Tuesday, June 21, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: (1) *comedy,* (2) *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

When SMALL SOLDIERS first came out, I dismissed it as director Joe Dante dipping once more into the well that gave us the two GREMLINS films. On re-viewing SOLDIERS-- moderately successful in theaters, though it's close to being the director's last major theatrical film-- I like it somewhat better than either GREMLINS film.

Dante's been quoted as saying that he hoped to make the film a bit edgier, appealing to older teens, but producers overruled him, possibly in the hope of being able to merchandise the film's miniature warriors-- the super-pumped mercenaries called the "Commando Elite" and monster-men called "Gorgonites"-- to younger kids. This may have had one good effect, in that the film is forced to place more narrative emphasis on the way the two sets of toys impact on the viewpoint character, a teen boy named Alan.

Though Dante is not credited among the five screenwriters, the script is filled with several horror-movie references, a characteristic of many of his earlier films. The Gorgonites, a melee of oddball monster-types, are originally designed to represent the "peaceful warrior" type seen in many 1980s cartoons, while the militaristic Commando Elite are based on the hyperbolic action films of the same era. Both groups are originally created as toys, but a foolish scientist implants in them "microprocessing chips" designed for munitions application. They fall into the hands of Alan, who hopes to use them to turn a profit, and instead ends up trying to keep the fanatically hostile Commandos from wiping out the pacific Gorgonites. Naturally, as in the GREMLINS films, everyone in Alan's sphere-- his family, the neighbors, and the cute girl who likes him-- get drawn into the struggle.

Since Alan's dramatic development is fairly slender, I label SOLDIERS a comedy, since so much of it depends on enjoying the hyperbolic militarism of the Commandos. At the same time, even though the Gorgonites are the sympathetic toys, it's interesting that Alan himself has a history of destruction-- he was kicked out of school for arson-- and that his slight "bad boy" rep is exactly what draws the cute girl to him. That said, though the film takes great pleasure in spoofing the excesses of tough-guy action-films, the pathos of the embattled Gorgonites comes through as well. Bad puns abound as well, with the standout going to "Baton Death March."

Going from a live-action film replete with puppets to one derived from a completely puppet-run TV show, I must say that I have never watched the teleseries, and frankly avoided it in its original broadcast, as I generally found puppet-shows creepy.

The 2004 THUNDERBIRDS was not a success and was rejected by hardcore fans of the teleseries, but I found it modestly entertaining for a juvenile-oriented SF-tale. Whereas the teleseries focused on a super-scientific rescue-team comprised of a family, the Tracys, the movie focuses on the youngest family-member, Alan, whose youth prevents him from joining the team.

Like most such kid-flicks, the older members of the team are quickly sidelined, so that the narrative's danger-- in this case, a low-rent terrorist called the Hood-- can be battled by Alan and his two young friends, as well as a couple of adult allies. (The standout performance in the film is by one of the adults, playing the teleseries character of prim Englishwoman Lady Penelope.) The action is reasonably fast-paced and not very violent, but the best thing I can say about THUNDERBIRDS is that it doesn't indulge in the grossout jokes typical of most American films in this genre.

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