This is a movie that at one point was the hot alien visiting Earth property which had a lot of directors attached to it., Of course the other story about an alien visiting Earth got made and released first and that worked out well for Steven Spielberg. John Carpenter made this, his most mainstream film, after “The Thing” failed at the box office and he needed to show he could do a commercial picture. While it did not have the box office success of “E.T.”, it is an artistic achievement and contains one of the most interesting performances by an actor in this, or any other year. Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen lend a sweetness to the film that is totally different than the other film, and a lot more mature in some ways.
The premise of the movie is that we have invited a visit from Extra-terrestrial beings, but are clearly not prepared to handle such a visit. The alien visitor is detected by the military and SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), but before they get to the site of a space ship crash, the visitor has taken on the form of a recently deceased house painter by cloning a body from DNA found in the widow’s home. He than hijacks the widow to take him to a rendezvous site on the other side of the country, “Arizona Maybe”. Jenny Hayden is confused as hell that her dead husband has come to life, but she recognizes almost immediately that something is wrong. The visitor has a rudimentary understanding of language but not much else and he learns by watching and copying the actions and behaviors of the humans he encounters.
For a period of time in the late 1970s and early 1980s Dudley Moore was a huge star. He was nominated for an Academy Award and he was featured in several very successful comedies. In 1984 he had three films released, “Best Defense” with Eddie Murphy, “Unfaithfully Yours”, and this romantic comedy about a bigamist with two pregnant wives. The movie with Murphy got such scathing reviews, I stayed away from it. “Unfaithfully Yours” opened in February and it probably slipped past me simply because other things were going on. I plan on continuing this project with other older films, including those from 1984 that I did not see that year or have never seen. I’m sure I will eventually get around to it. “Micki + Maude” was a holiday release and I distinctly remember when and where I saw it originally.
If a movie about a two timing man, getting both his wife and girlfriend pregnant at the same time and marrying the girlfriend while lying to both of them can be funny, then this is the movie that achieves it. The premise is a bit off putting but it is mostly a madcap farce, much less distasteful than say “Blame it on Rio” and executed with a light sense of humor that makes even the awkward physical comedy seem appealing.
Here we have an anti-war film, set in the Vietnam era, that for the most part takes place stateside and without much reference to the war. The story centers on the history of two traumatized soldiers, who were close friends before their duty in Nam. Each one is coping with what we today would refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) . One has been badly burned in the war and is worried that he won’t recognize himself when the bandages come off, the other has retreated into the fantasy world of flying and birds that he was obsessed with before being in a helicopter crash. The story involves the ability of their friendship to pull them back into the world.
This was a movie given a limited release in Los Angeles in late 1984, to qualify for Academy Awards consideration. It was ultimately a Grand Prize winner at the Cannes film festival in 1985, but it never got widespread distribution. In fact as far as I can tell it only made it onto three screens in the U.S. and it did about one and a half million dollars at the box office. Amazingly enough, I actually saw it in its three week run in Westwood. I dragged my wife across town when we had a holiday break and we saw it in a matinee screening. I doubt that she will remember much about the movie except the final line, which we have quoted to each other with the same tone of Matthew Modine for thirty years now.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front, we are Dune Geeks at this house. I read all of the Frank Herbert Novels but stopped after the material passed on to his son. My oldest daughter has a tattoo based on the poster image for this movie on her back (don’t ask for a picture, I try not to acknowledge it but this one time I will make an exception) and she has the fear mantra for sale on an etsy product that she created. As you will see in a few paragraphs, I also collected a bit of movie memorabilia for the film. It pains me to say that the movie is not all that I could have hoped for. There are some drawbacks for us to discuss, BUT, it is still a movie that I love and will defend on a number of counts. Director David Lynch is maybe the perfect choice for visualizing the film, and the worst choice for animating the action.
I hope you like posters because I’m planning on sharing all four versions that I own in this post. The first one above was the teaser poster that came out a year before the movie did. I had it framed and on the wall of my bedroom for ten years. As excited as everyone is now for “Jurassic World”, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “The Avengers” and “SPECTRE”, that is how I felt about this movie. I could hardly stand the wait and I consumed any data I could find, but remember this was 1984, no internet, so I relied on publications like Starlog and The Hollywood Reporter to get me up to speed. The first inkling of trouble came after a preview screening that was not well received. David Lynch went on Entertainment Tonight to deny that there were any negative reactions and to share a clip featuring a Sandworm. Since the worms were part of the stories surprise, the fact that we were seeing something early worried me. Mary Hart tried to talk it up but I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I don’t know where to begin, this movie is so laughable that you could choose any scene and find things to mock. Mia Farrow appearing for about thirty seconds, Peter O’Toole hamming it up and not doing a very good job of it, Faye Dunaway, doing most of her performance under the belief that opening your eyes wider is a the only acting tool one needs for this material, any of these could qualify with a dozen other examples. I suppose I will start with the one thing they got right, casting Helen Slater as “Supergirl”. She is adorable, looks great in the costume and has an innocent quality to her that fits the idea of purity that comes in these films.
The movie comes from the original producers of the “Superman” series, and it is at this point that they wash their hands of the franchise. This is a movie that is as they used to say in the rap world “got the vapors”. It is cruising on the good will of the earlier Christopher Reeve movies. Kara only mentions that she is Clark/Supermans cousin a half dozen times. Marc McClure shows up for basically no reason other than to tie the films together. At one point they even have Kara admiring a “Superman” poster on the wall, that’s as close as they could get Christopher Reeve in this movie.
Imagine the most banal dialogue available in a movie, then plan out a very straight forward dry plot, now cast the two most talented actors of their generation as the stars, and you have this movie. It is not offensive or poorly made, it is just wandering around looking for a reason to exist, and it can’t find one. I did not remember anything about this film thirty years after seeing it except that it featured a “cute meet” based on a mix up of Christmas gift books. That was the most interesting thing that happened in this film.
Just looking at the poster tells you how dull the movie is. There is no tag line, no artwork, nothing creative. They slap a cute picture of the two stars on a black background and add the title. You would not even need photoshop to come up with something this dull. The only reasons anyone has to see the film are the two stars. (Two Stars would be a generous rating if this was a ratings based blog).
The film that eclipsed “Ghostbusters” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” at the box office in 1984, opened in December and starred the man who would be guaranteed box office security for almost twenty years. Eddie Murphy was on the cusp of being the biggest star in the world and this is the film that established that as a fact not a prediction. “48 Hours” and “Trading Places” were just the warm up acts for this bravura comedic gem of improvisation and script.
Taking an action script that was originally meant for Sylvester Stallone and turning it into comedy dynamite was an amazing accomplishment. The success of the movie has to be laid at the feet of the star. Murphy was not yet bored with his roles and clowning through childish premises. Murphy was still fresh, brash and ready to poke some traditions in the eye.