Many know Kathryn Bigelow from her Academy Award winning and nominated films of recent years. However, her earlier work features some stunning films that showcase a brilliant visionary style, and no other movie reflects that better than Strange Days. Released in my favorite year in film, 1995, it bombed at the box office, but gained quite a lot of praise. Roger Ebert even gave it a four out of four stars, and it was nominated for several Saturn Awards including Best Science Fiction Film with Bigelow winning for Best Director. Time has since allowed for this film to gain a wider appreciation from genre fans, and I’ve wanted to share mine with you for quite a while now. Strange Days is essentially the Blade Runner of the 1990’s, but even Blade Runner doesn’t do to me what Strange Days does.
It’s the eve of the millennium in Los Angeles, December 31, 1999. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is an ex-cop turned street hustler who preys on human nature by dealing the drug of the future. A new technology, called “wire tripping,” allows for anyone to re-live actual life experiences tapping directly into the cerebral cortex for the ultimate escapist high. However, Lenny is soon tangled up in a deadly plot, alongside limousine driver and security specialist Mace (Angela Bassett), when a set of murderous and controversial wire trip recordings end up in his possession that could have radical implications upon the entire city. It’s an environment that will lead him deep into the danger zone when he falls into a maze filled with intrigue and betrayal, murder and conspiracy.
Kathryn Bigelow was married to James Cameron for a time, and even after their marriage ended, they remained regular collaborators. Cameron was a producer on this film, co-screenwriter, and an uncredited editor. I can definitely see his creative influence at work. It’s that real depth of humanity on display with all of these colorful characters, real penetrating emotion, exciting science fiction ideas, and the exciting energy of storytelling which harkens back to The Terminator. His creative fingerprints are clearly here, and they are wrapped up in Bigelow’s razor sharp pacing, incredible direction, and mind blowing visuals.
The look of the movie definitely has that dystopian vibe with a lot of grit, smoke, neon, and seedy locales. Yet, it doesn’t look depressing, but instead, it’s exciting and intense. The cinematography is just simply stunning, and it will escape me to no end how Batman Forever got nominated at the Oscars for Best Cinematography this year while Strange Days was entirely snubbed as well as The Usual Suspects, Seven, and Twelve Monkeys. All of those are vastly superior looking and shot films on every level, and Strange Days is really in a league all its own from the signature James Cameron blue tinge style to Bigelow’s really dynamic visual edge that absorbs us fully into this dark, vibrant, mind-twisting reality. The camera work is amazingly dynamic, intriguing, and inspired. It’s a visual feast that really embraces a kinetic energy without ever sacrificing artistic integrity. If you took Blade Runner and hyper-charged it with adrenalin and a riveting edge of flash, you would get Strange Days.
The movie jacks you into a wire trip from the start to clearly convey the language of the experience. People are buying these recordings to experience the forbidden pleasures in life like armed robbery or sexual desires. It’s an extremely tempting thing that gives you all the rush and excitement without consequence, but it’s entirely illegal forcing Lenny to be the king of this underground business. Thus, he comes into the center of two related criminal plots. The first involves a pair of corrupt cops, portrayed by William Fichtner and Vincent D’Onofrio, tracking down a damning wire trip recording that could erupt the entire city in violence and outrage. The second is someone who stalked, raped, and murdered a friend of Lenny’s, and now is focusing his sick and disturbing torment on Lenny himself. All of this melds together into a larger conspiracy that engulfs these characters into a powerful dramatic story that rips and tears at emotions with severe risks and consequences.
Now, I absolutely love Ralph Fiennes as Lenny Nero. He’s the real crux of this whole film energizing it with his slick charm and charisma. He’s a mesmerizing salesman selling fantasies with the sensation of pure, raw reality. Yet, he never comes across as sleazy. Fiennes makes Lenny very genuine in everything he does, and thus, he is the perfect unlikely hero with a yearning broken heart, a life of down and out black market seediness, and a real vulnerable quality to him. Ralph Fiennes is an incredible actor, and he makes this a very deeply human and emotionally vulnerable character that draws you completely into the film. Lenny Nero is not a man who views himself as a hero, but the frightening descent that he is caught up in forces him to take action, especially with his former love Faith, portrayed greatly by Juliette Lewis, at the center of it. Faith has fully fallen into the deep end of the sleaze as a rock singer hooked up with Michael Wincott’s wire trip addicted record label owner Philo Gant. Lenny desperately wants to win her back, or at least, pull her out of that deep end. As a side note, I really love the wardrobe of Lenny Nero. It’s very stylish and flashy with plenty of unique personality, much like Lenny himself.
Angela Bassett is absolutely bad ass here in a very gritty, powerful way. Mace is exceptionally tough not taking any crap from Lenny, who hustles and leeches favors off her when he’s down and out, and as a security specialist, she can back up every ounce of that attitude. Bassett exudes energy and strength in every frame, and intensifies every moment. I’ve always been impressed by Bassett’s mixture of tough exterior with a tender interior. She definitely brings that out in Mace with all the raw emotional power possible.
Now, you talk about Academy Award quality work, I honestly believe that both Bassett and Fiennes achieved that in this film. Had Strange Days not fallen under the radar, I believe it would have been heralded with that kind of reverence at the time. Both Bassett and Fiennes deliver stunning, deeply powerful performances, and the script fuses Lenny and Mace together in a very personal way born out of tragedy and heartbreak. Furthermore, the chemistry between Bassett and Fiennes is spectacular. They spark off amazingly whether it’s sharp wit and humor, vehement conviction, or deep emotional drama. They are an electrifying pair which forge a riveting gravitas around them, but also make it a fun ride with their great rhythm and heart.
This film is just filled with an array of exceptional acting talents putting forth their best. From Tom Sizemore to Juliette Lewis to William Fichtner to Vincent D’Onofrio to Michael Wincott, the supporting cast is bursting with charisma, awesomeness, and solidarity. Everyone is equally as compelling and vibrant creating a very electrifying ensemble. Under Kathryn Bigelow’s direction, everyone delivers a powerful and intensely memorable performance. Bigelow seems to very much favor Sizemore as he appeared in Blue Steel and Point Break with much smaller roles, but here, he’s given a very prominent role as Max, a friend of Lenny’s who is still on the police force that weaves himself tightly into this plot.
On top of having that mind-blowing, amazing cast, Bigelow delivers an exciting, riveting thriller. The mysteries are wonderfully interwoven with all the character dynamics, volatile social climate, and science fiction tech elements. There’s wickedly tight tension and heart-pounding excitement at every turn. The powder keg of Los Angeles is building towards an explosion, and the lethality of the situation only builds as forces converge. This is a movie that constantly pushes further and further along the razor’s edge of madness, suspense, and danger. Surely, there is action here handled with the riveting intensity that Bigelow demonstrated with Point Break, but saturated with larger doses of style and exhilaration, if that’s even imaginable. The two corrupt cops dousing Mace’s limo with gasoline and lighting it on fire forcing her to drive it into in the bay, and then, make a shotgun glass shattering escape to avoid drowning is superbly executed, as is everything here. This film is soaked in emotion and thrilling, edge of your seat suspense, but still finds those moments of pure entertainment to make it a greatly fun experience.
Surely, the odd aspect of the film is that it was released in 1995 and takes place in the year of 1999 featuring a very radical decline in society. It’s a very narrow jump into the future. However, I really do like that it uses that “end of the millennium” sort of craziness and chaos to enhance every aspect of the film. Strange Days also reflects a lot of early 90’s Los Angeles culture with the earthquakes, riots, and police brutality incidents, and so, it feels very encapsulating of what one could pessimistically feel the future of that Los Angeles could have been. People are packing assault rifles, cops are wearing tactical riot gear, and the entire city looks like it’s on the edge of all our war. This is the vibe and energy that Bigelow injects into the fiber of the film, and it really erupts in the film’s climax. Strange Days is more than just a cyberpunk thriller, it has real social commentary on the darkest parts of society with shocking consequences. The climax leaves me speechless. I really don’t have the words reserved to describe it. There is no easy road taken in this story, and nothing is handled lightly. This is a hard hitting, gritty, visceral film that holds nothing back on any level.
Fueling all of that is a stellar score by Graeme Revell and a very aggressive soundtrack of mid-1990s electronic, heavy metal, and edgy music. Every creative element of this movie is jacked into that kinetic, cyberpunk style that soars to magnificent heights. It’s a pure encapsulation of a stunning vision by Bigelow built on the foundation of a rock solid, stunningly intelligent screenplay by James Cameron and Jay Cocks.
Strange Days is a brilliant, incredible movie with a lot of strong thematic material, wickedly amazing performances, and a spectacular visual style. This is one of the best and most original movies I have ever seen. My mind was blown all over again watching it for this review. Kathryn Bigelow would not be nominated for an Academy Award until 2010, but the evidence of her shockingly amazing talent was evident in 1995 with Strange Days. This is a film that deserves vastly more exposure, credit, and accolades than it has received. Surely, Point Break fulfills every action film adrenalin rush satisfaction for me, but this is the remarkable, awe-inspiring film experience. This is surely, without a doubt, the far superior film of the two, but both deliver on every promise and exceed expectations every step of the way. My recommendation is that you must see this movie no matter what!
Reviews for this sequel have been pretty lukewarm, and while I don’t blame anyone for feeling as such, there are some high and not-so-high points. This is not a blanket mediocre film, but the averaging out of the varied content can leave one feeling that way. As documented recently here, I feel Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick are really strong films in their respective, specific genres, with my preference being for the latter movie. Riddick does fall between the scale and premises of those films, but doesn’t live up to either one quite as well as it could have.
Betrayed by the Necromongers and left for dead on a desolate planet, Riddick (Vin Diesel) fights for survival against alien predators and becomes more powerful and dangerous than ever before. Soon, bounty hunters from throughout the galaxy descend on Riddick only to find themselves pawns in his greater scheme for revenge. With his enemies right where he wants them, Riddick unleashes a vicious attack of vengeance before returning to his home planet of Furya to save it from destruction.
There are three sections of this movie for me to critique which all have their distinct qualities. The first act of the film feels very sparse as it is just Riddick fending for himself on this desolate planet. There’s a few bits of narration from him and a flashback with the Necromongers that fill in some plot gaps from the aftermath of The Chronicles of Riddick. It also contains the only and very brief appearance of Karl Urban as Vaako. I had hoped for more from him here, but I figured it would be no more than a cameo. Anyway, this first act didn’t do much for me. It was kind of cool seeing Riddick wounded, vulnerable, and out in the wild getting back in touch with his animal side. However, it is quite sparse not giving you much beyond the survival action set pieces to get involved with. The film was starting to feel like an adventure that would play out in some prequel comic book – a very small scale transition piece story that is a stepping stone to something larger.
Thankfully, as I anticipated, once we get some bounty hunter characters injected into the mix, the film really started to entertain and engage me. Sure, the premise is quite stripped down and basic feeling more in line with Pitch Black, but if you’ve got a couple of vibrant, enjoyable characters to fill out that premise, you’ve got enough to make it worthwhile. It does take a few minutes to get them warmed up, but it’s the clashing dynamics between everyone that sparks it all off. Essentially, there are two teams of bounty hunters, or mercs as they are called. The first is lead by Santana, who is an enjoyably sleazy, down and dirty type with a very gritty, testosterone jacked team. The other is a more clean cut operation lead by actor Matt Nable’s character who has personal ties to Riddick and the events of Pitch Black. These two teams clash immediately causing a lot of conflict, and striking some very humorous, entertaining interactions.
Santana is portrayed very well by Jordi Mollà. I found him the most lively and charismatic character of the film. Mollà paints Santana as a very salacious individual with little respect for anyone else outside his team, and especially doesn’t like being ordered around by any of them when they’re forced to team up. Santana has definite smarts, but his attitude surely digs his own grave with many characters, especially Riddick. Also, former wrestler Dave Bautista is part of Santana’s team, and he does his part well, especially since Diaz doesn’t require much beyond being tough, formidible, and a little charismatic.
And color me majorly impressed by Katee Sackhoff. She portrays the exceedingly tough Dahl, part of the opposing team of mercs. She more than imposes her physicality upon Santana and others who try testing her, and has the attitude to go with that. This isn’t some stereotypical tough chick routine. Sackhoff kick ass as a bonafide hard edged, sharply skilled mercenary who has an extra distinctive flourish to her character. I’m sold on the actress and the character completely.
Now, Matt Nable’s character, of Boss who does have a bit of a reveal that I’ll not spoil for you here, is fairly okay. As I said, he adds a tether back to Pitch Black, but he’s really little more than that. The character is confident, authoratative, and intelligent, but compared to the colorful Santana, the tough as nails Dahl, or the nicely fun muscle bound hired guns of Santana’s gang, this is a rather mild character. He also sits on the fence never becoming an outright, reviled villain, and the ending reflects the reason why. There’s some intended depth with this character, but because he is so much on the fence, you don’t know if you’re supposed to sympathize with him or view him as a vengeful enemy. The film never galvanizes him into what kind of adversary he should be, and thus, comes off as quite forgettable and mild.
It is clear that Vin Diesel has a love for Riddick, and so do I. I think he is very fascinating type of anti-hero that has so many avenues of expansion, but this film really takes no ambition with Richard B. Riddick. The character is still written well by David Twohy, but that signature aura of mystique isn’t quite there. That ambiguity of what kind of hero he might choose to be, or the cunning way he manipulates events and perceives deeper into others isn’t really utilized here. Because the is a straight forward survival story with only bad guys and no potential good guys, you generally know how Riddick is going to deal with everyone. There’s no one of morality or sympathy like Imam, Carolyn Fry, or Jack / Kyra here to sway or alter Riddick’s actions. He’s out for himself, and will bargain however he can to escape this planet alive without being held captive. So, there’s no place for a lot of those more complex elements of Riddick to exist in this story, and that’s unfortunate. Diesel still does a really good job in the role, making him a fun, smart, highly capable, and entertaining protagonist. It just doesn’t feel like we’re getting every element of the character that I love. I kept perceiving something being missing from the performance or portrayal all throughout the movie, but couldn’t really put my finger on it. There is more to this character that we have seen in both previous movies, but this movie is just a little too stripped down to allow him to develop or be fleshed out. It also seemed like Vin Diesel didn’t wear contact lenses this time out, and instead, had Riddick’s “shine job” eyes digitally done.
I loved Graeme Revell’s score for both previous movies, but I wasn’t impressed with his work in this film. The familiar main theme does make some subtle appearances, but we never get a full fledged crescendo of it. Many of the action beats are scored appropriately well. Yet, the rest of the score feels very different in many places from Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick. There were a number of cues which just didn’t strike the right chord with me, same as some of the humorous bits of Riddick and the silly tricks with his dog-like pet. Those were certainly there to forge an emotional bond with this animal, which seems to have a massive unexplaned growth spurt during the first act, but because it was such a poorly done CGI creation I just couldn’t care that much about it.
The digital visual effects are about on-par with those in The Chronicles of Riddick, but like with Pitch Black, it’s good that a large chunk of these effects appear during dark environments. The creatures that strike at nightfall are considerably better rendered than Riddick’s pet, which is the only CGI that I cringed at. Of course, there’s only so much you can do on a $38 million budget where entire landscapes are enhanced with digital effects, and thus, you’re stretching your dollars to their limit. Thankfully, the CGI is pretty good in large part, and added to the film a whole lot more than it detracted.
I do like that David Twohy put forth the effort to build in connections to both of the previous movies. Again, you’ve got some flashbacks with the Necromongers showing what happened after Riddick killed the Lord Marshal, and how it led to him being left for dead on this nearly barren planet. Yet, I know this was not the film Twohy nor Diesel intended to make when they laid out their plans for The Chronicles of Riddick, and so, this is a smaller scale story intended to be a springboard towards a larger scale adventure. As much as I absolutely want to see this franchise take off and allow these fimmakers to tell the Riddick stories that they want, I’m not sure this is the movie to get them there. Like I said, this story is probably stripped down too much in terms of character and conceptual development, and focuses more on the entertainment value of action sequences. While all of the action is very well executed making for a bloody, violent, and fairly exciting movie, it has one more major failing.
As I said, there are three sections of this film to critique, and the last one, clearly, is the ending. Riddick is an action / horror survival story putting this character into increasingly treacherous and deadly scenarios where he must fend for himself. People are going to betray him and attempt to kill him, possibly even stranding him on this planet to ensure their own survival. I won’t detail the ending of this movie, but frankly, it is a terribly weak ending that is a copout to the entire premise. There’s no dramatic punch to this ending, no rationale for the actions of the other characters involved with it, and leaves you hanging with an empty feeling. The film builds to a tense, riveting crescendo, and then, fizzles out. This film absoultely should have ended with a strong, impactful, emphatic statement for the character and franchise. I even sat there through the end credits hoping for an extra scene to appear, but once those credits roll, that’s all there is. Up until this point, I was enjoying myself, and was engaged in the excitement of the action. I was interested to see how the machinations of these deceitful characters would manipulate the fate of Riddick. It was a fun adventure with plenty of graphic violence pulling no punches, and just having a good, gritty time with itself. It’s just those last few minutes of the movie where you just don’t know how Riddick is going to get out of this at all, and the entire movie cheats you out of even a decent pay-off. I just felt letdown, and it’s worse yet because I know David Twohy can write something better than this. He wrote Warlock, co-wrote The Fugitive, and co-wrote both previous Riddick movies. It’s a whimper of a conclusion when it should have been amazingly awesome to re-energize audiences about the character of Riddick, and leave them wanting to see more bad assery from him.
I had been waiting for this movie for a long time, and I really wanted this franchise to be very successful. So, it really, honestly pains me to give any amount of negativity to jeopardize that success, but this really feels more like a movie many would rent instead of rushing out to the theatre to see. Even removing the ending from the equation, it is a fairly average sci-fi / action movie without the same stylized visuals or scope of Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick. However, it has some extra punch in the graphic violence and some pleasing female nudity, and has some entertaining and well portrayed characters to liven up the uninspired story. You can potentially have a good time with this movie, but I don’t feel it’s a strong enough outing to give Riddick the new injection of box office life that he needs for David Twohy and Vin Diesel to do what they desire with him, unfortunately.
You don’t know how excited I was to watch this movie again, and then, wonder to myself why in the HELL haven’t I watched this frequently over the years. Of course, I speak of the director’s cut which I feel is a vastly superior and richer story. From every fan I’ve heard from, they are hardcore about Pitch Black, but not so much about this one. I am really more the reverse. The more expansive science fiction epic traveling to various unique worlds, and facing multiple dangers with colorful characters is right in my cinematic sweet spot.
After years of outrunning ruthless bounty hunters, escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) suddenly finds himself caught between opposing forces in a fight for the future of all races. An army of fearsome world ravagers known as Necromongers are “cleansing” and forcibly converting other species in their goal of universal conquest, but Imam (Keith David) and the Elemental Ambassador Aereon (Judi Dench) believe Riddick holds the key to a prophecy that could bring down Necromonger Lord Marshal (Colm Feore). Now, waging incredible battles on fantastic and deadly worlds, this lone, reluctant hero will emerge as a champion, and the last hope for a universe on the edge of annihilation.
Vin Diesel and David Twohy really develop the character of Riddick further and in more depth. There’s more emotional texture on the surface now, especially when conversing with Imam. I absolutely love how this film expands this character without ever betraying what made him fascinating to begin with. He’s placed into a larger story and a larger world which delves further into who he is, where he came from, and that’s exactly what a sequel should do. Every bad ass, intriguing quality of him is intact, but circumstances force him to make choices he never thought he’d be faced with. Diesel does an excellent job stretching Riddick out into this wider universe. He still carries the air of mystique with him, but there’s more emotional weight and tethers to the character. The connection with Imam is quite cool, if only for having two of the deepest, smoothest voices in Hollywood trading dialogue, but honestly, these are especially good scenes. Diesel also gets more dynamic action sequences to shine in, and galvanizes Riddick into a bigger, smarter, more clever bad ass than before. I also love the light touches of wit and humor that we are given. Riddick has some clever, fun dialogue making him just as funny as he is threatening and dangerous.
Building upon his character is the relationship with Jack, who now goes by Kyra and portrayed by Alexa Davalos. She’s grown into a jaded version of Riddick because she feels he abandoned her. She’s a convicted criminal willing to kill for pleasure or to survive. Davalos does a very good job in this role making a solid emotional connection with the audience, and shows her physicality is in prime shape. Some might know her from her three guest appearances on Angel as the electricity powered Gwen Raiden, where she also showed she could throw down. Davalos is a great successor to this role, and the film pulls no punches in tearing these characters away from Riddick, forcing him to stand more and more on his own. I like that Kyra and Imam become involved in the Necromonger storyline, albeit in different ways, and so, all threads tie tightly back into the main plot.
The director’s cut absolutely makes this an excellent film. The theatrical version cuts out the real meat of the Furyan subplot including the character of Shirah who comes to Riddick in visions and unlocks his power as a Furyan. All of that is rather critical to the entire driving factors of the movie. It gives motivation and purpose to Riddick and Lord Marshal, and propels them forward with more weight and depth. Without all of that, the story becomes thinner and more basic. I remember seeing moments in the trailer from this subplot, and being upset when they didn’t appear when I saw the film theatrically. This aspect of The Chronicles of Riddick gives depth, purpose, and poignancy to Riddick, and simply makes it a more substantive story that I really, strongly endorse.
There’s also amazing action everywhere in The Chronicles of Riddick. From the mercs chasing Riddick on the frigid ice world to the race against the scorching, lethal sunrise on the prison planet Crematoria, we get wickedly conceived and executed set pieces. There’s plenty of violence, especially in the unrated director’s cut, as Riddick really cuts deep into his adversaries, and we get plenty of bang for our buck. The stunt work is amazing, and the imagination on display is rich and refreshing. David Twohy creates some very dynamic acrobatic moments that do strain physics, but it fits just fine into the hyper stylized intensity. He absolutely goes for an expansive scope that stunningly sucked me into the film. The entire look of the movie is just awesome with excellent cinematography and a brilliant, epic vision from Twohy himself.
The Chronicles of Riddick has a very lavish production design that I could compare to a big Dino De Laurentiis 1980’s science fiction / fantasy epic like Flash Gordon or David Lynch’s Dune. This really goes all out in detailed costume designs, big sprawling landscapes, and simply elegant sets filled with depth and nuance. Twohy really went for broke making this an exquisitely high grade production, and I think it immensely pays off at every turn. Some of the visual effects are exceptional, but there are a number of moments that are quite noticeably less than excellent. Regardless, the vast, stunning vision of David Twohy is realized impressively, and with stronger resources than what he had on Pitch Black. The visual effects are a MAJOR upgrade from that movie allowing for Twohy’s vision to thrive on screen. There might be a green screen effect here or there that could be a notch or two better, and the animals set loose in the Crematoria prison are the most obvious undercooked CGI elements, but the visual effects spectacle is very strong creating a fully realized and enveloping universe. I thoroughly love every aspect of the look of this film. It’s what hooked me from the trailers, and it’s what continues to excite me. And yes, Graeme Revell does return to reprise his themes from the first movie, and does a remarkable job capturing the feel of this more action / adventure-centric sequel.
What I absolutely, deeply love in this film is Nick Chinlund as the bounty hunter Toombs. He is a massive upgrade in entertainment value over Johns in Pitch Black. Toombs is a rugged, sleazy, charismatic joy to be had all through his screentime. He’s an excellent, fun adversary for Riddick. Chinlund and Diesel have great adversarial chemistry to the point that I had always wanted Toombs to return for a sequel, but you can’t always get what you want. This role made me an enthusiastic Nick Chinlund fan.
And damn, does Karl Urban not do his best in everything he does? He’s a hardened, menacing threat as Vaako who schemes against the Lord Marshal to succeed him as leader of the Necromongers. This might seem like a subplot that is a bit extraneous, but it has strategic impact on the main plot. And Urban’s strong presence and dramatic weight really helps enhance Vaako and his role in this film. As I always say, Karl Urban is an actor with a rich depth of talent who never gives anything but his absolute best every time he takes on a role. He does rock solid, consistent, high quality work, and that has made him a wholehearted favorite of mine since The Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy.
And it’s odd to speak of the film’s main villain after all of these supporting characters, but Colm Feore is great as the Lord Marshal. He adds the right balance of militaristic conqueror and haunting specter. He is a man of supposed ultimate power seeking universal domination, and is fully consumed by his radical faith. His unwavering mindset makes him immensely dangerous like a barreling down freight train, and Feore has the right eerie quality to sell all of this. He fills the role just right making him a seemingly insurmountable enemy fueled by these fantastical powers of the Underverse. He doesn’t have the entertainment value of Toombs, or the fierce intensity of Vaako. However, he is the dominant presence that none can contend with, but you do get the subtle feeling that, whether it’s Riddick or Vaako, someone is going to take him down by the end. The climax entirely plays upon that expectation, and executes it in a very clever way.
Pitch Black was the one-off adventure that introduced us to Riddick, and just allowed us a small glimpse into the potential of this character. The Chronicles of Riddick was clearly the start of a larger, epic story that I have been excited to see continued for nine years. David Twohy establishes a great, exciting, and vast universe for endless possibilities with this movie. I love taking a character like Riddick and injecting him into a different kind of film. So many sequels aren’t a tenth as ambitious as this film strives and succeeds to be. Many would do the same old thing, playing it safe with audience expectations, but Twohy engages us with Riddick and develops him further in a story that forces that to happen. It puts Riddick into the bigger picture of the universe, and sets the stage for something even more fascinating and expansive to occur.
With the third film, Riddick, hitting theatres this weekend, it’s great to see another chance being taken here with a franchise of ripe potential. The Chronicles of Riddick was not profitable upon its theatrical release, and that was a terrible shame. Twohy and Diesel had well plotted plans for two more films, but would need that larger budget to realize them. So, I don’t expect Riddick to expand as wondrously and amazingly upon the concepts of this film, but more a fusion of the styles of Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. Finding a middle ground between them seems like it could generate success and appeal to fans of both films. Again, my preference is towards the second film as it just breaks open the universe in a stunning realization of imagination, and is fueled by some great action sequences that have always stuck with me through the years. The Chronicles of Riddick is greatly exciting, immensely enjoyable, and simply fascinating to see unfold with its fantastical ideas and purposeful spectacle. If you haven’t been exposed to these films, I strongly encourage you to do so, and I hope that Riddick lives up to the years of anticipation. Even if it’s smaller scale, I’m greatly pleased to see a solid, imaginative franchise get another chance at success.
David Twohy is one of those talents who deserves better success than what he has achieved. He’s done some stellar screenwriting work with hits like The Fugitive and G.I. Jane, and many of his directorial efforts have received critical praise from genre fans. With Pitch Black, he struck a cult following chord that still, hopefully, resonates to this day. I’ve heard many say that Pitch Black is essentially a reworking of David Twohy’s rejected script for Alien 3, but my research does not confirm any correlation between the two projects especially since he co-wrote Pitch Black with two other writers in Jim & Ken Wheat. However, it is very easy to see how this could have been part of that franchise, but thankfully, this was its own thing that launched its own franchise that I am glad to say that I am a fan of. And yes, the director’s cut is the way to go for me.
When their ship crash-lands on a remote planet, the marooned passengers soon learn that escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) isn’t the only thing they have to fear. Deadly creatures lurk in the shadows, waiting to attack in the dark, and the planet is rapidly plunging into the utter blackness of a total eclipse. With the body count rising, the doomed survivors are forced to turn to Riddick with his eerie eyes to guide them through the darkness to safety. With time running out there is only one rule: Stay in the light.
It’s interesting the structure that David Twohy goes for here. Once the crash occurs, most films would take on a gradual pace to establish many of these characters, and walk through the process of a slow burn build up to the lurking threats waiting for everyone. Instead, Twohy does a lot to jump forward beyond those gradual beats and goes for the tight, faster rhythm. He knows that the necessary focus is on Riddick, Fry, and Johns, primarily, and there are points that need to be hit with them before jumping headlong into the meat of the plot. We then learn more about these individuals as the conflicts and tensions escalate, which really works. Twohy keeps the pace very well balanced because of this approach. It starts out exciting, and continues to hold to that rhythm throughout. Danger is encroaching upon these characters, and that faster tempo is very essential to the effectiveness of the scenario.
The film has some very well crafted sequences that surely deliver on the suspense using silence, subtlety, and the darkness in very effective ways. While it doesn’t send chills up my spine to tingle me with terror, it is thrilling nonetheless. For me, I would veer this more towards an action vibe. The intention is survival horror, but there is enough intense action here to cater to anyone who isn’t so easily scared. Several characters are put into peril early on, some die, and that serves the tension later on knowing that anyone is expendable in this story. Anyone can fall prey to these quickly striking nocturnal creatures, and when they are charging through hordes of them with only minimal light to clear their way, it puts an audience on edge. Yet, little of this would mean anything if there weren’t well portrayed and written characters to involve yourself with.
I really like everything that David Twohy and Radha Mitchell do with Carolyn Fry, the now defacto commanding officer after the captain died during a hull breech. We know throughout the movie that she is not an altruistic hero as she tries to jettison the passengers to save her own life during the impending crash landing. So, there’s that condemnable quality that she works to redeem herself for through the film. She struggles to lead these people to safety as she constantly pushes that responsibility away, but she has to ultimately accept that leadership role in order to survive. Mitchell really stands strong in this role delivering a dimensional character that an audience can latch onto, emotionally, and invest themselves in as she grows and solidifies through this terrifying ordeal. Fry is vulnerable, but shows her strength by the end.
Cole Hauser makes the bounty hunter Johns a very good, subtly unstable foil here. He’s supposed to be a good guy considering he caught Riddick, but he’s a tough mercenary challenging everyone’s authority while feeding his drug habit. He’s a hostile wild card that could motivate people to safety, or more likely, jeopardize lives, including his own. He and Riddick are definitely set at odds, but the scenes between them are very interesting in the psychological aspect. Riddick is a guy who likes to play on peoples’ perceptions of him, and give them a certain amount of unpredictability to what he’ll do next. Johns knows plenty of Riddick’s tricks, and it’s interesting to see them subtly square off psychologically and physically.
Of course, the real star of the movie is Vin Diesel. The character of Richard B. Riddick is very much an anti-hero. He’s a convicted criminal who makes no excuses for himself, but knows how to use everyone’s fears and perceptions about him to his benefit. Diesel is very subtle in these moments speaking softly with a smirk showing that Riddick has people wrapped around his finger. Riddick knows just how far to push, and when to twist things back around. First and foremost, he is a survivor, and he knows that you can’t always do it alone. Vin Diesel injects confidence, intelligence, and cunning into the character, but also a very compelling mystique. Just like a Snake Plissken type, the less he says, the more interesting he becomes. His actions make him intriguing while what words he does speak weave a complex tapestry that simply sucks you in. You can gradually see this character becoming an iconic role as the film progresses, and even his opening narration sets the focus intriguingly upon Riddick right from the start.
There are a couple of notable supporting roles here including Keith David as the Muslim passenger Imam. He offers up a very solid character with strong beliefs and morality that add to the diverse personalities and attitudes of these characters. David is always a charismatic actor who can do tough everyman like in They Live or The Thing, but turn around and give you a substantive, cultured character such as Imam. Add to that is Jack, portrayed by Rhianna Griffith who comes to idolize Riddick, and forms some kind of attachment to him. There’s an odd twist to the character that seems fairly unnecessary, but it’s another trait to make Jack a slight bit more memorable. These are both well established, well portrayed characters which aid the film in very grounded, human ways.
Now, Pitch Black has a certain stylized look at times that never entirely sat right with me. I do like some of the over exposed daylight shots driving home the triple sun environment, but the rather monochromatic color washes don’t quite appeal to me. I just feel there must have been a better, more subtle way to color time these scenes to allow a slightly more varied color palette to shine through. Also, the inverted colors used in one false scare moment and a few cinematography and editing choices feel more akin to a flashy, stylized music video. These artistic choices just seemed more akin to stuff I had seen in the direct-to-video market than a theatrically released motion picture. That is sad for me to admit because beyond these off-beat moments, there is a lot of excellent cinematography to be had here. There’s a definite effort put towards production value with the cinematic camera moves and angles chosen. When the film gets into the darker and darker environments, it really takes on a very moody, atmospheric, and dangerous visual intensity. The whole planet eventually feels like a black, empty void perfectly reflecting the tense situation at hand. I also like that, in contrast to the overly exposed daytime scenes, the full-on night time scenes seem straining a little for exposure. You feel how dim the light is that these people have to work with and ward off these creatures, and that extra grain on the film stock just adds more gritty edge to the movie. Those issues I had are present only in the early part of the film. The remainder of it is shot, edited, and executed especially well.
Considering this was made on a $23 million budget in the early 2000s, I will say that the visual effects are fairly good based on those factors. In the grand scheme of CGI, Pitch Black has a LOT of room for improvement. These filmmakers were very ambitious with what they wanted to achieve on such a limited budget, and I can’t fault them for that. There are some better looking moments than others, and it is likely best, by design, that so many of these effects are played out in dark environments. In a brightly lit one, these creatures and digital effects would look really bad. While Riddick’s “shine job” vision allowing him to see in the dark is pretty damn cool, the creature vision is quite primitive like some cheap Photoshop radial blur effect. I hate to talk poorly about all of this because I see the ambition and visionary talent at work, but the budget could only be stretched so far to accommodate that, which is very unfortunate. If you doubled this film’s budget, the visual effects would be approaching excellent, I’m sure. As it is, if the characters and scenario pull you in, I think any shortcomings in the CGI will be forgivable in an audience’s eyes.
Another really exceptional quality here is Graeme Revell’s rich score. The main theme is excellent, thrilling, and rather triumphant. In an age of films that rarely attempt to forge a recognizable main theme of any kind, it’s refreshing to see especially a genre film crafting one that strikes a strong chord. Even though it had been several, several years since I had seen either this or The Chronicles of Riddick, I still recalled the theme fondly. Revell has done some stunning work when he really applies himself, such as on The Crow, Strange Days, and The Craft, and his effort really shows through here.
Surely, the basic concept of Pitch Black is not very original as I’m sure you can draw comparisons to the Alien franchise and various other science fiction / horror classics. However, like I said, even if this film does tingle you with terror, it has action and excitement to engage you. I definitely like the Riddick character. He’s very intriguing, and a solid anti-hero in cinema is always a fun concept. Vin Diesel was the right man for this role, and I love that he has had such a devotion to it alongside David Twohy. Pitch Black is definitely a cult classic which has plenty of merit and entertainment value. It’s a straight up type of film with certain plot conveniences to allow for this story to happen, but if it hooks you and you have fun watching it, none of it is gonna matter.
I had thought I had reviewed all of the past Star Trek films I was going to review, but I figured, “Why the hell not?” I’m not going to run through all the back story of the production of this movie because it’s been documented in great detail already elsewhere. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is definitely very far from being the best of the franchise, and is rightfully ranked low on the scale. However, there are some elements of it that I have always liked, and have never heard anyone else give credit to. So, here I am to provide you my perspective on this misstep in taking this 1960’s television series into a feature film franchise.
When a destructive space entity is spotted approaching Earth, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) returns to the newly retrofitted U.S.S. Enterprise to take command away from the young and driven Will Decker (Stephen Collins). Kirk’s entire trusted crew is reunited with the addition of the alien navigator Lieutenant Ilia (Persis Khambatta), and the surprise return of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) who seeks deep, soul searching answers from the mysterious intruder. Now, the crew of the Enterprise must intercept and find a way to stop this alien intelligence before it destroys every human life on Earth.
Okay, let’s get the obvious critiques out of the way. This movie is especially dated in so many ways. Even though this was made because Star Wars was a big success, this is distinctly a science fiction film more akin to those made before Star Wars existed. The grindingly slow pace and the very cerebral focus fall more into a 2001: A Space Odyssey or Logan’s Run mentality. The costuming and general look of the film are quite 1970’s like Battlestar Galactica. The one piece jumpsuits with their muted color palettes don’t have much of a progressive feel from the vibrant, yet simple uniforms of the television series. There’s a definite reason why these uniforms never reappeared anywhere in Star Trek – they’re instantly dated, impractical, and unappealing. The cast utterly hated wearing them. There’s so much in this film that feels like a step backwards for its time. Amidst films like Star Wars, Alien, and even Superman: The Movie, which all made large leaps forward with the science fiction and fantasy genres with special effects, exciting storytelling, and progressive filmmaking innovations, Star Trek: The Motion Picture feels like it was lagging behind the times on all fronts.
The more immediate problem here is how little resemblance this bares to the television series. Star Trek was an exciting piece of episodic science fiction. It was usually quite intelligently written, and it had action, peril, consequence, and danger making for thrilling entertainment. This film has almost none of that. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has been called The Slow Motion Picture and The Motionless Picture by many people. I do enjoy a slow burn, methodically paced film, but this is slow pacing simply for indulgence sake. For example, this film takes almost an hour before the crew of the Enterprise actually encounters V’Ger at all, and every plot element is almost agonizingly drawn out with next to no impact. Instead, this film concerns itself with a drawn out briefing scene, a malfunctioning transporter, a malfunctioning warp drive, and many graceful, yet frivolously time sucking visual effects sequences. So much of this content could be chopped out entirely for an exceedingly tighter story structure, and leave room for building more substance and momentum into its intended story.
While there are character dynamics at play, the film takes no real time to develop a particular story to be engrossed in. While Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta put in good performances as Decker and Ilia, respectively, not enough effort is put into developing them to the point where an audience is invested in their plight. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, just self-contained within this film alone, are infinitely more fascinating than Decker and Ilia. This is firstly a script problem, and secondly, a directorial issue. Robert Wise had a very highly acclaimed career, but nothing in his filmography says he was the right man to direct a feature film version of Star Trek. This is the director who did several musicals like West Side Story and The Sound of Music, and methodically paced thrillers like Run Silent, Run Deep. He could do critically acclaimed science fiction such as The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain, but none of his work aligns with the exciting, innovative style that was Star Trek. Apparently, Wise really only directed this film because his wife was a fan of the television series.
Circa 1983, George Lucas did a very intelligent interview that coincidentally details the problem of this film, and unfortunately, makes you wonder where that George Lucas disappeared to. He said, and I quote, “One of the fatal mistakes that almost every science fiction film makes is that they spend so much time on the settings, creating the environment, that they spend film time on it. And you don’t have to spend too much film time creating an environment. What they are doing is showing off the amount of work that they generated, and it slows the pace of the film down. The story is not the settings. The story is the story, the plot.” Star Trek: The Motion Picture spends so much film time gushing over the exquisite detail of its models and visual effects that it forgets to actually tell an engaging, thrilling story. I will admit that the models are excellent, but due to a rushed production schedule to meet an unrealistic release date, many of the film’s visual effects were less than what they were supposed to be. The director’s cut released in 2001 went a long way to rectify that, but the fact still remains that this film is better suited as a dazzling visual effects reel than a well constructed and smartly conceived narrative movie. However, while the script is terribly misguided, and the choice of director was way off the mark, there is one great element that flows through both the good and the bad first six Star Trek films – the core cast.
The one actual strength of this film are the character interactions. The foundation of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is retained as solidly as ever. When Bones first beams on board the Enterprise, I really love the exchange between him and Kirk. How McCoy is still as fiery and cranky as ever is great, and how Kirk pleads with his friend because of how desperately he needs him on this mission has always been a favorite moment of mine. It shows that the characters that we know are intact and the actors know exactly who they are inside and out. Jim Kirk knows he can’t do it alone. He’s already without Spock at this point, and so, he has to draft Dr. McCoy back into service. Spock and McCoy balance out Kirk’s ego, passions, humanity, rationale, and decisiveness. You can see this in the first minute that McCoy steps foot on the bridge, and once Spock joins them, the equation is complete. DeForest Kelley did get all the best dialogue, and constantly proved to be an excellent talent in this role. He doesn’t have a great deal to do in this movie, but the moments he does have are pitch perfectly filled with passion, depth, emotion, and wit. Kelley is actually one of the few to inject a humorous, smart quip every now and then, which this film greatly needed to break up its monotonous tone. It’s amazing that the entire original series cast did not miss a single beat slipping back into these classic characters after so many years, and that comfortable, sharp chemistry is part of what always made them work so greatly in any medium.
What I really like about James T. Kirk is that he is a man with an ego, but he’s not so consumed with it to not be aware of it. He’s able to correct himself when he realizes he’s in the wrong, and that becomes clear when dealing with Decker. When Kirk learns that his objection to Decker countermanding his phaser order was justified, he retracts his stance and acknowledges his error. Later on, he catches himself quicker when Decker offers an alternative course of action in defending the ship, and it shows that he’s tempering his actions. William Shatner really does a lot to enhance Kirk in this story as a man who is a little older and a little out of touch with his own ship. He stumbles here and there, but is able to stay on his feet, on his toes. The sort of ticking clock of V’Ger coming closer and closer to Earth forces him to make brash, impulsive decisions. They may not be the wisest ones, but they are the chances he has to take as a Starfleet Captain.
The finest performance in this film, by far, is from Leonard Nimoy. While other characters lack a through line arc, Spock is given one that is prominently at play throughout the movie. In the midst of a Vulcan ritual that would purge all emotion from him, Spock telepathically connects with V’Ger, and begins to question if logic is enough. He then abandons the Kolinahr ritual to seek out V’Ger in hopes of finding answers to his questions. Early on, you can see Spock is troubled and distant. Nimoy utilizes such subtlety in these moments, and it is very compelling seeing that unfold behind his masterful facial expressions. Yet, we gradually see the more comfortable and familiar Spock take stage on the bridge. The intelligent insight and perceptiveness of Spock is hit perfectly on the mark showing us exactly what value this character brings to this crew. Spock progresses and develops as he explores V’Ger in depth, and he once again becomes whole through a introspective, soul searching journey. What story there is in this film is really Spock’s in relation to V’Ger, but it certainly feels like a subplot that is almost drowned out by the constantly dull banality of the weak main plot.
What you have to give credit to is that despite all the blatantly obvious flaws of this movie, it does treat its characters with respect, and features some good character development. At the beginning, Kirk is restless as an Admiral pushing the proverbial paper work around, and Spock is empty, incomplete, and searching. By the end, Kirk has found his home and his purpose again as the commander of a starship, and Spock has embraced more than just logic. And it is clear to me that there was supposed to be more going on with Decker. He starts out ambitious and driven, a man who wanted this command, but had it robbed form him by the very man who endorsed him for the position. In the end, he finds another purpose and path for himself. While the film doesn’t convincingly drive him down that road at all, you can see there was an intention there for it. The fact of the matter is, even if the movie is bad and ill-conceived, as long as the characters are treated with respect and the actors are solid in their portrayals, I can find some enjoyment and a little admiration for any Star Trek film with the original cast.
Now, I firmly believe that Jerry Goldsmith was the quintessential feature film composer for Star Trek. I only find it unfortunate that he just happened to end up scoring some of the worst regarded films in the franchise. While this film has its excessively long, drawn out sequences, they translate into some very inspired and wonderful compositions by Goldsmith. Beyond the new main title theme, I have always loved his Klingon theme as it just encapsulates the feel of them perfectly. Overall, Goldsmith sets the right tone with his score adding in cues that evoke danger, mystery, and the unknown. Even if you can’t bare to sit through this film, listening to Goldsmith’s score is a pleasure. I own the 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition CD, and it is one of the late maestro’s finest epic scores.
While the film has visual spectacle, is fairly well directed, and is technically sound, it was a severely misguided attempt plagued with problems. Nobody was happy with this movie during production or upon release. There were constant creative disputes amongst Gene Roddenberry, the screenwriter, Nimoy and Shatner, and the studio to where rewrites happened daily with the ending being conceived essentially on the spot. Today, a movie like this would kill any chance for a franchise, but Paramount was willing to revamp the creative team and it resulted in what is widely regarded as the absolute best of this film franchise – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. With this first movie, I suppose if, by some slim chance, this film does engage your interest and attention, it could be fairly thought provoking about your place in the universe, but there’s a long way it could go to improve upon that material by simply adding more substance into its proceedings. Star Trek: The Motion Picture simply does not have enough meat on the bone to satisfy, and instead, fills itself out with a lot of pointless fat in the form of mind numbingly long visual effects sequences. There are certainly fan edits out there which trim this movie down to under ninety minutes, and it’s likely a little better off for it. I think it is important to say that this is not so much a bad movie as it is a mostly unexciting and dull one. I can’t really urge anyone to go see it if you haven’t already, but if you have seen it, I hope that what I’ve had to say here at least opens you up to seeing that it does have some merits, even if they are lost in a vast sea of stillness.
To this very day, I am still a Street Fighter II gamer fan, but I have never seen either of the live action movies based on that video game property. Instead, Mortal Kombat is the one that I have always greatly enjoyed. I was subscribed to a few video game magazines back in the day when I owned my Super Nintendo, and I remember all the hype and articles that were published on the making of this film. With how poorly received the Street Fighter movie was, fans were clamoring for Mortal Kombat to succeed and dominate at the box office, which it did. Although, I’m glad my tastes matured to realize how bad this film’s sequel was, but this rather impressive first film by, of all people, Paul W.S. Anderson still holds up rather well today.
Summoned to the mysterious land of Outworld by the sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), three martial arts warriors engage in the ultimate battle of good against evil – the supernatural tournament of Mortal Kombat. The honorable Liu Kang (Robin Shou) seeks to avenge his brother’s death, action film star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) desires a validation of his skills, and the dogged law enforcement agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) hunts a murderous underworld criminal. They are all brought together under the guidance of Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert), God of Lighting, to put them on the path to victory, or else Earth will fall to the forces of darkness forever.
Movies adapted from video games have been a notoriously bad film genre. So many filmmakers find it difficult to adapt the material into a recognizable product, but Mortal Kombat had a very well fleshed out story built into it. Still, Hollywood seems to make a habit out of screwing up the easiest of adaptations, but here, it is a stunningly near faithful job. Sure, Kano is changed from Chinese to Australian, and maybe a few details are messed with here and there. However, this film is executed exceptionally well from a fairly good screenplay with a lot of fun to be had.
The only real shortcoming this movie has, which does date the film, is the quality of the digital effects. The filmmakers really kept the budget down under $20 million, which was very smart on all levels, but especially in 1995, that really limited what CGI could do for them. Even the bad CGI of today is better than what we get here. However, if the film is good enough in story, characters, and entertainment value, I can forgive substandard effects. The most impressive effect, which is done entirely practically, is the towering Prince Goro. Surely, if made today, he’d be 100% CGI, but these filmmakers made the smart and economic choice of creating an animatronic character. He can be a little stiff at times, but frankly, I’d take a well implemented practical creature over a cheap CGI one, which we do get in the form of Reptile.
What really makes this film work, in my opinion, is that it does take the property fairly seriously, but keeps the tone comfortably open for humor and light fun. There are bright, cartoonish characters like Kano, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion, but there’s a firm enough sense of danger and gravity attached to them to make them formidable, not funny. There is an emotional story for Liu Kang to traverse dealing with fate, destiny, grief, guilt, and his own inner strength. That gives the film its weight of drama and heart, but it’s never bogged down by heavier subject matter. Anderson hits that right balance to give the film some substance, but maintain a tone completely conducive to fun. It’s sad to say that many of his subsequent films couldn’t achieve that respectable balance.
They say a hero is only as good as his villain, and in this case, we have a great villain in Shang Tsung perfectly cast with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. He is a rock solid serious threat enveloping himself in a dark, haunting mystique. You can tell he was enjoying playing this meaty role. He has an authoritative presence, but wisely maintains a low key, confident manner showing that Shang Tsung is truly in control every step of the way. However, Tagawa can unleash a vicious mean streak when the moment calls for it. He just portrays a great, smart, subtly charismatic, and cunning villain that I have always thoroughly enjoyed. Better yet, he gets to speak all of the game’s signature lines such as “flawless victory” and “finish him!”
While Johnny, Sonya, and Liu are treated fairly equally through most of the film, it is indeed Liu Kang that is the intended lead hero. Robin Shou does a very admirable job taking Liu on a progression from the skeptical, slightly arrogant young man to a wiser, stronger fighter. Shou shows he can handle the lightly introspective and soul searching qualities of the role very well, and is a very capable martial artist. I really like the journey he takes Liu Kang on, but the film, almost wisely, doesn’t dwell on these character development aspects. I have no doubt that Shou could have done more with it had the script called for it, but the film maintains a tight and consistent pace of excitement. So, there’s hardly a lull in the action or momentum, and Paul W.S. Anderson fits everything comfortably into a 101 minute runtime.
Johnny Cage is charismatically portrayed by Linden Ashby. He really is a well-rounded fit into this group of characters adding in the needed arrogant wiseass comments, but being charming and likable all the way through. It’s interesting to note that the role had been previously offered, supposedly, to both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Brandon Lee. Van Damme chose to do Street Fighter while Lee had tragically died before production began. It’s interesting to think how the film would have been different with either of them as Cage. Regardless, Ashby proved way more than capable, and really shined flawlessly in this role.
Of course, Christopher Lambert is just delightful. I could probably watch a movie of any quality as long as Lambert is having fun in it, which says a lot for why I own the first three Highlander sequels. As Raiden, he brings both a weight of wisdom and levity of charm into the mix. His slightly raspy voice really lends towards the ancient mystique of the God of Lightning. Lambert, overall, just delivers the dramatic, thematic weight of these warriors with Raiden’s perceptive words of wisdom, and just makes things a little more fun and charming at times.
Many of these actors really deliver on the physical and martial arts demands, and the film throws some regular action scenes their way. While none of it is the best martial arts fight choreography you’ll ever see, it serves its purpose towards an exciting and thrilling movie. The only weak link is probably Bridgette Wilson as she doesn’t come off as a very skilled fighter using very basic kicks and punches. Even taken as just law enforcement training, it’s still nothing special. Shou and Ashby show off much more diverse and dynamic skills, and are much more interesting and fun to watch in their fights. Thankfully, they are the ones given the most opportunity to show off those skills.
Of course, the possible biggest point of contention is that the video game was famous for being a very graphic and bloody video game, but this is almost an entirely bloodless PG-13 film. However, this movie does its job quite well enough that the absence of blood and gore has never bothered me. Certainly, many fans likely still wanted to satiate their cinematic bloodlust when the end credits rolled, but this Mortal Kombat movie is still primed to please, regardless.
While I wouldn’t say there’s anything special to say about the cinematography as a whole, Anderson does have everything shot very smartly. A lot of sets are utilized to create the exotic feeling of Outworld, and enough is done with lighting, camera angles and framing, and a little bit of haze to make these sets work solidly. There are some very visually sharp moments utilizing some light, shadow, and fog to build up mystique, which is really the film’s strong suit. There’s a respectable amount of atmosphere in this film which creates the sense of unease and danger for our heroes. Everything is being fought on Shang Tsung’s world and his terms, and that world is indeed very intriguing with some very smart production designs, borrowing from some Asian cultures for a little added exotic flare.
Mortal Kombat really does succeed in putting the concepts and characters of the video game into a respectable feature film package. Unlike the live action Street Fighter, this movie is able to retain its tournament format as it is entirely connected with the larger plot. Fight and lose, Earth falls to Outworld. Fight and win, and we are free from their impending tyranny. Every character motivation and arc is intertwined with that very logically, and the film smartly contains its cast of characters to avoid spreading itself thin. Everyone has the right amount of screentime to flesh out their roles and progress the plot forward in just the right ways. While the script is nothing spectacular, it hit all the right marks and kept everything very manageable in story structure and characters for its director to make the most of the concept under fairly tight constraints.
Mortal Kombat might not be a flawless victory, but it was a very solid first step forward to one that never happened. Believe it or not, I actually gave this film’s sequel a positive review upon its theatrical release. An avid video game friend of mine made me realize the error of my ways a few years later, and I retracted and rewrote that review in a much more negative, yet honest light. Anyway, what we’ve got with Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 live action film is a surprisingly damn good movie filled with a consistent current of energy flowing through it, which is electrifyingly reflected by its intense electronic techno dance remix soundtrack. Overall, it’s just a fun martial arts action fantasy film that is definitely one of the best video game-to-film adaptations ever done. I really, seriously love this movie completely. It’s a great piece of exciting entertainment that will get you jonesing to play one of these games all over again!
I wouldn’t have thought of myself ever really checking out this movie out of self-ambition. However, I came across a video review of it from a usually trusted source. So, I gave it an honest chance, and to my pleasant surprise, I did indeed enjoy this movie a great deal. There are two main reasons why I write reviews. The first is because I love film in many of its forms, and I enjoy sharing my passions for it. The second is to open up others to films that I feel are worth discovering, and in turn, I enjoy other people opening up my horizons to new, good films. So, it’s great when others do the same for me. With Snow White & The Huntsman, there’s a really solid fantasy picture here worth giving a chance to.
Years ago, the noble King Magnus fell prey to the enchantment of the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who killed him and took reign over his kingdom. Sustained by draining the life from others, Queen Ravenna remains forever young and beautiful, but the King’s daughter, left alive and imprisoned, has now come of age as the fairest of all in the land to threaten this darkness. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) soon escapes the castle, and the Queen sends a rugged Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down. However, the Huntsman soon joins with Snow White on a journey to see her father’s kingdom reclaimed through a land of treacherous enemies.
While watching this, I was really pleased that it kept selling me on it all the way through. I liked the narration by the Huntsman who gracefully sets up the details of this story taking us through Snow White’s youth and the kingdom’s fall. The movie is tightly paced, propelling its story forward in a lean matter, but still with plenty of meat to the characters and their stories. In fact, despite watching the extended edition while writing this review, the film seemed to move along even faster than on my first viewing of the theatrical cut. The extended version has a few good, new scenes that add a little extra depth and detail here and there. There is a scene between the Huntsman and William, Snow White’s childhood friend and archer, in the extended cut that better sets up and pays off another scene with the obligatory poison apple. Of course, we also get some very good action sequences, which are also tight and to the point. They exist long enough to serve their purpose, and are solidly satisfying and exciting. It all feels real and consequential. The battles are never taken lightly, and there are casualties beyond just the obligatory background soldiers.
Now, really looking at this, I feel this is a fantasy film that could’ve hit in the 1980’s next to Highlander or Excalibur. This movie has some stunning imagery and inspired cinematography. Early on, I love how bold the blood reds are. They standout as really symbolic. Overall, this film has grit, murkiness, and dramatic weight. Many scenes are smoky and moody. It creates a tangible, grounded world that still allows for the fantastical to live and breathe. It’s a dark world reflecting the grim bleakness the Queen has cast over it, and that just creates a very engaging look for me. It has a lot of that same texture found in The Lord of the Rings movies, but with more of its own gritty mystical atmosphere and mood. Snow White and the Huntsman is a really beautifully shot film helmed by a director who clearly has vision.
Surely, for some, Kristen Stewart would be an obstacle for them due to her work in the Twilight movies. I have not subjected myself to those films for many reasons, but I believe this film shows that sometimes it’s not the actor but the material that should be questioned. I am very pleased to state that Kristen Stewart does a very wonderful job here. It did not take me long to see that she was a young woman of admirable talent. There is a lot of depth to this character, and there is a strong arc for her that Kristen Stewart conveys remarkably well. The fear is something she sells very realistically early on, but there is a hope and strength that grows out of that fear. As Snow White progresses through this adventure, you see her mature into a stronger, more active character. There is subtlety and beauty to what Stewart accomplishes here. She really shows a lot of heart, warmth, but also a tinge of sorrow along the way. And indeed, she has touching chemistry with Chris Hemsworth which also really drives this film forward on many great levels.
I am really a believer that Chris Hemsworth is on the verge of having an amazing career. While my exposure to him has been very minimal outside of Thor, he continues to demonstrate a powerful presence and great depth of talent in everything he does. Clearly, he handles the physicality here greatly. The Huntsman surely has his humor stemming from his attitude and Hemsworth’s rich charisma. Yet, there is a heartbreak to him stemming from being a widower, and Hemsworth really digs deep inside to evoke those potentially tear-jerking emotions. It’s a very dimensional character backed by a performance that quickly and easily endears himself to an audience. The only off thing comes from his accent, which I couldn’t place, but turns out it was supposed to be Scottish. In the least, he puts forth more effort into his accent than Sean Connery has with any other accent in his entire career.
Charlize Theron is perfectly cast as the evil Queen Ravenna. She plays it as someone on the frayed ends of manic obsession. Ravenna is insanely consumed with her outward beauty, but surely, inside, she is a horrible monster. Theron has more than proven her talent over the years, and this is an absolutely excellent performances. There is a tragic quality to this twisted character, and you see that soaked into every fiber of Theron’s performance. There’s complexity and depth to her that runs very deep. However, what sells it all the most is simply her eyes. The glaring, crazed, unflinching stare is downright scary. You can see just how far off the deep end she is between that and her explosive rants. Theron even tore a stomach muscle because she was screaming so intensely, and I can believe it.
And there are still dwarves in this tale. These roles are filled by great actors such as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Ray Winstone, among others. The same sort of techniques used for similar smaller statured characters in The Lord of the Rings films were used here, and done so with seamless results. Hoskins is essentially their leader, and has the most dialogue. However, while his line deliveries are quite good, I found it odd that he was practically stone-faced throughout. I don’t think he registered a single actual facial expression in his screentime. Regardless, the dwarves tend to add the needed levity to the heavier, dramatic story being told. They never make things silly, just a little fun and light-hearted at times in the latter half of the movie.
I would say that the only segment of the film that didn’t wholly appeal to me was the latter half of the Fairy Sanctuary. This is the land that has been untouched by Ravenna’s darkness, and it is flourishing with a lush landscape and fantastical wonders. However, there’s just a lot of peculiar CGI woodland creatures that simply weren’t to my liking. With so much gritty realism in the film, this just felt pushed too deeply into the vibrant, slightly cartoonish fantastical realm, but it’s not long before it shifts back into the dark, grittiness.
This does bring up the issue of the digital effects. Most are really good, especially in the Dark Forest with all the almost pitch black creatures that slither and crawl out of the darkness, but in the Fairy Sanctuary, it is very obvious CGI that feels like it came out of another film. That’s another reason why that sequence didn’t work too well for me. Also, the withering age make-up on Charlize Theron is especially good, but some of the more elaborate morphing effects shots on her have room for improvement. Generally, the digital effects are fairly good with some really good stuff, but there is some more prominently on display work that doesn’t come off all that well. Thankfully, this film has very practical stunt work, and the realistic locations like the castles were actually built for the film. The filmmakers didn’t rely on digital matte paintings.
This film, while taking a new approach to the material, still hits all the classic beats of the Snow White story, but uses them to propel this story into larger territory. The poison apple from Ravenna to Snow White gives Hemsworth his best scene pouring out his heart over the dead Snow White. When she returns from death, it inspires and motivates herself and everyone else to take up arms and charge into battle. Kristen Stewart delivers a strong, inspirational, rallying speech to these people The fire and passion she projects is great. It is the moment where the character comes into her own, and becomes a leader to take back the kingdom that was stolen from her father. Snow White and The Huntsman still has that fairy tale simplicity, but adds in significant depth to mature the content, which is what makes it work so well. Every character has their sense of realism and dimensionality, and they serve both the gritty realism and the fantastical elements of the movie.
This film’s exciting, entertaining, it has a good, solid story, fine substance, satisfying character arcs, and overall, just has a great look to it. Also, from the opening logos to the end credits, the score is just enveloping and moody. That comes as no surprise from James Newton Howard, one of the best film score composers around today. Directed Rupert Sanders simply does a very solid job with this material, and hones his actors into bringing this darker fantasy take to life. I would say this is a hell of a good feature film directorial debut, and I hope he continues to deliver this kind of tight, cohesive quality. I know a sequel has already been planned, and while there’s not much precedent for further Snow White adventures, I will be eagerly interested to see what story these filmmakers conceive for it. There’s a great set of characters here that were well developed and filled by strong, rich talents. So, there is potential there, but until then, I will be happy to revisit this adventure quite a few times. I highly recommend it!
For whatever reason, the Predator film franchise lied dormant after the release of Predator 2 in 1990. It wasn’t until 2004 that we got the highly anticipated Alien vs. Predator films. The first one I hated, and I still consider it the worst overall movie I’ve ever seen theatrically. The second film I did a rather positive review of as one of the last Forever Horror website reviews and one of the first Forever Cinematic reviews. However, the general consensus of both movies was decidedly negative, and thus, someone thought it was time to bring the Predator franchise back into its own. Such a person was producer Robert Rodriguez known best for making big scale action on tight budgets. Thus, twenty years after Predator 2, we are given another proper sequel. The question is, was it good enough to breathe life into a damaged franchise?
Awakening in freefall, a collection of strangers find themselves dropped into an unfamiliar land with danger awaiting them. Royce (Adrien Brody) is a mercenary who reluctantly leads this group of elite warriors in a mysterious mission on an alien planet. Except for a disgraced physician, they are all cold-blooded killers – mercenaries, mobsters, convicts and death squad members – human “predators.” But when they begin to be systematically hunted and eliminated by a new Predator breed, it becomes clear that suddenly, they are the prey!
I will admit that I wasn’t sold on this film pre-release. I thought the premise of Predators abducting humans from Earth and dropping them on another planet to be hunted was against the idea of what a big game hunter would do. You don’t take a lion out of his natural environment and throw him in your backyard to hunt him. However, a positive reaction from a strongly opinionated friend of mine motivated me to see it theatrically. Indeed, I really liked Predators. I would still rank it third in my list of favorites, but all three films are ranked very tightly together. They are all extremely well made with their own unique ideas, visual styles, and approaches which all work superbly.
Much like with Predator 2, you must find it peculiar to cast Adrien Brody as the lead in an action movie. This film will entirely change your perspective on that. He delivers incredibly in this role. Brody can play tough bad ass with the best of them. He brings the charisma of a leader, but clearly shows Royce is a man of sketchy origins and doesn’t mind being a loner. Royce is also very smart and perceptive. He would be fine going at it solo, but he sees that even his own survival holds better odds sticking with them than without. You also see that he’s not a cold-blooded man, but he can be a savage, hardened killer when he needs to be. The film’s climax sells every awesome thing about Royce, and solidifies that I want to see more of him.
Brody has very touching and honest chemistry with Alice Braga, portraying the Israeli sniper Isabelle. They surely butt heads in certain circumstances, but they connect on an emotional level that does resonate. They build a mutual trust and respect as the film progresses. The rest of these trained killers, including the Rodriguez obligatory Danny Trejo, certainly don’t measure up to Dutch’s elite team from the first film, but they are a mismatched group that are weary to trust one another. My favorite, who has extremely little dialogue, is the Yakuza member Hanzo. He creates a very intriguing mystique around him through some interesting actions, and demonstrates a unique sense of honor. Topher Grace portrays the aforementioned disgraced physician Edwin, and surely, the film didn’t require the presence of this character. He just adds an extra wild card element late in the game which may or may not be easy to spot early on. I think I had this reveal spoiled for me before I initially saw the movie. The concept behind Edwin is a clever one, but probably not executed nearly as smartly as it could have been.
Laurence Fishburne makes a wickedly cool appearance as Noland, a soldier whose been trapped and has survived this planet for several years. The result of that is hat Noland’s gone quite crazy in a delusional, psychotic type of way. He’s more than skillfully dangerous, he’s psychologically dangerous. Fishburne is entertaining and awesome in this fairly brief, very off-kilter role. More than anything, this character is designed to sell the futility of an escape from the planet, and the idea of two rival tribes of Predators hunting out there, making it all the more difficult to survive.
The film’s first act of sorts might seem a little drawn out to some. I believe I felt that way upon first viewing. The characters are exploring this world, trying to understand where they are, and even the first action sequence is not until more than twenty-five minutes in. Strange alien animals are throw at these characters as a test first, and so, there is a prolonged wait before the first Predator is actually revealed. However, once that occurs, the film settles into a very familiar feel and tone. Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal studied the first Predator in great detail to nail the vibe perfectly, and I think they got it just about dead-on while still adding to it. Antal focuses on building the atmosphere and tension so that there is a pay-off with the action.
The overall feel is great with some rich color schemes which still evoke a dark, ominous feeling. The cinematography gives this film scale and scope while still maintaining the isolated feeling. The night scenes look great with a more subdued color palette, but with an excellent use of light and shadow for a beautiful moody vibe. This really is a remarkably well shot movie with an abundance of artistic merit and dramatic visual weight.
The way the action plays out is very intelligent focusing on tension and imminent danger. There’s plenty of intense gunplay, but it’s definitely used in conjunction with smart tactics and strategies by these characters. The ominous feeling of being stalked and hunted is executed with great skill. It’s a whole package of the visual style, stellar editing, and a music score that stays true to Alan Silvestri’s work. This film definitely takes the filmmaking style and techniques from John McTiernan’s movie, and gives it a little more polish. Nimrod Antal definitely puts his own stamp on the film, but was able to make this feel cohesive with the rest of the main Predator franchise. The action scenes definitely reflect this as there’s really none of that modern shaky cam mayhem. It’s well plotted, shot, and cut together for an extremely coherent and effective experience. Beyond anything else, this film enhances the ferocity and frightening quality of the Predators. They feel even more merciless and relentless than before, if you could even imagine such a thing.
I can’t help but love two fight scenes in Predators. The first has Hanzo squaring off with his katana against the Predator. This is beautifully setup, and is shot so gorgeously with a lot of wide angles and a wonderful overhead shot showing the wind blowing through the high grass. It’s a graceful work of art. What trumps it on the bad assery scale is when the New Predator battles the Classic Predator, which is portrayed by Derek Mears. While I didn’t care for the remake of Friday The 13th, Mears was an awesome Jason Voorhees, and he makes for an awesome Predator. Two Predators ripping and tearing at one another is pure gold, and the scene doesn’t disappoint at all. This is savage, gory, and everything you’d hope it to be.
And indeed, the creature effects are excellent. Oddly, neither Stan Winston Studios or Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. – who were responsible for all of the previous Predator effects – returned to work on this film. Instead, the impeccable talents of KNB EFX were tapped, and they delivered on an amazing level. There are some familiar designs with the Classic Predator, but the newer, larger Predators are even more impressive. They do feel like a different breed, but are given a much better approach than what we saw in Alien vs. Predator. And of course, the gore returns in abundance, and no one better to also fill that task than KNB EFX. They’ve been the standard bearers for physical effects, especially those in the horror genre, for the last twenty years, and that quality is vastly on display here.
Predators does a great job of taking cues from the first movie, and adding its own flavor and ideas to them. The climax is a great example as Royce uses some of the same tactics as Dutch with the mud, but uses it in a different context. Instead of giving the Predator nothing to lock on to, he overloads the senses, and takes him on full boar while retreading some of Arnold’s quotable dialogue. It all really works greatly while delivering the graphic violence quota that fans crave from this franchise. The film ends on an excellent note that left me wanting to see where yet another sequel could go.
And thus, I do believe that Predators was indeed good enough to potentially breathe life back into this franchise. Everyone involved steered it back in the right direction where exciting new stories could be told, and even on its own, this is a very solid and satisfying science fiction action movie. However, with the same budget as Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, it pulled in just about the same amount at the box office, but the reviews and reactions to this film were substantially higher. Predators set a good foundation for the franchise to build upon, but three years later, no news of a sequel has surfaced from Twentieth Century Fox. That is quite unfortunate, but I think there is a great deal of potential to tap with this series which is evident here. Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez did an excellent job bringing everything back to its roots, and while they chose not to acknowledge Predator 2, they did nothing to contradict it either. Again, I’d love to see more of Adrien Brody as Royce. He’s flat out awesome. While I’m sure some will view the film as leaning a little too heavily on the first movie, I really believe that what it takes from that movie was largely to its benefit, and the filmmakers still injected their own ideas and creativity to allow the franchise to move forward. They expanded the universe and possibilities in a lot of very good and intriguing ways. I do really like Predators, and I give it a strong recommendation. If this film has slipped under your radar for the last three years, definitely give it your attention. This is a franchise that deserves to live and thrive again under the watch of some really sharp and talented creative individuals.
There seems to be an idea out there somewhere, I don’t know where it came from, that Predator 2 is a markedly inferior sequel. This is wholly unjustified. Surely, everyone has their own opinions on how this measures up to the original classic, but to me, this is a great follow-up which expands on the ideas and premise in exciting new ways. Predator 2 contains numerous admirable qualities, and is helmed by a director with a great eye for sleek visuals. Anything it doesn’t recreate from the original it replaces with a higher energy and larger scale action.
In the urban jungles of Los Angeles, Detective Lieutenant Mike Harrigan’s (Danny Glover) police force is at war with drug lords and gangs. But just as Harrigan admits he’s losing the fight, one by one, gang lords are killed by a mysterious, fierce adversary with almost supernatural powers – the Predator. Before long, the vicious creature begins to hunt the hunters – Harrigan’s men. Now, Harrigan doesn’t just want to bring the creature in – he wants to bring it down. However, he is hindered along the way by government Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) who has a shady motive to his secretive investigation who knows more about this ultimate hunter than Harrigan even suspects.
Surely, you would think going from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Danny Glover would be a strange swerve. I always imagined that if this was made a few years later that it would be Wesley Snipes as Mike Harrigan, but I’ll be damned if Glover doesn’t deliver here. The character is designed as a seasoned cop who’s been fighting this unrelenting war on the Los Angeles streets for a long time. He’s dogged, inventive, and is a cop who plays by his own rules, taking a backseat to no one. Glover portrays this with the rugged determination of a consummate street cop. He doesn’t like the politics that get rammed down his throat, and he slickly, yet passionately sticks it back in their faces. However, he is wholly loyal to his team, and treats them with respect as comrades in arms because they are fighting a war. Glover also demonstrates the emotional depth of Harrigan when his closest friend, Danny Archuleta portrayed by Rubén Blades, is gruesomely killed by the Predator. The flashes of enraged vengeance, and the heartfelt moment at the gravesite show Glover had the talent and skill for this role, which also demanded a lot from him physically. He greatly delivers on that end, too. I think making him a distinctly different protagonist than Dutch was the right way to go.
Many will indeed enjoy Bill Paxton’s performance as the jokey Jerry Lambert. He’s the newest member of Harrigan’s team known as “The Lone Ranger.” He’s a guy that’s gotten a lot of ego stroking and glory, but he quickly becomes an enthusiastic team player. This is Paxton at his full charismatic and comedic richness. He adds the levity to break up the grisly heaviness of the film. The rest of the supporting cast is filled out by Rubén Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso as the seasoned members of Harrigan’s team. Both bring their top level enthusiasm and talent adding to the cast’s vibrancy. Then, we get the late, great original king of trash television Morton Downey, Jr. as the appropriately cast tabloid sleaze-miester Tony Pope. He’s puts in a fantastically entertaining performance.
Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger was approached to return for this film, but he turned it down to do Terminator 2. Thus, his role was rewritten as Peter Keyes and re-cast with Gary Busey. I think this was an equally beneficial turn of events. The story works supremely better not knowing what Keyes’ agenda is, and allowing for him to be an adversary and foil for Harrigan. Busey does an excellent job bringing forth his signature energy and leaning Keyes towards the smarmy, shady side. He’s smart and cunning, but still a self-serving government agent who cares more about his findings for the military than Harrigan’s war on violent gang crime.
Also, I love the Jamaican gang here. They are totally savage and chilling with King Willie being fantastically awesome. He brings the mysticism into the fold with a wickedly cool scene opposite Harrigan, but also, a greatly visualized confrontation with the Predator. Calvin Lockhart is so awesome in this role. The theatricality, mystique, and powerful presence he brings entirely does justice to his Royal Shakespeare Company roots. He delivers my favorite performance of the movie. Knowing that director Stephen Hopkins was born in Jamaica, it doesn’t surprise me how rich and memorable these characters are here.
The visual effects are distinctly improved from the first movie. The Predator vision is the most obvious example as the infrared and other modes have more distinct color separation and possibly are of a higher resolution. The optical effects of the Predator’s cloak are used more dynamically and are integrated into more complex environments. We see it in more motion and detail. My favorite effects shots in the whole movie are when the Predator squares off with King Willie. First off, the tracking shot of the cloaked feet walking through the water is brilliant work, and then, the reveal of the Predator in the rippling puddle is awesome. Seeing how these are done in the featurettes on the Special Edition DVD are astounding and what I’ve always loved about movie magic. These striking, innovative images are largely due to do director Stephen Hopkins’ great visual style.
Teamed with regular director of photography Peter Levy, Hopkins gives Predator 2 its own unique visual sleekness. It has a great use of dynamic, intriguing angles. The action is captured remarkably well, and we even get a few scenes of atmospheric, moody lighting. Two of the best shot scenes are, first, inside the slaughterhouse bathed in blue light where the Predators assaults Keyes’ team, and then, the entire climax inside the Predator spacecraft. Counterbalancing that blue with a largely orange color scheme there is another sign of Hopkins’ great visual sensibilities. Beyond just the color schemes, these sequences have great use of sweeping cranes and steadicams shots enhancing the production and artistic value of the film.
This new Predator is recognizable, but has a bit different look and feel to him. He feels more brazen. He’s taking bigger chances, and taking on greater numbers. Hunting in a major metropolitan area means he’s attracting more attention to his work. So, he’s not as calculated, in general, but when he finds a prey he really likes, such as Harrigan, he takes his time to study him. He also taunts Harrigan as if he’s issuing an honorable challenge. I very much like that the filmmakers did this to show, even subtly, that this is another unique individual with his own personality, but with the same objective. It’s also great seeing the arsenal expand with the telescoping spear, the projectile net, and the flying disc. It gives the impression of a larger safari at hand where he’s equipped for bigger game. Kevin Peter Hall, yet again, does an awesome, exceptional job overall. He defined this role so perfectly, and it is a terrible shame that his life ended only a few years later. However, what he did laid the template for others to succeed him in this franchise.
The strengths of Predator 2 is that it is much more energetic and diversely entertaining than the original. The pace is faster as there is more going on here between the gang wars, Peter Keyes’ shady dealings, and Harrigan’s own dogged investigation. The action sequences are bigger and more dynamic allowing for a higher body count, but not as much gore. The film originally gained an NC-17 rating, but likely, Fox panicked and did more aggressive editing to secure an R rating. There is still blood abound and plenty of violence, but far less cadavers begin ripped apart. What we do see in that regard is obscured or done in heavy shadow. So, it ups the energy and action, but reduces the graphic content a little.
I would agree that these characters are not quite as captivating as those in the original. Neither film delves deeply into their characters, but it’s just the nature of battle hardened soldiers in a ominous jungle versus tough, seasoned cops on the streets of Los Angeles. One if inherently more intriguing than the other. There’s a little more levity in this film akin to a wisecracking John McClane in areas as Harrigan’s fear manifests in a few humorous quips. Since the film focuses more on an energetic pace with a more divided focus, there’s little mystique about the Predator himself. Again, he’s much more blunt and brazen, but you do lose that intensely dramatic build up to the third act. The Peter Keyes subplot sort of veers the emotional drive of Harrigan off-track, and the climax just becomes about having to stop this alien one way or another. There’s no more survival aspect, just hero versus villain. There is some peril throughout the third act, but none of it rivals the dire lethality and immediacy of the first film.
Still, the little teases we get at the end with both the Alien skull in the trophy room, the reveal of the half dozen other Predators onboard the spacecraft, and the flintlock pistol with the engraving of the year 1715 on it lay big seeds for a follow-up. However one might have felt about this movie, it surely left you intrigued to see how the next film could expand on these concepts further, but a proper third movie would not see fruition for another twenty years.
Predator 2 may not hit all the great qualities of the film first, but has entertaining trade-offs making it a more lively, faster paced action film. It again has a solid cast filling their roles with vibrancy. The violence and intense action are enhanced by stylish, sleek visuals and excellent editing. The optical visual effects are stunningly impressive pushing the ambition further, and with more time to plan, Stan Winston Studios developed the Predator further with great new weaponry and a fresh look. Alan Silvestri also returns adding some new flavors to his original themes, and adapting some of the feel to this film’s style and content. I would like to pay tribute to Kevin Peter Hall, Calvin Lockhart, and Stan Winston who have all passed on since this film’s release. All three did stunning work here that deserves notable credit and praise. This franchise, outside of the AVP films, has maintained a fairly steady stream of quality. The screenwriters of the first movie returned to expand on their own concepts, and it was executed very well by a competent and capable director. Predator 2 s definitely worth your while. It’s not as slam bang amazing as the first, but it’s a largely worthy sequel.
I think it goes without me saying that Predator is one of the best action films, ever. More importantly, this is my favorite Schwarzenegger movie. Smartly directed by John McTiernan, who would helm Die Hard the following year, this is an excellently plotted and cleverly devised concept utilizing a stellar cast to great effect. With an alien hunter designed by the masterful Stan Winston, and backed by some of the best visual effects of the time, Predator was an instant classic that truly solidified Schwarzenegger’s career as a blockbuster action star.
Recruited by the CIA to rescue hostages held by guerrilla fighters in a Central American country, Major Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his elite team encounter an enemy unimaginably more deadly than any on Earth – because the Predator is not of this Earth.
The film starts out wasting no time by keeping the exposition succinct, and allowing for this team to progress to their objective quickly while still relating these characters to us. No one’s explored in depth, but you get a clear, personality rich snapshot of each man. Blain’s a hard ass, Hawkins is kind of a joker, Billy’s the stoic warrior, and so on. The entire first act sets up who these guys are, and what they are capable of. We see this is an expertly efficient team able to wipe out a legion of about thirty Central American soldiers within a few minutes. They are tactically sound striking hard and fast using the element of surprise. When Dutch’s team is referred to as “the best” early on in the briefing scene, we see that is not at all an exaggerated statement. They prove they are the elite, but even then, you can see these guys are spooked by this jungle. “Makes Cambodia look like Kansas,” sets the tone for how unnerved they are by its terrain and ominous feeling. Encountering the previous team’s skinned corpses surely rattles them a bit, but they never lose their wits. In fact, it practically heightens them for the more lethal danger that is stalking them.
Schwarzenegger shines here as Dutch. In addition to everyone else, this is possibly his most quotable movie. Arnold’s got that charisma going here with energy and authority. I love that Dutch is a soldier with a code of ethics for his men. He states straight out that his men are not assassins, merely an elite rescue team, and we see that conviction arise when he learns of Dillion’s deception. Schwarzenegger shows Dutch to be an honorable and sharply intelligent soldier commanding his men with precision. He proves himself to be a cunning warrior gradually picking up on the Predator’s methods, and adapting to them in order to survive. He’s perceptive and level headed, which is undoubtedly the sign of a great soldier. I think this definitely one of Schwarzenegger’s finest performances demonstrating the ability to realize a very authentic, dimensional, and smart character. Not to mention, I don’t think he’s looked so awesome on-screen without delving into a cheesy or campy tone.
Bill Duke especially does a touchingly effective job. Early on, he is a hardened soldier, but after Blain is lost, you see the grief and turmoil wash over him. Carl Weathers is great here as well portraying a man who was once a trusted friend of Dutch’s that has been corrupted by the “everyone’s expendable” mentality of a pencil pushing desk jockey. He’s lost sight of the qualities of a soldier and the value of life. However, we see him turning the corner as he rushes into his final battle, and I really like seeing that small character arc. Overall, this is a rock solid cast flexing both their acting muscles and their real ones in pure 80’s action movie bad assery. They all exhibit distinct personality that are vibrant, memorable, and straight up killer.
What it is that we lose with CGI monsters as opposed to a real life performer is exquisitely evident here. Kevin Peter Hall inhabited that beautifully textured and crafted Stan Winston suit, and created a character to live and breathe through it. Compare it to the personality deprived CGI creatures from Cowboys & Aliens. They were, as I said in that review, “just creatures designed to fill up the plot, and serve as a physical enemy to combat.” They had no distinct characteristics that made them any better than the Imperial Stormtroopers in Star Wars. The Predator has nuanced qualities that reflect an intelligence and cunning behavior. He’s a unique individual amongst a unique race. How he moves, reacts, and assesses a situation bring a subtle and intriguing depth created by Kevin Peter Hall’s amazing performance. It has all the traits of a talented performer crafting a character, and I am so tremendously glad that this franchise has never abandoned the performer in the suit approach.
As I’ve said in many previous reviews, the work of Stan Winston is legendary, and stands the test of time. He clearly revolutionized the creature effects industry with his artistic craftsmanship and captivating imagination. The Predator is an astonishing creation in all facets. The original creature the filmmakers put together for this film was ridiculous and was quickly jettisoned after only a few days of filming. Winston was called in, and with a little input about mandibles from James Cameron, this iconic, ferocious, and frightening creature was born. Beyond that, this is a very graphic and brutal film showing you skinned human bodies, spinal cords ripped from carcasses, and a disemboweled Jesse Ventura. Everything feels so grisly and textured for a greatly realistic feeling. This is some of the best gore effects I’ve ever seen.
And these visual effects essentially still hold up to this day. Certainly, the sequels have shown how digital effects can be used to improve and enhance them, but this is impressive work that hardly feels dated. This is mainly between the Predator’s cloaking technology where he appears as transparent ripples, and the laser sighting and discharges from his plasma cannon. There are some especially impressive shots featuring the cloak with more dynamic camera angles and motion where you get the real three dimensional quality of it. You see it’s not some animated effect, but a real optical composite of a real performer. These are all excellent visual effects.
This all blends perfectly with the gritty, sometimes smoky atmosphere of the film’s look. I think John McTiernan’s great eye for composition, interesting angles, and well constructed action shines through. In this jungle, we get the feel of the dangerous terrain and mysterious qualities of the dense foliage. The grit grounds this science fiction premise in a visceral reality where consequences are severely violent and lethal. Great camera movements and stylish, dramatic imagery highlight the artist merit of the cinematography, and it is all expertly edited together for a tight film which propels itself forward from the get go. .
Alan Silvestri put together one amazing score for Predator that has endured for the whole franchise. He incredibly blends a militaristic march and drive with a primal tribal, jungle beat. He builds a sense of ominous foreboding reflecting the reality that there is something out there stalking these men. For the majority of the climax, there is next to no dialogue of any sort. It is carried along by the action, the visuals, and the exhilarating score which enhances all of the tension, apprehension, and danger that is unfolding. It is perfect, superb work.
The action hits you at a regular clip, and the first main sequence is majorly explosive. It sets the bar high for the remaining runtime, and McTiernan is able to meet that challenge. It’s the mix of tension, the unknown, and the sheer scale of this rapid fire, big gun toting, grenade launching explosiveness that makes that possible. Yet, McTiernan knows how to build it up, and work the subtle strings of an audience’s anticipation. The danger escalates, and the peril becomes more immediate as the Predator moves in closer and closer to its prey. He starts out attacking from a distance, but gradually engages his ultimate trophy – Dutch – in close combat because the Predator views him as a highly worthy adversary
And that entire third act where it’s just down to Dutch and the Predator is a masterpiece. The strategy and makeshift tactics that Dutch puts together play out brilliantly. He uses the Predator’s own method of invisibility and striking from a distance to his advantage. However, it all elevates when the two finally meet face-to-face in a straight physical confrontation. Everyone knows that Arnold is a BIG guy, but next to this hulking seven foot tall alien beast, he looks small and nearly ineffectual. It’s only by his smarts and wits is he able to survive.
Predator is filled with chest pounding action and excitement wrapped in a smart concept and script. Backed up by an excellent action director, and a vibrant, colorful cast lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was a surefire formula for success. This is why I love Predator. It never lags anywhere as the pacing is tight and the rhythm is consistent throughout right from the start. It’s really a near brilliant structure which constantly keeps you invested and intrigued by what’s developing here. You also can’t not quote the living hell out of this movie. It’s sharp, witty, but never betraying the serious tone of danger and lethality it sets from the beginning. It’s an absolute success that holds up incredibly well over time. I entirely intend to give you reviews on both Predator 2 and Predators sooner than later. Until then, revisit this classic.