A scientist invents a time-traveling Delorean and his teen sidekick uses it to travel back in time to when his parents were his age.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson
Review by Jon Kissel
Movies used to be weirder. The highest-grossing film of 1985 centers on the lead accidentally making his teenage mom fall in erotic love with him, up to the point where he finds himself in a car with her during a high school dance. Several years earlier, Luke Skywalker made out with his sister. These kinds of moments would never make it past Vin Diesel, Tom Cruise, or Kevin Feige, obsessed as they are with franchise management at the cost of anything potentially alienating. Director Robert Zemeckis wasn’t afraid of risks when making Back to the Future, a film with mass appeal that still has the confidence to mess with its audience. Zemeckis has fallen far from his 80’s and 90’s heights thanks to a 21st century obsession with heavily CGI’d messes that no one asks for and few remember, but there was a time when he could really make a mom horny for her son.
Hayao Miyazaki released his ultimate homage to the wonder of childhood in 1988 with My Neighbor Totoro, but he wasn’t finished dissecting the first phases of life. A year later, his follow-up Kiki’s Delivery Service provides a melancholic look at adolescence, smuggled in amongst an adventure story about a witch establishing herself in a new city. It’s not surprising that Miyazaki and his fellow artists at Studio Ghibli would add depth to their films, but it is surprising in this particular package, an underappreciated gem compared to the recognition of Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke. Kiki’s Delivery Service is another of Miyazaki’s low-stakes stories without an antagonist, but when a studio makes some of the best hang-out movies in cinematic history, who needs major conflicts?
In Spirited Away, the most critically acclaimed film in Hiyao Miyazaki’s extensive and oft-praised career, the most powerful and memorable image isn’t of wonders like a multi-armed spiderman operating a bellows or a dragon fleeing from a swarm of paper birds. These, and many others, fill Spirited Away, but an early shot wins out. It’s simply a broad-shouldered man, shot from a low angle, walking confidently forward. Through the eyes of pre-teen protagonist Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragai), daughter to the man, the whole world is captured in her gaze as she watches her father lead her into an unknown future. Her parents can lead her to the enchanted spa she finds herself stuck in, but she has to be the one to get out of it. That shot is so self-evidently loving, that it is enough to want Chihiro to escape a truly incredible place, one of cinema’s great fantasy locations. It’s the fulcrum on which the film is balanced, and it powers Miyazaki’s masterpiece as surely as that aforementioned spiderman powers the spa.
The sixth film by animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki provides the master Japanese director with a vehicle to explore one of the things he seems to love the most. For Miyazaki, flight is a repeated motif, from the gliders in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to the air force in Howl’s Moving Castle. His most mature, non-fantasy films, Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises, are about pilots and aeronautical engineers,, though at this stage of his career, some fantasy is still required. Porco Rosso turns the old idiom on its head, putting a pig in a plane and making it seem like the most natural thing in the world. As his titular pilot flits around the Adriatic in Depression-era fascist Italy, the meticulous hand-drawn animation that Studio Ghibli is renowned for boosts a story that, disappointingly, is the thinnest of Miyazaki’s career. In using his medium to make a stock mid-century romance/adventure, he only succeeds in gussying up a boring genre.
Michael Crichton was one of the first popular novelists that I dove into as an adolescent. His blend of the highly technical, embodied in pages of genetic code in Jurassic Park, flattered my intelligence while his graphic depictions of velociraptors’ penchant for disemboweling sated my bloodlust. Crichton’s ability to do both made him extremely relevant to mid-90’s media, from the blockbuster success of Jurassic Park to his creation of ER. Future adaptations of his books like Sphere, Rising Sun, Disclosure, and The Lost World would fail to replicate those earlier successes, and the same holds true for Congo. Though a financial success, Frank Marshall’s adaptation is a bit of a joke, lampooned on bad movie podcasts for its interspecies sexual chemistry and gonzo finale. For mid-90’s globe-trotting adventures that got rented from the video store for sleepovers, it works well enough. There’s plenty to appreciate from a well-cast flick that pushes the boundaries of a PG-13 rating.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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