Saturday, May 29, 2010
GUILTY PLEASURE #1
We all have guilty pleasures. Some of us love foods that aren't good for us. Some of us love trashy novels.
In Following the Equator (1897) Mark Twain said, “Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” Some of us have guilty pleasures that we would never confess.
One of my guilty pleasures is a movie. A movie that's so bad, that it's good.
Most films star a few people whose names I recognize ---two, maybe three. I might think other names sound familiar. I've heard them before, but I can't picture the person in my head.
My husband has a theory that the number of big-name stars in a film is indirectly proportional to the quality of the film. If that is true, this film has to be the worst movie ever made because it stars:
Jack Nicholson Glenn Close Annette Bening Pierce Brosnan Danny DeVito Martin Short Michael J. Fox Rod Steiger Sarah Jessica Parker Tom Jones Jim Brown Lukas Haas Natalie Portman Sylvia Sydney Lisa Marie Jack Black Paul Winfield Joe Don Baker Christina Applegate Pam Grier Sarah Michelle Gellar
The first time I saw this film was at a gathering of Mensans. I was probably the only person in the room who was not a sci-fi geek. (I admit to being geeky ---and I'm even sort of proud of that ---but I'm not into sci-fi.) Throughout the entire film, the viewers constantly piped in with references to old sci-fi films. "Oh, that looks just like the scene from _______," they'd say, naming a lame sci-fi B-film from the 1950s or 60s. Of course, I was clueless. But they were so full of enthusiasm and laughter, that it was infectious.
Loosely based on an obscure 1960s Topps bubble-gum trading card series (some of which are pictured here) it is a Tim Burton film, so of course, it is bizarre. But it is also incredibly funny.
In 1996 when it came out, film critics almost universally panned it, but the movie has some great moments. First of all, it is a parody of so many sci-fi films that went before it. In addition, it makes great fun of pompous politicians, the military, science, the media, talk shows, alien abductions, new age religions, greed, power, Las Vegas, pop culture, and much more. Even Tom Jones tries to make fun of himself in this film, but of course it is impossible to parody what is already a parody. It was made for laughs and never meant to be serious about any of it.
More recent disaster sci-fi movies filled with all manner of special effects are often preachy and feature heroes who are smarter, faster, and stronger than anyone else. In this film the heroes are a tongue-tied teenager who works in a donut shop and his grandmother who loves listening to Slim Whitman music. The special effects appear to be rather low-tech ---on purpose ---meant to look more like the sci-fi films of past decades than the sleek effects of films like Independence Day, which came out at roughly the same time. And the cast, including many award-winning actors, hams it up. Their bad acting only adds to the charm.
Now, I can't say the film is without flaws. While everyone else is playing for laughs, Pam Grier's part is so serious that it seems out-of-place in this film. Danny DeVito's small role could have been eliminated. There was no point in having Jack Nicholson play two parts when another big-name could have taken one of them, but then, perhaps Nicholson demanded a certain amount of screen time and this was a way of giving it to him. And, occasionally, once we get the point, extended scenes could have been shortened or eliminated.
It seems that most people either love this film or hate it. I'm one of the ones who loves it. The film is silly, yes, but I enjoy silly sometimes.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm telling you that one of my guilty pleasures that I need to watch about once a year is "Mars Attacks!"