Monday, March 31, 2008

Spotlight: Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton has been one of those writers that I always kind of forget about. But that dude has pumped out a lot of books in his day, and I've seen most of the film adaptations that have followed. Let's take a closer look at just how good Crichton's track record actually is. [Note: I will only cover the films that I've actually seen. There are a few that I haven't seen yet, so this isn't an exhaustive analysis of his entire works.]

Westworld (1973)
Written and Directed
Starring: Yul Brynner

When compared to modern-day science fiction, Westworld almost falls into the ridiculous category of Sci-Fi Channel Original movies. The concept, while interesting enough, fails to translate into anything suspenseful and falls flat with the robotic acting of Brynner (granted, he was supposed to be playing a robot). This was Crichton's directorial debut, and understandably, it suffered because of it. Stick to writing, genius. No need to get greedy.

Jurassic Park (1993)
Written By
Starring: You Should Know By Now

Jump ahead 20 years, and Crichton is back in full swing. This time, the adaptation of one of his best books makes history as one of the best movies of the 90's. Everyone and their mother saw this movie, and it became an instant classic partly to Spielberg's directing and the technological advances but mostly to Crichton's writing. He actually wrote the screenplay for this one as well as the novel it was based on.

Rising Sun (1993)
Co-Written By
Starring: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes

I never read this book, but the movie was a little lackluster. The pairing of Connery and Snipes didn't mesh as well as the buddy cop movies of the 80's (Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, etc), and there wasn't a lot of real action or drama to compel us through the story. It was kind of...stale. Nothing too memorable about it. Crichton and director Philip Kaufman wrote the screenplay together, and from the looks of it, Kaufman should have just let MC do the writing alone.

Disclosure (1994)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Demi Moore

This wasn't TERRIBLE, but it certainly wasn't the best Michael Douglas movie I've ever seen. Sadly, I'd say this didn't even crack the "Top 10 Best Michael Douglas Movies I've Ever Seen." Could this be because Crichton himself didn't write the screenplay for the film, and (according to Boze and Kara, who read the book) they removed multiple characters and storylines completely? Probably. Better luck next time.

Congo (1995)
Starring: Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson

Even with sign-language-speaking monkeys, killer silverback gorillas, and Laura Linney as the starring character, Congo was pretty good. The special effects don't quite hold up watching it now (the laser blasters were unbelievably cheesy), but that doesn't mean it wasn't decent for the time period. Once again - not near as good as the book because Crichton didn't write the screenplay. Are you sensing a pattern here? Scenes like this probably weren't in the book:

Twister (1996)
Written By
Starring: Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt

I didn't have any idea he wrote this until I started writing this article. Not based on a novel, this movie took 1996 by storm (hahah...I'm so funny). Crichton took a break from writing books to hit the big screen once again - he was probably pissed watching the last few adaptations of his work in theaters. It can't be fun to watch a film based on your book butchered on screen like that. I'd say Twister worked out pretty well for him. If only that success continued...

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Vince Vaughn

This was my favorite of Crichton's books at the time. But since they didn't get him to write the screenplay, (hadn't they noticed what happens by now?) the movie, like Disclosure, completely removed key characters and plot points and added an inter-racial child into the mix. As Branz is fond of saying, "Kids in movies suck." The Lost World was no exception. And Goldblum wasn't nearly as OCD-Awesome as he was in the original film. Read the book if you're a fan of the first film. It's really good. The whole "T-Rex coming back to the city" thing was kind of ridiculous, too. But I didn't mind this movie.

Sphere (1998)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson

Crichton wakes up every morning and gives himself a swift kick to his own balls for allowing filmmakers the rights to this one. Good sci-fi always plays with themes of isolation, containment, exploration, freedom, and (sometimes) religious beliefs. Sphere wallows through some of those themes, but never fully gets involved with any of them. Event Horizon was better than this, and that's sayin' somethin'. I can only assume the novel was much better. And Barry Levinson has no business directing a science fiction film. He directed Disclosure, so I guess he felt he had the ability to smear some more of MC's work across the screen. I wish he hadn't.

The 13th Warrior (1999)
Novel: Eaters of the Dead
Starring: Antonio Banderas

Straight up, one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Billed as action with none to be found, horrendous dialogue, NO character recognition (let alone character development!). I guess the lighting was ok, if I remember correctly. The 13th Warrior was so bad it gets the dreaded "half star" Facebook-rating from me, which is reserved for the likes of The Brothers Grimm, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, National Lampoon's Gold Diggers, and...

Timeline (2003)
Starring: Paul Walker

Well, that's all you really need to know, isn't it? Paul Walker as the lead role in a Crichton-based film? The book is still my favorite Michael Crichton book and I highly recommend it for anyone who isn't scared of reading something semi-long. If you like medieval times and technology, you'll love it. The movie absolutely ruined the entire thing. I was so pumped when I heard they were making it, but it was one of the biggest on-screen let-downs I've ever experienced (going hand in hand with The Transporter not delivering on that platter-deflecting-missile-maneuver promised in the trailer). Take a wild guess who wasn't involved with the production of the film? What's that? Michael Crichton? How'd you know?

After many failures, MC has decided to go back and do a remake of Westworld. Hopefully he can improve on his original. At least this means that he won't be putting his works in someone else's hands. But there's always the possibility of Jurassic Park IV, which is festering in pre-production. Will he return to his former glory and write a good sequel to one of the best movies of the 90's? Only time will tell. Until next time...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Most Dangerous Review:

Of The Most Dangerous Game...
by Guest Reviewer Alan Trehern

"Some say it could kill 5 million people in an hour..." Wait, wrong movie. But this trailer is almost as badd-ass as it's predecessor. I've always agreed with myself when I said that not only is Ben's Movie Reveiws a great site for movie reviews, but also for the film works he does on the side. That's right, folks, Ben is a director as well as a film critic. But today, I shall combine this website's true purposes and review one of the greatest movie/trailers to hit the I-Net in years. Coming from the minds of Leapfrog Productions and Triforce 20 Productions comes this year's ultimate adventure!

Let's begin with the storyline. In the book The Most Dangerous Game, a man named Rainsford is thrown overboard and is stranded on a strange island in the Caribbean. Here he meets General Zarroff, who "has become bored with hunting the usual beasts." So instead of hunting animals, he has begun hunting man. He attempts to get Rainsford on board, but the fellow hunter refuses. Instead, Zarroff takes this as a challenge to hone his skills against one who thinks like he. Thus the most dangerous game ensues.

In the Leapfrog produced trailer of the same name, many of these literary elements are purely adapted for the screen. Rainsford plays the outside man who falls into this web of confusion, mayhem and death. Ivan the bodyguard is adapted perfectly as the creepy but silent protector of the house. Sadly, he plays much less of a role than in the book, mostly because the direction company could not afford losing their main actor in a pit of spikes.

Further, the environment, although all day shots, have a way of still containing the fear and suspense Rainsford feels in the book. The miles of forest that surround our hero keep him imprisoned while at the same time being his only protection for survival from Zarroff. The castle that serves as Zarroff's abode is adapted for the screen as a huge cabin-like house. The large metal gates are replaced with glass sliding doors, while the great animal heads are represented by the roaming house cat.

Not only is this trailer almost as good as the book, the producer adds things that the book fails to present. For instance, Zarroff is totally bent on hunting and killing Rainsford, as if some personal business is unsettled, making the antagonist much more fearful. Many of the shots show Zarroff storming about the forest with an intense look on his face, letting the audience know he will die before he lets Rainsford escape. In the book, Zarroff simply hunts the protagonist because it is a last resort; he isn't hunting Rainsford because he hates him, he just wants to hunt. As far as props, replacing a bottle of vintage 1912 Don Perignon are wine coolers and lemonade with a kick, giving the film an updated spin. Now this classic story can apply to viewers of all ages.

In closing, I'd like to close with some of the best and most-stunning shots in the film. First, we have the shots from the trees when Rainsford sits atop a leaning branch. Sources say that only two men were used to capture this most timeless and suspenseful camera angle. Zarroff knows the young hunter is hiding up there, but continues walking to mess with our hero's psyche.

Second, we have the classic fight scene at the closing of the preview. Jumping from the trees with weapon in hand comes Rainsford, while across the way the dreaded Zarroff drops his firearm and unsheathes his blade. The final charge and the clash of swords lets us know a great battle took place, one much larger than a mere backyard could contain. Finally, the very last shot of the movie where SUMMER 2008 flashes almost moved the theater to tears. Rainsford looks out in complete and desperate thought. The splashing waters continue to taunt him while the endless river only gives him hope of escape. Why must he run from this madman and what had he done to deserve this?

And there you have it. If you haven't checked out this film, use the module below. Safe journeys, space fans, wherever you are...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Any Way You Want It

Another short film I made for class (for those of you who haven't seen it yet). The story: Jared and I own our own business. But when he mixes my signed Journey CD in with other CD's to be mailed out to customers, I realize it and have to beat him to the post office before it's too late. Until next time...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Top 5 Most Dashing and Debonair James Bond Films

Make sure to check out the previous installments:

Now there have been six Bonds, and this is only a top five list, so of course not everyone is going to get on this list, due to lack of films (i.e. George Lazenby and Daniel Craig, even though I am giving Craig a second chance because I just bought [that’s right, BOUGHT] Casino Royale). We also don’t acknowledge 2-film veterans, like Timothy “The Fat Bond” Dalton (even though The Living Daylights was passable, and had a pretty cool theme song performed by
A-Ha). With that said, as the final installment of an ongoing series, in association with Ben's Movie Reviews, The Solar Sentinel is again proud to present:
Top 5 Most Dashing and Debonair James Bond Films
5. Goldfinger (1964) --- This was the third movie in the Bond franchise, and probably the most beloved of the Connery run. It involves Bond once again going up against a world-wide villain trying to rob Fort Knox. Auric Goldfinger, the antagonist, uses an ingenious way of making money. He buys gold in a country where the price is very cheap, such as in India. He hen smuggles the gold on his personal airline, bringing it to a country where the price is high and sells it. That's my kind of super-villainy. James Bond, however, puts a stop to this, after outsmarting Goldfinger in a game of cards, nearly escaping a body-splitting laser beam and winning over the always glamorous stunt plane performer Pussy Galore. (That's vulgar!) So sit back, throw a lamp in the tub, paint your girlfriend gold and call up your shortest Vietnamese companion and enjoy Sean Connery in Goldfinger.

4. Live and Let Die (1973) --- I really enjoy this film. Not only is it the only Moore movie that has him looking relatively young, but it also sparks the Bond of the 1970s, which I believe to be the best Bond era. Further, it also plays as a
Blaxploitation film, similar to Shaft, Blacula or Blackenstein and the theme song is written and performed by Paul McCartney and Wings. In this film, Mr. Big controls the crime in Harlem and New Orleans, helped by Tee-Hee Johnson and Baron Samedi (Voo-Doo God of the Underworld, and main boss in the Golden Gun level of Goldeneye.) Roger Moore, dashing and quip as ever, soon unravels the mystery of missing MI-6 agents, and wins over the heart of Solitaire (played by Jane Seymour, who was 20 at the time and the youngest Bond girl to date.) So if you enjoy groovy movies, complete with pimp-mobiles and alligator stepping stones and Tee-Hee Johnson, then you need to pick up Live and Let Die.

3. From Russia With Love (1963) --- I really wish I lived in the 1960s. I mean they had a Bond movie coming out every year for almost 5 years. Why don't they do that with franchises any more? Regardless, From Russia With Love is one of the better Connery performances and story lines. As dictated in previous Bond posts (see above), this story follows Bond through an entangling web of Russian spies, fake British agents, beautiful women and gypsy rituals. On top of that, Bond kills a man on the Orient Express, destroys six boats with the shot of a flare gun and (don't quote me on this, because I haven't seen the film in a while) punches an old lady in the face. If you're looking for ridiculous Bond antics like jet packs in Thunderball or underwater Lotus cars in The Spy Who Loved Me, then this movie isn't for you. But if you enjoy straight up spy/murder/mystery movies, then check out From Russia With Love.

2. Goldeneye (1995) --- I had a hard time keeping this movie at Number 2, and I know alot of you will disagree with me on it. If I could allow a tie, I would, but that's really just the coward's way out. In any case, Goldeneye, a reboot of the series, tells the tale of Bond and long time friend/enemy Alec Trevelyen in a post-Cold War world. Now that the Berlin wall has been crumbled, what will Bond's life be like? Thank goodness there are rogue Soviet soldiers on the loose and traitorous computer programmers to keep the new Bond (Pierce Brosnan, possibly my favorite?) busy and his joints fresh. With this great storyline and character development, you can't go wrong with this movie. Is this movie for England, James? No, for me...

1. The World is Not Enough (1999) --- Found on the coat of arms of the Bond name in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The World is Not Enough barely passes the finish line as Number 1. It was close, I'll tell you for sure. I think that this is the greatest Bond movie of our generation, and it embodies our world like no other Bond movie in this quarter century. With a great story and character development, and a most dashing looking Brosnan, you really can't hate this cinematic experience. Two gorgeous Bond girls?! In one movie!?!?! Stripping itself of the Cold War days of yore, and the really gay Asian factor found in Tomorrow Never Dies (In the "Top 5 Worst"), TWINE brought in new technology, a really sweet introductory chase scene, a hot super-villain, a crazed super-human kidnapper and John Cleese. If you watch just one Bond movie, watch 2: Goldeneye and The World is Not Enough. I guarantee you will be satisfied.

On a sadder note, a few weeks before TWINE was set to be released in theaters in 1999,
Desmond Llewelyn, who played Q (short for Quartermaster), the tech expert in the films, died in a car accident. He appeared with every Bond (except Craig) and in every movie from From Russia With Love to TWINE (minus LALD). He was succeeded by John Cleese (aptly named "R"). If you watch the movies in order, Llewelyn does a fantastic job of keeping Bond in check, and tying the movies together. Although he only appears for a few minutes in every film, the audience builds a sub-conscious emotional relation with the character that is inherently absent from the newer films.

There you have it, the finale to the "007 Days Past February" James Bond Solar Sentinel Posts. Keep yourself updated on Bond movies here at Ben's Movie News and Daily Movie News. And keep yourself updated on everything else at The Solar Sentinel. As for me, well, I'm on assignment in Costa Rica. I guess the guy I'm suppose to meet isn't going to show... Says his name is Felix Leiter, whatever that means...

Safe journeys, spy fans, wherever you are...