Archive for Twilight Zone: The Movie

Burbanex

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2021 by dcairns
This is a good image

THE ‘BURBS is one of the Joe Dante films I haven’t watched much — I think only once, until now. But I got the excellent Arrow Blu-ray with the alternate cut and ending and a big documentary and a commentary. EXPLORERS and SMALL SOLDIERS are the other two I want to go back to. Oh, and THE HOWLING also because it’s been years.

There are Dante films that are on TV a lot and if they come on and I watch for five minutes I end up watching the whole thing, no matter how many times I’ve seen them — these are the GREMLINS films and INNERSPACE. Even if I channel-hop into them middle of one, I’ll end up staying to the end credits.

But THE ‘BURBS had sort of slipped by me. I remember it was either Sight & Sound or the late Monthly Film Bulletin that said their problem with the ending — and we all knew there had been more than one ending shot — was that the revelations about the creepy neighbours didn’t fall comically short of our suspicions, and nor did they comically exceed our suspicions. Which I think is probably true, but this time round it played differently.

It’s a really fun film. Tom Hanks is superb (and I miss the funny Tom Hanks, fine as he is in straight stuff), Rick Ducommon is great in the Jack Carson role, Carrie Fisher and Bruce Dern, and then the Klopeks are wonderful, and for a while it seemed like only Dante knew how great Henry Gibson was and would use him.

And then this ending. Which is, it’s true, not quite triumphant comically, but also seems to run against what the whole film is about. Tom Hanks has a fantastic speech at the end in which he denounces the curtain-twitching paranoia he’s been sucked into — THEY’RE not the monsters, WE’RE the monsters! And Hanks bats it out of the park. The Klopeks being innocent really puts the audience on the spot. Well, we kind of knew the protags were getting carried away, but this is really strong. So having the Klopeks turn out to be the monsters after all negates that completely. True, the speech still happens. But what people tend to take away from a film is the ending. A weak ending ruins your MEMORY of the experience. The meaning imparted by the ending is always seen as the meaning being promulgated by the film as a whole.

The original ending was going to be Hanks being loaded into the ambulance and Werner Klopek (Gibson) is in there and he’s going to kill him. Which is the ending of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (which also had multiple endings shot, but that was, I believe, based around the question of what order the episodes would eventually run in). But the reason they didn’t end on that note was, “Well, you can’t kill Tom Hanks.” Which I understand.

Weirdly, that ending might have worked better for me in terms of what it’s saying — true, having the Klopeks turn out to be killers seems to retroactively justify all the intrusive snooping and paranoia. But look: our hero’s going to DIE for it. Maybe that sort of works. It doesn’t make being a nosy neighbour look all that attractive.

But now, since Tom Hanks can never die, he has to win, and we get Dern and Ducommon preening xenophobically about their success. And while they’re comic buffoons, and Hanks is now disgusted with them, which helps a little… Fiona was RANTING about the inappropriateness of this ending. I think she took it personally, since we’re both a pair of life’s Klopeks at heart. I was more muted in my dissatisfaction, maybe because I was thinking about the difficulty the filmmakers were up against. If you suddenly have to explain all the weirdness including a human femur turning up in a back yard 10 RILLINGTON PLACE style, you’re into the ending of SUSPICION and it becomes a rather dry box-ticking exercise and anticlimactic to boot. And the script hadn’t been written, and filmed, with that intent in mind. It’s like you’re in a labyrinth and all the exits are sliding shut and you’re being channeled towards the most reactionary finishing line, the one that ends by making the conformists in the audience feel good about themselves.

So it’s a film that could be Dante’s most subversive movie apart from the last ten minutes.

Does the same objection apply to REAR WINDOW, which was kind of the progenitor for THE ‘BURBS? The characters debate whether spying on your neighbours can ever be a good thing, but then it turns out it can. But that also makes us feel rather awkward when Lars Thorwald confronts L.B. Jeffries with his “why are you persecuting me?” speech, and Jeff is even more tongue-tied than usual. Does that get Hitch out of trouble altogether? Is THE ‘BURBS held to a different standard because it’s satire, and so ducking back into being on the side of the normals feels like more of a cop-out?

And if it turns up on TV will I get sucked into watching it again? That’s something I won’t know until it happens.

Beyond that which is known to man…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by dcairns

The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is one I felt I knew really well, except I don’t know that I’d ever watched it all — I’d seen clips and I’d seen George Miller’s reworking of it in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, but had I actually watched the whole thing?

Putting the two versions side by side is instructive — for once, two versions of the same story make radically different choices and both are successful. Or maybe that’s NOT instructive, maybe that sets up a false idea that you can do whatever you like in TV/movies, it’s all good. It clearly ISN’T all good, but these two episodes are.

Leaving aside the contrast in directorial technique between the hyperkinetic Miller and the more sober Richard Donner (plus whoever replaced him after he was fired for falling behind schedule), it’s fascinating how different the main character is in each story, even though Richard Matheson scripted both.

In both versions, a passenger on a plane sees a demonic figure on the wing of a plane, tampering with the engine, and can’t get anyone else to believe him.

In the original, the hero is fresh from a six-month stay in a sanatorium after a nervous breakdown that struck during a plane flight. Now his wife is taking him home.

In the Miller film version, the lead character an apparently stable and sober professor, but he’s travelling alone.

The first version benefits from the suspicion that our man may be losing his marbles all over again — how else to explain the fact that nobody else ever sees the “gremlin” (styled by make-up maestro William Tuttle very much along the lines of his DR LAO yeti)? I don’t know how many 1963 audiences thought that way, though — after all, WE see the creature. The hero’s past instability is probably more a device to make us sympathetic, and to account for his wife not believing him.

(One thing where the remake is measurably superior is the creature, created, if I read the credits aright, by Craig Reardon and Michael McCracken. By not being in a kind of furry romper suit, it’s allowed to look properly WET, which adds lustre and ick to its rubbery visage. Maybe the artist’s personality always comes through in monsters: Tuttle beasts always have a tragic look, whereas Reardon’s look… naughty?)

In the remake, the hero starts stable but rapidly and amusingly unravels, and the fact that he’s alone means he can only turn to strangers for support.

Man 1 is William Shatner, man 2 is John Lithgow. One thing that works is that both are sort of cast against type — Shatner being less associated with neurotic parts, Lithgow never being cast as ordinary Joes. A more obvious and less interesting approach would be to time-travel Lithgow back to ’63 and rejuvenate Shatner in ’83.

Shatner’s leading man attributes really work in his favour, since he LOOKS manly and self-reliant. Shatner really conveys his humiliation at having shown weakness. Of course, he gets his manhood back by firing a gun in the end, which seems quite 1963. The remake takes a more ironic view of everything, and though the gun is instrumental in stopping the gremlin, it takes the time to grab our hero’s face and wag a finger at him (while Jerry Goldsmith’s score riffs on Danse Macabre).

But though the Donner-Shatner episode may be less progressive, what bowled me over is its sheer effectiveness — right from the start I felt strong tension, the combination of my own slight fear of flying, the excitement of the building storm, Shatner’s nervy, sweaty perf. The casual sauntering gait of the ludicrous shaggy beast on the left wing of the jet is amusing but just right, somehow — the important quality is not a convincing mime of clinging on in spite of the impossible air currents, but a sense that the nameless thingy feels it has a perfect right to be there.

(The wing man is played by Burt Lancaster’s former wingman, in THE CRIMSON PIRATE and THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, diminutive acrobat Nick Cravat, who didn’t really need a full mask…)

Having creeped us out with the slow approach, the gremlin is then well-placed — after a prolonged, hammy but genuinely tense build-up by Shatner, steeling himself endlessly — to make a shock appearance in close-up, nose pressed against the glass. And he has the kind of nose that always looks as if it’s pressed against glass anyway.

The wrap-up is more satisfying (and benign) in the TV version, and really, after being put through the ringer like that, we deserve a happy ending, don’t we?

On a related note ~

 

Zoning Out

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2017 by dcairns

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Even though Joseph DR NO Wiseman’s lead character in the Twilight Zone episode One More Pallbearer is called Paul Radin, I could determine no reason why his building is called Radin Blog. (Note: I got it eventually.) I tweeted author Dean Radin, whose book The Conscious Universe is a good eye-opener, to say that it’s a shame he wasn’t writing a blog anymore as I had found the perfect banner for him.

I don’t think I ever want to run out of PG Wodehouse books to read, and in the same way I don’t want to run out of Twilight Zone episodes, although all the same i would hate to check out leaving any of them unenjoyed. This will need careful management.

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One More Pallbearer is Rod Serling in atomic mode (see also: Carol for Another Christmas), which is usually good value, and he has the ideal star. As Dr. No, Wiseman played a scientist with metal hands, having lost his original flesh ones in an atomic experiment. That always struck me as improbable and a bit funny. This one suffers a bit from having no sympathy, really, for any characters, but the double twist at the end is a zinger and a half. Not quite two zingers, but still pretty good.

Kick the Can was remade by Spielberg in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and Fiona suggested it might be illuminating to check out the original. It was — where Spielberg’s filmlet was cloying and annoying, the original is beautifully bleak. All the rough edges were smoothed off, and the result bathed in a honey-like amber glow. The old folks’ home where it’s set seems paradisical in the movie, and starkly deadening in the series installment. The ending, in which the inmates rejuvenate and run of into the night, leaving one bereft old skeptic, is stark and strange in the series: we don’t know how these kids will live, where they will go. Serling pops out of the bushes to say they’re in the Twilight Zone, which might as well mean they’re dead. It’s eerie, not reassuring.

In the Spielberg, having enjoyed their moment of second childhood, the oldsters return to their doddering, hip-replaced selves, because the status quo must, apparently be preserved.

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I like Scatman Crothers fine, though as a “magic negro” figure he Uncle Toms it a bit in the Spielberg, encouraged by his director. There’s no such character in the series episode, just an old duffer who HOPES, but does not KNOW, that playing children’s games might cancel out the aging process. I was wracking my brains to identify the actor while I was watching, then realized it was old Ernest Truex, best known as the saccharine would-be poet from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (maybe they hired him to script the Spielberg), and also memorable in Preston Sturges’ CHRISTMAS IN JULY. Turns out he had a huge career, starting in silents, and they even tried him in lead roles during the pre-code era when such things seemed worth attempting. WHISTLING IN THE DARK, which pairs him, improbably, with Una Merkel, is well worth a look.