November 10, 2010 saw the passing of 91-year-old film producer Dino De Laurentiis.
A force behind successful and acclaimed films such as Serpico and Three Days Of The Condor as well as box office duds such as Orca and Halloween III, there is much of the De Laurentiis film canon to love… and love it we do, here at Geeks of Doom.
To honor and remember the memory of producer and distributor, we present the 10 De Laurentiis films nearest and dearest to our hearts.
Take the “first” of the adult comic books, the swinging ’60s, and a young and lovely Jane Fonda, and what is not to love? Reveling in its B-movie effects and could-aliens-really-look-like-this costumes, Barbarella is a light and sweet confection that still bubbles with the sweet innocence that existed before the Summer of Love became Vietnam, Kent State, and Watergate. The film follows the namesake heroine Barbarella (Fonda) as she searches for scientist Doctor Durand-Durand (whose name inspired some young Brits to name their band Duran Duran) from the planet Tau Ceti in order to save the Earth. Seduction, mayhem, and a living essence of evil called the Mathmos ensue.
Made when Peter Jackson was still a teen, this is the first real attempt to re-create the magic that is King Kong using modern special effects. Was the casting a little weak with Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, and Charles Grodin? Yes. Was the plot and dialog hopelessly mired in the Ford Era 1970’s? Sure. Did the movie lose something by trading the Empire State Building for the Twin Towers? You bet. The ape was great though, and that was enough.
This film is pure cheese, pure with a capital P. Meant to be a light hearted semi-satire of the original comic strip by Lorenzo Semple (much as Semple had written for the Batman TV series in the 1960’s), the film came off as clumsy and heavy handed. But thanks to a memorable rock-heavy score by the band Queen and some campy performances (including Max Von Sydow as Ming The Merciless), it still does stand as a memorable (if not always interesting) bit of 1970’s kitsch.
Conan The Barbarian
This film had to look good on paper in pre-production. Co-written by Oliver Stone and directed by John Milius, starring a former Mr. Universe (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the voice of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), it had the potential to portray a battle between good and evil in the great pulp tradition. Unfortunately, what we actually got was what D&D creator E. Gary Gygax called “Conan meets the Flower Children of Set” instead. Still, there are some iconic moments here (Conan crucified to a tree, as in A Witch Shall Be Born) and the movie did well enough to bring about a sequel.
The Dead Zone
This is one of the better Stephen King early movie adaptations. Featuring a very strong performance by Christopher Walken, the movie successfully fuses things ordinary, frail and human with the fantastic and chilling. Where Director David Cronenberg has otherwise used effects of one form or another to show physical or moral degeneration, here it is Mr. Walken’s performance that shows the weight that extraordinary circumstances can put on an ordinary man. Lacking the flash of The Shining or the New England gothic touches of Salem’s Lot, the Dead Zone pre-figures some of the more “serious” adaptations of Stephen King’s work in tone and texture like Stand By Me and Misery by several years and is definitely worth remembering.
Is it an impossible task to take a 500+ page novel and turn it into a two and a half hour movie? In the case of Frank Herbert’s Dune, David Lynch certainly tried. Sadly, the results were flawed, at best. Lifting much of the film’s dialogue directly from the novel, compressing some characters and nearly eliminating others, fans of the book could easily see the connections of the film to the novel, but everyone else was pretty much mystified. The film would have been much more successful at greater length — John Harrison’s TV mini-series in 2000 had the time to really let the novel’s plot unfold. Where the film really succeeds is on a visual level; this was the first epic film canvas that director Lynch was given to fill, and fill it he did. For that, it should always be remembered.
David Lynch’s second film on the list succeeds because it is the opposite of the first, in so many ways. A twisted sort of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew tale of attraction, mystery and murder, it tells a much smaller story. The strengths of David Lynch now come to the fore: the odd characters, the camera angles, the casting of former child actors (Dean Stockwell), the stories of disturbing life lurking just below the surface of ordinary life. All this, plus the start of Pabst Blue Ribbon as a cult beer make this a perennial favorite.
People often forget that Sir Anthony Hopkins was not the first actor to portray Dr. Hannibal Lecter — Brian Cox did in this first version of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon. Directed by Michael Man in the mid 1980’s, this film has a modern look rather reminiscent of Miami Vice and features several actors who were Mann favorites during the period (William Peterson from Thief, Dennis Farina and Stephen Lang from Crime Story).
It tells a slightly more stream-lined version of the story than the later remake Red Dragon with Anthony Hopkins and Ed Norton. Some may think that this makes it a less canonical version, but it must be remembered that this was the first Hannibal Lecter film made and Director Mann had to choose what information to give an audience unfamiliar with Lecter, Jack Crawford, and FBI profiler Will Lee. William Peterson has an effective take on Will Lee that conjures up a lot of the same authoritative voice later seen in CSI. The Brian Cox portrayal of Lecter is less polished and civilized than that of Sir Anthony Hopkins and therefore a little bit less terrifying — it was always the savage insanity lurking beneath the veneer of civility that made the Lecter character so effective — but an interpretation well worth watching. In all, it is perhaps the superior film version of the story… and one often overlooked because of the casting.
A film noir movie with a lesbian twist, Bound is the impressive directorial debut of the Wachowskis. Jennifer Tilly plays the gangster moll to Joe Pantioliano. Gina Gershon is the wifebeater-wearing ex-con who moves next door to do some fix up work. Together, the two women discover a mutual attraction and decide that they should help themselves to a big score of Outfit cash. Will the affair last, or is it just a spark destined to burn brightly and die? Who knows? It’s all formula and all shiny new at once, a stylish telling of what could be lurid, exploitative subject matter that never comes across as cheap or degrading. On the basis of Bound as an audition piece, producer Joel Silver green lit their next movie The Matrix, giving the world the Gen X generation of the 1990s it’s own Star Wars.
Army Of Darkness
Evil Dead was a great low/no budget horror flick and Evil Dead II was a good studio-budget slapstick follow up, but it is with Army of Darkness that the series hit its screwball peak. With a lot of peppy dialog filled with cultural reference and delivered by Bruce Campbell at his square-jawed best, the movie comes out swinging and barely stops for 77 minutes.
Hail to the king, baby.
What are some of your favorite Dino De Laurentiis films?