Pulp and Serial-Flavored Movies
(Dedicated to both Chuck and Ron Fortier)
I have to admit that, recently, my personal life has been in slight upheaval - I've gone into it into more detail on my blog, but lately, I've been engaging in one of the simplest and easiest ways to relieve my mind.
Going back to those thrilling days of yesteryear....and watching some nice pulp and serial-flavored movies.
Thanks to the intrepid readers of the forum, I had a vast selection of suggestions to choose from, and I have to admit, I'm surpised that several of these weren't more successful at the box office. (Unlike one I can think of, whose name rhymes with "Indiana Jones") It's hard to imagine (especially in these rocky times) that larger-than-life, really strong good-against-evil stories would not succeed. (And fortunately, I grew up at a time when Flash Gordon serials were often shown as part of morning television along with old Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes cartoons. Maybe it was because these films happened after Tim Burton's Batman, which had a similar effect to the movies that Watchmen had to comics - instead of making good films, there was an excessive focus on darkness, and having simple tales seemed rather, hokey...
...which is a shame, because three of these four films are flat-out brilliant (and one has some really good moments). Maybe the printed nature of pulps (as opposed to the more pictorial nature of comics) doesn't always translate well to movies, preferring to tell rather than show, but if you're looking for some interesting movies to rent while the latest blockbuster is out, I would definitely recommend these.
For example, 1991's The Rocketeer, based on the graphic novel by the late Dave Stevens, is one of those movies that is just wall-to-wall fun, yet didn't seem to catch on. Billy Campbell plays Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot who comes upon a rocket pack designed by Howard Hughes, and fights Nazis (and Timothy Dalton). While watching this movie, I have to admit....I had a hard time believing that it was from Walt Disney Studios. (Yes, that's right). Combine some rollicking, cool-as-heck stunts (including a plane crash!) with some impressive pre-CGI special effects (not to mention the comedic timing of Alan Arkin), and you have probably one of the best "comic book" movies of the last 20 years. Yes, some liberties were taken with the graphic novel, but nothing so dramatic as to take away from the overall story, and that makes this film well worth rewatching....
...unlike, say, the "liberties" that were taken with 1991's The Shadow, featuring Alec Baldwin. OK, I realize that doing a straightforward adaption of either the pulps or the radio show might not be easy...and I can see the need for an "origin" story...but must it be that origin? The one that telegraphs exactly how the Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Or even the slightly off-putting moments of humor?
But I am being a little too hard on the film - Russell Mulcahy actually does some really cool things in this movie, with some really excellent early use of CGI, as well as a pretty solid performance from Alec Baldwin in the lead. Granted, at times it seems like he's auditioning for 30 Rock, but let me say this much - I would have rather had Alec Baldwin as he played the Shadow in the last twenty minutes of the film. The overcoat, twin gun holsters, and a finale ripped straight from The Lady from Shanghai - than the prosthetically-enhanced, pulp-cover-come-to-life portray in the movie. It's a movie with mixed charms, sure, but quite frankly - the odd moments are easily surpassed by the nice, moody atmosphere. It's probably the best we'll get to a straightforward adaptation, and quite frankly....as a movie, it works overall.
(Now, we'll take a short break, sponsored by The Lady from Shanghai. No, it's not a comic book related movie, but it's really good. Go on, watch it. We'll still be here.
Back already? Wasn't it a great movie? Well, back to the column)
But if you'd like a good, solid take on The Shadow...why not try Sam Raimi's Darkman? Liam Neeson portrays a scientist working on a synthetic skin, which only seems to last for about 99 minutes in sunlight. He also has an attractive girlfriend who's also a lawyer...but I'm getting ahead of myself. Soon, his lab is blown up by a criminal mastermind, and Neeson is flung into a nearby river. He manages to survive, but he is now impervious to pain (which brings headaches all its own). Soon, he's putting on bandages and a cloak, and fighting crime as Darkman! I realize it sounds a little campy, but this film really serves almost as a template for Raimi's later work with a certain arachnid-themed superhero. It's a movie that borders on over-the-top at times...but the mixture of hallucinogenic "dream sequences", with some of the old school Mission: Impossible - esque mask pulls, and some good old fashioned melodrama....there's a great Saturday afternoon to be had.
(And yes, there is the prerequisite Bruce Campbell cameo. No, I won't tell you where or when it happens).
And finally, for this rather short essay, I would like to ask...why the heck wasn't The Phantom a bigger hit? OK, so it's not what Hollywood would consider an A-List character, but it's actually quite a great, rollicking movie. It has charm, wit, humor, a pleasantly self-effacting tone, and Catherine Zeta Jones in her first starring role. It's also reminiscent of "classic" Hollywood filmmaking - there's so much polish, and presence, and fun in this movie, I am still dumbfounded as to why it wasn't more popular. (I've rewatched it twice, and quite frankly....I'm still blown away).
It's easy to see these as "corny", but I will stand behind my belief that pulp fiction (and not just the Tarantino/Sin City type) is a really important part of our cultural (popular and otherwise) heritage. These are not automatic classics, by any stretch of the imagination, but they are good, solid, escapist movie making that - in this time of cookie cutter blockbusters - are criminally ignored. When you're bored, and want a little change of pace, why not consider one of these films?
But don't just take my word for it - feel free to talk more about it in the Comic Related Forums, or please feel free to visit my blog .
Until next time, keep watching!
Read More! For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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