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Archive for May 2011

Rewrites: Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero is a John McTiernan-directed film about a kid with a magic ticket that transports him into the fictional screen world of his hero, Jack Slater, a super cop played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The kid knows he’s in a film while the other characters, somewhat like Buzz in Toy Story, think they are full-blooded real.

It’s almost 18 years since Last Action Hero bombed at the box office, but since then the film has developed a cult following. I’d say it’s way overdue for a remake. As I see it, there are two ways to go with a remake, and both of them develop ideas that are present in the original, but not fully utilized.

Here are my re-writes:

1. The original film includes many jokes at the expense of action film clichés and several in-joke references to other films. Here are some examples:

Death from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal

Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct

Robert Patrick as T-1000 from Terminator 2

An animated cat detective, a reference to McGruff the crime dog

In the original film, most of these in-jokes are not remarked upon or even noticed by any of the other characters in the film, including the boy, Danny. They don’t all go by unnoticed by the characters. For example, Danny tells Slater that Slater’s friend is played by the guy who played Salieri in Amadeus, F. Murray Abraham.

Danny notices that Slater's friend is played by the guy who played Salieri in Amadeus, F. Murray Abraham

But what if Danny does notice these references to other films? What if he comes to realize that he is not in a Jack Slater film, but in a film world where all film characters exist: from Rhett Butler to Scarlet O’Hara to Flash Gordon to Gertie the Dinosaur to King Kong? He’s not just a Jack Slater fan, but a film buff in general. He knows all of the clichés, and this knowledge gives him a power none of the other characters have. It’s a wonderful world, and he loves it.

However, Danny realizes he cannot leave his mother alone.  His ticket is only good for one person, and it’s only good for one round trip. Once he leaves, he will not be able to return. Reluctantly, he returns to the “real world” and his old routine. But this real world turns out not to be so real. He realizes that he himself is also in a film and that he doesn’t have to return to the film world of Jack Slater because he’s always been in that world. When Jack Slater drives off into the sunset Danny and his mother are on board.

2. In the original film, Danny is transported into the film when dynamite explodes in the theater as he is watching the latest Jack Slater film. In my remake, it’s Jack Slater who comes into the real world. Of course, this is a fish out of water story a bit like The Purple Rose of Cairo, but what I have in mind is a film that shows a film character from a hyper-real world, someone who is used to solving things with guns, explosions, and stunt work, learning to cope with everyday, humdrum reality. Slater learns to survive without the aid of a gun, and teaches the boy to see the wonder of ordinary things. This film also ends with Slater, the boy and his mom riding off into the sunset.

So there are my ideas for a remake of Last Action Hero. However, there’s something else I’d prefer seeing: a feature version of Shadows on the Wall, a short film I made before Last Action Hero, but which was later linked to that film by people who did not realize I conceived of it long before Last Action Hero was released in 1993. Shadows on the Wall is about characters who realize that they are in a film, but with this realization comes empowerment. Empowerment without guns.

"Gotcha!"

Written by David Kilmer

May 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Tyranny of the Plot

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The Ladies Man by Jerry Lewis

I’ve often said that Hollywood films today are made in such a way as to make plot and character equivalent to authoritarian dictators. Every element of a film exists to support the plot or character development. (If it does not, a mistake must have been made.) This leaves little to no freedom for the other elements of a film. This approach is probably perfect for the assembly line type production that has always dominated Hollywood, but it limits the freedom of a filmmaker’s imagination.

What would a more democratic film in which all elements are not subordinated to the plot look like? I’ve just seen The Ladies Man directed by Jerry Lewis and would nominate it as such an example. The plot of that film merely exists to provide a container for the gags and actions of the characters. The giant dollhouse set does not exist to serve the plot or the gags. Sure, it helps organize the gags and scenes, but it’s a gag itself. Lewis calls attention to it again and again, and we are notice it unlike the set of the typical authoritarian film which is not meant to be noticed.

Within his million dollar giant set Lewis creates a world that has its own logic. This logic is similar to that of a very young child who has not yet understood the concept of real world causality. It is also a musical world. There are several scenes in the film that are based on musical type movements, something that is common in Lewis’ films in general, but the morning scene in the dollhouse in which the residents wake up to music is especially a knockout. (I did something similar in Intermezzo.) It, as is true of the film in general, exudes energy, a surprise for a scene that features people waking up.

Not everyone may find Lewis’ gags funny, but who cannot admire a live action film in which a dog can sound like a lion, then somehow end up as a literal lion without having to invoke any magic other than that of filmmaker Jerry Lewis.

Shooting Down Pictures sums it up nicely:

When Andrew Sarris complained that Lewis “never put one brilliant comedy from fade in to fade out,” he missed the point entirely. Being a Hollywood classicalist, Sarris couldn’t entertain the notion of a post-narrative comedy in the John Coltrane/Ornette Coleman era, where story comes second to the revelations of a spontaneous, inspired moment, as eruptive and unexpected as laughter itself.

Read more about the film here.

The entire film is currently on Youtube. However, this is a film that cries out to be seen on a big screen and with better image quality than Youtube offers. Also there’s an entry at Trailers for Hell on the film here.

UPDATE: 10/20/12

In The Way Hollywood Tells It, David Bordwell cites a study which concluded that those who had watched Judge Dredd (1995) liked “lots of blood,” “explosions,” and “good effects” far more than they cared about the plot.

Bordwell wonders why, then, movies bother with plot at all.

For the subculture that worships stars, we might make a movie that records Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts smiling coyly at each other for 90 minutes. For the viewers who love action, we might patch together a film consisting wholly of explosions. But each of these options would attract, to put it mildly, a restricted public. (The Way Hollywood Tells It; pp. 106-7)

This passage implies that most Hollywood films are made like legislation. There’s something for everyone, but no one likes the entire package. It’s a compromise. (Bordwell later (p. 107) says that while it sounds like a compromise, it’s not. Not convincing.) It also assumes that there was only a restricted public for the “pure” films it envisions. But is this assumption correct. First films that come to mind released before this book was published in 2005 are the That’s Entertainment series, films made up of musical segments cut from MGM musicals, linked together by various star hosts. And there have been plenty of other “excerpt” titles such as When Comedy Was King. And what about films such as Faces of Death? No plot at all to unite the various segments, just theme. Then there are feature length omnibus films. Some, such as Dead of Night and Tales from the Crypt, string together the separate stories by using a framing story as well as unifying theme, but others, such as Fantasia, have no framing story, only an MC/ringmaster figure (and theme) to unite everything. Given that they made several of these it’s hard not to conclude that the films found more than a “restricted public.” In any case, Youtube has produced several films, albeit short ones, which do consist entirely of explosions and other narrative-less actions. Millions of hits are the norm for many of them. Does this mean that Bordwell was wrong? That screenwriting manuals are likewise off the mark when they emphasize plot or even character over unmotivated action and explosions and effects and gags? What do we remember most from films? Is it most often the plot? Or is it the moments that could cut, distilled from the plot without losing much, if anything? What if the concept of “plot” has developed as the best way to smooth over the gaps between the disparate elements of a Hollywood film and make each of them appear to be necessary and natural, what Bordwell likes to call “motivated?”

There are many films with only a moment or two worth watching. Do we really need to watch the entire film to enjoy those moments. In the video tape era, it was common for certain films to wear out at a specific part of the tape again and again because everyone was fastforwarding to the part they wanted to watch, skipping the rest of the film entirely.

Written by David Kilmer

May 25, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Animated Contradictions

In 1999 I wrote a revised edition of my book, The Animated Film Collector’s Guide. (Read more about it here.) One of the new features added to that revised edition were short observations about some animated features. Here are a few of those observations in revised form:

1. Toy Story. The toys go into “just a toy” mode whenever a human enters the room. But Buzz thinks he is real, not a toy, so why does he act like the other toys? Why does Buzz pretend to be inanimate when a human enters the room if he does not think he is a toy? Shouldn’t the other toys have to restrain him?

2. Antz. This is based on the 1925 German film Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang. In that film, the higher ups plot to replace the workers with robots, the idea being that robots will be more docile than humans. To do this they use a robot who attempts to foment a rebellion which would provide an excuse to wipe out the workers. In Antz, the plot is simply to wipe out the workers. Who is going to do the work when the workers are gone? Did I miss something? Or did whoever thought this up completely misunderstand Lang’s film? (According to Wikipedia, in the US Metropolis had entered the public domain in 1953, but was restored to copyright in 1998, the year Antz was released, where it will remain until January 1, 2023, unless, of course, they change the copyright law again.)

3. A Bug’s Life. This film is based on The Magnificent Seven (which, of course, was based on Seven Samurai). Are we supposed to recognize the similarity to that film? Is it a parody like Rango, or simply a ripoff in the vein of a Tarantino film? This question applies to many Pixar films. Are we supposed to recognize Finding Nemo as Pinocchio told from the point of view of Geppetto? Is Cars a parody of Doc Hollywood? Is The Incredibles a Fantastic Four parody? Is this sequence from Monsters Inc. an homage to or a ripoff of Feed the Kitty?:

Sulley, in Monsters Inc., is afraid to look because he thinks the little girl is in the trash compactor

Marc Anthony, in Feed the Kitty, is afraid to look because he thinks his kitty is being turned into a cookie

Jack Skellington, as Santa, is shot from the sky and lands on a cemetery sculpture

Of course, Pixar is not the only one. For example, is Disney’s The Lion King a ripoff of or homage to Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba, the White Lion? (With Hamlet and Henry IV Part 1 added to the mix.) Is Dreamwork’s The Road to El Dorado a ripoff or homage to the Hope/Crosby Road to… series, and its plot a ripoff/homage of The Man Who Would be King?

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas. The plot has Jack Skellington attempting to be Santa Claus and failing miserably. Moral? Be yourself. But doesn’t this contradict the spirit of Halloween? Isn’t Halloween about putting on a costume and pretending that you are someone else? Isn’t Halloween Town all about Halloween? Of course. But what kind of Halloween Town is it that puts the kibosh on cosplay?

Written by David Kilmer

May 22, 2011 at 12:14 pm

My Version of Thor

In film school I had the habit of re-writing my classmate’s projects in my head, especially when they resembled my own projects. Since I’ve had a superhero idea that would be perfect for Thor kicking around in my head for a long time, it’s no surprise that I would want to re-write the new Thor movie to fit that idea.

Here’s a rough outline for the Thor/superhero movie I would do:

  1. Thor is on guard duty in Asgaard. Loki tells him about the formation of a new star in a distant corner of the universe. Thor’s curiosity gets the best of him and he leaves Loki to guard Asgaard in his place. Thor cannot resist witnessing the birth of a new type of star.
  2. While Thor is away, Asgaard is attacked and destroyed.
  3. Thor returns, but his exhilaration at being witness to a new star quickly turns to despair when he sees Asgaard in ruins.
  4. Thor blames himself. He strips himself of powers and memories, and sends himself hurtling through the cosmos.
  5. Thor ends up on a planet which turns out to be Earth. He has no memory of being a god.
  6. Years later, we find Thor living as an accountant in suburbia. He has a wife, kids, and a dog.
  7. Thor has been experiencing strange dreams about the stars. He is undergoing treatment for a phobia of the stars. He cannot look at the stars without becoming nauseous.
  8. The thing or things that destroyed Asgaard come to Earth planning to destroy it.
  9. Thor remembers who he is, that he is, in fact, a god, and that he must be this god again to save Earth.
  10. Thor attempts to defeat the invaders alone, but he is captured.
  11. The people of Asgaard turn out not to have been killed. All of the people of Earth are former residents of Asgaard. They are all gods.
  12. Thor helps the other Earthlings realize who they really are, and together they defeat the invaders.
  13. Asgaard is rebuilt on Earth.

Is a script written? You bet! Of course, the hero need not be Thor, but it works quite well with the Thor (public domain) mythology. In any case, this idea would not work for Marvel as a setup for other Marvel movies.

In any case, I don’t need to make this a Thor story. I don’t especially like Thor as a cosmic hero. His hammer, in particular, makes me think of him more as an Earth-bound character rather than one who is drawn to the stars. I also don’t have much use for Odin. But overall the story works with a cast that includes Thor and Asgaard.

Written by David Kilmer

May 11, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Star Man Vs. Green Lantern

Does the image below, seen in the latest trailer for Green Lantern, show the hero against the Sun?

I just saw the latest trailer for the Green Lantern movie. I am not a Green Lantern fan, and have not read many of the comics, but I am interested in seeing what they do with the cosmic imagery. This image, interestingly, resembles one of my Star Man posters:

I want to point out for future reference that I uploaded that Star Man poster on January 8 this year (here), and did not see this Green Lantern image until today.

Alfred Bester was one of the earliest writers of the Green Lantern comic. He also wrote The Stars, My Destination, a book I have read, and which has had some sort of influence on my thinking which has led to Star Man. I can’t say exactly what influence, though, other than, perhaps, the notion that we all have more potential than we give ourselves credit for. But you can probably say this about most adventure stories, especially of the super-hero variety. Including Green Lantern.

Written by David Kilmer

May 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Skull Duggery Returns!

When I was fourteen, I put together a mini-comic of single panel cartoons featuring a skeleton character called Skull Duggery. I showed the comic to my friend, John, who laughed his ass off. He showed it to the editor of the school newspaper. The editor did not like it. He said it was the stupidest thing he’d ever seen. (This was before Cartoon Network.) Then John decided that he did not like it anymore.

My career as a comic strip artist ended before it even began.

I wish I had saved the comic so that I could see if it was really as bad as they said it was. (It probably was.) Those two may have been the only ones who I showed it to before destroying it. I don’t remember much about the strip other than one drawing. It showed Skull looking at himself in a hand-held mirror and there was one dialogue balloon. What could he have been saying?

A narcissistic skeleton? The more I think about it, the more I think the character has potential.

Written by David Kilmer

May 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm

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