Thursday, 24 May 2012

In The Year 2000

Welcome back! The world of movies is moving so fast currently that it's hard to keep on top of things. That's why I figured that right now its time to look....into the future!
"The future, Paavo?"
Yes that's right (enter guest's name here)! Its time to look all the way... to the year 2000! Even the ancient Mayans prophecized that the year 2000 would be the time in which the world comes to an end. Undoubtedly this is why 2000 has inspired so many filmmakers unleashing various visions of dystopian futures upon us. We should be fearful when looking forward to 2000. Surely, the nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union will become before that futuristic year.

Joking aside, not just cheesy 70's and 80's sci-fi flicks have taken the number 2000 to imply futurism. When the year 2000 actually was upon us, a number of sequels also put two extra zeroes to basically say that this is not your dad's Blues Brothers or something to a similar effect. This kind of market-oriented thinking usually tells what you should expect the film's quality to be. 

Heavy Metal 2000 (2000)
Director: Michael Coldeway, Michel Lemire

The sequel to the classic 1980's adult cartoon anthology takes a different route from it's predecessor and features only a single, long story. It is based on a graphic novel by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, made with Simon Bisley and Eric Talbot. But in effect, it is one of those sequels that pretty much misses the point of the original movie altogether and just makes a broad-stroked caricature of it as a result. Heavy Metal 2000 is crass, loud, obnoxious, dumb and clichéd.

An ancient, evil force that manifests itself as a glowing green object (that's different in every way from the one in the previous movie), takes over a nasty space pirate/miner named, um, Tyler. As a result, Tyler goes power-mad, kills his co-worker for no reason, and attempts to seek out the secret of immortality. For some reason he stumbles upon a planet called Eden and kills everyone. Well, not everyone as he kidnaps the beautiful young Kerrie, as he believes her blood will somehow help him discover some secrets of immortality. But Kerrie's older sister, the fierce warrior Julie isn't too happy that her home planet has been freshly labeled F.A.K.K.2 (Federation-Assigned Ketogenic Killzone) and starts to pursue Tyler and attempts to find out a way to kill him. Those retarded acronyms are a source of the film's retarded sense of humor, although otherwise it is all played overtly serious. But still not serious enough for it to be funny.

Gone are the beautiful, stylized, and differing animation styles from the first Heavy Metal. In the sequel, the animation looks like a bastardized version of Titan A.E. Particularly the film's computer effects are horrendous, and the long space scenes showcasing them are dreadfully boring. They are balanced by scenes of carnage or Julie showing her boobs for no good reason. The film doesn't deliver on the second half of its name, either. All the cool 80's rock from the previous film has been switched to dreadful turn-of-the-millennium nu-metal. When the soundtrack's high point is the Billy Idol track from the end credits, you know you're in trouble. As a matter of fact, when your voice cast's most famous member is Billy Idol, you're also in a a lot of trouble. If ever there was a film for dumb assholes who only care about tuning cars and getting laid, I'd rather they watched this abomination than the original Heavy Metal.


Holocaust 2000 (1977)
Director: Alberto DeMartino

Satanic horror films were all the rage in the 70's, and of course cheapo Italian producers decided they wanted their slice of the cake. Thus, they hired the acclaimed screenwriter Sergio Donati and director Alberto Martino to basically rip off The Omen, which had premiered the previous year. The resulting film is a sort of mirror of it's time, threatening us with the loss of tradition in order to earn money, and the risks of nuclear power.

Kirk Douglas stars as the construction magnate Robert Caine, who's on the verge of the deal of his life when he makes a deal to build a nuclear power plant in the Middle East. From the constructs he discovers some ancient ruins and writings about someone called "Iesus", but he doesn't pay much attention. But he then starts to get haunted by Doomsday prophets, mysterious ill-meaning bearded men, bad omens and horrifying dreams. When he sees in his dream that his power plant is actually the seven-headed Beast of the Apocalypse he realizes what's going on. His son Angel (Simon Ward) is actually the Antichrist, trying to bring out Armageddon using his plant. And Robert's pregnant lover Eva (Virginia McKenna) and his wife Sara (Agostina Belli) also play major parts in this plan.

Despite some delirious imagery, the film doesn't really pick up steam enough to be very interesting. Some odd madhouse scenes aside, this isn't even outrageous enough to be a good camp movie. Violence comes as some friends of Caine get killed while trying to figure out Angel's plans or stopping them. Their demises are quite familiar for those having seen The Omen. Even the presence of Douglas doesn't help too much, as he seems to be on auto-pilot and his only expression seems to be worry. He does burst into violent rage in a couple of key scenes that are welcome change to the boredom of him being undecided on what to do next. A rich tycoon is also not a very good movie protagonist, even if he is flawed and sinful, as he's hard to sympathize with. All in all, I figure these sort of films work better in Catholic countries, where people are scared with the wages of sins and the upcoming Apocalypse and Hell for all their lives. There's not much to get worked up in it here in liberal protestant Finland. Other than the possibility that a nuclear power plant might go off, but since the government didn't understand that from Fukushima, it wouldn't get it by watching this, either.


Escape 2000 a.k.a. Turkey Shoot (1982)
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

I have a soft spot for films where hunters chase after the Most Dangerous Gama – man. This Australian schlock classic offers that and much, much more. In Ozploitation movies, anything truly goes, and so the film doesn't mind cheerfully drawing parallels to the Holocaust and stealing good bits from the likes of A Clockwork Orange, Logan's Run or The Man With The Golden Gun.
The film also throws some completely bonkers ideas to the mix, such as a sadistic mute Wolfman joining the hunt without much further explanation.

The film is set in the post-apocalyptic future, where a dystopian government clears up all members of resistance, advocates of free speech and other deviants to prison camps. They are told they are there for re-education and behavior modification, when in fact they are there to fill the sadistic urges in the camp staff (and the audience). The camp is run by the laconic Charles Thatcher (Michael Ritter) and his main underling Ritter (Roger Ward), who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. But since prisoners flow into their camp faster than they can be whipped to death, Thatcher has an idea to organize a game to get rid of some extra prisoners who are becoming a nuisance. Thus, he gathers high-ranking government officials (and their pets) and sets few key prisoners into the woods. The hunt can begin.

I think this poster depicts much better of what's going on in the film than the faux-futuristic Escape 2000 one.
For a film using real prison camp footage in its opening credits, Turkey Shoot is decidedly cartoonish. The film has colorful imagery and frankly the violence seems quite stylized. For a film that's supposedly very low-budget exploitation, it actually looks quite impressive. Particularly the explosive ending wouldn't be too out of place from a Roger Moore Bond film. Sadly, the British director Brian Trenchard-Smith didn't share his contemporary Ozploitation directors George Miller's or Russel Mulcahy's career developments and didn't get any major Hollywood work after this one. Instead, he has since directed more exploitation, such as BMX Bandits, Dead-End Drive-In and two sequels to Leprechaun. But if you've never known that you wanted to see a circus freak squished against a tree trunk by a dune buggy before now, this is your film.


Equalizer 2000 a.k.a. Defender 2000 (1988)
Director: Cirio H. Santiago

I'll say it straight away: The Equalizer 2000 is one of the most infantile films I've ever seen. Seriously, this thing makes the likes of G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra look like a high-brow study of the ills of modern warfare and it's effects on the psyche of soldiers. But being childish is not necessarily a bad thing. Basically, this is a post-apocalyptic barbarian flick that's 80 minutes of one big sandbox action figure battle.

The plot revolves around two fighting teams – The men of the evil Military Government, and the Rebels fighting for their freedom from tyranny (of course). You can tell the bad guys from their Nazi-like armored uniforms, whereas most good guys wear surplus western movie clothing. As oil has become rarer and rarer the sides mostly fight over gasoline. Some oil fields in the scorching desert are valuable to both and that's why the major battles are settled there. While fighting, huge showers of bullets are fired, but with anything particular very rarely being hit. So much for the shooting skills of the Army of Tomorrow. To help the rebels actually hit their enemies, a B.F.G. named Equalizer 2000 is built by a gunsmith. The weapon is basically what Tony Montana carried, an oversized assault rifle that can also shoot rockets. The protagonist Slade (Richard Norton) is a leather vest, a beard and a mullet-donning stranger, a true western archetype of a neutral who gets tangled in with the action, but brings order to untamed areas. Norton seems to attempt to channel Clint Eastwood, but can't even reach Brian Botswick's levels. For the ladies, there's a lengthy scene where he sharpens blades without his shirt on. He's also skillful enough to manage to avoid getting shot by machine guns by doing little skips on desert rocks.

The film's budget is so low, they couldn't even buy convincing paint to put over all the plastic, tin plate and plywood. The toy guns are quite cute, particularly the bazookas that go "Ploomp!" There's some car chasing, torture scenes and of course, lots and lots of desert battles. Nothing seems to matter that much, since the audience couldn't give a rat's ass which team will win. But if you only love the action and explosions in action movies, and too much talking and plot development makes you drowsy, this is basically porn for you.

★★ 1/2

Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Directors: Don Hahn, Pixote Hunt, Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, James Algar, Francis Gebas, Paul & Gaëtan Brizzi

At the turn of the millennium there was actually at least one interesting 2000-movie project which had the ingredients to be much more than just a cheap cash-in. When Walt Disney envisioned the classical music animation Fantasia back in the early 1940's, he figured that the film could have segments removed and added every couple of years to give the movie-goers different sort of animated concerts. This ambitious idea was thwarted by Fantasia being an expensive flop when it was first released, and the Disney company struggling to recover from it for a decade. 50 years later, Disney's nephew Roy Disney had also dreamed about completing this plan for a long time. The step to create an artistically ambitious film among the animated films of the late 90's (which were still kind of decent with Mulan and Tarzan) was to him to be the crowning achievement of his career. Of course, the younger Disney eventually also had a flop in his hands, and Disney's animations sunk to depths it still haven't quite recovered from (Altough John Lasseter has helped to take a turn for the better. Hopefully Wreck-A Ralph will remedy the situation further).

But to get to the film itself, it is quite a mixed bag. As a whole, it is at least easier to watch from beginning to end than it's predecessor. The running time of 75 minutes is suitably short and there are fewer abstract animations. However, the film does have a weird fundamentalist Christian vibe, as at least three segments seem to be about Rapture. Compare this to the original which had pagan gods, mythological creatures, dinosaurs and demons – but ended with people walking to church with Ave Maria. It seems Disney in the 1940's was more open with various views of the world. 2000 has a forest spirit in the end, but it seems like something that writers came up with rather than an actual legend.

Show me people worshiping this and I'll show you Disney shareholders.

Also unconvincing is to have celebrities hosting the segments. I hate the modern Steve Martin and his horrible attempts at being funny make me in a such a bad mood I wouldn't want to watch anything he's trying to sell. The film does attempt to do its segments in very different animation styles, and at points it does show the majesticity of classic hand-drawn animation at the edge of its demise. The best segment is the one featuring George Gerswin's Rhapsody in Blue. The kind of 1930's newspaper-cartoon inspired style with splashes of primary colors depicting various depression-era New Yorkers going about their business is the sort of unbiased work the whole sequel should have been full of. Also fun is Camille Saint-Saëns's The Carnival of the Animals, which channels classic Looney Tunes with it's fast pace and gags aplenty. And Donald Duck's Pomp And Circumstance manages to mix the epicness of the tale of Noah's Ark convincingly with Donald's slapstick antics. I also got weirdly emotional at the end when Donald is reunited with Daisy.

The greatest romance of all time?

My least favorite segments are the ones where unconvincing computer animation is showcased or mixed with classic animation. The grandiose of The Pines of Rome doesn't quite come through with stupid-looking CGI whales flying into heaven. The Tin Soldier segment looks so horrible that I can't even bear to watch it. It's a miracle this was made the same year as Toy Story 2. It also isn't a particularly good idea to recycle The Sorcerer's Apprentice to the new film, as it makes the audience see the difference of the grace and emotion of the classic 40's Disney showcased against some of its modern, soulless incarnations. The final segment – the aforementioned Tree spirit segment – lacks the punch it should have as the finale. All in all, the music played by The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is of course fantastic, but it seems that only half of the animated segments on display here can keep up with it. Perhaps Disney should have been developed this a few years more instead of rushing it to be released at the turn of the millennium.



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