Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Amazing Grace and Chuck (Part 15 of 17)

Warning: This post features in depth story analysis, which includes spoilers. If you have not seen this film proceed at your own risk or not at all.

This film was the catalyst for this paper. I think what I admire above all else in filmmaking is bravery and I think it was very risky to make this film. This is an idealistic fairy tale about global nuclear disarmament and of political martyrdom. David Field, writer, and Mike Newell, director, knew no fear in making this film, there was no ceiling for how far it could go. While it’s an outlandish tale, it admits as such, and gives it even more redeeming value in the process.

The film very early on inserts a title stating “Once Upon A Time There was a Boy…” it’s a fairy tale, for some reason some Americans just cannot comprehend that a fairy tale can be depicted in a live action film. What we have in this film is a grassroots movement. A boy, Chuck Murdock (Joshua Zuehlke), is taken on a field trip to a missile silo one day. The kids are shown an actual missile, Chuck is the only one who questions its existence and is also very frightened because his father is in the Air Force. After the trip the Congressman who led them around pulls him aside and tells him “That missile will never be used, that’s why it was built,” it’s that kind of thinking that got us in an arms race stockpile and made us want to scare the other guy into not using their weapons. That night Chuck has a nightmare that he is caught at the silo during a nuclear attack.

The next day when he gets on the pitcher’s mound he decides to quit baseball. He states it’s “his best thing,” and no one understands why their star pitcher walked off the field. Then he explains that he won’t play baseball again until there are no more nuclear weapons.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

The other protagonist of this film is a professional basketball player nicknamed “Amazing Grace” Smith, played by Alex English who was a player for the Denver Nuggets at the time this film was produced. We see him playing, hit a three-point shot and give his famous three fingers in the air gesture, after the game his agent/best friend, Lynn (Jaime Lee Curtis) reads him an article about Chuck and the wheels start spinning.

With the memory of his wife and daughter gnawing at his mind, Amazing decides to quit basketball and do like Chuck did, an official protest has begun. At one point someone asks Amazing “Do you really think you’re going to bring an end to nuclear weapons?” Amazing turns to him and says “I don’t know but wouldn’t it be nice.” This soon starts a snowball effect and so many athletes join the cause that professional sports are crippled and the movement spreads worldwide. So leftist is this film that Ted Turner was a consultant and used this film to promote CNN with many news reports in the film brandishing their logo.

The protest continues and gains national recognition. Chuck meets with the president and he eventually proposes that the Americans and Russians will disarm within seven years but this plan is rejected because the President (Gregory Peck) might not be in office by then. The protest causes problems between Chuck and his father and Amazing Grace starts getting anonymous phone calls. A powerful businessman, who has been threatening Amazing Grace, tricks him into getting on one of his planes and then he blows it up. Following Amazing Grace’s death Chuck vows not to talk anymore and this movement sweeps across the world and forces another meeting between the Russian Premier and the President.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

We see them meeting at people in Montana in a cabin just a few miles from Chuck’s home. The President opens by saying “Are your grandchildren talking to you?” the Premier laughs and says “No.” Then they talk about how troubling it is that they’re losing their children. And ultimately this is what the disarmament would be for: so they don’t lose their children. They agree on total nuclear disarmament immediately. And, of course, the president goes to visit Chuck and thanks him.

Now a lot happens in these two hours and it all ends with Chuck stepping back up on the mound. The Russian Premier is there, so’s the President. The catcher starts to give him signs he shakes off the fastball one, and the curve two, and then he turns to the crowd and makes the three-point gesture. And every one stands and repeats the gesture, yeah it’s been done to death but in this film it all works. Chuck looks up to the heavens when he’s poised and says a word to Amazing, he throws the pitch and we follow the ball in close shot as it spins through the sky and cut to black and then there’s a title it reads:

“But wouldn’t it be nice.”
-Amazing Grace Smith

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

This is a film that is idealist and dares to dream. It takes the fears of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and combines them with the hope of Glasnost and presented us with a fantasy. The poster for this film should tell you it’s a fantasy. And it’s one that only could have come out of the 80s, this film literally drips 80s. In the 1990s, and especially in the present, disarmament was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. It’s a great film about one person can make a difference and a film with a message.

Review- Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman is such an odd case. Based on the way it handles the oft told legend it has a lot of promise, however, this film has a weird handling of its two titular characters inasmuch as it seems to run from them both. At the start, yes, it is the hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) who is doing the voice over for the necessary backstory segment that kicks the narrative off, but there are a few unfortunate things about it: first, this is one of the higher points of the film and it’s a brisk, but not rushed beginning portion. Second, after this part the Huntsman is lost for a while until the queen commissions him to retrieve an escaped Snow White. Which brings us to the young princess, her dialogue is sparse throughout, her involvement until her escape is minimal and she drifts into the background more than any would-be protagonist in recent memory.

Is it just sloppy plotting and writing or is the fact that the film wanted Kristen Stewart involved for box office appeal, but didn’t want to hitch their wagon to her alone? She has a moment here and a moment there, but the big military speech falls short of what it should be and her physicality issues persist. No actress on the face of the earth has a mouth so persistently agape for no discernible reason as she does and few emote so little facially, at least in the roles I’ve seen. I’m not going to avoid seeing something merely due to her presence, but I have yet to see this other side of her that her staunch supporters keep citing.

However, as I said, the film is rarely about either of its two named characters, at times this is a good thing and at other moments it’s a failing. Charlize Theron is broad in her role as the evil queen as if she just fell out of an old Hollywood melodrama. I think that’s something most of us can agree on. I, for one, absolutely love her performance and find nary a misstep in it. At the very least someone, is bringing energy and commitment to this film, and more often than not I found her scenes rather chilling.

Much of the conversation has been about the performances thus far because there is little else holding this precarious piece of work up. The pace of the film is decent up until about the midpoint when the dwarfs are introduced and then the film gets a bit unfocused, lost and extraneous. The narrative does pick up again eventually but never recovers from this unfortunate area. This section also introduces the odd production choice of having average size actors be the faces of the dwarfs. I’m really not sure why it’s deemed necessary, and it is a distraction.

The cinematography, scoring and production design of the film were all really quality components that could’ve truly elevated this film to its potential had the narrative it was supporting been up to snuff. The beginning of the tale works best because it’s in storybook mode and frames the queen as much more of a power-hungry madwoman than say, Disney did. The stepmother queen in either tale is motivated, it’s just that this film explains the motivation a bit more. Where it develops her plot and psychology it works, but little else is substantial here at all, which is not the case of the animated version, or even some others for that matter. Where it sets up Snow White’s initial struggle it works, but it loses her along the way, as it not only fills in blanks but colors outside the lines, so to speak, and adds running time and trivially valuable sub-plotting with the love triangle that evolves. The richness it builds is soon watered down by excess.

Snow White and the Huntsman
starts with a few clear objectives but then becomes occluded and can no longer see the forest for the trees and like many travelers in this imaginary world gets lost in a dark forest, and all hopes of its being a quality piece of work perish.