspires with Bruce Willis to kill Meryl Streep and get back together. Meryl Streep goes to some… fucking sorceress or whatever and drinks an anti-aging potion. Bruce Willis pushes her down the stairs, but oops, the potion also makes you immortal.
What a twist.
I’m safe under the Not a Spoiler If It’s On the Cover Rule, right? Well, Goldie Hawn drank the potion too, but we don’t find that out until after Meryl Streep blasts a hole in her with a shotgun, or, again, if we’ve seen the cover. The fact that the immortality potion doesn’t make you impervious to injury would be a great twist at the end of a Twilight Zone episode, but the key word is “end.” All this potion crap is just a setup for a weird body mutilation comedy, and believe me, CGI was not quite ready yet. Sure, some of the gags are funny, and to be honest, Streep, Hawn, and Willis are all holding up their end of the comedy bargain, but as a whole, eh? The effects suck the life out of the performances, something Streep herself commented on rather well. The movie also heavy-handedly tries to push itself as a satire on plastic surgery and self-image issues, but it’s just trying to cover for its goofy premise with false depth. In the end, the film ironically ignores its own message; it’s all looks over substance. While I love Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I think its technical brilliance signifies the beginning of a downward spiral for Zemeckis, one whose slope becomes visible as shockingly steep once you hit the crazy effects and narrative emptiness of Death Becomes Her. And I think Robert became aware of his ever-growing ignorance of anything beyond visual showmanship, which might explain why he tried to inject more character and heart into his next special effects parade…
FORREST GUMP (1994)
Previous viewings: Three VHS viewings (one with cousins, one with parents, and one for school), and a couple times on TV (with my parents).
I really feel like I’m beyond the need for descriptions here, but if you’ve never seen Tom Hanks: Doofin’ Through History, it’s the Oscar-winning tale of a kid named Forrest with a low IQ and fucked-up legs who learns to laugh, love, and be tangentially connected to everything important that happened in America ever. Most of these historical events involve presidents or Beatles whose mouths don’t move right.
AAAUUGH! It’s Frankenkennedy! Kill it!
A friend mentioned the other day that Forrest Gump was the first “serious” movie he ever saw. I realized the same was true for me… if you call this a serious movie. I’ve been told we’ve got another case of “Zemeckis didn’t really nail the tone of the book,” but I can’t speak from experience. What I do know is that this movie can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be. For example, I sometimes legitimately laughed at the ways Forrest interacts with history, but then we get some weird, deeply disturbing side plot about how his friend Jenny (Robin Wright) was abused by her father. And it’s cute because Forrest doesn’t get it? What? How am I supposed to feel, movie? There were moments in today’s viewing that I really tried to believe that maybe all the sentimental shit in this movie is satire, it’s just satire that went over the heads of sappy idiots, but I know that isn’t true. Forrest crying over gravestones really is there to set off the Oscar alarms. And I feel like whenever Forrest says something that’s naive but kinda smart, all the stupid people in the audience are saying, “Ha, sometimes dumb people like me are smart in their own ways. I feel so good about relating to this simpleton!” Oh, and as for those Zemeckis trademark special effects, they’re there. There are no science fiction or fantasy elements, but that doesn’t stop Bob. CGI ping pong balls and the aforementioned creepy archive footage of dead people aside, the most obvious effect is that Gary Sinise’s character, Lieutenant Dan, has no legs, while the actor who plays him is most definitely legged. And my viewing party couldn’t stop asking, “How did they do that?” That’s bad. We’re watching a story here. I speculate that Bob became wise to the criticisms that he only makes special effects movies and picked a script that seemed a little more down-to-earth… that he could still cram with special effects. It worked on the Academy and anyone I know over the age of fifty, but it doesn’t work for me.
Previous viewings: Saw my parents watching a chunk of it on TV around age thirteen, watched the whole thing on Netflix a couple years ago.
Before I get into this, it’s worth noting that my opinion on the book can finally be taken into account, because I have read this one. Still, it’s tough to call it a true adaptation, as Carl Sagan tried it as a screenplay first, but when production stalled, he opted to tell the story as a novel instead. Anyway, the film we have now centers around Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), a researcher for SETI who listens to stars all day. When one starts sending her a string of prime numbers, she’s pretty darn sure this transmission is a sign of intelligent life. Since this isn’t a big dumb invasion movie, decoding the message embedded in this signal actually takes a lot of the running time, as does having philosophical conversations with / on top of a Spiritual But Not Religious But Completely Made of Douchechills faith hippie named Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), who is somehow famous for talking about nothing all day. When it’s discovered that there might be a way to meet these aliens, Ellie jumps at the chance, but there’s one problem… she doesn’t believe in Gawd.
Ten commandments? Sorry, Big G, but ten isn’t a prime number.
The book was better. There. Still, I have to give this movie a lot of respect for trying its damnedest to condense the utterly brilliant science and surprisingly good narrative of Carl Sagan into two hours. This being my first viewing since reading the book, yes, I got a little cranky that some very smart stuff was turned into a single sentence or not mentioned at all, but frankly, if you’re going to force some popcorn munchers to watch an intelligent movie, you could do worse. From the jaw-dropping opening shot of outer space to the drawn-out process of handling intergalactic communication to the various debates on science and fate, there’s a pretty good balance between entertainment and thought. If Forrest Gump was tricking country-fried dummies into thinking their backwoods wisdom was the way of the world, then I fully admit that Contact tricked a science-loving dipshit like myself into thinking he saw things as they should be. Hooray? Wait, shouldn’t I feel exploited that two wildly differing viewpoints were directed by the same guy? I could, but at the end of the day, the movie does a decent job at presenting multiple philosophies, and I think that’s where its strengths lie. If you think Palmer Joss is an absolute shit-nugget, guess what? Those shit-nuggets are out there, and they have to be dealt with. Have I got complaints? Oh yeah. Some of them are on Sagan, especially for treating aliens essentially like angels and doing that whole “I took a pleasing shape” thing. As for Zemeckis, the effects on the climax were just a little too showy, but they didn’t bother me nearly as much as what has come before. Also, he clearly fixed the CGI mouth problem from Forrest Gump, because I honestly thought Bill Clinton was in this movie. *sigh* I guess his showing off worked this time. But still, read the book, then give the movie a chance.
WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000)
Previous viewings: None.
“Holy shit, Harrison Ford? You’re in this? Who’d you owe a favor?”
No, seriously, this was balls. It’s every stupid ghost thing you’ve ever seen. There’s only one scene that I found suspenseful, and that was Michelle Pfeiffer trying to escape from a filling bathtub while paralyzed. YouTube it or some shit. I don’t have time for this. It feels every bit as farted out as something filmed between breaks on Cast Away should. Because that’s exactly what it is. Blah blah Harrison Ford no.
See if I can raise my spirits for The Full Zemeckis: Day Three.