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Friday, July 30, 2010

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Moments in Science Fiction and Fantasy Film in the 90s

Many months ago I posted a list of the top 8 most ridiculous moments in science fiction and fantasy film in the 21st century. It turned out to be the most popular post in the history of this blog, to my surprise, and inspired me to pursue further the plan I had already set up in my mind. What was that plan? To go backwards through time, decade by decade, picking out the most ridiculous moments in science fiction and fantasy film for each of those decades, as far back as I can reasonably go. So, here we are, with another list (slightly larger, of course) set one decade earlier than the last, and likely just as controversial.

Note: the fact that two Dennis Hopper's movies appear on this list is not a coincidence.

Here goes (after the fold):
10. The Midichlorians -- Star Wars, Episode One: The Phantom Menace
If the original movies never existed, I wouldn't have a problem with Midichlorians. They're not a terribly stupid concept by themselves, but when your entire fanbase is familiar with the more mystical and magical world you created twenty years before, you can't really expect them to take a half-assed scientific attempt to explain the Force seriously. The Force is the result of little alien microbes in all living things? Well, fantastic. Sounds like a disease to me, the side effects of which include turning the occasional man or woman into a raging genocidal lunatic. Wonderful. Where's my shot of antibiotics?

9. Matthew Broderick -- Godzilla
When I first saw the American reboot of Godzilla, I have to admit that I was quite pleased. You've got to give me a break, though; I was 14, naive, and clearly without taste. That said, the one thing that completely destroyed the Godzilla movie wasn't the story, per se, but the casting, and none more obvious that Broderick. Don't get me wrong, I love Broderick. He has acting chops outside of the comedy genre, but taking the role of Dr. Tatopoulos was a horrible idea (and the folks that cast him should have known better). He's not the only problem; the whole film is dragged down by its cast, despite the fact that, visually, the damned thing is gorgeous. And if you don't believe me, ask yourself this: was Godzilla (1998) supposed to be a serious movie with a handful of cute lines, or a comedic farce meant to toy with a series of Japanese movies that only look funny to us today because they are absolutely ridiculous by modern standards?

8. Why So Serious? -- Super Mario Bros. (the Movie)
Trying to list all the things that were wrong with this movie would take days, but probably the most important for fans and film people is the tone. The makers of the film took a mostly cute, mostly silly video game and tried to turn it into some sort of bizarre not-quite-futuristic dystopian cheese-fest stocked with a Dennis Hopper playing an evolved dinosaur with a really bizarre hairdo, mindless slightly-alien goons serving a megalomaniacal government, strange cars that run on some sort of alternate power source, rocket boots, bad music, and bad acting. The problem is that fans were left wondering why the film was so dark, particularly since it's based on a video game that is, by all accounts, practically G-rated by 1950s standards.

7. Vanilla "Go Ninja" Ice -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze
Okay, so apparently someone in the early 90s thought it would be a good idea to get Vanilla Ice to write a song for the second TMNT movie. Instead of having the resulting tune play over the end credits, the filmmakers decided to have Ice put on a mock concert, part of which consisted of a mock "improvisation" of "Go Ninja." You know, because everyone buys a perfectly improvised, perfectly choreographed "live" rendition from the guy whose only major hit contains the lyrics "Cut like a razor blade so fast other DJs say damn / If my rhyme was a drug I'd sell it by the gram." Right...

6. Alien 3 (the entire movie) -- Alien 3
We've heard the story before. What started as an attempt to tell a two-parter involving Hicks devolved into a ridiculous festival of deus ex machina in the form of killing off characters to avoid having to actually tell their stories. The worst part of all of this is that, looking back and knowing what could have been, we are left with a film that feels like a less-terrifying remake of the original Alien, without all of the emotional and societal depth, action, and visual effects established with Alien and amplified ten-fold in Aliens. When James Cameron tells you that killing off a whole bunch of important characters at the start of a film is "a slap in the face," maybe you should listen...

(Of course, it gets worse. Since Alien 3 is technically "canon," its lazy story affected the films that followed it, which were, to say the least, not nearly up to the standard of the first two Alien movies.)

5. Waterworld -- Waterworld
When I first saw this movie I was naive and enjoyed it. Looking back, I think I might have been on crack, because I now have no idea how it didn't earn a Razzie for worst picture in 1996. There are too many things wrong with this movie. Costner drinks filtered pee and has gills, the Earth is somehow covered almost entirely with water (never mind that such a thing isn't technically possible, unless all the landmasses magically sink), a little girl has a map or whatever tattooed to her body, and Dennis Hopper runs an aquatic version of a Mad Max biker gang. It sounds remotely interesting when you put it like that, but then you see the movie and realize that someone was smoking something crazy when they picked the cast...

4. Deep Space Nine (Season One) -- Deep Space Nine
Yes, I know that the later seasons of this show got physical, but I couldn't get through the first season, let along the first couple of episodes. Why? Because I failed to see the point of the entire ordeal. Why would I want to watch a drama set on a space station with a slimy bartender, some guy who talks funny, and a bunch of other less-than-interesting characters? It's almost as if the filmmakers asked themselves "how can we make this really lame and really freaking boring?" My problem with Deep Space Nine is that the show took itself so damned seriously from the start, but with too few dramatic plot points to make that worthwhile. Nothing interesting actually happens. Millions of dollars wasted on what amounts to an absurdly long conversation between an alien bartender and his alien customers. The whole thing felt like it should have been a comedy a la Red Dwarf or Doctor Who. At least then I might have ignored the lackluster plot and the relatively boring scenarios. To think someone actually spent money on this...

(If only my mind had done this to the dialogue when I first watched DS9. Then I might have enjoyed it...)
3. The Death of the Professor -- Sliders
You may or may not know this, but John Rhys-Davies' character, Professor Arturo, wasn't killed for a good reason. In fact, the character's death has pretty much been confirmed as a personal vendetta against the actor's criticism of the quality of the storytelling in the second season (which, by the way, Davies was right about--this coming from a huge fan of the series). Now, to be fair to the folks who fired Davies, the man was a bit of a jerk, sometimes for good reason, and sometimes not. That said, the fact that they conspired to have his character killed just to get him off the show (he had a full season contract) is pretty much the moment all of us remember as the official "fall from grace" for Sliders. Why? Because Arturo (arrogant, but cautious and collected) was the logical scientific counter to Quinn (young, brash, and somewhat naive). To put it bluntly: removing Arturo destroyed the cohesion of the group, and no amount of alternates could ever fix that. Everything went downhill fast, not just for the quality of the writing, but also for the cast too...and it shows. Killing the professor is almost like killing Han Solo, and if Harrison Ford had had his way, we'd all live in a crazy dystopian future run by zombie apes, which sounds cool when you read it, but probably isn't so great when you actually have to live there...

2. Bat Nipples -- Batman and Robin
One question: why? Seriously. Why? Do Batman's bat nipples make him more aerodynamic? Do they pop out like the femme bots from Austin Powers and shoot bullets? Does a long thread of spider-like silk shoot out of them, thus providing Batman with a powerful string by which to tie people up or swing from buildings? I want to know the logic behind this, because I don't think we've ever received an explanation. And I bet I'm not the only one who wants to know.

1. Shaquille O'Neal -- Kazaam, Steel, and so on...
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I will save you the trouble of discovering just how awful Shaquille O'Neal was in the 1990s by way of actually watching them by providing you with these detailed and hilarious critiques of one of the worst films ever made--Kazaam.

I rest my case.


And there you have it. Feel free to leave your hateful comments below.

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  1. Was Mario serious? I don't really think it was. I always saw it as rather ridiculous, and I enjoyed that. Maybe I have an overdeveloped appreciation for camp though.

    Waterworld was trash, but it was pretty enjoyable when I watched it. I'll probably get slammed for this, but it was no worse than Avatar. That, too, was a long, drawn-out, hammy epic with stupid plot holes and archetypal characters. I enjoy watching it the same way I enjoy watching Ultraviolet.

    Alien 3 I actually think is a flawed masterpiece (and Alien: Resurrection too, although less so). I think saying Alien and Aliens are the best two films is too easy. They were the most commercially successful and 'easier' films to appreciate in terms of how they fulfil narrative and genre expectations, but that means nothing. There was nothing deep about the first two films. They engaged with interesting themes, were shot beautifully and created a dialogue in science fiction and movie-making, but they're just science fiction films. And this is coming from the biggest Alien fan in the world, who's obsessed over every facet of the movies.

    If Fox hadn't decided to make Ripley female, we wouldn't still be talking about the narrative in the same way. And obviously, without the psychosexual artwork of Giger we wouldn't still be talking about the visuals of the film. It was basically a B-movie with a bigger budget. There are plenty more movies with similar ideas and stories.

    Alien 3 was important for a number of reasons. Aliens was too neat an ending. Why should Ripley settle down with her new nuclear family and never have to fight monsters again? In terms of ideology, Cameron took us a step back. The whole premise of Aliens is that mothers should be good mothers, and they're only permitted to be violent and empowered when it's in the line of motherly duty. Alien was important because, other than the knickers scene at the end, Ripley could have been a man. And of course the character was originally written without gender in mind, and Tom Skerritt was originally pencilled in to play the character. The point it made was: gender is entirely irrelevant. (Of course, I'm simplifying a little, since the final idea to cast a woman as Ripley was partly due to aping the 'last girl' tradition of the slasher genre, of which this film arguably belongs)

    (continued . . .)

  2. Alien 3 makes her an individual again. Having lost everything, she can either give up or prove yet again that she's stronger than women in SF should be, and just get on with things. She's been there, done that, and really doesn't have time to put up with people being scared. She's the bravest character in the film.

    There's a beautiful aesthetic to the movie, and it was right to focus on Ripley's continued development. The Alien saga is *her* story. That's why AvP is such a pile of wank (excuse my French).

    There are plotholes that come from too many changes in writer, but if you understand what scenes were removed by the studio (not the director), it all makes much more sense. And Fincher and co couldn't just rehash Aliens. They needed to take the series in an entirely new direction.

    The Joan of Arc/saintly/martyr motifs are strong, and genuinely enrich the experience for me. Alien 3 is a much more spiritual, moving film. It's about what we're willing to sacrifice, which brings us back to the core themes of Aliens but ends on a more empowering note. In Aliens she is punished for sacrificing motherhood for a career, so must redeem herself; in Alien 3 she sacrifices motherhood, her career and finally her life to do what she wants to do, what she has to do, and what she believes in (and more importantly, to show men they don't own her body, her reroductivity or her mind).

    This is why I also like Alien: Resurrection (in spite of Joss Whedon's diabolical, Buffy-in-Space script). In it, Ripley is the transhuman. She is neither human nor alien, but both. Her life and experiences are too entwined in both species' stories to not recognise both as integral to who she is. Furthermore, this time she's been there, done that and got the T-shirt, but now she really doesn't care. This is the reflective Ripley who can look back on the militancy of her youth and be a 'fuck you' to heteronormative phallogocentric hegemonies by simply being herself. She undermines those who try to control her, because she crosses borders, troubles easy definitions and has more complex allegiances than simple black and white (I'd argue she doesn't chose humanity at the end, she chooses herself, and her 'other' analogue: Call).

    But I digress . . . x

  3. Adam: For some odd reason I got about 15 copies of these two comments of yours. I'm not sure if you're doing that intentionally. I have comment moderation on, so all comments have to be approved (almost all are, but I got sick of the spam...).

    Anywho, to your comment.

    I find it somewhat intriguing that you argue that Alien proved that gender doesn't matter, and yet go on to point to a number of gendered interpretations of the films.

    Also, I take issue with your point about Ripley's motherhood. Every film until the fourth portrays Ripley as fundamentally motherly, in a basic sense. The difference, I think, is that Alien 3 does not give Ripley a representative conduit through which to channel that energy (in Alien there is the cat; in Aliens there is Newt; in Alien 3, her motherly instincts are transferred to people we largely don't identify as figures who typically receive that attention, and, in this case, the motherly instincts are reduce to implicit form, rather than explicit form). All the representative conduits for her motherhood are gone in Alien 3. She sacrifices none of that to achieve death. You could even argue that the ending is a channeling of her motherly instincts towards a larger entity: humanity.

    I also don't agree with your assessment of Alien 4, simply because much of her "fuck you" instincts are not driven by the militancy of her past, but by the repetition of familiar corporate/militaristic themes, which she recognizes and understandably condemns. She's seen everything that happens in Alien 4 before; she's seen the actions, the excuses, and so on; and she knows what is going to happen.

    But you could also argue that there's a lovely splicing of alien DNA in her, which might contribute to her general animosity towards...everyone.


  4. Argh! Blogger went nuts on me. Apologies about that :)

    Re: Alien 3. I don't think she was particularly motherly in that film. My point was, reducing Ripley to being a mother is not a challenge to traditional gender representations. It is confirming them.

    I do not agree Ripley was particularly motherly in Alien, either. The cat, for me, has a different significance. In the traditional fairytale narrative, the hero rescues the 'princess' which is his reward for doing good. In Alien, the cat takes the role of the princess/reward, so casts Ripley as a traditional hero. The alternative would've been for her to rescue a male (which might've emasculated the male-dominated audience) or to rescue a woman (which hints at lesbianism). Having her rescuing the cat is a neat, if conservative, cop-out. And while it does speak to her as a mother figure, that's not the focus of the film.

    Alien was written (and you can see this in the original script) with all characters being of interchangeable gender. The readings that arose because of gender were inevitable: but my point is that gender wasn't a defining trope in the creation of the film, and was something that came in later on.

    In contrast, Aliens is all about Ripley being a mother in conflict with another (bad/communist) mother: the alien queen. Cameron is obsessed with this trope (cf: Terminator, with Sarah Connor's motherhood being fetishised and preferred over the inhuman/communist 'motherhood' of Skynet).

    In Alien 3, Ripley starts off as a mother, but quickly has to move on. When she shaves her head, she becomes symbolically like her companions. She doesn't care that much about any of them. Her main adversary in the film is actually the Company. She fights the alien to beat the Company. But I would argue, as a gendered figure, she is more queer than female in Alien 3, and thus her main focus is not as a mother.

    She explicitly refuses the option of becoming a 'normal mother' at the end, when Bishop II offers to 'save' her.

    In Alien: Resurrection, I never said she was driven by her past militancy. Rather, she is able to comprehend it and no longer cares. But we as an audience make the connection between the former Ripley and the new one, and see that, over the course of the films, Ripley as a symbol has reached a point of 'couldn't-care-less'-ness. She realises who she once was is not who she now is, and that it would be pointless to continue to be that old person, because it's a battle that is largely futile and irrelevant to her. She is neither human nor alien, so she doesn't need to take sides. So I'm actually agreeing with you on that front. x

  5. Adam: I fail to see how her clear desire to protect and love her cat can't be see as explicitly parental (I think getting away from the "motherly" terminology would be a good idea for this discussion, especially since you've brought up the desired neutrality of gender in the making of Alien, which would mean that if Ripley were a man, we would then probably discuss "him" in terms of fatherhood...different, absolutely, but similar drives exist in both fatherhood and motherhood, so we should get rid of the terminology altogether for this and instead refer to parental instinct. The only thing I think is relevant to the motherhood argument for Ripley is when it is actually tied into reproduction, which is to say that Alien 3 could be read within the realm of motherhood, and I suppose you could say the same for Alien 4, but that parental instinct does seem to be primary in Alien 3, though less obviously so than in the first two movies).

    As for her supposed parental-ness in Alien 3, I think it really depends on how you perceive her actions. I take her desire to thwart the Company as tied up in the same reasons she attempted to thwart them in Aliens. The Company does not have the best interests of mankind in mind, and she knows and understands the danger these creatures present to all of humanity (something that does appear in Alien 4 at the end, when she recognizes that the alien hybrid between her and the Queen represents a threat to Earth (an immediate threat, too)). She is, in effect, acting as ultimate protector. She is intimately aware of what the Company wants from her. She's not stupid. They want that alien because of its value to the Company for, we assume, militaristic purposes (although, it is odd that we see very little of the actual need for the level of military they seem to want; what exactly is the Company or humanity so afraid of?). I don't think that refusing to become a "normal mother" removes her from the parental association with Earth or humanity.

    But, getting back to Alien: her parental instincts are very clear in regards to the cat. Yes, she does fulfill a semi-traditional heroic role, but I don't see why she can't also be parental and heroic at the same time. There are plenty of movies/books/stories of parents rising up to fulfill that heroic role, perhaps driven in part by the reality of their parenthood, though certainly also driven by other instincts (as we all are; fear, I think, is a prime example).

    But I agree that her rescuing of the cat isn't the focus of Alien, whereas her rescue of Newt very much is in Aliens. You could probably argue that Aliens is, for Ripley, an issue of loss, because we learn that she's been gone for 60 years or some such, and that her actual child is now dead. Newt represents, perhaps, the last image of her child.

    Now I feel like I'm rambling, so I will stop.

  6. And now Blogger is doing it to me. No idea why it's having a fit...

  7. Okay, I agree the term 'parental' needs to be separated from 'motherly'. One is inherently gendered, and suggests biological as well as social function. The other is perhaps more social (we have non-biological parents and guardians in our culture, for example, or parents can mean two male or two female figures, or more complex iterations of gender).

    I can completely agree that her role as 'protector' might be seen as parental, but it's only Aliens where her primary drive is motherhood. I also think a protector might be different to a parent, and that we may read a protector archetype as parental perhaps because of gender bias (i.e., Ripley is a woman, so when she behaves like a protector we assume she is being motherly, and thus parental). But again, I agree a parent isn't always a mother. I just wonder if we would see a male protector (Neo in The Matrix, for example) as a parent, or more explicitly a father, in the same way (or as quickly/recognisably) as Ripley is clearly cast as a parent, or mother.

    There is an argument to say that Neo is a father figure in a very abstract religious context (if we believe Jesus *is* God and not merely His Son), but mainly he's an archetype of the saviour/messiah, who is more a leader/shepherd and the 'Son' of a 'Father'.

    But I think we're going very off-topic now ;)

    Great post! x

  8. P.S., I'm not sure either. It doesn't want to follow through when you click 'Post', and is going a bit bonkers. Luckily, you can clear it up in the moderation bit. x

  9. Adam: Oh, I agree that at times she is inherently "motherly." I just wanted to make it so we weren't reducing all of her actions to that term, simply because only some of the things she does are inherently motherly, while others are not so much that.

    I do think you raise an interesting question: do we focus on Ripley's motherhood because we identify more with motherly parenthood, or is it possible we would respond similarly to a male figure acting parentally? I don't know. I suspect from a critical perspective, yes, but most people who go to the movies are not critics, or think critically about what they are watching. Most people go to the movies to be entertained.

    And I don't care if we go off topic. It's an interesting discussion :P

  10. Star Wars Ep 1 lost me with the opening credits, I felt like I was watching a feeder for MSNBC. And then George Lucas blithely decides to introduce slavery into the story. Slavery? In the Old Republic? WTF?

    Think about it: since the Republic is a galactic level government, we're talking about millions if not billions of sentients living in slavery. And everybody, including the Jedi (the good guys) are OK with it? On this alone, the Republic deserves to fall.

    Don't get me started about the clones.

  11. seekerpat: How exactly are all the sentient beings living in slavery under the Republic? It's galactic government in which representatives of most every planet are present and have an equal vote. It's just like the U.S. system, more or less, but slightly more simple.

  12. Waterworld came out in 1995, not 1996.

  13. Morley: I know. But it won a Razzie in 1996. That's what I said.

  14. How about giving me some credit next time? That Deep Space Nine parody video is rightfully mine and should be given the appropriate amount of credit.

  15. Joseph: Last I checked, my post doesn't say "I wrote this and it does not belong to someone else." In fact, the very act of embedding means I am giving you credit, as one could click to YouTube, see who loaded the video, etc. etc. etc.

    You got a bunch of views. Hard to complain with that on the table.