Monthly Archives: April 2024

A LIFE IN FILM #17 – THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER

A Life in Film is a project where I’m writing about a movie from every year I’ve been alive.

1990: Dudes Rock Under the Sea

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (dir. John McTiernan)

To lean again on the autobio part of this project: The Hunt for Red October is another one that I’m not about to claim is great cinema (although as a really well-executed-more-or-less-based-in-something-resembling-the-real-world thriller, it’s maybe a great example of a type of cinema that I’d love to see more of in the modern era). But it’s a movie that appealed to a bunch of my interests when it came out, and maybe helped cement them as things that would stay on my mind for the long haul. And it’s also a ton of fun, which is nothing to sneeze at.

But those interests. This was, of course, the first film adaptation of a Tom Clancy book (FWIW, I feel like it’s by far the best Clancy movie, adapting his best book). I was at the time going through the kind of Tom Clancy megafan phase that only makes sense when you remember that it was before the internet and I was living in deeply conservative rural Nebraska and the pipeline for new-author discovery was, uh, limited. I’ve written at length about my difficult mental relationship with the works of Thomas Clancy, but at the time I thought he was better than Hormel chili and any movie adaptation was something I had to see.

Clancy’s books, including Red October, often center on the CIA, which was another major interest at the time. Of course, nerdy adolescent boys often get interested in spying; that’s nothing unusual. What made me different was that I damn well did something about it, going through a process that came pretty close to getting me a job at the CIA *and* getting me a very unfortunate hat from Structure (and yeah, this is a thing I mention at the end of the linked comic, but it’s worth mentioning here: given where my mind and politics went as the 90s progressed, I think it was best for both me and the CIA that the thing didn’t work out).

I have to assume that Connery enjoyed the costuming sessions for Red October a lot more than he did for Zardoz.
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A LIFE IN FILM #16 – BATMAN

A Life in Film is a project where I’m writing about a movie from every year I’ve been alive.

1989: Look. I’m sorry.

BATMAN (dir. Tim Burton)

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of superheroes on film.

But the thing is (*looks around*), this is all my fault. Well, mine and the fault of thousands of other people who had opinions about who the best writer for Superman was or what we’re supposed to take from the ending of Watchmen. We all thought “god, superhero comics can be cheesy, but they can also be so much fun, so resonant, and such fertile ground for metaphors that can really take you to interesting places looking at the real world! Wouldn’t it be great if everyone would wake up to this and get on board?” And then a monkey’s paw twitched, and a long fuse started burning, eventually leading to a world where everything at the multiplex was competing examples of CGI punchfest dogshit where all the life and humanity had been purged by a corporate assembly line filmmaking process.

This isn’t true, of course; or at least it’s not true in the sense that there weren’t actually any cursed monkey’s paws involved. But I do think that there’s probably some truth to the idea that the critical mass of comicsheads in the early 00s who all went and bought tickets to the first Nolan Batman movie, and to the Raimi Spider-Man movies, and the Singer X-Men movies, we were the accelerant that gave Hollywood in general and Disney in particular the idea that there was endless money to be made by quadrupling down on this superhero thing. It’s not just a thing that we let happen; it’s a thing that we cheered on at the time. And I don’t feel great about that.

Tracing definitive cause and effect in stuff like this is rarely possible, of course. But I feel like it’s reasonable to say that a lot of my cohort of 2000s-era young nerds with disposable income were all put onto this track just by living through the hype cycle for Burton’s Batman.*

*Purists will no doubt argue that the Donner-Reeves Superman movie was there laying groundwork a decade earlier, and that Superman and Batman had been showing up in movies since the 40s. And this is all true, of course! But subjectively, at the time, the Batman ’89 hype cycle felt different and more lasting, even if I’m just saying that from the center of the marketing-push blast zone.

I can’t find the citation now, but I read somewhere that at one point Nicholson said to Keaton something like, “a movie like this, you just sit back and let the makeup do the work.”
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