Movies that couldn’t survive without their lead actor

Posted on July 25, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Some movie characters are iconic.  In some cases the reason for that is more to do with the actor playing the role than the character itself.  There will always be parts that you couldn’t imagine anyone else playing, but arguably some characters are so wrapped up in the identity of the actor that they would be entirely different with someone else in the costume.

The character who I think fulfils this most of all is Captain Jack Sparrow.  Just try to imagine any other actor playing that role.  Can’t do it can you?

Legend has it that Johnny Depp turned up to the audition in that costume, complete with make up, accent and real gold teeth.  Without Sparrow there is no Pirates of the Caribbean and I would argue without Depp there is no Sparrow.  The movie was a real risk-taker, with the appeal of pirate movies long dead and many people  wondering if a film based on a little known ride, made by Disney but not strictly for kids, could make it. Then Jack staggered on to the screen and everyone was hooked.  The whole movie hinges on that one iconic character; a point backed up by the fact that he is the only returner (except Gibbs) in the upcoming fourth movie.  Sparrow is now as famous, if not more so, than Long John Silver or Captain Hook and I really don’t think the movies would have done even half as well without Depp at the helm (bad pun not entirely intended).

Another character who I think is intertwined with the actor playing it is Iron Man.  He basically is Robert Downey Jr.  When he was announced as the man stepping into the suit it seemed a strange choice but it’s turned out to be a career defining role.  I’m not saying that no one else could play Iron Man, because I can think of a few other people who probably could, but I think the characterisation would be very different, as the writers have clearly put a lot of RDJ into Stark.

It’s not just faces on screen either.  Imagine Disney’s Aladdin without Robin Williams voicing the genie.  Doesn’t work does it?  And I’d put a strong case for the fact that Woody and Tom Hanks fit so well together that Toy Story would be a different movie without him.

Pretty much anything in Jim Carrey’s early career is entirely dependent on him too.  Obviously a lot of that is down to parts being written for him, but can you really picture Ace Ventura or The Mask in the hands of someone else?

There is only one incidence I can think of where the same character played by two different actors has an equal impact on the movie, and that’s The Joker.  Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman completely owned the movie and was put down as the definitive Joker.  Or so we thought. Fast forward 19 years and Heath Ledger brings something completely new to the table which has audiences and critics alike lost for words playing a huge part in the success of The Dark Knight.

Usually we think of movies as making or breaking the career of actors, but it works both ways.  One  performance can lift a mediocre movie to a whole new level, or just as easily bring it crashing down.

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Mars Attacks

Posted on July 7, 2009. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Another one of those films that everyone is supposed to have seen, and as a big Tim Burton fan I thought it was about time.  Mars Attacks is a clever pastiche of B-Movies, taking on the well used alien invasion plot with a Burton twist.  Not one to be pigeon holed when it comes to genre, Burton pitches it somewhere in between horror and comedy, with the aliens somewhat gruesome experiments raising more of a laugh than a gasp (who wouldn’t find Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on a chihuahua’s body funny?)  This kind of horror comedy was visited again by Burton 3 years later in Sleepy Hollow and to an extent in Sweeney Todd.  It’s clearly something he likes.  The main difference for Mars Attacks is that he steps out of his usual Gothic world into the (far more colourful) world of Science Fiction.

The CG effects may look tired when compared to what we have today, but the design of the aliens is now iconic and with good reason.  Their scrawny bodies and swollen heads encompass all the usual alien steriotypes but with an added factor that makes them that little bit creepier.  Mars Attacks isn’t suposed to be a scary film per se,  but there are a couple of classic “jump” moments to keep the audience on thier toes.

As usual, Danny Elfman puts his unmistakable stamp on a Burton film with his soundtrack, recognisable from the first chords, and the opening credit sequence is typical Burton, where we zoom around one or more objects in extreme close up, following a path which eventually reveals what we’re looking at.

The film is loaded with stars.  Cameos include Danny DeVito, Michael J Fox and even Tom Jones.  Cameos might not be the right word though, as no one really lasts that long in this movie, although Tom Jones does make it to the brilliant end scene.  Nearly every face on the screen is recognisable, meaning you don’t get that usual problem of being able to assume the famous guy wont die till the very end.  Jack Nicholson plays a great American President, complete with tear-jerking speech about the need to work together and learn from eachother despite our differences.  Unfortunately for him, the aliens seem to be immune to pathos.  Alongisde our rousing speech, Burton adds other nods to the classic Sci-Fi genre, with obvious parodites of Alien, The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds.

The film dots about a lot, and there’s not a lot of time to get to know anyone in much depth, but I don’t think thats what he was aiming for.  It’s almost like a series of sketches drawn into a movie, but not in a way that feels hollow.  To be honest, I’m still not sure what my final verdict on this movie is.  It’s defnitely a good film, I’m just slightly unsure if it deserves the status its been elevated to.  Maybe I prefer Burton in the Gothic where he fits so perfectly, and maybe that’s why Mars Attacks seems to stick out as a departure form the norm for him , but I would recommend it to any Burton or Sci-Fi fans.

Oh, and is it just me, or do the aliens really sounds like the Smash robots?

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