Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Greatest Movie Experience Of My Life

Movies today are not the events they once were. With the quick release of movies on DVD/Blu Ray, and the home theater experience becoming larger and larger, movies are no longer a “must see” in the theaters for a lot of people. The internet gives us much more information about movies then we have ever had. Some people are even happy with watching bootleg copies of movies while they are still in theaters, despite their usually sub par quality. I've been guilty of it a time or two myself, but I try not to do that. I prefer seeing movies on the big screen, something home theater really can't duplicate.

Which brings me to the last, and best, great experience I've had seeing a movie in the theaters.

The year was 1983, I was in my third year of High School. Everyone was waiting for the release of “Return Of The Jedi”, the third, and at the time, final “Star Wars” movie. We knew little about the movie, aside from the fact that we knew there was another Death Star. Anticipation was of course, extremely high for the movie. Being the hardcore “Star Wars” fan that I am, it had been what I was looking forward to more than anything.

May 25th, 1983, a Wednesday. The day we were all waiting for had finally arrived. The line at the theater I was at was so long, I can't even estimate its length. I was attending the movie with a friend and his sister, with the intention of seeing the movie at every scheduled showing, which we did. We brought a bag of food and drinks, and chatted with other fans while waiting on line. I made a conservative guess that at least 60-70% of my school cut class that day to see the movie.

I was dressed in a Darth Vader costume my friend had made. Many small children came up to me with their parents, wanting to meet Lord Vader. They shook my hand, I took pictures with a few of them, even scared one kid a bit when he said to me “You killed Ben!” I took two steps towards him and he ran back to his mother as she chuckled a bit. I was even briefly interviewed by a local radio station covering the premiere. Standing on line for a movie had never been so much fun.

We were finally let into the theater, and approximately 20 mins later, the lights went down, and the movie began. Oddly enough, this is not the moment it became the greatest movie experience of my life. The crowd applauded when the 20th Century Fox logo came on screen, and at various other times during the movie. The movie was great, and I couldn't wait to see it again. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long. We sat through two more showings of the movie, and finally came to the last showing of the day. A few other friends had shown up and joined me and my friend for the movie. This is where it gets awesome.

The lights went down, and the applause started. Applause followed the Fox logo, then after “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away”. The applause erupted when the “Star Wars” logo appeared on the screen. Every major character received applause on their initial appearance.  When Luke first gets his lightsaber at the Pit Of Carkoon, everyone went crazy. You could just feel the excitement in the theater, the applause, the laughter, the reactions to things happening in the movie. It was like we were reunited with old friends, rather than just watching a movie.

Then we come to the final battle between Luke and Vader.

When their lightsabers first clash, applause. When Luke cut off Vader's hand, louder applause. When the Emperor was hitting Luke with his lightning, you could hear the crowd grumbling with tension. I've never been so glued to my seat and fixated on the screen ever before, and everyone else was reacting the same way. Then the moment came, Vader, looking back and forth between Luke and the Emperor. The rumbling of the crowd increased with each change of Vader's gaze. Luke's cries of “Father me” only increased the tension. Then, Vader turns and grabs the Emperor.

The applause were so loud, it actually drowned out the movie...that's right, the applause of the audience drowned out the sound of the movie. People were jumping out of their seats. It was a moment unlike any other I had ever experienced watching a movie. The applause finally calmed, but not for long. The destruction of the Death Star caused more, and when the credits rolled, the applause was almost as loud as earlier.

The air of excitement that day has never, even been duplicated for me. Even when “Star Wars Episode I:The Phantom Menace” came out, after a 16 year gap in Star Wars films, it was not as exciting as that day in 1983. It gave the movie a special place in my heart, than can never be replaced or duplicated. Is it my favorite “Star Wars” movie? No, but the experience of seeing it  was something very special, something that sadly, I don't think people will ever get to experience. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience. It's something I won't ever forget, and something I am more than happy to share with others, as I have told the story many, many times since then. I never get tired of telling it either.

Movies are still my favorite form of entertainment, and the first “Star Wars” trilogy are still my favorite 3 movies of all time. But the magic of that day in 1983, is something that has sadly disappeared from the movie going experience. Sure, people still applaud at movies, but it just isn't the same.

May 25th, 1983. A day I will never, ever forget....The greatest movie experience of my life.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review - "Man OF Steel"

Been a while since I have posted anything here, seems like I have been saying that a lot lately, but unfortunately life has a tendency to get in the way of things, even something like this blog, which I love doing.

Anyways, now is as good a time as any to start things back up again, so here we go.

“Man Of Steel” Directed by Zack Snyder.

Where to begin....this movie was phenomenal, on every level.

1978's “Superman:The Movie” was the first really big, serious take on a superhero at the time. Since that time, the Superman movies that followed ranged from very good (“Superman II”) to mind numblingly awful (“Superman IV:The Quest For Peace”). Bryan Singer's “Superman Returns” was an attempt at a continuation of the series, and although I liked it very much, it was more of a homage to the earlier Superman movies. “Man Of Steel” is a new vision, a new beginning, and it's different in many ways, but manages to maintain the spirit of Superman.

One of the first things I really loved about the movie was that Krypton, Superman's home planet, was a fully realized, alien world. Visually stunning, and definitely not just another planet like Earth.

I have heard some complaints about the nonlinear storytelling that the first part of the movie utilizes. Clark Kent's childhood is told in flashbacks, as we see him progress from place to place, keeping a low profile as he comes to terms with who he is. In my opinion, it is a refreshing break from the standard structure of an origin story. Some have said that the first act drags a bit, but I never felt that at all. IT was great to see Clark's reactions to his emerging powers, it wasn't just “gee whiz I got super powers how cool is that” kind of thing, he struggles to understand and deal with what is happening to him, and at first, it's not pleasant, it's overwhelming. Even when he first begins to fly, he doesn't just soar away, it's awkward for him. I also love that he isn't the perfect hero from the start, he has a hard choice to make in this movie and it is handled perfectly, and makes Superman grounded in a way we have never seen before, and sets the tone for his future behavior.

When I first heard about this movie, I was a bit bothered by the fact that General Zod was going to be the villain, at the same time glad it wasn't going to be Lex Luthor, because he's been done to death. Lex Luthor should be a part of Superman, he just doesn't need to be the bad guy in every single movie. I also loved Terence Stamp's portrayal of Zod in “Superman II”, so like many, I was weary of another actor 's take on the character. After seeing the movie, I can honestly say I really loved Michael Shannon's take on Zod. He is a military man, dedicated to his planet and his people, unfortunately he takes that dedication to a genocidal level. But his intentions at first are not what I would call truly evil, they evolve into it. Shannon took the part and not only played it to perfection, he became General Zod.

The movie is visually stunning, as you would come to expect from director Zack Snyder (“300”, “Watchmen”). But his movies, while visually brilliant, have always felt devoid of heart, almost as if he really didn't understand his characters to the degree that he needed to. Not so in this case, I definitely felt that Snyder understood Superman, and gave him some depth. Having Christopher Nolan on board as a mentor to Snyder was a great combination, although the downside, as many have pointed out, is that the main female lead, Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, wasn't as fully developed as I would have liked to have seen. Adams was fine in the role, but I felt like there was more she could have done, I feel like they didn't do the character the justice she deserves, but perhaps they are going to do that with the inevitable sequel. That has always been an issue with Nolan, as his female leads never seem to be as strong as the male leads. Hopefully Snyder will remedy this in the next movie.

The action was on a level we have not seen in a Superman movie. The fights between Superman and the Kryptonians are huge, and there is massive destruction, as there would be from super powered beings fighting each other. There is also collateral damage, it is clear that people were killed as a result of these battles, something else we never really saw in a Superman movie. While that is a good thing, it brings up another point that others have pointed out. The collateral damage seems glossed over, no one really stops to look at what has happened, when all is said and done, it's basically, “ok thank god it's over” and that's pretty much it. Even a few lines about it would have at least given recognition to the fact that everything comes with a price. Apart from that, I thought the action was well staged and exciting, and on the level it needed to be at. Visual effects were solid, what imperfections there may have been , I didn't notice. I absolutely loved seeing Superman break the sound barrier when he flew, a very nice touch. The score by Hans Zimmer was also very good, although at times the score wasn't as noticeable as it should have been, but it could just be that the movie kinds distracts you from it. The one thing I missed was a central theme, the theme from “Superman:The Movie” is iconic, and one of, if not the best theme for a movie, ever. I wasn't expecting anything along those lines, but I was really hoping for a new Superman theme that was as fitting as the John Williams theme was. Not a big deal, as the rest of the music was solid, just the nostalgic side of me coming out.

The acting....solid all around, with Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe being the standouts, they owned their roles, two of the best performances from them both. In fact, I'd say it's the best role Costner has done in a long time, one of the finest of his career in fact. Laurence Fishburne was a great Perry White, Diane Lane was also excellent as Martha Kent. Henry Cavill, as Clark/Superman. While he was not what I would call outstanding in the part, he was very good, he made the part his own, he was not trying to emulate Christopher Reeve (the quintessential Superman, always has been, always will be) but that's not what the film makers were going for, so on that level, they succeeded. He did what he needed to do to make this a fresh start for a new Superman. Christopher Reeve was an outstanding actor, so anyone who takes the part of Superman, has a lot of weight on them, and Cavill handled it just fine.

I can see why people would not care for this movie, as it is very different from any Superman movie we have seen to this point. Many people, including myself, have a great love and affection for the 1978 movie. But this is a different time, and as we saw from the reaction to “Superman Returns” trying to  recreate the magic of that movie is a difficult task, and one that probably should not even be attempted. Like I said earlier, I liked “Superman Returns” but I see it as a stand alone love letter to the Reeve movies, and looking at it from that point of view, makes it enjoyable for me.

“Man Of Steel” brings us a new vision of Superman, one that can stand on its own as a great movie, but also serves as the beginning of a new series of Superman movies, and I look forward to the future adventures that Snyder and co. will bring us.