The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Of good movies,
bad movies and
good/bad movies


June 29, 2000
By Franklin Harris

We have a contender for the best film of the year so far -- "Chicken Run," the new Claymation film released by DreamWorks SKG. In fact, I can't remember the last time I could recommend a film so unreservedly.

Yes, I bashed DreamWorks' animation only last week, but "Chicken Run" is merely a contract job, with DreamWorks handling distribution for Britain's Aardman Animation. The real brains behind the film are directors Peter Lord and Nick Park, the geniuses behind the Oscar-winning "Wallace and Gromit" animated shorts.

Rocky the rooster (Mel Gibson, front center) is the center of attention in the hen house in the clay animation comedy/adventure, ''Chicken Run.''
Photo Courtesy DreamWorks SKG
Rocky the rooster (Mel Gibson, front center) is the center of attention in the hen house in the clay animation comedy/adventure, "Chicken Run."
"Chicken Run" is basically an animated version of "The Great Escape," except with chickens, of course, and it features the voices of Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha and Miranda Richardson.

(Now, before you nitpickers e-mail me, I know the stop-motion animation in "Chicken Run" doesn't actually rely on clay models, but rather on some fancy, plastic, polymer stuff called plasticine. But I'm not going to call it fancy-plastic-polymeration. So there.)

  • Speaking of bashing movie studios, I let Disney have both barrels last week, too. So, let me quickly say that while I'm in favor of there being more animated films aimed at adults, I have nothing against family movies. I own the greatest family movie of all time, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," on DVD. I just don't like unimaginative, paint-by-numbers family movies.

    I'm in favor of better movies aimed at more intelligent audiences, period.

    So, hopefully I've stopped the you-just-hate-children e-mails before they start.

    Besides, I love children. They make great pies.

  • Michael J. Nelson has my sympathy. He has suffered through more bad movies than even I have.

    Of course, on the other hand, he got paid to do it.

    For 10 years, Nelson was the head writer for the cult-hit TV show, "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and for the show's final five years, he was its star.

    After a decade of poking fun at B-grade to Z-grade movies on television, Nelson is sticking it to them -- and a few deserving A-grade films as well -- in writing.

    "Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese" is a collection of reviews united by two things: They are all negative, and they are nearly all more entertaining than the films they skewer.

    Movies feeling the sting of Nelson's poison pen include "Volcano," "Judge Dredd," "Barb Wire" and every movie featuring the dire pairing of weepy actress Meg Ryan and hack director/screenwriter Nora Ephron.

    (But to be fair, you simply must respect "Barb Wire." It takes guts to take a vehicle for busty, former-"Baywatch" babe Pamela Anderson and try to make it respectable by stealing its plot whole-cloth from one of the most respected films of all time, "Casablanca." It was larceny on a grand scale, and "Barb Wire's" producers didn't even flinch. Bravo!)

    Nelson's writing is sharp and clever, making "Movie Megacheese" a must for all of us who love bad movies simply for their sheer badness.

  • Yes, I know I've just admitted to loving bad movies in a column where I also wish for more good movies. Don't you see that there is a difference between movies that are bad in entertaining ways and movies that are just bad? We need more of the former, and less of the latter.

  • Now, as far as bad movies go, this year's "Mission to Mars," directed by Brian De Palma, is bad in lots of boring ways, which is the worst kind of bad to be. I was reminded of this cinematic mistake while reading Gregory Benford's recent science-fiction novel, "The Martian Race," which uses many of the same ideas as "Mission to Mars" but in more interesting ways.

    Tired of NASA's budget-busting disasters, the U.S. government offers a $30 billion dollar prize to anyone who can mount a manned mission to Mars, collect scientific data and get back safely. A billionaire businessman and space enthusiast, backed by a consortium of partners, rises to the challenge.

    He hires away from NASA a team of astronauts and launches a mission that Benford makes seem both plausible and reasonable.

    Maybe the folks at NASA could learn a thing or two here.

    By the way, Benford's most recent novel, "Eater," is now in bookstores everywhere. It's either about a sentient black hole or is a biography of Oprah Winfrey, whose ego is so massive nothing can escape it. I forget which.

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