Tag Archives: Dan O’Bannon

Blue Thunder (1983, John Badham)

Blue Thunder is astoundingly dumb. It’s not exactly bad, as there are some fantastic effects and some of the script has shockingly sublime moments, but it’s astoundingly dumb.

It starts off strong, with a decent enough first act. Daniel Stern is new to the Astro division of the LAPD and, through him, the film introduces Roy Scheider’s on the edge cop. Thunder is just an on the edge cop movie, only with helicopters. Their first night out stuff is fine.

When Candy Clark shows up as Scheider’s comically unstable girlfriend, things get shaky. Then Malcolm McDowell shows up as the British villain (working for the U.S. Government, however) and Thunder bellyflops. It recovers somewhat for the last thirty minutes, with the helicopter in action over LA stuff, but not entirely.

It’s a fun finale, but accepting its stupidity is one of the requirements for enjoying it. Writers Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby have this conspiracy subplot and they mangle it. It, and McDowell’s terrible performance, go far in dragging Thunder down.

The occasional sublime moments–there’s a great scene of Clark looking for Scheider–are memorable enough to leave a better impression than Thunder deserves.

Scheider’s good, Stern’s mediocre (but still likable).

It’s technically masterful. Badham can’t make a good movie, but he can shoot Panavision action well. He’s got great help from cinematographer John A. Alonzo and editors Edward M. Abroms and Frank Morriss.

Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is repetitive but catchy.

Blue Thunder‘s often entertaining, but entirely stupid.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Frank Morriss and Edward M. Abroms; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Sydney Z. Litwack; produced by Gordon Carroll; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Officer Frank Murphy), Daniel Stern (Officer Richard Lymangood), Malcolm McDowell (Col. F.E. Cochrane), Warren Oates (Capt. Jack Braddock), Candy Clark (Kate), Paul Roebling (Icelan), David Sheiner (Fletcher), Joe Santos (Montoya), James Murtaugh (Alf Hewitt) and Jason Bernard as The Mayor.


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Screamers (1995, Christian Duguay)

Sometimes competency is a bad thing. Screamers is a fairly well-made–Duguay’s composition isn’t spectacular, mostly because the sets were all CG embellished so there was only so much he was actually shooting–but there are some excellent effects sequences. There’s some nice stop motion and then a great shuttlecraft liftoff. Duguay knows how to spend his limited budget to make the film look good. There really isn’t a genre of good lower budget 1990s science fiction because cheap CG ruined it, but Screamers could almost be a solid entry.

Except for the script. There are some really good ideas in Dan O’Bannon’s script–the stuff with Peter Weller and Jennifer Rubin being the last two people alive on a planet should have really been stretched out–but, for the most part, it’s pretty weak. It’s like O’Bannon (or maybe co-writer Tejada-Flores) had to keep taking out stuff to make it cheaper, less grandiose. They give Weller some really bad dialogue–just long and expository–and seeing Weller mull through it and pull it off is sensational. Almost the entire running time of Screamers could be spent wondering how no one ever got Weller a role for an actor of his ability.

The supporting cast is generally okay. Roy Dupuis and Andrew Lauer are both solid. Rubin’s got a rough character to essay and she runs a little too cold at times, but she’s mostly all right.

It’s not cheap enough to be chintzy. Should be better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Miguel Tejada-Flores, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Rodney Gibbons; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Perri Gorrara; produced by Franco Battista and Tom Berry; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Joe Hendricksson), Roy Dupuis (Becker), Jennifer Rubin (Jessica Hanson), Andrew Lauer (Jefferson), Charles Edwin Powell (Ross), Ron White (Chuck Elbarak) and Bruce Boa (Secretary Green).


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Dark Star (1974, John Carpenter)

Dark Star is probably John Carpenter’s second finest film (after The Thing). It’s the John Carpenter film I’ve always been saying he should make–a funny one. I have seen Dark Star before, probably nine years ago, back when it was somewhat rare (it got picked up, a year after I saw it, by a video distributor who’s kept it in print). The first time I saw it, it struck me how much Dan O’Bannon used again in Alien. In Dark Star, O’Bannon–who makes the film, he should have been an actor, he’s hilarious–hunts a tomato-shaped alien through the bowels of the spaceship. He used that hunt again in his script for Alien. Well, this time, I noticed some of Carpenter’s shot compositions of the spaceship against the planet are identical to Ridley Scott’s set-ups for Alien… Scott just had more money….

The film is pure delight, from O’Bannon’s bickering with his crew mates to the commander rambling about surfing. The humor’s actually a little smarter than I expected, but it’s hard to believe Carpenter and O’Bannon were just students when they made this film. The budget isn’t quite there–it looks about the same as an episode of the original “Star Trek”–but Carpenter always spends his money well. It’s one of his trademarks.

I’m having problems with this post because the film’s only sixty-eight minutes long and it’s a comedy. I’ve already said O’Bannon’s great, I’ve already mentioned some of the funny stuff… but it’s not without some depth too. The film’s present action is short, maybe a few hours, and while the specifics of these characters’ longings are comedic, their existence is not. I just read someone call Dark Star a parody of 2001 but it’s not… The end of Dark Star is touching and more humane–if incredibly short (three minutes at the most)–then the rest of Carpenter’s filmography combined. Seeing Dark Star in 1974, I’m not sure it would connect with the Carpenter who made They Live. I just remembered Starman (as an example of Carpenter’s humaneness, but Dark Star has it beat). It’s a great film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon; director of photography, Douglas Knapp; edited by O’Bannon; music by Carpenter; production designer, O’Bannon; released by Jack H. Harris Enterprises Inc.

Starring Brian Narelle (Doolittle), Cal Kuniholm (Boiler), Dre Pahich (Talby) and Dan O’Bannon (Pinback).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 1: THE WONDER YEARS.