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Weekend Roundtable: Most Underrated Movies

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?

Daniel Hirshleifer

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.

Shannon Nutt

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.

Luke Hickman

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 ‘Halloween III: The Season of the Witch‘. I’ve always had a soft spot for this movie ever since it first came out. It sticks out like a sore thumb within the ‘Halloween’ franchise, but its uniqueness and the idea behind it are exactly what make it so special. The script is admittedly a bit awkward, the plot makes little logical sense and the acting is comically overboard, but the directing, editing and cinematography are shockingly good. Better still, the story comes as a cleverly disguised socio-political commentary on unregulated Capitalism run amok, where workers are replaced by machines and profits are valued over quality, safety and human life. I love this movie, and I still defend it to this day. “Eight more days till Halloween!”

Josh Zyber

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.

12 comments

  1. Alex

    The Saint. Watched it again just a few weeks ago, and I know it gets derided pretty heavily, and perhaps there’s a bit of teenage nostalgia affecting me, but I frickin’ love that movie.

    I’ve heard others try to defend Star Trek V, but it just makes me hurt to even think about it. Still, to each his own. Not everyone like The Saint and that’s okay.

    Incidentally, Moonraker was my favorite 007 film when I was a kid. I haven’t seen it in years. I’ll have to give it another shot.

  2. JM

    ‘Red Cliff’ (International Version) – Best historical epic ever. It’s not even close. Who knew John Woo had it in him…?

    ‘Chaplin’ – Robert Downey Jr. was cool before he was cool.

    ‘The Way Of The Gun’ – The stone-cold deput from the director of ‘Mission Impossible 5.’

    [Oliver Stone’s ‘Alexander’ was raced into production to beat Christopher McQuarrie's script to the money. They should have done the Hollywood thing and just made both.]

    The Steve Martin Trilogy – ‘LA Story,’ ‘Bowfinger,’ ‘The Spanish Prisoner.’

    ‘Gattaca’ – Too bad Niccol turned out to be a one-trick pony…

    ‘V For Vendetta’ – From the second second assistant director of ‘Street Fighter.’

    ‘Strange Days’ – Is keeping hope alive for ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’

    ‘Swimming With Sharks’
    ‘Miller’s Crossing’
    ‘Jackie Brown’
    ‘A Simple Plan’
    ‘The Cable Guy’

    Most Underrated Fluff > ‘Joe Vs The Volcano.’

    ’10 Things I Hate About You’ is a lot less underrated than it used to be.

    ‘So I Married an Axe Murderer’ – directed by Thomas Schlamme, co-creator of ‘The West Wing’ – is still quoted in our household. “We have a piper who’s down! Repeat, Piper Down!”

    #1 Most Underrated = ‘American Psycho’ – Thanks to Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner, and Christian Bale for killing it.

  3. motorheadache

    For me there are two, and they are both based off of Michael Crichton novels.

    1) The 13th Warrior– Yeah, Antonio Banderas playing an Arab was a stretch, but if you can get past that, it’s quite good. In a lot of ways it is a retelling of Beowulf from an outside perspective.

    2) Sphere– I thought they actually did a great job with this movie keeping a constant state of tension and suspense. My only problem was the ending was awkwardly done and could have been better. Some people complain about the squid attack scene, and while it would have been cool to see it a little bit, I’m still glad they didn’t decide to do a giant cgi squid with 1998 special effects– it was better left to the imagination.

    • Now that you mention Crichton, I do like “Congo”! Very quotable: “No! The diamonds are here!”, “Though I happen to be black”, “Stop eating my sesame cake!” etcetera. Great stuff.

  4. EM

    Since Shannon’s defended Star Trek V, I don’t have to. Besides, I’ve defended it around here before.

    I’ll just mention I enjoyed the TV series Cavemen.

  5. Dan Hirshleifer

    I have to say, Star Trek V IS poorly directed. A few scenes work here and there, notably the lounge sequence where Spock and McCoy go through their past traumas, but a lot of the performances feel hammy, and the action is absolutely awful. The scene where the away party goes to rescue the hostage has some of the worst staged action I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture.

    That said, Star Trek V is still better than Generations.

  6. I have to admit, I would have liked to see Star Trek V without the absurd number of budget restraints that Shatner had. I think Paramount wanted him/the film to fail for some reason. You can tell just by the effects shots in V that they basically pulled the rug out from under him.

    My personal couple of votes for underrated movies:
    The Postman (Still don’t know why so many people hated it)
    Lifeforce (It may be a bit hammy in places, but I still think it’s miles above many horror/scifi/vamp films of the time)

    • Hmm… Just checked the budget on Star Trek V, and it wasn’t that bad in comparison to the others (More than IV, less than VI). Yet it feels much lower budget than the others. I wonder what on earth went wrong?

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        For one thing, ILM wasn’t available to do the special effects due to other committments. Paramount farmed the work out to the lowest bidder, which was a firm in New Jersey totally unprepared to meet the requirements of a feature film production. Most of the FX look so slapdash because they had to scramble to put something together in time to meet deadlines.

        • Actually, that’s not EXACTLY true…I’ve told this story before, but it’s from a good source, so I feel comfortable in repeating it:

          At the time (not sure if this is still true), ILM’s special effects teams divided themselves up into lettered groups like Team A, Team B, Team C, etc. Now, no one group is/was any worse than the other…meaning if you get Team C, you’re still getting the quality that Team A would give you.

          The story goes that when it came time to go to ILM for Trek V, only Team D (or E or something like that) was available and someone on the movie (maybe Shatner himself or maybe someone advising Shatner) totally misunderstood how ILM works and decided they didn’t want “the fourth or fifth ‘worse’ ILM team working on the effects for their movie.

          So THAT’S how ILM missed out on STAR TREK V, although I’m sure Paramount would deny that story now out of simple embarassment over it all.

          Anyway, I heard that from someone who worked at Paramount in 1989 and I’m sticking to that story. :)

    • Scream Factory just announced Lifeforce on Bluray for next year, that is one I never got around to seeing, going to have to :)

      I’m a fan of the Postman as well, thought that was a good drama and a very realistic way of showing what the future would be like and how something as simple as communication with a letter would mean to people

      Will have to think some more on my favorite “underrated” movies and reply back :)

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