Thanksgiving is just around the corner. In honor of Turkey Day, let’s talk turkey here in this week’s Roundtable. No, not the bird, as scrumptious as it may be. Today’s topic is about cinematic turkeys. Or, at least, alleged cinematic turkeys. Specifically, we’ll stand up to support a handful of movies that are widely regarded as failures by the general public. Yes, it’s time to defend to indefensible. What are (in our opinion) some of the most underrated movies ever released? What films are better than their reputations would suggest?
In honor of ‘Skyfall’, I have to defend one of the most commonly maligned Bond films: ‘Moonraker‘. Yes, it’s cheesy, but it has some great set pieces, fantastic locales like Venice, and some of the best Bond gadgets. Roger Moore still looks young enough to reasonably play Bond (it’s amazing how aged he looks just two years later in ‘For Your Eyes Only’), and you get an excellent theme song from Shirley Bassey. ‘Moonraker’ is anything but serious, but it’s hard to fault a movie that’s so much damn fun.
Probably because it’s plagued by bad special effects and a less-than-thrilling conclusion, ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier‘ has been slapped with the label of the worst ‘Star Trek’ movie ever released. But there’s actually a lot here worth checking out. You have to give credit to the franchise for tackling the religious angle even though it was sure to alienate fans (too religious for non-believers/too vague for people of faith), and no ‘Trek’ film before or since has explored the inner demons of our beloved characters the way ‘Star Trek V’ does. The scenes where we learn about McCoy’s father and Spock’s birth are still two of the strongest in the film series. I’d also argue with those who say it’s poorly directed… it’s not. Sure, ‘Star Trek V’ does a lot of things wrong, but it’s a movie that doesn’t really deserve such a bad reputation.
I’ve already professed (confessed) my unmovable love for Cameron Crowe here previously, and admitted without a trace of embarrassment that ‘Vanilla Sky’ is one of my all-time favorite films. Another Crowe film that doesn’t get the love it deserves is ‘Elizabethtown‘.
I couldn’t write a screenplay if my life depended on it (believe me, I tried and it wasn’t pretty), but if I could, ‘Elizabethtown’ easily could have been it. Are there any movies that, after seeing them for the first time, made you think, “That movie was made just for me”? For me, that’s ‘Elizabethtown’. Like many of Crowe’s other films, ‘Elizabethtown’ is about life. It’s not just about love or loss or family; it’s about all of those things and more. I can see why some people call it too ambitious, but to me, that’s part of the intimate trip that we go on with Drew. ‘Elizabethtown’ is one film that I believe will earn much more respect and admiration if watched again with an open heart and a willingness to dig beneath the surface.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Expect a whole lot of scowls whenever anyone brings up ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch‘. It’s generally reviled by fans for being the only entry in the long-running franchise without Michael Myers. If we were having this conversation in, say, 1986, when it looked like Myers was dead and buried for good, then sure, I’d get it. Now, though…? Almost all of the many ‘Halloween’ sequels/remakes that have followed in the years since are borderline-unwatchable, to the point where Busta Rhymes yowls like Bruce Lee and karate-kicks The Shape upside the head. ‘Season of the Witch’ doesn’t look so bad now, does it?
My favorite thing about ‘Halloween III’ is how unique it is. At the peak of the slasher era, the movie goes for a more eerie, atmospheric, almost British approach to horror. It doesn’t aim for big scares. It’s not a body count flick. Tom Atkins always makes for a heckuva lead, and astonishingly, he’s not playing a cop in this one. The unparalleled visual eye of cinematographer Dean Cundey also sets ‘Halloween III’ apart from just about every other genre film from the class of 1982. It doesn’t hurt that the movie’s also completely insane. It’s a strange, spooky, wildly unpredictable and totally unhinged story about witchcraft in an age of technology. It isn’t dragged down by clunky exposition and doesn’t telegraph its every move.
If you’ve been giving ‘Halloween III’ the cold shoulder for a while now, Scream Factory’s tremendous Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release is just the excuse you need to give the movie another shot.
M. Enois Duarte
This seems like a loaded question for me. I love too many bad movies! How do I choose from ‘Howard the Duck’, ‘Troll 2’ or ‘The Garbage Pail Kids Movie’?
Like Adam, I’ve defended for quite some time ‘
Most readers of this blog already know of my obsession with ‘Dune‘, so I’ll pick something different here.
When it was released to theaters eight years ago, Oliver Stone’s historical epic ‘Alexander‘ was a major box office bomb and decried as one of the worst movies of the year. In fact, despite initially giving the film a fairly balanced (if ultimately negative) review, Roger Ebert jumped on the hate bandwagon and called it the worst movie of 2004 – a year that gave us such masterworks as ‘Catwoman’ and ‘Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid’. I’ve never understood that attitude at all.
Yes, the movie is flawed, primarily by some serious miscasting. Colin Farrell is all wrong for the role of Alexander the Great, and I have no idea what Angelina Jolie (only one year older than he is!) is doing as his mother. Her mad gypsy snake charmer performance is just bizarre and inappropriate. Despite that, this is an ambitious and beautifully photographed epic about one of history’s most complicated personalities. The Vangelis musical score is evocative and majestic, and the huge, brutal, chaotic, dazzling battle sequences are bloody and gorgeous. ‘Alexander’ is not a perfect movie, but it’s a far worthier, more literate, more intelligent and more (yes, I’ll say it) visionary piece of work than the overrated ‘Gladiator’, which made a bajillion dollars and won a bunch of Oscars just a few years earlier.
Sadly, the failure of ‘Alexander’ caused Stone to overthink himself. He re-edited the movie not once, but twice, for a Director’s Cut and then a Final Cut, both of which are jumbled editing messes and inferior to the original theatrical version. Only the Final Cut is available on Blu-ray in the U.S, though the theatrical cut was released in France.
Those are the movies we’ll defend against all naysayers. Tell us in the Comments about some of the most underrated films you’ll stand up for.