Is anyone else watching the Get Smart trailer reminded of the war room set in Dr. Strangelove? It's probably just me. What a waste of brain cells, bandwith, and time this blog is sometimes. Sorry gang.
A.I., The Wiz, The Relic, Predator 2, Congo, End of Days, Leviathan
What do these movies have in common? Answer: they're not good. Granted, Congo has Tim Curry and Bruce Campbell at their cheesy best, but other than that, they have at least one unifying, redeeming quality: Stan Winston worked on them. Winston died earlier this week at the age of 62, and I'm a little slow to blog about it, but this is sad news for a fanboy movie buff.
Winston was a special FX guru who was as versatile with make-up and goo as he was with metal and microchips. He was as much a designer as he was an engineer, and pretty darn close to being another Ray Harryhausen. Let's just run down a list of some of Stan's creations:
. The T-800 . Predator (granted, the mandibles were supposedly James Cameron's idea) . The Alien Queen . Edward Scissorhands . Jurassic Park's dinosaurs . Iron Man And, as less iconic work, but personal favorites of mine, I'll add:
. The Thing (made the dog monster, rest of film was handled by Rob Bottin) . Galaxy Quest (gave animatronic control to the actor's own face, rather than remote control) But this blog is supposed to be an installment in the Great Things About Awful Movies series. So let's get back to the first list of duds. I won't go through one by one and discredit the movies I mentioned (or the many other crap-fests on which Winston worked in his long career). If you like Spielberg's Asimovian wank-fest or that Crichton-in-the-jungle mis-fire, good for you. I don't feel the need to pick a fight.
"Awful" may be a strong word for some of those flicks, but the point is that Winston's work on them stands out. It is the best of what special effects have the potential to be: technically proficient (often seamless), dramatically motivated, imaginatively fantastical, and yet grounded in a realm of believable physics. Winston's creations are often the reason for coming to the theater, and yet always subservient to a larger purpose. They are great form, to be sure, but they always serve a great function as well. And in the cases (like the duds above) in which there really is no greater narrative worth paying attention to (for my money), one can just sit back and watch the eerie beauty of his robots in A.I., cringe at the effectively frightening Relic, or even gasp in terror at the sheer horror that is Michael Jackson's presence in The Wiz. Winston's monsters move unlike anything we've seen, yet they move in a way that seems utterly real. They look, at times, like the most preposterous concoctions of fantasy, and yet they look like things that could actually exist. And, working through the onslaught of digital FX in Hollywood, he most often favored puppets and models over computers. He believed movie magic could be made with one's hands. He made good movies better, and made awful movies at least a little fun. He made wonderful, wondrous things on film, and he will be missed. R.I.P. Stan Winston. P.S. My friend SW asked that I mention Death Becomes Her, but I'm sorry dude, I don't think he worked on it.
... with props to Weird Al. The new Mars rover has uncovered a mysterious white substance in its tracks. Apparently, the NASA eggheads can't tell if it's salt or ice. Is that where their list of possibilities ends? How about Martian pigeon s%!#? Or maybe it's something more sinister... Is anyone else reminded of The Stuff? This is the 1985 classic in which the discovery of a great-tasting white ooze leads to the marketing of a new food product that takes over the brains and melts the bodies of those who eat it. I'm just saying that the rover should be careful. And if NASA suddenly starts selling Martian Yoplait, stay away!
I know, I'm slow to post these days. And there is plenty of geek news as well. I'm in pre-production on a movie, and that leaves little time for the important things, such as discussing the physiology of fictional masses of pink goo from space. I'll probably have a few posts in rapid succession now.
Musicals may not be the usual nerd-fodder we discuss here, but neither are gay pride parades, and those made it into the pages of this blog. So at the risk of raising questions about my sexuality, I'll talk about the great American song-and-dance industry. Two pieces of news hit us hard this week: Firstly, and most happily, In the Heights has taken the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations. Trophies went to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bill Sherman, both of them friends of the blog. All of our love and congratulations goes to them. But this good news is offset days later by the death of Cyd Charisse, who, as you can see below, is, um, hot. One of the greatest partners of Kelly and Astaire, her work had a formative influence on the artistic taste -- if not the libido -- of this blogger, and she shall be missed. If her "Dancing in the Dark" with Astaire in The Bandwagon doesn't move you, you might be a Body Snatcher.