Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Jurassic World

Jurassic World was written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. It was directed by Trevorrow.

Jaffa and Silver previously wrote Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (so they know their "Animals Run Amok" films) while Connolly wrote Safety Not Guranteed. Jurassic World marks Colin Trevorrow's first time directing a big budget film. He previously directed the very low budget Safety Not Guaranteed.

Trevorrow does a satisfactory job of directing, but he's definitely no Spielberg. Jurassic World is top notch when we're watching the dino action, but it falters whenever the focus shifts to the humans and they open their mouths.

Jurassic World wisely ignores the subpar second and third films, which I think is a good idea. If you liked those films (personally I hated the second, but didn't mind the third as much), think of them as happening in a parallel dimension.

It appears the screenwriters have finally realized what the audience wants in these films, and has given us a virtual remake of the first. Jurassic World follows the template of Jurassic Park very, very closely. There's even a scene of a giant dinosaur trying to eat a couple of kids hiding inside a vehicle!

Unfortunately Jurassic World doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor. The characters all commit numerous acts of boneheadedness, for no other reason than to place them in peril. To be fair, the original film had its share of stupidity as well, but most viewers forgave its many flaws due to the awesome majesty of its lovingly-rendered dinosaurs. This film doesn't have that luxury. We're no longer as dazzled by CGI dinos, so the plot shortcomings are all the more obvious.

There are also far too many plot points stuffed into the script, especially the ones involving Hoskins, the InGen head of security. His ridiculous plan to use barely-trained raptors as soldiers is half-baked at best, and only muddies an already unfocused plot.

But Bob, I hear you shout, it's just a popcorn movie! It doesn't need to make sense. You're just supposed to shut your brain off and watch the action. Nonsense! Why can't a movie be fun and smart at the same time?

The best thing about this new film— after twenty two years, we finally get a look at Jurassic Park, er, I mean World, as it's up and running in full swing. And what a park it is! In fact I would have been content to just watch a couple hours of the characters wandering around the park, looking at the various attractions. It feels like a real, live place. I really loved these scenes and wish there'd been more of them.

The film has broken numerous box office records, including biggest opening weekend in North America, and the fastest to gross over a billion dollars. To that I say a hearty "Big Deal!"

Once more with feeling— these types of records are meaningless. Sure it's good news for Universal's bean counters, but it means absolutely nothing to the rest of us. Every year movie tickets cost more, and every year some film makes a record amount of money. It's simple logic. If you want to accurately gauge the popularity and success of a film, count the number of tickets sold, not how much they cost. Butts in seats! That's what matters!


The Plot:
It's twenty two years after the first film, and the Jurassic World park has been up and running successfully for a decade or so. Scott and Karen Mitchell send their sons Zach and Gray to Jurassic World to get them out of the way while they go through divorce proceedings. The park is run by the boys' aunt, Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard).

Claire is a busy career-driven woman who doesn't have time for her own nephews, and pawns them off on her assistant, Zara. Say, I smell a character arc coming on! Claire's busy courting corporate sponsors to the park, explaining that the public's bored with "everyday" dinosaurs, so they've cooked up a brand new, genetically modified super specimen called Indominus Rex.

Also employed by the park is Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt), an ex-Navy man who's inexplicably a dinosaur whisperer. Because sailors encounter tons of dinosaurs at sea, right? Owen's been busy training a quartet of Velociraptors for... reasons that aren't quite clear. Vic Hoskins (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) is InGen's head of security, and for some insane reason thinks Owen's Raptors could be weaponized (!). Yep, you read right— he wants to turn dinosaurs into soldiers. Annnnd that sets up our hero and villain.

Meanwhile, Simon Masrani, billionaire owner of Jurassic World (John Hammond's presumably deceased) wants Owen to check out the I. Rex paddock for safety before he opens it to the public. Owen does so, but discovers the I. Rex has seemingly escaped. He and two guards stupidly enter the paddock to look for the genetically engineered monster, when it suddenly appears! Apparently it can camouflage itself from human eyes, as well as infrared sensors (!). Owen barely escapes with his life, as the I. Rex crashes out of its paddock and escapes into the island's interior. 

Zach and Gray manage to ditch Zara and wander through the park unattended. They board a gyrosphere and use it to explore the park's jungles. Yep, that's right! Jurassic World's safety measures are so stringent that two children can easily steer a vehicle out of its designated safe area and into a restricted zone.

Naturally since this is a Jurassic Park movie, the I. Rex attacks the kids' gyrosphere, and they barely escape. They find the original Jurassic Park site from the first film, somehow manage to hotwire a twenty two year old jeep, and head back to the park. Claire finally realizes her nephews are missing and that she's responsible for their wellbeing. She enlists Owen, who she dated once in the past, to help find them. They track the kids to the old park center, where they're almost killed by the I. Rex. 

The super dino then heads for the Pterosaur aviary, crashing through a wall and freeing them. Masrani flies a helicopter full of soldiers to the aviary to try and stop them, because apparently the only pilot in the entire park is the billionaire owner. Unfortunately he crashes into the aviary, killing everyone on board. The Pterosaurs then make a beeline for the main park, where they attack the thousands of visitors.

Claire and Owen head for the park, where they're reunited with Zach and Gray. In the ensuing chaos, Hoskins assumes command of the park. He forces Owen into using his trained Raptors to bring down the I. Rex. Owen reluctantly agrees, and he rides through the jungle on his motorcycle with his dinosaur posse, recreating the poster image.

Unfortunately the genetically altered I. Rex secretly has Raptor DNA in it. She communicates with Owen's Raptors, turning them against him. Ruh-roh! How a dinosaur that's been raised in isolation and has never seen a Raptor before could possibly "speak" their language is apparently none of our concern.

In the hubbub, Hoskins tells Dr. Wu to gather up all his dino embryos and research, and has him flown to safety, setting up his appearance in the inevitable sequel. A Raptor then breaks into the lab and kills Hoskins. The irony! Hoisted on his own petard! 

Meanwhile, Owen, Claire and the boys are surrounded by Raptors. Owen flashes his smile at them and becomes their alpha male once more. He commands them to attack the rampaging Indominus Rex. They do so, but two are killed. Claire realizes they're outmatched, so she fetches the park's T. Rex—  the very same one from the first film— and lures it into the fight. The T. Rex and Blue, the remaining Raptor then tag-team the I. Rex. They force it toward the park's lagoon, where an enormous Mosasaurus leaps out of the water and drags the I. Rex into the drink.

The next day the boys are reunited with their parents, who just might stay together after all. Claire and Owen decide to rekindle their romance. And the park is shut down for a second time, until the next billion dollar grossing sequel premieres.

• Claire tells her potential sponsors that the public is bored with dinosaurs, so every few years they have to come up with bigger, badder and cooler versions to boost attendance.

OK, the kid in me says that would never happen. Dinosaurs, man! How could anyone ever get bored with them? Giant extinct animals, brought back through the magic of science!

On the other hand, the general public is a fickle beast that constantly demands ever more bright and shiny new things, so who knows? Maybe it would actually happen.

Either way, this alleged dino-ennui is never on display here. The park has over 25,000 daily guests, and they all look like they're having a good time. So which is it, movie? Is the public bored or excited by dinosaurs?

• I wonder how much Jurassic World's admission price is? In the first film, when corporate lawyer Donald Gennaro first sees the cloned dinosaurs, he's so impressed that he says they can charge any price they want (he even mentions $3,000 a ticket!) and people will pay it. Hammond disagrees with that, and wants the park to be available to anyone.

In this film, the guests don't look like millionaires. They all look like the type of visitors you'd see at DisneyWorld (although with their current prices...). Apparently Hammond got his way and the park charges significantly less than Gennaro suggested.

• Michael Giacchino wrote the film's music, and wisely uses many elements of John Williams' iconic original score. Good idea. It wouldn't be a Jurassic Park film without that rousing theme.

• In the original film, Dr. Ian Malcolm warns John Hammond that his park is a bad idea and people will die, because dinosaurs are just too dangerous to ever be contained (Life... uh... finds a way). This new movie seems to subscribe to that theory as well.

I ain't buying it. We've had zoos in the real world for hundreds of years now, and there's never been any incidents like the ones presented in these films. I grant you that an elephant isn't as big as a T. Rex, but they can still be quite dangerous.

Besides that, we see in this film that Jurassic World has been safely operating for at least ten years without any deaths. That pretty much proves Malcolm's theory is a bunch of hooey.

• In the original film, the dinosaurs were all engineered to be female so there'd be no unauthorized reproduction. The dinosaurs got around this by changing their sex (due to the frog DNA contained in their genome) and started reproducing.

Apparently Dr. Wu must have solved this problem, because there's no mention of unauthorized reproduction here.

• Easter Eggs Ahoy! Here are the ones I spotted:

There's a steakhouse called "Winston's." This is no doubt a nod to the late Stan Winston, the special effects artist who created the animatronic dinosaurs in the first film.

A full-sized Spinosaurus skeleton is briefly glimpsed in the film. The Spinosaurus was the big bad in Jurassic Park III. At the end of this movie the skeleton is smashed by the T. Rex, which I have to imagine was a big middle finger to the third film.

A statue of John Hammond is seen in the learning center.

Mr. DNA appears briefly in one of the learning center displays.

The original park building appears, complete with muddy "When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth" banner, vintage JP merch and a set of Timmy's night vision goggles.

As the kids are fleeing one of the Raptors, Gray activates a Dilophasaurus hologram to distract it. In the first film, Dennis Nedry met his demise at the hands (claws?) of a Dilophasaurus.

Ian Malcom's book God Creates Dinosaurs is seen twice. You know, for a film that's supposedly ignoring the second and third movies, it's doing its level best to reference them.  

Before the I. Rex escapes, park guests ride a jeep through a Gallimimus herd. The shot is almost identical to the one in the original film, in which Alan Grant and the kids run among a similar herd.

• A few Paleontologists (and some fans as well) have criticized the dinosaurs in the film because they're not covered in feathers like Vegas showgirls. To that I say, "Good!"

It may be accurate, but I absolutely hate the idea of feathered dinosaurs. I grew up reading about scaly dinosaurs. Feathered ones just look so... stupid to me. A scaly T. Rex looks cool and awesome, like nothing we have in our modern world. A feathered T. Rex just looks like a giant chicken. Chickens we've already got. 

• When Claire's nephews Zach and Gray arrive at the park, she's too busy to spend any time with them and pawns them off onto her assistant.

No wonder she's too busy to spend quality time with them. The poor woman's apparently running the entire park all by herself. Realistically (!) the head of a massive business like this would have a huge administrative staff under her to handle everyday problems.

• Speaking of Claire... she's pretty much the only character in the film with a story arc. She's too driven and career-oriented to even think about settling down. Once the crisis starts up though, she realizes that children and family are much more important than a cold, sterile career.

So apparently the theme of this movie is "Women are incomplete unless they pop out a few kids and start a family." Got it. Jesus, I am by no means a feminist, but even I thought that was a bit heavy-handed.

• Speaking of kids, apparently it's Federal Law that every Jurassic Park film must contain at least one child to be menaced by dinosaurs. Every film in the series (including the ones that are being ignored) has adhered to this law. Is it because kids love dinosaurs, and they act as wide-eyed audience surrogates? Or is it because kids in danger is a cheap and easy way to generate terror?

• Even before the dinosaurs get loose, Jurassic World seems like a pretty dangerous place. There's a dino petting zoo, for corn's sake! We see kids riding on the backs of baby Triceratops as if they're ponies. One kid is even seen hugging a newborn Apatosaurus!

Sure these dinosaurs are plant eaters, but they could still bite or crush a kid. I'm betting there's a lengthy release form all guests have to sign before they can enter the park.

• OK, I laughed when I saw that the park was staffed by bored teenagers. But would that really happen? Would a park really entrust the safety of a guest to a minimum wage slave in a park full of dangerous dinosaurs? 

Maybe! It happens now, sort of. Think about how many times you've ridden a potentially dangerous roller coaster run by a teen who'd rather be anywhere else.

• In the original film, the park's jeeps have an instructional video narrated by distinguished actor and voice-over artist Richard Kiley ("We spared no expense!).

Here the park's gyrosphere video is narrated by Jimmy Fallon (!). Because lord knows, when you're trying to instruct the public how to pilot a vehicle through a herd of gigantic dinosaurs that could sit on it like an egg, naturally you want to use a cackling, snickering comedian.

• Let's take a look at the park's gyrospheres, shall we? At first glance they seem like a pretty cool idea, as they allow guests to get up close and personal with various "safe" plant-eating dinosaurs.

Unfortunately the spheres appear to be completely autonomous. The park apparently has absolutely no control over them, and they're piloted entirely by the guests with a simple joystick interface. Does that seem like a good idea?

When the Pterosaurs get loose, the control center closes down all the rides and they make an announcement for all guests in the gyrospheres to return to the gate. Zach and Gray are in one of the spheres at this time, and of course ignore the warnings and head off into the jungle. The control room staff sees them going off the grid, but can do nothing to stop them as they stand around wringing their hands with worry.

What a monumentally stupid design. Why the hell would you allow these spheres to be independent? Shouldn't they follow some kind of track? At the very least they should have some sort of override function, so the control center can force them to come back.

Of course the real reason the spheres are independent is to the kids could enter the jungle and be attacked by the I. Rex. It's nothing more than sloppy writing.

• There was a huge amount of product placement in this film. The park contained numerous stores, such as Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and even a Brookstone! And there was a Verizon Learning Center. There were probably a lot more that I missed.

On the other hand... these are exactly the kinds of businesses you'd expect to see in a theme park. Is it considered product placement if it's supposed to be there?

• Inside the park's control center, Claire scolds technician Lowery Cruthers for wearing a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt. She says the shirt is in bad taste, considering all the people who were killed in the original park disaster.

First of all, by my count a grand total of four people died when the park's security measures went down in the first film (Donald Gennaro, Dennis Nedry, John Arnold and Robert Muldoon). Unfortunate, but hardly the epic tragedy she makes it out to be.

Second, the new Jurassic World logo uses the exact same circular layout, the exact same inline font, the exact same palm trees at the bottom and best of all, the exact same goddamned T. Rex skeleton, in the exact same goddamned position. The only difference in the new logo is the color and the word "World" instead of "Park."

I get why the original might be considered offensive, but I'm struggling to understand why the virtually identical new one is not.

I first mentioned this a few months ago, but it bears repeating: how the hell did a mosquito ever bite a Mosasaurus?

By the way, I'm betting the Mosasaurus' shark snack was a nod to Steven Spielberg. How could it not be?

• OK, I guess I can buy the fact that the I. Rex can camouflage its skin, but how the holy hell can it mask its heat signature from the infrared sensors in its paddock? Dr. Wu tries to smooth this over by mentioning something about tree frogs, but I didn't buy it.

• Speaking of the Indominus Rex, she sure was awfully smart. Maybe a little too smart. Human level smart, in fact. Let's look at her accomplishments, shall we?

As mentioned above, the I. Rex masks her heat signature to fool the infrared sensors in its paddock. That means that not only does she somehow know the sensors are there, she also understands that they detect infrared heat. Pretty impressive for an animal!

She also knows that disappearing from the sensors will lure her human captors into the paddock, where she can attack them. Again, impressive!

Later she claws the tracking implant out of her body and plops it on the ground. Wow. So not only did she remember where the implant was injected, but understands what it does, and that she'll be invisible to the instruments of her pursuers if she removes it. Jesus Christ, screenwriters! We're talking about a goddamned animal here!

The I. Rex can also somehow speak "Raptor," even though she's never encountered one before. I guess since she has Raptor DNA, she instinctively speaks the language?

• After the I. Rex escapes and kills its handlers, Masrani goes to Dr. Wu and demands to know what kinds of DNA it contains. Wu says that information is "classified."

What the hell? Why would that info be kept secret from the owner of the goddamned park? If anyone has the right to know, it should be him. And who classified them? Dr. Wu? He's not with the government, he's just an employee of the park.

The ONLY reason for this secrecy is so the audience would gasp during the big reveal that the I. Rex has Raptor genes.

• By the way, do Dr. Wu's motivations and storyline seem half-baked and incomplete? Well, that's because he's being set up for potential sequels, and they need a hook on which to hang the next movie.

• Everyone and their dog has already mentioned the fact that Claire spends the last half of the movie running from dinosaurs while clad in indestructible high heels, so I won't beat that dead horse any further. Whoops, I just did!

• Supposedly the film's generated some controversy in Great Britain. Audiences are upset at the line, "The Pachys are out of containment!"

The line of course is referring to a herd of Pachycephalosaurus, whose name is quite a mouthful. You can see why they abbreviated it. However, "Paki" is an ethnic slur in England, even though the line has nothing to do with Pakistanis. Sigh... I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

• The end of the film, in which the T. Rex, Blue the Raptor and even Moby the Mosasaurus (I named her that myself) team up against the I. Rex, was a little too cartoonish for me. I have a feeling predatory animals of wildly different species wouldn't really cooperate against a common foe like that. 

Jurassic World is a typical summer action movie that's big on dinosaur action, but low on smarts. With just a little bit of script polishing, it could have been epic. But hey, at least we finally get to see the park in action! I give it a B.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Remove The Flag? In Our Moment Of Triumph? I Think You Overestimate Their Chances!

DATELINE: CORUSCANT–– This week Shev Mundo, Chancellor of the New Galactic Republic, called for the immediate removal of the Imperial flag from all public buildings in the Southern Hemisphere of the capitol planet of Coruscant. The planet-wide metropolis, which lies at the center of the galactic core, is the seat of government in the New Republic.

Mundo said the removal of the flags was in response to a growing backlash against symbols of the Empire, which was defeated when Emperor Palpatine was destroyed some 150 years ago.

According to Mundo, the stark black and white flag is a reminder of a dark and shameful period in the galaxy, when the evil Galactic Empire ruled through fear, grip-tightening and moon-sized battle stations. "The last remnants of the Empire have been swept away forever," said Mundo. "The flags have become a distraction. Removing them will allow the Galactic Senate move on to more pressing matters."

"While we must be ever mindful of the past," said Mundo, "We cannot let it define us." 

For over a century, images of the Empire have generated controversy, as many viewed them as painful symbols of evil and oppression. Others claim the flag is honoring ancestors who fought in the War.

The majority of the public has agreed with the decision. Rax Gundollian, a spice merchant from Corellia, said, "It's about time the flags were taken down. They should never have been allowed to fly as long as they did. The Empire lost. It's just too bad Ackbar didn't let General Rieekan drive them into the sun."

Many opposed the removal. Garn Kremoni, a midlevel file clerk at the First Bank Of Coruscant, said, "Any attack made against this flag will be a useless gesture. Mundo's sad devotion to ancient governmental procedure hasn't helped him conjure up a positive approval rating, nor given him clairvoyance enough to know what the people want." Kremoni then ominously intoned, "I find your lack of flags disturbing."

Others were downright sarcastic. Vrax Gosular, a programmer employed in the Kremplor Droid Factory, said, "I'm glad to see the Senate has apparently solved every other problem facing the Republic, so they can devote all their time and effort to removing flags."

Some citizens were downright cryptic. Grakarrwaaa, a Wookiee immigrant from Kashyyyk, said, "ROOWWRR! GRAAAAAWAWAWAWAW! ROOOOKKHHHHHH!"

So far the Imperial flags have been removed from Coruscant only, but pundits expect the movement to quickly spread throughout the Galaxy, even to Outer Rim planets such as Tattooine. Dahn Windstabber, a student at the Southern University of Mos Eisley, said, "You can take away our flags, but you ain't never gonna take away our spirit! The Sith shall rise again! Yeeee-haw!"

Flame On!

Last week former Baptist pastor Rick Scarborough made a bold public announcement. During a podcast interview, Scarborough declared that if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, he would set set himself on fire in protest.

"We are not going to bow," said Scarborough. "We are not going to bend, and if necessary we will burn!"

Wow, that's certainly impressive, if needlessly dramatic. But good for you, Rick! Way to stick to your principles. You're obviously far more passionate about the subject than I am. I mean, burning yourself alive, just to make a point? Wow. That's commitment. Not to mention painful. That'll show those icky old gays... er, somehow.

Well, Rick? We're waiting... Any time now. Give everyone a shout when you're ready to set yourself ablaze. We'll all be watching. Yep, we'll be right here, when you're ready to give it a go. Rick? Are you there, Rick?

Well, it seems we all misunderstood Rick's earlier statement. See, when he said he'd set himself on fire if gays won the right to marry, he didn't mean he'd set himself on fire if gays won the right to marry. So you can see how we'd all be confused by that concise and straightforward statement.

Rick claims he was misquoted, and didn't mean he'd literally set himself on fire. According to Rick, "I made that comment to paraphrase a spiritual song." Ah, yes, the old traditional hymn Jesus, I'm A'Gonna Set Myself On Fire If Gays Win The Right To Marry.

Science Faction

This week the American Journal Of Physics, which is apparently a thing, suggested that Christopher Nolan's 2015 film Interstellar should be shown in science and physics classes in order to teach students about space phenomenon.

Dr. David Jackson, editor of the Journal, examined the film and declared that its depiction of "Love" as a quantifiable, measurable force is one hundred percent accurate.

According to Jackson, "The publication will encourage physics teachers to screen the film in their classes in order to teach students woefully inaccurate concepts about the way black holes, wormholes and other cosmic phenomenon look and behave. I also encourage teachers to use the film to mislead students into thinking that "Love" is not simply a human emotion, but in fact a higher dimension and a tangible force that transcends time and space."

"Oh, and don't forget the sassy, wisecracking robot!" said Jackson. "That TARS had me rolling in the aisle! Interstellar is a literal goldmine of misinformation as to how actual robots function!"

Critics have denounced the idea of using the film in an academic setting. Morey Shoedsack, editor in chief of Screenwriter's Monthly, said that not only does the film have no business being shown in science classes, but shouldn't be seen anywhere near film schools either. "I shudder to think what would happen if future screenwriters were to study the film's needlessly dense and impenetrable plot," said Shoedsack. "Brace yourselves for an onslaught of self-important and indulgent tripe in about ten years."

Jackson remains undeterred though, and plans to call for the screening of additional sci-fi films as teaching aids, including Invasion Of The Neptune Men, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, The Man From Planet X, Robot Monster, Cat-Women Of The Moon, Devil Girl From Mars and the Transformers series. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Christmas Creep 2015

It has begun.

I went to my local Hobby Lobby yesterday, and was disheartened to see that their thrice damned Xmas section is already well under construction. On June 23. A full six months before the holiday actually arrives.

There wasn't a huge amount on display yet— it looked like they'd just started hauling out the geegaws— but it was there. Dear god, it was there.

I'd understand if they were selling Xmas craft items this early. After all, you need a couple of months to knit that homemade nutcracker cozy or construct that gingerbread replica of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater or whatever the hell it is that you're making for Aunt Martha this year. 

But these were plain old off the shelf decorations, no assembly required. Who does this? Who the hell buys their Xmas decorations two days after summer officially begins? Not me, pal! I buy my decorations the way god intended— the day after Xmas, when everything's marked down 70% or more! Nothing but the best deep-discounted clearance merchandise for my holiday display!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DVD Doppelgängers: Prometheus Vs. Prometheus Trap Vs. Radio Free Albemuth

Recently I was browsing through my local video store (yes, they still exist, and yes, I still go there) and saw this.

Something about this cover seems awfully familiar. I can't quite put my finger on where I might have seen it before though...

Ah. Now I remember.

The designer of the Prometheus Trap cover couldn't have swiped the original more if he tried. It's like he xeroxed the original  cover art and scribbled the world "trap" on it.

Just look at them next to one another! Look at 'em, I say! Both have the same blue color scheme, the exact same washed out, desaturated space-suited leads above the title (their heads are even the same size!), the same crackling energy background and the same black strip in the middle, behind the title. 

But wait, there's more! Amazingly, both feature spaceships tilted at the exact same angle, orbiting planets with identically curved horizons, complete with moons above them. 

I've seen a lot of swiped cover designs in the past few years, but this one is hands down the most blatant. There's no way in hell this was a coincidence. 

There are two reasons why studios do this. One is what I call "Inferred Marketing." A studio makes their advertising look exactly like that of a more popular and expensive film, hoping to evoke an association in the mind of the consumer. They figure in the unlikely event that someone really liked Prometheus, they'll see Prometheus Trap on the shelf and assume it's more of the same, and be compelled to pick it up.

The second reason is "Confusion Marketing." By making their film's cover nearly indistinguishable from that of the original, they hope easily confused consumers will pick up their knock off, thinking it's the real thing.

I also saw this cover in the store, which is pretty darned close to Prometheus as well. Here though the designer took the bold step of angling the spaceship or whatever that is in the opposite direction. Inspired!

Oddly enough even though these two knockoffs are doing their absolute best to ape the look of the Prometheus cover, their plots are completely different.

Prometheus Trap is about a spaceship crew who investigate a derelict ship and become trapped in a repeating time loop.

Radio Free Albemuth has even less to do with Prometheus, as it's a strange, fictionalized autobiography of scifi author Philip K. Dick, set in an alternate reality America.

By the way, get a load of Radio's cast there on the cover. It stars Scott Wilson, aka Hershel of The Walking Dead, looking a good twenty years younger than he did on that show (even though the film was made in 2010). It also stars one Alanis Morissette. Now that's ironic (see what I did there)!

There's something, I don't know... sleazy about all this. I feel like you shouldn't have to trick and bamboozle consumers into watching your movie.

Eventually Everything Comes Back In Style

Last week this photo was leaked from the set of Doctor Who, showing Peter Capaldi wearing a new maroon crushed velvet coat.

Looks like the Twelfth Doctor's been raiding the Third's closet! All that's missing is the frilly shirt!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Fortieth (!) Anniversary To Jaws!

Happy 40th Anniversary to the grandaddy of all summer movies, Jaws!

Forty years! Can you believe it? I vividly remember seeing Jaws in the theater as a lad. First run, even! It was THE movie to see that year— nothing else even came close. I remember the audience shrieking out loud every time the shark appeared. And they actually cheered when it blew up at the end (sorry, SPOILER ALERT!)! When's the last time you heard that happen in a theater?

Jaws was the only topic of discussion that entire summer. Johnny Carson talked about it practically every night, it was in the newspaper, dozens of political cartoons referenced it, and even TV shows of the day got in the act. It was definitely a pop culture phenomenon.

The film also traumatized an entire generation, making them literally afraid to so much as dip a toe into the ocean.

People actually went to see the movie dozens of times, like it was some kind of roller coaster or thrill ride. Even I saw it twice (once in a theater, and once in a drive-in), which was unusual for me.

If you enjoyed seeing Star Wars, Jurassic Park or The Avengers (and countless others) in the theater during the summer months, then you owe a debt of gratitude to Jaws, which ushered in the age of the Summer Blockbuster Movie. Before it premiered, summer was just another season for movie studios. It's hard to believe, but back then studio executives thought that in the summer, people were too busy swimming, tanning and vacationing to go see a movie. Once Jaws hit and hit big, they realized there was an audience out there who actually wanted to see movies during the summer. And not just any movies, but big, expensive, action packed ones. 

Jaws opened on June 20, 1975 in 464 theaters in the US and Canada, which was the biggest simultaneous opening at that time. Before Jaws, movies generally premiered in theaters in major cities, then once they completed their runs there, the prints (which were by then beat up and full of splices) would slowly make their way across the rest of the country.

Due to the film's unprecedented success, the number of theaters was increased to 700 on July 25 and later 950 on August 15.

It made $7 million in its opening weekend, which doesn't sound like a lot now, but was huge at the time. It was the first movie to ever gross $100 million, earning $121 million in its initial release. It was the highest grossing film of all time until it was defeated by Star Wars in 1977.

There was an unprecedented avalanche of Jaws merchandise released as well. T-shirts, books, records, board games, coloring books, trading cards, bedspreads, posters— you name it. If it would hold still long enough to slap a shark on it, someone made it.

Jaws was of course based on Peter Benchley's massively popular novel. In fact Universal Pictures bought the movie rights to the novel before it was even published!

The screenplay was written by Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, and directed by Steven Spielberg. It was Spileberg's second time at directing a big screen film, his previous being The Sugarland Express.

Jaws was a very troubled production, running over budget and over schedule. Shooting on the open ocean caused a few of the delays, but the vast majority of them were caused by the malfunctioning mechanical shark created for the film.

It's an oddly structured film, almost like two movies in one. The first half takes place on land and features a large cast, but once the trio sets out in search of the shark, it becomes a completely different movie— a tense "man vs. nature" film with just three characters.

Of course the success of Jaws spawned a cottage industry of copycat films featuring various animals— sometimes aquatic, sometimes not— attacking humanity.

A few Jaws facts:

• Bantam Publishing artist Roger Kastel painted both the book cover and the movie poster.

• Steven Spielberg said when he read the novel he rooted for the shark, as the human characters were all so unlikable.

I read the book before I saw the movie, and he's right. Everyone in the book is a miserable asshole. For example: in the novel, Matt Hooper has an affair with Chief Brody's wife, which seemingly comes out of nowhere. It has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, and I'm convinced it exists solely to up the page count and inject some sex into an otherwise sexless tale.

Hooper also dies at the end of the novel, I suppose as some sort of comeuppance.

Fortunately Spielberg threw out this superfluous subplot, made everyone more likable and allowed Hooper to survive. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb was hired to inject some much-needed humor into the script, to great effect.

• Author Peter Benchley wanted to cast Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in the film, presumably as Brody, Hooper and Quint. Yawn. Pretty much every writer & director in the 1970s wanted those three guys in their movie.

Robert Duvall was considered for the part of Chief Brody. Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden were suggested for Quint. Timothy Bottoms, Joel Grey and Jeff Bridges were considered for Hooper. Once Richard Dreyfuss was cast, the role of Hooper was rewritten to better suit him.

Charlton Heston desperately wanted the Chief Brody part, but lost out to Roy Scheider. Heston was reported so angry over losing the part that he vowed to never work with Spielberg. He even turned down the part of General Stilwell in Spielberg's 1941. If you've ever seen that particular film, you'll know that Heston did himself a favor.

Peter Benchley appears in the film as a TV reported in the beach attack scene.

• Author Peter Benchley later regretted writing the book, which he said paints sharks as evil creatures that target humans. He became an ocean conservationist, and spent much of the rest of his career trying to convince people that real sharks don't act like the one in his book.

• In the scene in which Chrissie's remains are found, that's a real hand sticking out of the sand. Spielberg thought the prosthetic appendage originally used in the scene was too fake looking, so he had a crew member buried in the sand with just her hand sticking out.

During the entire summer of '75, anytime I was in any body of water, be it a lake or a pool, I'd pretend I was being attacked by a shark. I'd paddle around serenely for a while, then suddenly start thrashing about and pulling my head under water as if I was being dragged down by a shark. Yes, I was quite hilarious, and I'm sure a joy to be around.

• During the shark attack on the beach, Spielberg uses the famous "Hitchcock Zoom" effect to highlight Chief Brody's spine-tingling terror. The camera zooms in on Brody's face, while the background seemingly recedes from him.

It's an interesting, but simple effect. It's created by zooming in on a subject, while the camera is simultaneously being moved away. You can recreate yourself it if you have a camera with a zoom feature.

• Robert Shaw absolutely hated Richard Dreyfuss, and the two argued off-screen constantly. This may have actually helped the film, as it created a palpable tension between the two characters.

• After Alex Kintner's death by shark, his mother slaps Chief Brody in the face. Lee Fierro, who played Mrs. Kintner, couldn't convincingly fake a slap, so she actually hit Scheider in the face. Unfortunately for Scheider, the scene required multiple takes, and he says it was one of the most painful of his career.

• One of the biggest scares in the film is when Ben Gardner's severed head tumbles out of the boat, terrifying Hooper (and the audience as well). The head's appearance was one of the last scenes filmed. Spielberg decided he needed one more big scare in the movie, so he shot the head in film editor Verna Fields' swimming pool, paying for the shoot out of his own pocket.

This was the other big scare in the film, in which the shark pops up to say "hi" when Brody's not looking. That scened caused much screaming and soiling of garments in the theater the day I saw the film.

• According to Spielberg, the shooting star that appears during the scene where Brody loads his revolver was real, not an optical effect.

There's a second shooting star that appears over a long shot of the Orca though, that is most definitely fake. It looks like it's either been animated or filmed in slow motion.

• The mechanical shark, nicknamed "Bruce," was a complete and utter disaster. The harsh saltwater messed with its electronics, causing it to constantly malfunction. In fact, the first time it was lowered into the water it promptly sunk to the ocean floor!

Spielberg then had to figure out how to film a shark movie without a shark. He solved the problem by asking himself, "What would Alfred Hitchcock do?" Hitchcock believed that what the audience doesn't see is infinitely scarier than what they do see. Spielberg decided to shoot many of the shark scenes from the shark's point of view, which ratcheted up the tension. The shark was also suggested by the yellow barrels that were attached to it.

Thank the film gods for the malfunctioning shark! By "hiding" the shark, the audience never quite knows where it is, which makes it that much more frightening. Just think, if the film was made today, the shark would no doubt be lovingly rendered in CGI and would be splashing away in every scene.

• Chief Brody's famous line, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," was ad libbed.

• During their little pissing contest, Quint displays his manliness by crushing a beer can in his bare hand. Hooper counters by crushing a paper cup.

It's a funny scene, but I wonder if much of the humor is lost on modern audiences, as beer and soda cans are extremely flimsy these days. Back in the 1970s cans were much, much thicker, and really were a lot harder to crush.

• Near the end of the film, the shark attacks Hooper, who's inside a submerged cage. For these scenes, shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor shot underwater footage of real sharks. To make the sharks look bigger, they filmed them swimming around a scaled-down cage with a little person inside.

• The first time Spielberg heard John Williams play the Jaws theme, he thought it was a joke. He was eventually convinced to use it, and of course it's gone on to become one of the most famous themes in movie history.

Spielberg later said that without the score, the film would have been only half as successful. He's right.

Other notable movies celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year: The Rocky Horror Picture ShowOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestMonty Python And The Holy GrailDog Day AfternoonA Boy And His DogTommyDeath Race 2000RollerballThe Stepford WivesThe Land That Time ForgotThe Devil's RainDolemite and The Hindenburg.
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