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Posts Tagged ‘Daryl Hannah’

Family movie night again (well, with my niece and nephew, anyway: their parents were off watching Bond) and I found myself in the midst of a ticklish diplomatic negotiation – finding a film to keep all parties happy. Virtually impossible, of course (it seems to me that the main innovation of the streaming era is that the protracted arguments you used to have in Blockbuster can now take place in front of your flat-screen), especially given the fact that my tastes incline towards nephew’s naturally, and I do worry about niece feeling a bit underserved.

So, in the end, I made an executive decision and we ended up watching Ron Howard’s Splash from 1984, which (the odd joke about Swedish pornography aside) I recalled as being nice, innocuous fare – this was admittedly based on my sole viewing of the film at Christmas 1987, so it’s not like my memory was pinpoint sharp or anything.

So: here we have a rom-com of the fantastical variety, although there are some interesting structural anomalies to it which we will come to in good time. A rather young Tom Hanks plays Allen Bauer, co-owner of a New York City fruit and veg wholesaler, who seems to be doing okay financially but is just not happy when it comes to his love life: no matter how seemingly perfect the woman in his life appears to be, he just can’t seem to engage romantically with them. His crass elder brother (John Candy) doesn’t seem to see the problem, but Allen wants love.

And so he drives up to Cape Cod, which for you or I would seem like an odd way to solve this particular problem – for him it makes marginally more sense, as he had an odd encounter there when he fell off a boat as a young man and hallucinated (obviously) seeing a young mermaid in the water. Apparently the area has form in this area, as a fringe marine biologist named Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) has turned up to go mermaid-hunting.

Well, what do you know, but Allen ends up falling in the water again, and knocking himself out. He wakes up on a nearby beach, apparently having been dragged to safety by a gorgeous naked blonde woman (Daryl Hannah) – maybe there’s something to be said for Cape Cod after all. She flees into the water when he attempts to speak to her, but still hangs onto his wallet (maybe there’s a lesson there, lads).

(The MousePlus version of Splash, which we watched, has a caption announcing it has been digitally re-edited for its appearance on the platform. I thought this meant the Swedish pornography joke had been expurgated, but no: what they’ve done is digitally extended Daryl Hannah’s hair to cover her bum when she’s running away from the camera. Apparently even an innocent pair of bare buttocks is unacceptable to the mouse executives – but the effect just makes it look like she’s got a furry arse, which is considerably less charming than the original scene must have been.)

Well, Allen goes back to New York, where he is soon afterwards joined by the blonde woman, who is indeed a mermaid, and has tracked him down using his driving licence and some ancient nautical charts (yes, this is a movie which makes a few substantial asks of the audience, even given that it is about mermaids). This being the 80s, and the whole safe sex message not quite having got going yet, they go straight back to his apartment for some off-screen (but apparently intensive) whoa-ho-ho: whether Allen later contracts Fin Rot or something similar is not disclosed.

However, there are wrinkles in the idyll which appears to be in the offing: for one thing, the mermaid, who takes the name Madison (this was a joke at the time, but as a result of the movie it experienced an immense spike in its popularity), can only stay on land for five or six days before having to leave forever (it’s an arbitrary plot-enabling rule). Also, Kornbluth is aware that Madison is staying with Allen and is determined to expose her and thus vindicate his belief in the existence of merfolk (their tail turns into legs on lend, until they get wet, at which point the tail reappears – another ability the film seems to have invented wholesale as a plot-enabler, along with Madison’s ability to learn perfect English in an afternoon just by watching TV)…

Splash is a charming, funny film, and you can see why it was a big hit and gave most of the people involved such substantial career bumps – this is really the start of the career of Tom Hanks as we know him – not too long prior he was appearing in things like the silly scaremongering TV movie Mazes and Monsters, while he was also in the coarse frat-boy comedy Bachelor Party in the same year. At the time I doubt anyone honestly thought they were looking at the great leading man of his generation, but with hindsight you can see just why Hanks has become such a big star.

Daryl Hannah hasn’t done quite so well – I don’t remember seeing her in anything since Kill Bill – and while this may be due to the usual way movie star career trajectories pan out – men mature, women either fade away or end up in character parts – perhaps it’s also got something to do with the rather odd structure of the film, which I alluded to earlier.

I don’t want to generalise, but the rom-com genre is usually perceived as being quite female-oriented, or at least egalitarian in the way they handle the two leads. The thing about Splash is that it mixes into the rom-com formula some quite big dollops of broader comedy, as well as a sort of action-adventure jeopardy climax which feels like it owes a lot to E.T.. (This is where the Swedish pornography gag fits in, along with the pricelessly funny image of John Candy trying to play squash with a fag hanging out of his mouth.) These skew the film more towards a general audience. In addition to this, Madison never quite feels like a fully realised character, she’s just a sort of convenient fantasy figure (blonde, often-clothing averse, large sexual appetite – not sure the furry arse fits this profile though) – it’s Allen whose personality and feelings the film seems much more interested in exploring. Perhaps this is what you need to do for your rom-com to be a break-out hit – Four Weddings was a smash, which was likewise very focused on the male lead, while the critically-adored The Shape of Water (which is almost a darker, role-reversal version of the same story) billed itself as a fantasy or even a horror film rather than a romance.

I don’t know how much of this was the result of calculated choices by Ron Howard and the directors (nor, for that matter, how much of a debt the film owes to the British romantic comedy Miranda and its sequel, films with a vaguely similar theme), but I think they contributed substantially to Splash’s success. I enjoyed seeing it again, and my young relatives found it quite diverting too. So we may cautiously describe it as a minor classic – even if I would still recommend the pre-digital-editing version.

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It’s easy to talk too much about cinema in rarefied terms of its themes and value as pure art, but I think it is important to remember that it also serves a valuable purpose by cheering people up when times are especially hard, as they are at the moment. The world feels like a tough old place at the moment. Will this rain never cease? It is enough to make one permanently miserable. This is before we even get to the ceaseless glare and noise from the giant billboards everywhere, or the perpetual whine of the cars zipping about overhead. It is no wonder that virtually anyone who can afford the fare and pass the medical is choosing the emigrate to one of the outer space colonies, even if they are stuffed with homicidal androids. At a time like this one has to get one’s pleasures where one can, such as in the form of a revival of Ridley Scott’s eerily accurate dystopian thriller Blade Runner, originally released in 1982.

The movie is set in present-day Los Angeles, shortly after a group of synthetic human beings – known as replicants – have illegally arrived on Earth. They appear to be trying to infiltrate the Tyrell Corporation, which originally created them, for reasons which are not immediately clear. The business of finding and eliminating replicants is entrusted to a special corps of investigators known, for no very obvious reason, as blade runners. The blade runner initially assigned to this case is murdered by one of the replicants at the start of the movie, and as a result jaded former blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford with an unflattering haircut) is essentially blackmailed into taking over.

Deckard’s investigation is made a little more complicated by an encounter with Rachael (Sean Young) a woman at the Tyrell Corporation’s HQ who eventually proves to be another replicant herself – just one who believes herself to be human. Is the distinction between natural and artificial humanity really as clear cut as his job requires him to believe? Rachael takes badly to the news of her true nature and drops out of sight, giving Deckard another target to locate. He ploughs on with the case regardless.

Meanwhile, the surviving replicants, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), persist in trying to get to Tyrell himself. They have been constructed with a drastically limited lifespan and their time is almost up. Can they find of way of extending their existence before the blade runner catches up with them?

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Blade Runner – it must be at least three or four – and, to be honest, of all the different versions of the film that have been in circulation over the years. On this occasion we were treated to The Final Cut from 2007, which is one of the ones without Harrison Ford’s voice-over. This is obviously a film of significant cultural importance, and I have never watched it and come away thinking it was outright bad. But at the same time I’ve never quite been able to see what all the fuss is about. I know at least one person who says this is their favourite film of all time (I once encountered them smoking a very nervous cigarette outside the cinema as they waited for the sequel to start), but… it always leaves me oddly indifferent. I have struggled to have a strong opinion about it of any kind. Part of the reason I went to see this revival was the hope that encountering it on the big screen might help me to finally connect with it.

And did this happen? Well, not really. There was obviously some additional amusement value this time around, simply because the film’s vision of the future is (joking apart) so much at odds with how things have actually turned out – although it turns out it was spot on about all this rain we’ve been having lately. Overall, though, no matter which version I see, I always have the same response to Blade Runner, which is the same one I have to a lot of Ridley Scott films, especially the early ones: this is a director obsessed with the visual impact of his films, to the point where the actual narrative suffers badly.

I don’t deny that Blade Runner is one of the most visually and striking and dense films of its time, and very influential as a result of this – although, as I have noted in the past, all of these dystopian urban hell-scapes ultimately find their roots in Lang’s Metropolis. The screen is packed with fascinating incidental detail, rather as in the first couple of stellar conflict movies, but this being a Scott movie the camera is inclined to dwell on these vistas rather than treat them as a casual backdrop to the ongoing narrative. Impressive though the look of the film is, it still strikes me that some of the imagery is remarkably clumsy in its symbolism: the theological subtext of Roy’s quest to meet his maker is quite obvious before we get to the point where he starts inflicting stigmata upon himself, and the moment with the dove is about as subtle as a brick through a window.

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with making a very pretty film, as long as the pictures don’t start eclipsing the story. Arguably, here they do: the plot, on reflection, is remarkably thin, with Deckard in particular coming across as a rather drab and only borderline sympathetic (not to mention competent) individual. Ford does his best with the material, but Deckard does recede into the scenery a bit. It probably doesn’t help that the typically offbeat elements of the character from Philip K Dick’s original book have almost all been excised (in the novel, Deckard is unhappily married to a wife obsessed with acquiring robotic animals, which represent a status symbol in their society – he spends a lot of the novel worrying about whether the bounty he will get for killing Roy and the others will allow him to buy her the replicant sheep she has her heart set on).

As a result, the film is dominated by Rutger Hauer’s striking (and one might even say career-defining) performance as Roy. As he himself admits, this is a character who does some very questionable things, but he still comes across as a vivid, sympathetic individual, perhaps the only one in the film. As noted, the film’s focus on the visual and aesthetic elements means that its more philosophical ideas get rather neglected – a shame, as this is the very purest kind of SF, reflecting on what it really means to be human – but Hauer manages, almost single-handed, to make you think about this.

So, well, maybe I did see something in Blade Runner that I didn’t before. I must confess I am one of those people who always preferred the original version anyway – the voice-over by Ford gave the film a kind of identity as a Chandler-esque private eye pastiche, which I thought gave it a sense of identity and a level of accessibility it wouldn’t necessarily otherwise possess. As a piece of visual art, and in terms of its production design, this is obviously a hugely successful and important film. But as a conventional drama it frequently feels underpowered and rather hollow; the surface detail is remarkable but beneath it there is a distinct lack of substance.

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