July 28, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Iconic Genre Mashups

Cowboys and Aliens mixes up two genres: the alien invasion science-fiction movie and the Western. Genre mashups are nothing new to cinema – as long as there have been genres, they have been mixed – and over time they have produced fascinating results. This week, MRQE Rewind takes a look at some of cinema’s most iconic mashups!

Blade Runner (1982) – MRQE Metric: 86

Director Ridley Scott seamlessly combines the futuristic atmosphere of 2019 Los Angeles with the seeping dark background of Neo-Noir. Based on the book Do Android Dreams of Electric Sheep by acclaimed Science Fiction author Phillip K. Dick (also responsible for Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report), the film invents the dystopian element of replicants. Replicants are genetically-engineered humanoid robots reserved for dangerous or menial off-world work that humans would prefer not to do. Those who go to Earth despite being banned are hunted by Blade Runners. The main character is a Blade Runner played by Harrison Ford in the middle of his Star Wars/Indiana Jones prime years. Scott throws in some noir archetypes such as the femme fatale – played by Sean Young – and Harrison Ford’s mysterious backstory.

Zombieland (2009) – MRQE Metric: 75

Before Jesse Eisenberg made a name for himself in his Oscar-nominated turn as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, he made his breakout into the mainstream with Zombieland. The movie takes place in a world where zombies have outgrown and overpowered the populations of humans and Eisenberg tries to find his way home discover whether his parents are still alive. On his journey, he finds new friends in Woody Harrelson, a cowboy on a quest to find the last Twinkies on earth, and sisters Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin who are more cruel than their looks suggest.

This is Spinal Tap (1984) – MRQE Metric: 86
Documentary/Concert Film/Satire

Rarely has a genre mashup worked so well that it engendered an entirely new genre on its own. Rob Reiner’s 1984 classic, the original “mockumentary,” is rarely discussed without an accompanying joke mentioning that something or another "goes to 11," and that kind of devotion is what a film this hilarious deserves. The dialogue, almost entirely improvised, depicts well the intricately absurd and comic life of rock stars. Having actual footage of fake songs indistinguishable from any other 1980’s rock band really puts the cherry on top. The comedy in this film is so black that it's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

Back to the Future Part III (1990) – MRQE Metric: 68

The other Sci-Fi-Western is the third installment in the Back to the Future trilogy. Better-received than the sequel that preceded it, Back to the Future Part III closed the oxymoronically-named trilogy on a nice note. In the movie, Marty McFly discovers how Doc Brown is destined to die and travels back in time to find him and try to change the future. But Doc Brown, having fallen in love and grown comfortable in his new (or old, depending on how you look at it) home, has to decide between staying the past or the present (or future... it's all very confusing).

Brick (2005) – MRQE Metric: 76

Teen movies are generally known for their relaxed drug use, pop music, and high school drama. Brick has hardcore herion addicts, a soundtrack that could be from a David Lynch movie, and fully-fledged teenage drug runners. Rian Johnson's debut is known for its linguistic style that mixes high school slang and phrases commonly found in hardboiled pulp novels and it's gritty neo-realism. Joseph Gordon-Levitt followed up Mysterious Skin, the movie that launched him into Indie stardom, with this twisted, atmospheric detective story.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – MRQE Metric: 85

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;

This stanza from Alexander Pope’s poem “Eloisa to Abelard” inspired Eternal Sunshine by Michael Gondry, which we’ve revisited before. Like most films written by Charlie Kaufman, it explores existential themes through subjects such as love and memory. The film frames the romance between Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) with a sci-fi narrative device - a procedure that can remove individual memories–used by Clementine after the relationship goes sour. Joel has to deal with deciding to let go of her–which can be done with the same memory-erasing machine – or holding on to his memories of Clementine. Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood complicate the narrative as irresponsible characters who handle the procedure itself. Eternal Sunshine is one of the most acclaimed movies of the decade and won Kaufman an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Shrek (2001) – MRQE Metric: 81
Fairy Tale/Comedy

When Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney to help form DreamWorks animation, he decided to take a few jabs at his former company. Shrek parodied all the tropes of classic Disney fairy tale movies and made them arguably more interesting. Instead of a virile outcast, the male protagonist, Shrek (Mike Myers) was an ogre, and therefore quite ugly. Morally speaking, the film denied the classic Disney princess stereotype, making the princess (Cameron Diaz) a badass ugly ogre as well instead of an attractive subordinate woman who instantly fell in love with the man who saved her. Shrek also loaded up the supporting cast with common fairy tale characters with a humorous spin on them, such as three blind mice who were always bumbling around, three little pigs astonishingly good at kung-fu, a gingerbread man who was constantly getting eaten, and a wolf who was consistently dressed as a kindly grandmother. Shrek beat out Monsters Inc. to win the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and its success was followed by three sequels and an upcoming spin-off: Puss in Boots.

Alien (1979) – MRQE Metric: 87

Ridley Scott shows up again on this list with one of the most successful mashups of all time. Officer Ripley (Signourey Weaver), in what is often considered one of the best female characters in cinema, lands on a distant planet with her spaceship crew and finds… well, an alien. Alien led a few sequels and a spinoff. The first sequel, Aliens was directed by James Cameron and is considered by many to be an improvement upon the original. Scott’s new project, Prometheus, is rumored to be in the same “universe” as Alien but the exact details are so far unknown.

1941 (1979) – MRQE Metric: n/a

Some genres are difficult to mix, few more so than War and Comedy. Sure, there have been successes such as Stripes and Tropic Thunder, but also bombs like Delta Farce and 1941. Spielberg’s first and only comedy had the absurd plot of the Japanese invading Hollywood, but many jokes fell flat and it’s generally considered one of Spielberg’s worst efforts. Spielberg released a different cut of the movie which was better-received, and the movie has since become a curious cult classic.

Unforgiven (1992) – MRQE Metric: 88

Often considered one of Clint Eastwood’s best films, Unforgiven stars the director leaving his retirement to take one last job in dishing out justice with his old friend, Ned (Morgan Freeman). In addition to the great acting, the movie smartly combines Western and Noir language and cinematography into something cohesive, makes use of both the wide landscapes in Western film and shadowy chiaroscuro of Noir. Unforgiven won critical acclaim and the Academy Award for Best Picture.

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