March to Disney: The Advances of Peter Pan

Introduction

Last year to coincide with a trip to Walt Disney World in March, I decided to have a month-long focus on Disney fare. Their vaults are vast and varied enough such that this is a theme that could recur annually. Below you will find links to the inaugural posts written for the theme.

Peter Pan (1953)

Peter Pan (1953, Disney)

Walt Disney’s production of Peter Pan is one that seems like its oft overlooked. That is why I a glad that it has recently come back up in the Disney rotation both with a Blu-ray release and also with a new Disney World attraction. Of course, the story is one that is universally known and beloved, but what can be lost with such a ubiquitous narrative is the distinguishing characteristics of each individual rendition.

Disney, from 1938 to its eventual 1953 release, dedicated himself to bringing this story to the silver screen anew in a version unlike anything anyone had yet seen. It’s ingenious but sometimes it takes a genius to think of something so ingenious: even in the 1950s the only way to bring forth a revolutionary interpretation of this story was to animate it.

With the conventions of stagecraft being stripped like actors flying on wires, an actor in a dog suit, a light as Tinkerbell and a girl playing Peter; the easiest way to changes these things, things that occurred on screen in the silent era, was to draw it.

The recycled documentary on the Blu-ray (it was on the DVD release as well) does well to highlight that the animators in this film had the brand new challenge of attempting to depict weightlessness of the human form. For to be able to fly, a person had to also be able to float.

Disney to this point, and past it in its history, used live models regardless, but never had their role been as pivotal as it was here for the animators through them were given guidance, and a frame of reference without the constraint of cameras rolling and a production around them, as to how to create said effect.

Peter Pan (1953, Disney)

The actors ability to pantomime for the animators was just one thing that had to be taken into consideration. Casting in this day and age at Disney was a multi-faceted process. Typically, animators were usually dealing with specific characters so they too had to “cast” so to speak. Yet, there was also the voice aspect to consider. Here there were a few inspired choices made.

First, there was Hans Conreid, who was most notably a radio actor, in the tandem roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. There is a duality to his voice and so much emotion that he can emit through it that makes it one of the more indelible performances in the Disney canon. It is also rightly noted that Bobby Driscoll, although Disney’s first contract player and roundabout the right age for the part, was still the proper choice. Sure, it was the easy choice but it was the correct one. It was his Disney swan song, and perhaps his most lasting turn.

Also interesting to note here, in hindsight, that some of the concept art was darker than what Walt eventually approved for use in the film. Especially considering that it seems that P.J. Hogan’s sensibility in his ’03 live action version is closer to those original concepts. While it would’ve been great to see those things drawn by the talented hands at Disney un-softened. I look at it more as a calculated decision by Walt rather than softening for softening’s sake.

There is still in this story the threat of death and of growing up being flaunted in the face of children. Hook’s menace is quite real and present, thanks in large part to Conreid. Therefore, the visuals needn’t be as harsh as initially designed to get the message home. The emotions desired will still be elicited. Also, at a young age kids don’t necessarily consider stylistic choices. The danger, the emotions in general, are generated by the characters how they act and interact rather than the atmosphere.

What Walt Disney’s Peter Pan is most definitely Disney’s version of the narrative but also one that is progressive in terms of altering, and depending on your opinion, correcting prior conventions of this particular narrative. Like many things in the canon there are the iconic moments, namely Tinkerbell who became part of the Walt Disney Pictures logo. And she should be, since the first cinematic image of the character was his creation. However, in that logo she blends with Cinderella’s castle and is removed from her original context. The context being this film, which in spite of its changes and quirks is one of the true Disney masterpieces. A labor of love unquestionably re-branded, but also indebted to its source, and one that should live in the consciousness of children and children-at-heart for generations to come.

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BAM Best Picture Profile: Peter Pan (2003)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Peter Pan (2003)

While I didn’t really post explications that I can easily access for the BAM Awards back in 2003, this was a year wherein I lost my nominees and can only find winners) I was able to quote myself from an unusual source nowadays, my IMDb reviews:

There should be a rule that bars people from remaking a story when the definitive edition has been made. While I loved the much maligned ‘Hook’ and Disney’s version PJ Hogan created the perfect version of this tale. It uses more from the book than ever and even improves on some elements. The proper theatrical conventions are kept like Hook and the Father being played by the same actor and also the proper ones were done away with like a woman playing Peter’s role.

This is the way the story of Peter Pan should be told The imagery is balanced between fantastical and realistic. Every single character is perfectly cast, especially Jeremy Sumpter as Peter. The special effects were so amazing and unique I was actually surprised to see that Industrial Light and Magic did them. The film flows beautifully with scenes that seem as if they are pulled straight from my dreams.

This is a story that has always been very dear to me and I feel that people are making way to much of this film. Peter’s escape embodies a fear all children suffer from at one point or another: growing up. This is the essence of the film and the conflict is heightened by the fact that Wendy loves Peter and for him to love her back he knows he’d have to grow up. One day we know we must grow up. As children we envy Peter’s being but know that our destinies are more those of Wendy, Michael and John. As adults we find Peter’s dream of perpetual childhood beautiful but as we see his heart breaking because he cannot change who he is and live with the Darlings, so do ours. For that is our plight. There is not an audience this film can’t play to for that very reason.

It’s a heartwarming, swashbuckling, funny, adventurous, to say that its an experience doesn’t do it justice. This film is truly a dream come true.

It’s impossible not to like this movie. Open your heart, shut off your brain and watch Peter Pan the way it was meant to be seen.

Yes, I included that in its entirety even though there are some aspects I’d caveat or amend today. One of the amendments would be about stopping remakes. My point was that there’s a crystallization of a narrative in a certain form, to me this version of Peter Pan is it. It’s conscientiously still a storybook version but more real than prior versions, darker and more dramatic.

The second statement above that would need clearing up was the “shut off your brain” segment. While I still agree that Peter Pan is more a visceral than intellectual experience I wrote that as a knee-jerk reaction to some of the over-analysis of certain production decisions I read at the time. In terms of the intellectual aspect this version perhaps places the most emphasis on the tension between Peter and Wendy and the inner struggle each faces; Peter’s clinging to childhood and Wendy’s realization that she needs to go towards adulthood. Furthermore, the Hook/Pan dynamic, to borrow a trite modern colloquialism, the “frenemy” status exemplified by Sumpter and Isaacs is brilliantly portrayed.

Quite a few of my selections I believe were directors going where they were not necessarily expected to, and PJ Hogan hadn’t done anything in this vein yet. That’s for sure.

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

One history of the BAM Awards-related note. I used to in the days before streaming and on demand selections call the end of the year on-or-about Christmas. I believe Peter Pan’s release date was 12/27. Based on the conception and the strength of the trailer I extended the deadline that year and it became the first last-minute title to claim the number one spot.

This was and is a story I have a long history with. There was never a version quite like this one, and I don’t anticipate there will ever be one like it again. It’s something rather special. I knew that from the moment James Newton Howard’s “Flying” began (Another BAM note is that I erroneously eliminated it from scoring contention because of the classical cues used, when most of what I loved was original work).

Peter Pan
, in the face of being written off by many, won a slew of BAM Awards in one of the most dominant showings ever, and I can explain why further if need be, but I think my case is made.

Children in Films Blogathon: A Revisionist Look at the Juvenile Award

When I learned of the Child Actor Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood, I had two ideas for it almost right away: the Jackie Searl spotlight and this one. Not too long ago I argued for why the Juvenile Award should be re-instated. In this post I will follow up on that notion to augment my case. It’s one thing to quickly cite who won while it was around and state it never should have left, it’s quite another to show you who would have had they never gotten rid of it. Now I have decided to illustrate that in three ways, including some omissions found when it was instated (it’ll make more sense when we get there, trust me). First, I will list the young actors who since the end of the award (after 1961) were nominated for an Academy Award.

These actors obviously, had there still been a Juvenile Award, would have won that. While on occasion they were awarded the prize, more often than not they didn’t have a realistic chance. Regardless, their nomination was deemed prize enough it would seem, but I disagree and as you will see there have been plenty of instances where the Juvenile award could have been handed out either in addition to or in place of the nomination.

Based on Academy Award nominations from 1961-Present:

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Fox Searchlight)

2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit
2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement
2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine
2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider
1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense
1993 Anna Paquin The Piano
1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer
1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
1976 Jodie Foster Taxi Driver
1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon
1968 Jack Wild Oliver!
1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal Selections

Super 8 (2011, Paramount)

In 1996, when I was 15 and the young actors of the day where my contemporaries, I started making my own award lists. Being young myself at the time I wanted to recognize young actors where most awards excluded them more often than not. These selections reflect those that were my among my BAM award selections that were eligible and the Academy bypassed. Prior to 1996, I thought of significant performances that were worthy of noting and would’ve had a strong case for the Juvenile Award had it been around.

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

This one is highly unlikely as Kauwboy wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film prize. However, the fact that it was the official selection for The Netherlands did make it eligible.

My young actress choice last year, Sophie Nélisse, was a year off from the Oscar calendar but also a strong possibility for Monsieur Lazhar.

2011 Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Riley Giffiths Zach Mills, Gabe Basso Super 8

It figures that both the best young ensemble, and perhaps individual performance, of the past 25 years got overlooked. So they are all honored here.

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Bill Milner and Will Poulter Son of Rambow

A slight wrinkle here from my original selection. Since the Academy set precedent of awarding tandems, why not do so here as well?

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland

My 2004 winner was one where I was awarding a film from 2003, due to my stand on release dates, which is different than the Academy’s. Having said that I then had to factor in both my nominees and who the Academy would be more likely to pick and decided if they chose anyone it would have been Highmore.

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station

1997 Joseph Ashton The Education of Little Tree

Here’s another interesting case: my winner was in a TV film which the Academy would never honor. Then two more nominees were either shifted due to my interpretation of release date rules and one erroneously in my revisionist phase. That leaves two eligible: Dominic Zamprogna in The Boy’s Club and Joseph Ashton in The Education of Little Tree. Some people besides me actually saw the latter so I’d put that one up as a winner.

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy
Lucas Black Sling Blade

Michelle was my actual winner in 1996. Sling Blade in my awards was shifted to 1997 due to its release date. It being an Oscar nominated film make it a more likely retrospective candidate.

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

This section marks personal selections prior to my picking extemporaneous year-end awards.

1994 Elijah Wood The War

I recall watching E! and hearing there was some buzz being stirred by the cast/studio for Elijah. I knew it would never happen, but it was deserved buzz.

1992 Maxime Collin Leolo

I have since expunged them but for a time I did backtrack BAM Award to back before they started. Some of these picks reflect those findings.

1991 Anna Chlumsky My Girl

1990 Macaulay Culkin Home Alone

Say what you will, but you know if the award was around that this would have happened.

1988 Pelle Hvengaard Pelle the Conqueror

1987 Christian Bale Empire of the Sun

1986 River Phoenix Stand by Me

1983 Bertil Guve Fanny and Alexander

1982 Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

1979 Ricky Schroeder The Champ
David Bennent The Tin Drum

1972 Nell Potts The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

Who Should Have Gotten One But Didn’t

No Greater Glory (1934, Columbia Pictures)

I honestly almost scrapped this section. However, looking back through young nominees I noticed the discrepancy that some young nominees did not get a Juvenile Award while there was one. So I figured while I was at it I’d list a few notable performances that didn’t get recognized. Those that “didn’t need one” since they were nominated as in their respective categories against adult competition have denoted those with an asterisk.

1956 Patty McCormack The Bad Seed*
1953 Brandon deWilde Shane*
1952 Georges Poujouly Forbidden Games
1941 Roddy McDowall How Green Was My Valley
1936 Freddie Bartholomew Little Lord Fauntleroy
1934 George Breakston No Greater Glory
1931 Jackie Cooper Skippy*

March to Disney: Trips to Treasure Island

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

When one looks at a studio and all the films they’ve made in a given subgenre, it could be easy to forget what the first incarnation of a particular type of character is. As I revisited Disney’s 1950 version of Treasure Island I realized that this was the Studios first treatment of pirate lore in a feature film, seeing as how it was the first entirely live-action film Disney made.

In fact, once I got the pirate notion in my head I watched with an eye for that and I found that many of the men that Long John Silver recruited, as cast in this film, seemed to be models for the Pirates of the Caribbean animatronics that would follow soon thereafter.

Disney, as it was widely reported, had been seeking to enter the live-action film world. The desire was, in part, to produce cheaper films that were easier to turn a profit on. Aside from being a first it’s interesting to note that, based on what the average production timeline on an animated feature, Peter Pan was likely already in the works. So Disney’s hand at working with a seafaring tale and representing pirates was being tested.

Another interesting correlation between those two projects is the involvement of Bobby Driscoll. Driscoll was literally the first actor to be a contract player for Disney. In fact, his loan to RKO, which earned him an the Juvenile Award at the Oscars for The Window, was thanked in the credits of that film. He voiced the prior incarnation of Goofy’s son, Junior, and also appeared in So Dear to My Heart and Song of the South. After working on Treasure Island he served not only as voice actor but also as the model for Peter Pan, which proved to be his last involvement with Disney and one of his final roles in film. The end of Driscoll’s career and later on life are progressively sadder stories. You can easily find those on the IMDb if your day is going too well and you need a depressing interlude. However, the fact remains that in participating in some of Disney’s classics and being the pioneer of actors signing with Disney, Driscoll and his films serve as milestones. In the studio era if you had no contract players you had no chance, he was the linchpin to the early parts of that plan, and certainly this film.

The film preserves Hawkins’ perspective and tells itself through his eyes such that some things are learned after the fact through dialogue. The difficulties this film faces are due to some slight pacing issues, some over-the-top performances and a few overly-simple characters, but it is and enjoyable version of the tale.

Another interesting historic note is that The Muppets, after Jim Henson Productions were acquired by Disney, did their own Treasure Island, which I just recently saw as well. It’s true to form for the Muppets down to the musical treatment, the involvement of Tim Curry and the casting choice among their stable of characters.

Disney has also put a sci-fi twist to the tale via the animation in Treasure Planet, which I need to see and is currently streaming on Netflix (US). However, currently the most well known Disney pirate property is the one one based on the ride that was, in part, inspired by this tale, The Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ve seen all those films and they go up and down quality-wise.

So here you have another Disney table-setter in more ways than one that is worth checking out for cinematic purposes as well such as the production design and cinematography.

BAM Awards: Best Actor Winners

Once again I am sticking to the “Live Era,” here (meaning I made my choices at year’s end). This is the third such article I’ve posted chronicling my choices in my personal awards (here are links to Best Actress and Best Picture).

2018 Kodi Smit-McPhee Alpha 

2017 James McAvoy Split

2016 Leonardo DiCaprio The Revenant

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2015 David Gulpilil Charlie’s Country

Charlie'sCountry (2013, Entertainment One Films)

2014 Brendan Gleeson Calvary

Calvary (2014, Fox Searchlight)

2013 Johan Heldenbergh The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, Tribeca Film)

2012 Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln

Lincoln (2012, DreamWorks)

2011 Michael Shannon Take Shelter

2010 Bill Nighy Wild Target

2009 Colin Firth A Single Man

2008 Sean Penn Milk

2007 Leonardo DiCaprio The Departed

The Departed (2006, Warner Bros.)

2006 Nicholas Hoult Wah-Wah

2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman Capote

2004 Jim Caviezel The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ (2004, Newmarkey Releasing)

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2002 Christian Bale Equilibrium

Equilibrium (2002, Dimension Films)

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Kevin Spacey Pay it Forward

1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense

1998 Jack Nicholson As Good as it Gets

1997 Billy Bob Thornton Sling Blade

1996 Nick Nolte Mulholland Falls
Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

BAM Award Winners: Best Director

So both here and in Best Cast there was some revisionism over the years, however, rather than try and readjust things I’ll just let things stand where they are at current.

The Best Director category is an interesting one because it is usually, in the mind of many, inextricably tied to the Best Picture winner. There is a certain logic to that, however, they are two rather different awards when you boil it down. In Best Picture you pick the story and the production. In Best Director you are picking a visionary and the architect of a production. There are times when the direction of a film will outshine its narrative or overall impact or a story that is wonderful but handled with a rather invisible hand that allows splits to occur.

I have three such splits in 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2012 none of which I was hesitant at all about.

2018 Bo Burnham Eighth Grade

2017 Andy Muschietti It 

2016 Gareth Edwards Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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2015 George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Tom-Hardy-George-Miller

2014 Daniel Ribeiro The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks (2014, Strand Releasing)

2013 Gavin Hood Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (2013, Summit)

2012 Bela Tarr The Turin Horse

Bela Tarr

2011 Martin Scorsese Hugo

2010 Christopher Nolan Inception

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2009 Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

2008 Tomas Alfredson Let the Right One In

Thomas Alfredson

2007 Timur Bekmambetov Day Watch (Dnevoy bazar)

Timur Bekmambetov

2006 Richard E. Grant Wah-Wah

2005 Ingmar Bergman Saraband

Ingmar Bergman on the set of Saraband (Sony Pictures Classics)

2004 Jacob Aaron Estes Mean Creek

Jacob Aaron Estes

2003 PJ Hogan Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 George Lucas Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

George Lucas (2002, Lucasfilm)

2001 Steven Spielberg Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks)

2000 Julie Taymor Titus

JULIE TAYMOR PRESENTS BOOK OF HER FILM 'TITUS'

1999 M. Night Shyamalan The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Sixth Sense (Hollywood Pictures)

1998 Steven Spielberg Saving Private Ryan

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1997 Neil Mandt Hijacking Hollywood

1996 Lee Tamahori Mulholland Falls

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part One

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts.

Archery

The very first sport alphabetically is one that will illustrate to you rather quickly that there are two ways you can see a sport portrayed in a film: direct (e.g. sports movies) or indirect (wherein the sport is a component of the film but not the focus). Archery is an ancient practical discipline, which is rather visually appealing. Thus, it makes cameos in myriad ways: whether the super-human precision of Hawkeye in The Avengers or the cold brutality of Kevin, as in the one who needs talking about.

Films about the sport itself are harder to come by but with all the Robin Hoods there should be something that tickles your fancy.

My official pick will by Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, though of course Disney/Pixar’s Brave also features a prominent competition, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is quite skilled too.

Athletics

Another permutation of the sports movie you get is that of the biopic. This seems to be a particular purview of Athletics, specifically track and field events. Clearly, Chariots of Fire is the first title that comes to mind. Then there are the lesser known but still worth looking out for like Prefontaine and Saint Ralph.

Badminton

Here is the first of the challenging sports on this list. In looking into it I was reminded that badminton, like so many other things, has been included on The Simpsons. In film terms, I learned of two features that involve it, one I’d be interested in seeing and one not so much. The first is National Lampoon’s Golddigger, a newer and prior to this unknown to me installment of the series, and then an Indonesian biopic about Liem Swei King simply called King, which is clearly more appealing for the purist.

Basketball

Basketball is one of the sports that has most frequently made for popular or entertaining films. Now, the two that jump immediately to mind are Hoosiers and Blue Chips. Having said that, since there are so many basketball titles, such that you can specifically cite the Olympics in some; I’d choose HBO’s documentary :03 from Gold about the ’72 Gold Medal Game between the US and USSR.

Beach Volleyball

It was incredibly difficult to parse beach volleyball films from traditional volleyball ones. Beach ones are clearly more popular, but rather than being crass and to respect the differences between the two disciplines, they will each get their own films. The beach volleyball choice is Side Out, which I do believe I’ve actually seen Side Out (so help me God).

Boxing

Boxing is the sport where I’m sure you’ll find the most movies to choose from. Of course, a movie about Olympic boxing is disqualified since the scoring system instantly introduces plot holes and confusion, but you can pick among the classics here Rocky, Raging Bull or whatever your preference may be you’re spoiled for choice with this sport.

Canoeing


Any of the paddle sports will be rarely found on screen and usually as a background element. In the Social Network the Winklevoss twins were part of a crew legacy, which could qualify that as a rowing movie.

With regards to the canoeing/kayaking end of the spectrum that’s where you get to fudging it a little. The first thing that came to mind was White Water Summer, that was immediately followed by more Kevin Bacon in The River Wild, which is a rafting film but less all around odd and not at all ’80s. You could also turn to A River Runs Through It.

With regards to paddle sports it all depends on how ensconced you want to be. If you want just a hint of it you can certainly fudge a movie in in easily.

Cycling

With many of these films I’m discovering them and wanting to find them at some point, with some they are oddities that I have seen and want to recommend. When it came to cycling I’ve seen two of the bigger cycling movies Breaking Away and American Flyers thanks to a family member who is obsessed with the sport.

They have their moments but have also bred some inside jokes based on the fact that it’s a “shown movie,” as in a “You should see this” kind of thing. However, in fairness, they seem to be the go to choices for enthusiasts.

One of those sports that pops up at the Olympics that grabs my interest are the track cycling events, which are more intriguing to me that the other disciplines. The Flying Scotsman seems to be a popular choice for that particular modality.

Diving

Diving, whether it be platform or springboard, is usually an affectation wherein we witness the externalization of a protagonist’s fear and his overcoming it, and rarely the focus of a film.

Perhaps the most notable examples are Greg Louganis: Breaking the Surface, and now with the games in London, Tom Daley four years on from a debut at the age of 14, wherein he finished 7th and 8th in his two events; has a BBC documentary about him to his credit along with being a serious medal threat.

Equestrian

I’m not going to say I’m a horse whisperer or even any kind of an expert, but what invariably ends up bugging me in some horse movies is the whole nature of them participating in a sport. A notable example being The Black Stallion. The beginning, say the first 40 minutes is a gem, a perfect replica of a silent film. Then the horse becomes a racehorse and it’s kind of trite from there. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the handling of Secretariat, it makes it seem like the horse is more willful than his jockey.

When it comes to equestrian disciplines that’s less of a concern because I believe that typically it’s the rider facing more danger and if the horse doesn’t want to jump, he won’t jump; or whatever maneuver is intended. That and watching these maneuvers is rather hypnotic at times.

A recent film I saw that dealt well with equestrian if nothing else was Harley’s Hill. In reading a similar list I was enlightened towards International Velvet. If you can’t drop your reservations about equine sports, and are a member of the Disney Movie Club, you can look up The Littlest Outlaw wherein a boy frees a showhorse.

Fencing

Fencing is another sport wherein you can shoehorn many a film into your viewing to suit your taste. Any Zorro, Three Musketeers, Peter Pan will feature fencing-like swashbuckling. You can take your pick from those oft told tales or you can be a little more literal with something like By the Sword, a 1991 film featuring Mia Sara, Eric Roberts and F. Murray Abraham. Or perhaps The Fencing Master, there was one in 1915 and 1992, I suspect the latter would be easier to find.

However, if you want to get creative I suggest Theatre of Blood. Not only does Vincent Price play a crazed, thought-to-be-dead Shakespearean actor seeking vengeance on a critics circle but he recites the Bard as he kills and once such scene is a fencing duel!

That’s all for now. Suggestions are more than welcome, and tomorrow’s films start with those about or involving football (aka soccer).

That Movie Sucked: Trailers That Give Too Much Away

I had a recent Twitter conversation with Larry Richman, after he had attended an advance screening of Someone Like Us, and he had some interesting thoughts on the film. I told him I was glad to hear some of them after having seen the trailer. When he watched the trailer he confirmed what I feared: The trailer essentially gives away the entire movie.

I am doing my best to forget the details of said trailer before seeing it and won’t link to it here, but it does raise the point about why trailers feel the need to be so spoiler-laden. Now, there are certain realities I know and acknowledge, such as: I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong) it’s mainly the marketing department (in a studio) in collaboration with the producers who select highlight type moments, good footage and shop them out to companies who specialize in cutting trailers together. They usually get two or three different versions and choose one. Essentially, it’s a sub-contractor relationship. However, this outsourcing of the job isn’t the only reason that over-sharing in trailers occurs, if you ask me. The first part is that some involved with the film select segments to supply the bidders. So the selection has to be a bit more guarded.

What is going to compel me to see a movie is not necessarily knowing the synopsis, not that synopses are innocent of giving away too much (far too often on the back of a film you are told not just the first act break but the second also). What will compel me is getting a sense of the tone of the film with some compelling images that make me wonder “What’s that about? I have to see that!”

Some notable examples of this for upcoming films are:

Les Miserables (Teaser)

The Road (2012)

Even way back when in the Golden Age and before when audiences were not as sophisticated in certain respects as they are now, trailers disseminated information through voice-over and text but not too much of the story was seen and heard through actual footage:

1930s

Dracula (1931)

When I went to YouTube I just typed in the very generic search of “1930s Trailer” and sure enough I got more or less what I expected. A presentational pitch with hyperbolic text, grandiose announcements and key images that intimate what the film is but give very little real information. A lot of times with older films you were allowed to see a piece (sometimes a large piece) of a scene play out but you had little context by which to understand it. It was all just supposed to be enticing.

1940s

Casablanca (1942)

Approximately a decade later the formula was still pretty much the same. The hard thing is watching trailers for films you’ve seen already, for some the edit seem to be giving away a lot of the story because you know it, but it’s really not. Think of the moments in Casablanca that became iconic and none of them are here the farewell, “Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship…”, “…shocked to find that there’s gambling going on in this establishment”, “As Time Goes By,” etc. Yes, this trailer is selling the adventure and danger much more than it is the romance but it’s not shying away from it either. The ethos is still similar in these two examples compelling images, backdrop, genre, stars but not the whole film.

1950s

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

My favorite professor in film school, Max Simkovitch, was not only great at planning double and triple features but also at screening clips and trailers. Therefore, even if something didn’t quite make it on the syllabus, we were made aware of it and tempted to see it. His horror/Sci-Fi class was where I first got a glimpse of Suspiria and then I had to track it down. We also watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers there and while I can’t argue that this is a brilliant trailer, it is fragmentary enough in the ethos of its time to succeed. There is the frame of panicked reaction. First, you assume insanity then as images compound you think there’s more to it. The best part is the impact of the film is far greater than the trailer and the trailer doesn’t show it all, or intimate it all either. The bad part is that it doesn’t show you just how very good this movie is.

1960s

Psycho (1960)

Now, I will grant you that there are many things that allow this trailer to be as unique as it is. Firstly, you’re dealing with Alfred Hitchcock one of the greatest directors to ever walk the face of the Earth. However, he was also by this point a TV personality too. So his pitching his own film in an extended trailer is not so odd. However, what’s really brilliant about this Psycho trailer is how it seems to be telling you everything but there is so much misdirection and trickery afoot.

1970s

The Exorcist (1973)

Now, this is absolutely brilliant. There is next to now visual information revealed. There is one high contrast shot of Regan, no clear indication of what many of the shots mean and you don’t see the face of the exorcist. That creates the reaction you want. It gives you the emotional tenor of the film and compels you to want to see it. The voice-over works in conjunction with the images and scenes as opposed to presenting them. This is a clear indicator of the evolution of movie trailers. However, this sophisticated near artistry will in the course of the next forty years of film history will lose its restraint and start to give away too much information.

1980s

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Granted here’s another case where you’ve got a lot going for you as you set about creating a trailer: this is the follow-up to the most successful box-office smash of all-time as of this trailer’s debut, you have John Williams’ score and incredible visuals. Yet the temptation could exist to overplay your hand but it’s laid back. You have an exciting kinetic montage, with no information of any kind divulged really and the voice-over only comes in at the very end for one line. Perfect.

1990s

Jurassic Park (1993)

I tried to get a Spielberg film on for the 80s, I couldn’t because I thought of E.T. but the trailer I found had an incessant narrator who wanted to delineate every emotional beat in the whole film. With this short, if not brilliant Jurassic Park trailer, I think I re-affirm my point. Spielberg’s images are always strong. Here the story does a lot of the selling anyway, so just briefly touch upon what the chaos in the park is and make it a short, quick sell.

2000s

Peter Pan (2003)

For quite a bit of time I thought of Peter Pan as a standard-bearer of shorts. It had been some time since I had seen the trailer but I remembered how it had set the expectations very high for me, and then I saw the film it lived up to or exceeded practically every one of them. However, it also is a great illustration of how treacherous a game the cutting of trailers is. For above, what you have is the second version of the trailer. Multiple versions of trailers existing is nothing new, but what struck me as most interesting is that the minutest of changes could have such a drastic impact. When I found the #2 trailer I knew pretty quickly it was the one I liked for it seemed a more fragmentary and tonal presentation of this vision of the story whereas the #1 (below) felt a lot like a demonstration “Here’s this part of Neverland and this part and that part.”

The Present

As for the newer crop the trailer fo Dark Shadows is bad, but does contain a similar tonal dissonance to the actual end product. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent trailer.

Dark Shadows (2012)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

A recently compelling one, that convinced not only me, but many people to see the bad movie being hocked, was that of The Devil Inside.

It’s widely acknowledged that the marketing job done by Paramount to make this film a financial success while thudding with critics and audiences alike is astoundingly good. Another recent Paramount win was the viral marketing effort, the introduction of the “Demand It” concept prior to the release of the first Paranormal Activity film. However, regardless of whether you liked the film or not, the trailer is practically all the highlights of the film. Watch below…

Now, I will readily admit that I, as someone who frequents multiplexes and art houses alike and have a tendency to be quite early, such that I watch not only the trailer but the pre-show, will view these more times over than the average spectator. However, the success of the studios, the box-office both domestically and globally relies on everyone, and trailers are one of the best methods to repeat your business. You have a captive audience, a packed auditorium for the latest tentpole, all the big movies want to advertise in front of it. Whereas sometimes commercials work better because they can give less away, a trailer gives you anywhere from 90 to around 150 seconds to give your best pitch. So please try and tantalize not bore.

When a short film of mine Suffer the Little Children got into Shockerfest, we were afforded the opportunity to buy commercial time on local cable airwaves to advertise our screening. With only 30 seconds and my proclivity to tease rather than over inform, this is what I decided to do:

Here you’ve seen quite a few of the major plot points in the story, however, without knowing the Stephen King short story upon which the film is based you don’t necessarily know the context or the significance of the events. The shots come at you quickly, with juxtapositions that are apropos of nothing and little dialogue is heard. You are given the tone of the piece and some allusions as to what it’s about but you are not told everything. That’s as it should be I feel, even given more time to play around.

Far too often, after seeing a trailer, I will snidely say to myself “That movie sucked.” Now, of course, I’ve learned that the trailer is never a good indicator of what the film is. However, while I do want to be compelled to see the film by the trailer I don’t want to feel like I watched the movie. I felt John Carter, despite other marketing missteps at least attempted to compel with images first and not giveaway all the plot intricacies therein. The removal of the qualifier ‘of Mars’ from the title, the reticence to be upfront about the literary pedigree of the tale right off the bat likely had more to do with its failing, than a trailer that didn’t spoon-feed absolutely everything.

I think above there are plenty of examples of how to do it and how not to do it, and I hope that we get more good than bad in the future. However, in the meantime caveat emptor, buyer beware is definitely a motto to live by. Most recently I heard warnings to stay away from the trailer for Sinister. He is correct. The movie does look very good but there is much information in the trailers. So happy viewing but try and avoid spoilery trailers.

10 Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy: 8. It Won’t Change a Thing

Jeremy Sumpter and Rachel Hurd-Wood in Peter Pan (Universal)

This series of articles is designed to help you, the fan, try and divorce yourself from your attachment to source material and judge a film on its own merits and not in comparison to another work. These tips come from my own experience. I hope they are helpful.

The problem I think a lot of people have, and it’s a nasty trap that I’ve seen ensnare many, is that people seem to think that films are somehow definitive; as if that’s the final word on the work and that’s how it will be remembered for all eternity. While it’s true in a theoretical sense that film may be the most concrete and immutable art it by no means claims to be the coda, furthermore the verdict on the worth of a given piece of narrative.

Your favorite book or comic is being adapted into a film and you are pissed? Why bother? What for? I’ll explain why and this even works for remakes to an extent. It still doesn’t change an iota of the written piece that you love so dearly. If you disliked the mini-series based on Stephen King’s It the words in your copy won’t smear.

That’s an extremely hyperbolic example but surely you catch my drift. It’s all about perception and those can change as much as anything. So while it will be next to impossible for the film adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye to match the book in terms of acclaim I won’t deny it’d be interesting to see.

Not only is it waste of your ire to rail against an adaptation of something you love, it also is to an extent pointless, that piece you hold so dear is still there.

I’ve seen The Little Prince butchered on film. It’s still one of my favorite books and I can always turn to it and know that the story will turn out in my head just the way I see it. Just the way I interpret Exupéry’s words.

And that’s another thing: every adaptation is just an interpretation of a director’s vision regardless of how involved a studio is. It is by no means definitive, lest you agree, it’s just a variation on a theme. I personally think P.J. Hogan perfected Peter Pan and Spike Jonze got Where The Wild Things Are, others may disagree.

We all have baggage; it’s best to check yours before entering the auditorium lest it weigh you down.