Curiously, all five share a common trait beyond their failure to please: All are based on previous media. Each one is either a sequel or a remake of an old film or television show. In each case, however, the past is not enhanced, but merely resurrected, zombie-like, in a pale imitation of its original life.
Calling these movies "turkeys" is not far off the mark. The birds are land-bound, and these flicks don't fly, either. And after a partaking of these visual feasts, you probably felt bloated and in desperate need of a nap.
We can, of course, give thanks that not all 1998 blockbusters deserve the axe. But the following five features certainly deserve the chopping block:
Batman & Robin. The failure of this fourth entry in the franchise might be the final nail in its coffin, and about time. The star of the series (since Keaton, at any rate) has been little more than a muscle suit with lips, making the actor inside irrelevant. And the "star" of each film has been the plethora of villains, possibly an attempt to make up in quantity what the characters lack in quality or depth. The handling of this franchise reminds me of Bill Gates' attitude toward DOS ("Dirty Operating System"): Don't bother to fix it at its roots, just keep piling new garbage on top of the old. Eventually, you end up with a product so unwieldy that it can't help but crash under the weight of its own complexity. Finally, a plea: if a fifth installment is inevitable, somebody please replace thoroughly inept director Joel Schumacher!
Blues Bros. 2000. The original was a masterpiece of manic anarchy: hilarious, fresh and exuberant. But for all the energy in this embarrassing sequel, they might as well have starred Belushi again. As-is. While a couple of the musical numbers echoed the energy of the original, a music video or two do not a feature film make -- and little else in this fumbling, lazy flick even made sense. No character development, no memorable lines, no originality, no logic, and -- the most unforgivable sin of all from the Blues Brothers -- no fun.
Godzilla. Size matters. Script matters more. What was awesome in Jurassic Park and boring in The Lost World: Jurassic Park was simply silly and old hat by the time this demigodzilla hit old Manhattan and attempted to make sauce of the Big Apple.
Lost In Space. OK, I admit it. I was captivated by the cool special effects. And Gary Oldman couldn't turn in a bad performance asleep. But ... Strike One: Why, among these outstanding SFX, did they feel the necessity to toss in that goo-goo-eyed alien chameleon monkey thing? Anyone remember the marionette Zoonie, a similar creature from another '60s kid's sci-fi program, Fireball XL-5? He was more realistic. Strike Two: The plot -- if there was one -- made no sense whatsoever. None. "Time bubbles"? Alien interbreeding? Sorry, but the science fiction audience is simply too sophisticated (from watching years of Star Trek: The Next Generation) to accept most of the technical gibberish as wowie-zowie new ideas; too educated (by the Back to the Future series, now nearly a decade old) to accept inconsistencies in the temporal paradoxes; and too suspicious of anything that places "family values" as the highest of human aspirations to obtain any serious enjoyment out of this ill-conceived flick.
And the worst turkey of the year? The single film that made the biggest botch of its source material? The most anticipated, least enjoyed blockbuster of the year? That honor has been reserved for...
The Avengers How did it stumble? Let me count the ways ... Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor. But he's not John Steed. Not here. Where's Steed's tongue-in-cheek, breezy insouciance? Not here; not in this mild-mannered, love-struck twit. Uma Thurman? As magnificent as she looked in that leather jump suit, every time she opened her mouth and pretended to have a British accent, I just wanted to slap her. She wasn't acting so much as play-acting: "Hyeah's me, acting veddy, veddy British." And why did it seem like a good idea to reverse Steed and Peel's "top professional/talented amateur" ranking? Or to thoroughly undermine the mysterious, platonic relationship that defined the original characters, that made them unique and intriguing? This was not a movie about any John Steed or Emma Peel I know, knew, or recall. It might have been a good idea for the writer of this travesty to have actually watched a few episodes of the original series from the '60s. As for Sean Connery ... well (sigh), he's finally proven that it is possible for him to turn in a bad performance. And what the hell was his character's motivation -- for any of his actions? It's a mystery to me. Much like the mystery of how this insult to a shining moment in pop culture ever got produced.
Since it is Thanksgiving, we should at least make an attempt to be thankful for something about these movies. Maybe we can give thanks that they failed. This might just send a signal to studios that, while we enjoy blockbusters, we could do without mindless, inept and formulaic "flockbusters" like the foul five above. But if Hollywood still doesn't get the message, let's make it perfectly clear what they can do with turkeys like these: Stuff 'em.
D. Scott Apel is the former video columnist for the San Jose (CA) Mercury News, and is author of the video guide Killer B's: The 237 Best Movies On Video You've (Probably) Never Seen.
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November 15, 1998