Tuesday, August 15, 2017

And Then This Happened... You Only Live Twice

Being a tourist can be a lot of fun. You get to see new sights, meeting interesting people and sample the local cuisine. Maybe if you're lucky you learn a bit about the culture and history of the place you visit. And Japan is full of all kinds of things to see and do.

But when you carry a license to kill, and Q is the one doing all your packing, well these little trips can turn out a bit dicey. You end up going to some of the worst places in the country. I mean who wants to actually tour Bloefeld's secret mountain lair. The stupid thing is going to blow up eventually, right?

I think they are on to you James.  In any case, time for another caption from the film You Only Live Twice.

And then this happened...


Friday, August 11, 2017

Score Sample: You Only Live Twice (1967)

When comes to the James Bond films of the 1960s, you can count on one name - Barry, John Barry. He was involved with the scores to all the official James Bond films up to The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977. He would return to the franchise after that film off and on. But lets be hones here, when you think of James Bond music, you think of John Barry's brassy, bold, jazzy style. He created some amazing scores in the late 60s for the series and these tend to be my favorites from that era of the franchise.

The score to You Only Live Twice not only has a great main theme (and theme song sung my Nancy Sinatra) but it also has some excellent supporting themes to back it up. Since the film takes place in Japan, you get a solid dose of interesting instrumentation, as well as some asian sounding style thrown into the mix. But where Thunderball went bold and brassy with its sound, You Only Live Twice went for a more lush and romantic sound. I better stop here, or this will go from a Score Sample post to a Movie Music Musing post.

In today's sample, you get the music that is used whenever we enter space in the film. Barry creates a tense motif that builds in tension as the small capsules are helplessly engulfed by the monstrous creation the villain sends up after them. Barry does a great job at creating incoming dread and increasing it as the track goes along. I love how the trumpets almost sound like they are screaming for help at the end of the cue followed by that timpani roll. So enjoy the Capsule in Space track from You Only Live Twice composed by John Barry.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Movie Musing: Going Ape for a Trilogy

With War for the Planet of the Apes we have one of the best film trilogies since The Lord of the Rings completed back in 2003. I know, I was just as surprised as you. If you look back at series that hit the three film mark you are hard pressed to find any that didn’t have at least a single dud in that chain.

Starting with Rise of the Planet of the Apes these films have all had solid to excellent scripts. They created interesting and engaging characters and they have build up each other. I would even argue that the films actually got better as they went along. I loved how Dawn of the Planet of the Apes raised the stakes for the humans, as well as the apes. But the stakes were intertwined in a way that created drama and conflict that you were invested in. War for the Planet of the Apes did the same thing, but it went further, putting Caesar’s very soul at the heart of the film. It is an impressive achievement, and one that I would never have called back in 2011 when the series started.

I wanted to take a look at the various elements that made this series work so well. It isn’t quite a top ten list, because I’m not sure any one element outshines the other. But it is fascinating to see how they all worked together to create one of the best trilogies of film in modern times.

1.  Reworking the older films that had issues, instead of trying to remake what many feel is a classic.
Taking matters into his own hands.
  • This is something that I believe most studios really need to consider. Stop trying to remake and reboot films that are good. Look at the ones that had potential but fell short. Most people will say that Planet of the Apes is one of the best science fiction films of the 1960s, and some will even put it on a list of best science fiction films of all time. Fox made a wise decision to look at Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and rework the ideas presented in that film. It was a good move because people are less familiar with that movie, and it contains plenty of really intriguing ideas and moments that the new trilogy could develop in interesting ways. The most important element from that film (as well as Battle for the Planet of the Apes) is the character of Caesar.
2. Willingness to focus on the apes as the central characters

Sharing the story.
  • Rise did start with James Franco’s character as our main protagonist, but Caesar gets plenty of screen time and his story is just as important to the film. I’d say they share the film. But starting with Dawn, Caesar takes center stage, and with him the rest of the apes civilization. The creators could have tried to shoehorn a human into the main plot to act as an audience surrogate, but they resisted. Instead, human interactions are used to compare and contrast with the apes. There are key human characters in Dawn and War, but they never take the spotlight away form Caesar or his people. It was a bold decision, but one that put faith in the audience as well as the ability of the visuals to allow the audience to relate to the apes.
3.  Utilizing impressive visuals but keeping them in service of the story and characters
Road rage!
  • One of the main reasons it was a good time to revisit the Planet of the Apes franchise is that special effects technology is to the point where realistic ape characters can be created using state of the art technology. These movies share the same source material with the 70s films, but visually are very different. These apes look like actual apes, not people with ape heads. I’m not slighting the 60s and 70s films. They look very good for the makeup available at the time. But they create a more alien looking view of the apes. The current trilogy feels more grounded in what we understand as reality. But it isn’t just the impressive special effects, but the overall visual tone of the films. Director Matt Reeves gives Dawn and War a grim feeling that fits this view of one world dying and a new one beginning. It gives the new trilogy a cohesive feeling that was lacking in the earlier series. Finally these films have impressive visuals, but all of them are in service to the story and characters. There is very little visual showboating here. Yes you are blown away by some action sequences, but everything feels like it pushes the story forward, or is part of the themes of the series.
4.  Impeccable cast willing to commit to roles and stories
Kobe shows his laughing face... scary.
  • Even when you have all the wonderful special effects in the world at your side, if you don’t have a cast that is willing and able to pull off the characters you’ll be in trouble. Luckily each film is blessed with some outstanding performances. The highlight is Andy Serkis, who gives us a Caesar that is relatable, admirable and yet flawed. It is a great character, and Serkis steps up to the challenge of not only delivering such a nuanced performance over all three films, but doing so with so few words. Body language and eyes are the key elements for all the ape performers, and we get so many good ones. Karin Konoval as Maurice is pitch perfect in her role. Steve Zahn as Bad Ape in War provides just the right amount of eccentricity and levity to the dark film. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the powerhouse performance that Toby Kebbell unleashed as the conflicted Koba in Dawn. These performances make us believe in the apes as characters, and why we get so attached to their story as it continues.
5.  Allowing the music to have emotional weight in the film.
Caesar doubts the veracity of your claim.
  • There is a trend in “serious” Hollywood films today that film music should not call any attention to itself. It shouldn’t be emotional. It shouldn’t do anything but just kind of sit there in the background, droning away because we need a score of some kind and we don’t want the audience to feel manipulated. I wish I was exaggerating, but sadly I’m not. Now you could argue if these three films are “serious” or not, but I think we could have easily ended up with a low key droning score on these. The filmmakers decided to actually allow the music to be heard and to carry emotions. The two composers who worked on the series, Patrick Doyle and Michael Giacchino, were allowed to build scores that were heard clearly in the film. The music took on additional importance for Dawn and War where so many of the characters are not speaking actual words, but expressing feelings with their eyes and body language. The music does some heavy lifting in these films. It gives us a wonderful theme for the Apes (and Caesar) that carries over the two movies and showcases the strength of those characters. Understanding how powerful and effective the music needed to be in these films was vital and it pleases me to read so many reviews of War that say how effective Giacchino’s score is in context. Check out some samples of the scores here.
6.  Understanding pacing and atmosphere to build tension.
A shaky truce is about to go south.
  • How easy would it have been to go the standard blockbuster route with these new apes films? Very easy indeed. Even with a title like War for the Planet of the Apes, the action sequences are restrained. Instead the films focus on building atmosphere and tension, so that when the big set pieces arrive, they have impact. Rise of the Planet of the Apes almost feels like a medical drama for the first half of the film, but it earns the climactic battle on the Golden Gate bridge. Dawn did up the action quotient, but did so by having the big sequences pull the characters in various directions emotionally and us right along with it. Those scenes in Dawn are nerve-racking because we are invested in Caesar’s dilemma and Koba’s conflict. War opens with a terrifying action sequence and then proceeds to go into tension building mode as the stakes get raised to almost unbearable levels. The final climax feels earned and cathartic when it hits. And because of the well-written scripts, the climax fits not just the film, but the whole trilogy as well.
7.  Tying all three scripts together.
Apes using eagle vision?
  • I’m not sure if the overarching story for these three films was written at once, or if Dawn and War were written with close attention paid to the previous installments of the current series. In any case the scripts of these three films builds on each other. This is actually something that franchise stories not based on existing material run into problems with. Too many times we have sequels that seem to exist in a vacuum with only passing attention paid to the earlier installments (especially in horror series). But these films tell a continuous story, with Caesar as our central character. Dawn could not work without the events of Rise. War would not play out as it does without the story told in Dawn. Care was taken with these scripts and you can tell.
8.  Providing nods to the older series.
Maurice and Nova are both call back names.
  • Even while these films forge their own path, they also take the time to provide nods to the films of the 1960s and 70s. I think Rise went a little too far with it. But the other two films don’t call attention to the references, but work them organically with the story. Someone who isn’t familiar with the older films will not feel like they are missing anything when they meet characters named Cornelius or Nova. But those who are familiar with the older movies will find an added layer to these films to enjoy. The new series doesn’t mock the older one (yeah I’m looking at you 2010 Clash of the Titans), but respects it for what it did and how it inspired these new films.
9.  Keeping to the grey zone.
It is the end of the world, and the colonel doesn't feel fine.
  • One of the elements I really like about this series is that there are no good guys and bad guys. There are protagonists and antagonists. We understand the motivation of nearly all the characters in these films, and while we may not agree with them, we can empathize with them. James Franco’s character in Rise is not a mad scientist, but a man who cares deeply about his father and Caesar. His actions eventually doom the human race, but they were done to help humankind. But at the same time his is rash and bit selfish, flaws that allow events to spiral out of his control. This continues into Dawn where the humans and apes have members that are filled with fear and hate. It is those individuals who drive the action of the story into darker and darker levels. It is like watching a car wreck in slow motion. You can see how it is all going wrong, no matter what everyone tries to do. The tension from that conflict is still one of the best in the series. War presents us with a human faction that seems to be evil on the surface. But the more we learn about them and the reasons why the Colonel is pushing the attack so hard, we realize that the stakes for humanity have never been higher. We can empathize with the man, even as he does horrible things to Caesar and his people. In the end, we cheer for the apes, because they are oppressed. Caesar is the one that tries to maintain peace and is willing to open a helping hand to humanity. But like many leaders before him, he is constantly challenged. Sometimes it is by humans, sometimes it is by his own people and finally it is by his own emotions.
10.  Committing to the tone.
The quality of mercy...
  • Now I’m going to sound like a bit of hypocrite here. I have lamented in the past about all the Hollywood blockbusters that were so dire and dower in tone after The Dark Knight became a huge hit. Rise came out right when that was still in full swing, and it was one of the reasons I missed the film in theaters. But I think the difference here is that the Planet of the Apes series as a whole has always had a very serious feel to it. They aren’t fun movies, but they are engaging movies. This new series falls into that same tone. We are dealing with the end of the human race after all. But I think the creators did such a good job balancing the tone just right. All three films have characters you can relate to, and hope for. They aren’t relentlessly depressing and dower just because they are trying to be cool. They are dealing with grim situations and the characters are reacting the best way they can. It feels right and earned. The creators never cheapen it by overplaying the mood, or trying to cut it with comic relief. Now War does contain the character of Bad Ape, who does bring some chuckles to the dark film. But his character has a tragic story, and even though his reactions can bring a smile or a laugh, we also feel bad for the guy. He is only reacting that way because of what happened to him before Caesar and his crew run into him. It is a dangerous character to introduce in that kind of film, but he is played and written perfectly. The tone was preserved and it delivers the impact it needs to. And as I mentioned above, the films could have veered off into pure action spectacle or gotten really ridiculous as they went along. But they stayed committed to the dark tone. It is an impressive feat that all three films are still engaging to watch and rewatch, even with such dark subject matter at the heart.

So those are my 10 reasons why this film trilogy is the best trilogy of films since Lord of the Rings. Did I miss something you think makes these work? Or do you have another trilogy that you think works just as well, or even better? Leave a comment and I’ll be sure respond (even to you Twilight fans out there).

Caesar in search for the dish best served cold.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Movie Music Musing: Rise of the Composers of the Apes

As a fan of film music I love it when a film series manages to create wonderful and engaging music with each installment. It is a rare thing, but us film score fans celebrate when it happens… usually by buying another special edition CD. But I digress.

The rebooted Planet of the Apes films that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, have some pretty great music to go along with them. Two of my favorite composers worked on these movies, and I figured it was time to share some of the interesting work they composed for the three films.

Patrick Doyle conducts.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was directed by Rupert Wyatt with music composed by Patrick Doyle. This was a little strange because I always associate Doyle with his work for Kenneth Branagh. His scores for Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations are some of my favorite pieces from that type of film. But Doyle is a skilled composer and over the years he has provided excellent scores for animated films, military dramas and fantasy films. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from the composer, except that it would probably be lush with lots of great melodic pieces and some real power in the orchestra.

And that is where things went totally different from what we all expected. Doyle’s score actually had a very modern blockbuster sound, like something that would come out of Hans Zimmer’s composing studio. It was aggressive, heavy of the drums and repeating motifs. You could still hear some of Doyle’s style in there, but it really seemed like he was asked to ape the modern blockbuster trends that were making Transformers scores popular.

Doyle later confirmed that this was the case. He was restricted to a particular sound, and did his best to work within it. The result is that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an interesting and effective modern score. Doyle’s style gives it different flavor, and when he is able to go grand and lush he does so with skill. But I still feel like Doyle is held back a little on this score, as solid as it is.

Here is a good action piece for when Caesar and his apes attempt to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Doyle gives it a propulsive modern feel, but the tension works very well.


For the majestic side, here if the final track from the album, Ceasar’s Home where Caesar climbs to the top of the trees with his followers and looks out over the city. Doyle builds the track with power and beauty that matches the victorious feeling the scene.

 

When Matt Reeves took over directorial duties for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes he brought over the composer who had supported him on his previous two films: Michael Giacchino. This film was going to have a few issues that the previous one didn’t have. There were large portions of the film with no audible dialogue, as the apes converse using gestures and glances. In these cases Giacchino was going to not just support but craft the emotion  of these scenes with his music.

Giacchino has really gone ape!
Now, I’m a big fan of Giacchino. He is one of my favorite composers working today, so yeah I’m a little biased to liking these scores and all the interesting things he tries. Luckily he was not tied to studio demands that the score sound modern. Instead Giacchino was able to actually make some musical nods to Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking score from the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. Giacchino used creative percussion, unique wind instruments and gave the whole score a much more primal and discordant feel. This means that the score can sound a little less approachable than Doyle’s effort. But I think it gives Dawn the right score for its darker tone.

Dawn actually ends up having two themes that evolve and battle throughout the score. The martial one for Koba, the human hating ape, gets some real highlights. The massive Gorilla Warfare track follows Koba’s attack on the human compound in San Francisco. It is an aggressive track that builds, batters and decimates the listener, all the while using Koba’s theme as the driving engine, even deconstructing it at times. The wailing choral voices as Koba commandeers an armored vehicle are especially chilling.


One of the most impressive pieces is what I like to think of as the Apes Hope theme. This one carries into the next score as well, but we get a wonderful presentation of it early in the score with The Great Ape Processional. It is a simple tune, but one that proves to be very malleable over the tow movies, sounding triumphant, contemplative and even tragic as the movies progress.  And yes, Giacchino goes ape with his primate puns for the titles. That’s just the kind of guy he is.



Giacchino and Reeves consult in
a hidden location.
War for the Planet ofthe Apes gave Giacchino a chance to expand on his themes and concepts he created in Dawn. While there are still moments of primal drumming and dark underscore bubbling with tension, there are also more new themes that really get a full workout in the score. Because of this War is actually a more vibrant score even if the movie is much darker.

Giacchino keeps the Goldsmithian touches with unique percussion and wind instruments, but they are less discordant in this score. As the ape’s civilization grows, so does the score. There are a lot of great moments in the music, but I really like the new theme for the hunt that Giacchino introduces. It is used several times as Caesar and his crew of apes track down the Colonel. It has a Morricone western feel to it. The theme works like gangbusters in the film, and The Posse Polanaise showcases it as a type of march at the end of the track.


Perhaps the most memorable moment in the film and the score is the finale. Caesar tragedy comes full circle, and for all that he has sacrificed and suffered his people have a new home. Paradise Found gives us the Apes Hope theme from Dawn and gives us a wonderful triumphant and yet sad version of the theme. Giacchino builds the score along with the scene as two apes discuss the future, and it ends the score in a satisfying way.


While part of me wishes that Doyle or Giacchino had been brought in from the start and had been able to develop themes and ideas over the course of all three films, the other half of my brain says, “Shut up! You got three great scores with three great movies.” Of the three, I think War may be my favorite. I love the variety Giacchino brings to it, and how he weaves and explores the ideas he crafted in the previous score. But that said, all three are worthy albums for anyone who enjoys the more primal side of film scores. Combined with Goldsmith’s masterpiece for Planet of the Apes and you have one hell of a playlist.

Bonus track, The Hunt from Goldsmith’s primal score.




Wednesday, August 2, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Introduction:

With Rise of the Planet of the Apes I wasn’t expecting anything special. I was just hoping we’d get something competent and entertaining. But the movie surprised me with a thought provoking story and engaging characters. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes repeated the trend, going deeper into the downfall of human civilization and the dominance of the apes. With the third film I was hoping we’d get a solid resolution to the story. What we got was something special indeed.

Summary:

After the events of the previous film, a military force lead by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) arrives in the Muir Woods to hunt down and kill Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his nascent civilization of apes. These trained soldiers are wrecking havoc, and there are even traitors to the apes cause. Those that used to follow Koba have now become minions to the Colonel’s forces. After a night raid devastates Caesar deeply, he makes a fateful decision.

He sends his people on an exodus from the woods to a new paradise beyond the desert. He will hunt down the Colonel and try to stop the man from following the apes. Caesar isn’t alone. Trusty friends Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) join him. Along the way they encounter a little mute girl (Amiah Miller) and a bizarre chimp named Bad Ape (Steven Zahn). As they close in on their target, they learn more about the Colonel and what drives his desperation. But things go horribly wrong and Caesar realizes that this War for the Planet of the Apes may end with the destruction of both species before it is all over.

Good Points:
  • Amazing visuals bring the apes to life and create intense set pieces
  • Brings the story of Caesar to a powerful conclusion
  • Builds on the thought provoking themes from the previous two films

Bad Points:
  • Looking for wall-to-wall action, you’ll be disappointed
  • Looking for a little hope for humanity in this film, look elsewhere
  • A few script conveniences and clichés may distract from the overall impact

Overall:

I’m not usually a fan of dark apocalyptic films, but these three Planetof the Apes films are the exception to the rule. This installment of the series does a wonderful job on building on previous events and evolving the character of Caesar. Andy Serkis once again delivers an amazing and powerful performance as Caesar. This character is the glue that holds the series together. Harrelson does a great job as the antagonist whose desperations is palatable, and horrific. This is a dark film that forces us to face some dire things. But in the end there is hope, and it brings this wonderful trilogy to a satisfying conclusion… for the apes.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  5
Sound: 5
Acting:  5
Script:  4
Music: 4
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total:  5

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Movie Musing: An Auteur in Blockbusters

It is the man, the myth, the legend. 
Each time a film by Christopher Nolan is released there is tremendous buzz among the internet's film fan community. There are some serious(ly) (rabid) fan(boy)s out there. They proclaim that everything Mr. Nolan does is a gift from the cinema gods to all us little folk. If you say that you think Nolan's latest film is only OK, or god forbid you don't like it - the reaction is explosive and visceral. Such is the state of fandom.

I haven't written much about Nolan's films, and I figured that since he is such a major part of the film making world I really should throw in my two cents. Nolan fanboys, you can go somewhere else, unless you really want to get angry at me for my opinion.

Anyone left? Ok.

Space according to Nolan.
Nolan is one of those directors that I admire, but I don't love. All of his films fall into the same category for me (as of this writing I haven't seen Dunkirk yet). He has a great eye for presenting his films visually. His scripts are well thought out and usually work very well. His casting choices and directing of their acting is usually spot on. Even if you pull yourself away from the hype-train that cruises into town whenever composer Hans Zimmer and Nolan combine forces, you'll find the composer's scores to work very well within the film. All the pieces are in place to make excellent films.

And there lies my main problem with Nolan's films. They feel very much like finely crafted, ice sculptures. They are beautiful to look at and impressive in execution. But they are so very very cold.

Cat Woman: Nolan style.
I'm sure it is a conscious choice by Nolan to go in this direction, but his movies are very dower for the most part. Tonally, they have a grim muted feel to them. It is part of Nolan's visual style and for many of his films it works well. It is hard to imagine The Dark Knight in any other visual style except for the grim muted one Nolan developed over the three films. I can even see it working in something like Dunkirk where he is going for an ultra realistic feel. But I think this style hurt Interstellar and especially Inception.

But this approach goes beyond the visuals and actually moves into the characters. As they are written, most of Nolan's scripts feel very mechanical, each piece moving perfectly to achieve its overall effect. But this creates characters that also feel very distant to me. Interstellar is the only film of his where I was actually feeling for some of the characters, and even that wasn't nearly as involving as something like Apollo 13 or even Gravity which pulled me into the films to a great degree. I hate to be "that guy" but I wonder how much of Interstellar's character work came from the script when Spielberg was still attached to the project.

Dreams as presented by Nolan.
The thing is, I watch Nolan's films. I admire them, maybe even enjoy them on some level, but I find it really difficult to get into the mood to watch any of them again. I've had Interstellar sitting on my shelf for a couple years now, and haven't broken the plastic on it.

I think part of this has to do with a personal bit of rebellion too. You see after Batman Begins and especially The Dark Knight were mega hits, every Hollywood studio decided that everyone wanted to see grim, gritty cheerless blockbusters. We had a whole rash of them, and with each one I was less and less interested in revisiting Nolan's work. Granted, his films are better made than a great many of the films that tried to ape his style (Clash of the Titans remake is a great example of taking a fun concept and turning it joyless).

"You want to name an automobile after me?"
These days things are turning around thanks to Marvel and Star Wars showing that people want to have fun in the theater. Nolan's dower films are now one of many flavors you can enjoy, and that is the way it should be. Give me another year or two and I might rematch one of his Batman films again.

In any case, I don't think Nolan is a film making god, or a genius of cinema. I think he is a director who has a very distinct style and way to telling a story. It works for a lot of people, but I don't find the majority of his films delivering the impact they try to. I like his films. I don't love them.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Avalanche (1978) – MST3K Review

Summary:

David Shelby (Rock Hudson) has created the ultimate 1970s winter resort, and he is getting ready to show it off to the world. His ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow) arrives to congratulate him on his accomplishment, and he takes it as a sign that she wants to get back together with him. Talk about reading the room wrong. But David’s hot temper and impetuous ways still annoy Caroline. David’s attitude also get’s in the way when Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) shows up to tell him that all the land development has made conditions ripe for a massive avalanche that will destroy the resort!

But David tells Thorne to go suck some eggs and proceeds to party like it is 1978! Well sure enough, heavy snowfall meets out of control airplane and boom you have an avalanche. Who will survive? Who will meet a frozen fate? And who will end up hurtling to the bottom of a gorge and exploding on impact? No, I’m not making this up. Produced by Roger Corman… well that should tell you enough right there.

Movie Review:

The title character makes his big entrance.
Ah, that Roger Corman. He just doesn’t miss a trick does he? Disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake were all the rage 70s. So why not make your own, for a smaller budget of course. Get a couple big name stars to get butts in the seats and make a profit.

Well, the disaster movie craze hit its peak around 1975 or so. By 1978 we were really dredging the bottom of the barrel with this genre when movies like The Swarm bombed in the box office. Avalanche came out the same year, and even with the one-two punch of Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow as your main stars, I doubt this movie did very well at all. I don’t think anyone was clamoring for snow based disaster thrills in the post Star Wars world.

That said, just because the movie wasn’t a hit in its time doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, right?

Yeah, this is a bad film. Sorry folks.

"If it ever stops being the '70s, we'll all be in trouble."
What is sad is that you can see Avalanche following the disaster movie tropes with religious fervor. You have your two leads having relationship problems. You spend way too long developing them and a host of other minor characters. This way when the disaster hits, you’ll be involved in their fate and thrill to see if they live or die.

The main problem here is that none of the characters are engaging enough to care about. Sometimes it is the acting. Sometimes it is the writing. Sometimes it is a combination of the two. But I only liked one character in the entire film. The rest were just fodder for the snow and ice to take out.

Now we know what happened to Danny after
the end of Time Travelers!
What lucky character appealed to me? That would be Henry McDade, because I think the character got a raw deal. He spends the bulk of the movie following David’s mother (played with verve by Jeanette Nolan) and trying to keep her out of trouble and from drinking herself into a stupor. That is her main character trait, she drinks a lot and yells “Aloha!” Anyway, McDade is stuck with this woman because David is his boss and David says he has to. I just feel bad for the poor guy. But when the snow hits the fan, McDade actually stays with the old lady and does his best to save her. He shows more compassion than almost anyone else in the movie. And SPOILER ALERT – he survives. Good for him! Maybe I’m also partial to the character because he is played by Steve Franken. We just saw Franken in The Time Travelers as the lab fanboy Danny. Anyway, this simple character is the only one I cared about in Avalanche

This movie came out four months before Ice Castles.
That's Corman for ya!
The rest of them… jeez. There is a jaded skier who hits on underage girls. His “love interest”, I think, is a Dorothy Hamill look alike, who has an obvious skate double. She’s bland. There is another skater who is nervous and keeps botching her routines. Her coach gives her motivational speeches. The meaningful music tells me I’m supposed to care about them. Bland performances and little screen time makes sure I don’t. There is the Television Host who seems like a nice guy for the two minutes we see him. He ends up trapped with small boy on a ski lift. It almost works, but the peril gets neutralized because of obvious stunt doubles and silly camera work. You end up chuckling instead of gasping in horror.

He's even sincere about McDade's goofy hat.
Then there are our three lead characters in Avalanche. The best performance is given by Robert Forester, who is one of those actors who always delivers solid work in just about anything I’ve seen him in (including The Black Hole). The role of Nick Thorne is cliché-ridden and not terribly interesting, but Forester makes the most of it. He is sincere in his conviction that an avalanche in immanent. He is sincere in his attraction to Mia Farrow. He is sincere in his wiliness to help people when the avalanche hits. But he is such a one-note character, it is hard to care about him. Forester does the best he can with a poorly written role.

"You are never going to stop shouting, are you David?"
Mia Farrow on the other hand does not much of anything with a poorly written role. Much like Forster’s character, Caroline doesn’t really have an arc. She shows up at the resort annoyed with David, but she still loves him. It ends with her annoyed with David, but she still loves him. Along the way she says she’s interested in Thorne, but her acting doesn’t show it. She says she may be willing to give David another chance, but her performance says otherwise. Well, that’s not right, her performance is just kinda there. It is tempting to say that Farrow is just there for the paycheck. But I think the role was so boring that she decided not to give too much effort. She has no chemistry with anyone in the “love triangle” and while she has a couple of good moments yelling at David, she doesn’t do much of anything in the story either. She’s just there because we needed a woman in the “love triangle” that goes nowhere.

David in a rare moment of not shouting.
Rock Hudson takes the opposite approach. I get the feeling that Hudson read the script to Avalanche and liked that he wasn’t playing the nice guy for once. David is an egotistical jerk, who places his desires over everyone’s safety. He even endangers his own (drunken) mother. I can see Hudson liking that aspect of the role. I can also see him reading it and realizing how stupid the whole thing was. So instead of just playing low key, he goes big and broad. Hudson rants and raves. He snarls and barks. He is a complete asshole to just about everyone else in the film. He does it so well that you pretty much want him to suffer a humiliating death by snow boulder. I’ve never seen Hudson play this kind of role this broadly before. On the one hand it is fun to watch. But in the service to the film, it just doesn’t work. I think we are supposed to feel some kind of catharsis that he gets what he deserves at the end. He does seem a little subdued at the end, but the crushing reality that his actions have killed his mother, dozens of people and destroyed his dream for the resort just seem to be given a “oh well, that sucks” feel from the tone of the ending.

Much like this review, Avalanche spends way too much time going on and on about these flat characters before any hint of disaster appears. But when the avalanche arrives, about 55 minutes into the movie, it delivers some thrills, right? Well, kinda sorta. For the budget and knowing this is a Corman production it works out Ok. Lots of scenes feature super imposed ice/snow visuals over people flailing about. That provides some unintentional laughs. The disaster on the ice rink and the whole thing that happens in the kitchen are laugh out loud ridiculous looking.

Um, should we be watching this?
The most thrilling sequences of disaster are the ski lift rescue and unearthing David’s mother and McDade from the encased dining room. The ski lift has a pretty good build up to the final rescue. The whole thing gets more and more unstable as the news anchor and the kid hang on for dear life. There is electricity in play, and the fire department has trouble getting to them. It’s edited a bit clumsily, but it gets the job done. And since I actually liked McDade (and I admit the drunken mother was kind of likable too) I wanted to know what would happen to them.

Avalanche also tries to have a message about the media not caring about people, but doing anything for the story. The camera crew doesn’t try to help the news anchor and the child. They just stand there and film it, wanting to catch the moment they fall or get electrocuted. There is also a message about harming the environment, and letting greed and ego get in the way of compassion. It is all heavy handed, and doesn’t really go anywhere. I guess it is supposed to add some kind of depth to the film, but it just feels like padding to a movie that feels way too long already.

And then 1978 smacks you right upside the head!
For me that is the biggest crime Avalanche commits. The movie drags. Not just because of the slower 1970s pacing, but because it wastes over half of its running time on the flat uninteresting characters. They are written and executed so poorly it makes for an uninteresting film. You can’t wait for the snow to start falling. The movie picks up when the disaster finally hits, but so much of the entertainment comes from the hilariously bad special effects and over the top acting that you are laughing at the movie, not thrilling to it.

Yes, Avalanche is a disaster of a movie. But is it a disaster that Jonah and the Bots are ready to take on?

Episode Review:

Looks refreshing.
I don’t think Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever tackled a straight up disaster film before. The closest we got was the wonderfully hilarious San Francisco International, which was a 1970s television pilot filled to bursting with past their prime actors spouting out over-ripe dialogue and providing thrills on the tarmac. The movie was a perfect fit for riffing and it remains one of my favorite episodes of the entire series.

So Avalanche has a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, things just don’t work out so well this time around. That doesn’t mean that Jonah and the bots aren’t giving it their all, because they really are.

"Old man Peabody used to own all this..."
For those first 55 minutes or so, they riff away at the movie as best as they are able too. So much of the film deals with silly melodrama and talky scenes with Rock Hudson shouting at everyone that it was a bit of a struggle to keep things fresh. Jonah and the bots focus on the ripe dialogue and over baked performances.

And don’t worry they don’t go for any overly nasty pokes at Rock Hudson. There are a couple of subtle riffs playing off his lifestyle, but they focus more on his ranting and 70’s outfits. I will admit that MST3K has gone for the nasty jokes about celebrities in the past. Bela Lugosi’s drug problems played into quite a few riffs in Bride of the Monster and in the Rifftrax commentary for Plan 9 From Outer Space they went overboard (and Lugosi is hardly in the film). So it is nice to see Jonah and the crew not taking that tactic this time out. Keep it classy guys.

Jonah and the bots get their groove on too!
Since Avalanche falls smack dab in the midst of the disco era, and we have a party scene you get some of the best riffing during that sequence. As the scene starts Jonah say, “1978 you have so many crimes to answer for.” Tom adds, “We have an avalanche of polyester on the dance floor tonight.” As the Baked Alaska desserts are brought out the boys throw several funny quips at the oddity of the whole scene.

Crow says, “Not that I’m complaining, but by this time Gene Hackman was half way through the Poseidon.” And you are really starting to agree with him, when the avalanche hits. You get some unusual POV shots from the avalanche to which Crow comments “The Avalanche has a Go Pro on.” The disaster provides so much fodder for Jonah and the bots that they go into overdrive.

"You see when a man loves a tree very much..."
Seriously the quips come so fast and furious that you do end up missing quite a few of them. There is some great material in there from the kitchen cheerleader to the observation from Tom that “He fell in slow motion and they still couldn’t catch him?” It is a shame the riffing goes so quickly that it gets tangled up in itself. Luckily this is the last episode to really have this problem. From The Beast of Hollow Mountain forward, the riffing hits the perfect pace.

One more thing to look for at the end of Avalanche is a hilarious series of quips from Jonah and the bots as they pretend to write up reviews for David’s resort in Trip Advisor. These are all very funny, and the boys do a great job delivering them as the meaningful music plays in the finale.

If Neil Simon wrote the next Fast and Furious film.
The host segments are OK, with one stand out sequence. For the invention exchange the bots create a cool new Dustbuster that uses the human mouth as it’s suction device. Jonah gets a bunch of stuff caught in his “filter”. The Mads create a program that will create an instant font and look for your movie poster. All you have to do is say the title. The system is super sensitive, so it starts to pick up the Mad’s conversation with amusing results. At the first break the bots are convinced that the loud and pushy Rock Hudson is cool, so they try to emulate him. Jonah talks them down. Then it is time for our special guest as Neil Patrick Harris shows up as Kinga’s online boyfriend. The two sing a duet about how they are in love but don’t want to actually touch each other. Patton Oswald as Max steals the show as he pines for Kinga with his own little interlude.

I think I would pay to see Rabbitoxicity.
But my favorite of the host segments is inspired by a riff during the film. The boys come up with Syfy channel original movie title and realize that those ridiculous MegaShark versus Crocosquid movies need to stop. So they create a whole bevy of titles and trademark all of them so Syfy channel can’t make them. These are hilarious, and the amount of titles they come up with is impressive. Kinga and Max try their hand at a few too. When the movie ends Gypsy comes down to provide some songs and entertainment inspired by the boozy performance of David’s mom in the film. Her music touches everyone, even Kinga.

Like the previous episodes in Season 11, this one is entertaining, but it just doesn’t go much further than that. The movie’s first half is so dull, and the guys do the best job they can. The second half overwhelmed with the rapid-fire riffs that you get lost in all the jokes. With some pruning of the riffs in the second half this could have risen a full grade.

But as it stands I can only give it three kitchen cheerleaders out of five.


This episode is available on the Netflix Streaming.

"Dear Trip Advisor, I found a cheerleader in my salad and
the dressing was not on the side. 1 1/2 stars."