Rated PG for action violence and some scary images.
Runtime:131 min. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
A buried treasure is hidden somewhere in the country and the Founding Fathers have placed clues everywhere. Unfortunately the clues are highly cryptic and scattered all over the place.
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage), descendant from a family of treasure-seekers, has to figure them all out to discover where the map is that will lead him to the treasure, but he discovers that the map to the hidden treasure is on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
Having come from a family of treasure seekers, he is determined to find that which his family has so far been unsuccessful in finding. Along the way he suffers from betrayal and finds a new love.
The pace of the movie was good. Not a lot of action, but they managed to keep me on the edge of my seat with the tension of the race between the good guys and the bad guys to see who wins the fortune.
This movie has a lot of "Pirates of the Caribbean" funnies though not as obvious. You really have to pay attention!
Clue: Watch Gate's buddy in crime, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha). He is better than you're a-typical sidekick.
One man's treasure is not necessarily another man's, but what, or should I say who, is Ben Gate's newest discovery?
Clue: Watch the femme, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) in this one. She really 'takes' the attention away from Ben.
In all, I must say that this movie was fun to watch and well worth the popcorn, soda, candy, and the large pretzel!
-- Lance Vermont
The Phantom of the Opera
By Christine K.Rex
The music played and the audience was taken away by “The Music in the Night” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play comes alive in a spectacular demonstration of light, color, music and sound. For just a sparkling moment the style of the musical of the 60’s has returned to the silver screen and advanced into modern technology with sound surround and big screen theaters. Sound that emphasizes the viewer’s feeling of actually being at the Paris Opera in 1819 on stage mingling with the actors while they sang and danced. The costumes are brilliantly colored in an extravagant array of finery. The Phantom of the Opera is not the greatest movie I have seen this year, it certainly deserves a chance; it's a decent, sometimes breathtaking film.
Emmy Rossum stars as Christine - a young chorus girl in a Parisian opera house. She lost her father many years ago, and finds herself going to the basement of the building to light a candle for him every evening. While down there, a mysterious tutor, The Phantom (Gerard Butler), who she believes to be an angel of music familiar to her from her father's stories, teaches her how to sing, and she secretly becomes a great performer. When the theater managers deny Christine further success, The Phantom begins to terrorize the opera house, but is further enraged when his young protégé rekindles a relationship with an old flame, Raoul (Patrick Wilson), one that doesn't have to wear a mask.
While the music is the best part of the movie not much can be said in favor of the acting. The love scenes are played with little emotion. There has been much artistic license taken to make this movie. The black and white grainy flashback scenes are not in the original story of The Phantom of the Opera. These scenes make it hard to follow the sequence of events in the actual story. During the masquerade ball the camera pans at a dizzying pace and is confusing for the eye to take in all the scenes and activity. The actors often have to lip synch the songs, but fail to do so flawlessly. Sadly, these lead actors are often out of synch with the music, which is extremely distracting and inexcusable. In effect, we are reminded they are not singing the lines, and taken out of the story. Also, I was taken aback at the lack of emotion they display during many of the moving, emotional songs (Wilson is the least offender at this). Often, the music is soaring, but they are not displaying the same amount of feeling while lip-synching the lines. The blame goes to Schumacher for most of this since it is uniform, as if ordered by the director.
The mixture of the spoken word and the musical dialog is not consistent in its mixture in the film. But near the end Schumacher gets it right and mixes the two mediums in good random form. Should Schumacher had done a little more homework and paid more attention to details the movie as a whole would have melded better into more of what those who have seen the stage play had expected the film to portray. There are so many little spots in the movie that leave the viewer expecting more and are disappointed when the mystic strong fever pitch does not appear.
The story is like all Cinderella stories with a likely villain who does all he can to win but in the end looses to the better one, her prince charming. I will not say that the movie is not worth the trip to the theater because of the music and the beautiful sets but I do say to those who are contemplating buying a ticket, do go see it, but if you have seen the stage play at all you will be disappointed in comparison. Truthfully I have not had the pleasure of seeing The Phantom of the Opera on stage and would do so but the price of the tickets keeps me away. Therefore; those who don’t mind the price of the theater ticket, which is considerably less, will be happy to pay to at least know what the hype is all about.
I give the movie 3 stars ***
Movie run time 143-minute
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director of Photography
Andrew Lloyd Webber
ON DVD AND VHS
Outer Space in Film and Television
Since most of the movies listed here are seen primarily on the "small screen" either on AMC (American Movie Classics) or the Turner network, we include all of them here in TV. Most are available on DVD or VHS tape.
From The Big Screen
A Trip To The Moon
Directed by Georges Melies
Made just around the start of the 1900’s during the infancy of cinema, Melies is considered the great grandfather of special effects. This story is loosely based on the Jules Verne novel about a trip by man to the moon, complete with dancing girls.
Tom Hanks produced (and also performed as an actor, playing the assistant to Melies) a live action history of the films of George Melies as a part of his series for PBS on “Space.”
The Woman In The Moon
Directed by Fritz Lang
Loosely based on concepts by both Jules Vern and H.G. Welles this movie, made in the 1930’s was banned by Adolph Hitler because the three stage rocket ship used by Lang resembled the V-2 project too closely!
Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Commando Cody
Both Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were taken from newspaper comic strips and turned into monthly serials from Republic Pictures, eventually edited into full length features. The effects are cheesy, the acting stilted, the budgets were low, but the sets and costumes weren’t too shabby. At the end of each episode Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers would seem to face death, only to miraculously escaped in the start of the next episode.
Flash Gordon was the not too bright, but very brave, handsome and strong hero (played by swimmer Buster Crabbe), there were two girls, one good (Dale Arden, the love of Flash’s life) and one not so good (Sonya, the daughter of Ming the Merciless). There was the evil villain Ming, the smart scientist Dr. Arkoff and the side kick for Flash, who has a stupid name like Happy. There was Royalty in the form of Prince Baron (who was probably the Earl of some distance land controlled by Ming) who changed sides from evil to good.
Commando Cody was a masked good guy, much like the Lone Ranger, who traveled around using a Rocket Pack that was attached to a leather jacket. He also had a space ship and fought against evil men from outer space, including one space “zombie” played by a young Leonard Nimoy.
Directed by George Pal
A very good, very credible early 1950’s effort. Loosely based on “Rocketship Galileo” a juvenile novel by premier science fiction writer Robert Heinline.
George Pal made a name for himself in Europe doing wooden puppet theatrical commercial films for Phillips Radio. He immigrated to the United States and began making similar entertainment shorts for Paramount Pictures. He also produced “The War of the Worlds” and “The Time Machine” for Paramount.
One of the segues in this movie is a short animation film made as a "pitch" to the powers that be to undertake the mission. That short cartoon was made by Walter Lantz and featured Woody Woodpecker as a space traveler!
Directed by Fred Wilcox
The first really high class and ultra credible film about advanced space travel far off in the future when mankind learns how to “warp” past the speed of light.
The story source was written by a motion picture Art Director (Irving Block, who served as unaccredited production designer on the film) and another craftsman (Alan Alder) from the studios, who took the idea directly to the head of M-G-M. They adapted the classic Shakespeare work “The Tempest” and added a dash of Freudian psychology in the form of “monsters from the Id.” Cyril Hume actually wrote the final screenplay.
The saga is about a space craft sent to explore the Altair system (a star about 16 light years away from Earth) in which all of the crew and ship vanish in a puff of smoke except for Dr. Morbius and his wife. She dies giving birth to their daughter and he and the girl have lived out their lives for 18 years together in a fabulously modern house located in a vast span of garden and desert with their faithful servant Robbie the Robot.
A relief ship is sent from Earth and here the troubles start! Morbius doesn’t want to go home, doesn’t want to let the ship stay and warns them that he can’t be responsible for what happens.
What happens? Monsters from the Id. Monsters from the dark side of the subconscious mind that invisibly attack the ship and crew. Monsters that come from the power of the Krel, a now extinct race of highly advanced people.
While the "monsters" are supposed to be an invisible force, the powers that be at the studio decided to give us a look at it via animation, sub-contracted out to Walt Disney Studios by M-G-M. Many fans and critics found this to be a low point in the film...
Excellent cast with Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Neilsen, Earl Holliman, Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson, James Drury and Jack Kelly.
Very good special effects that stand up to today’s world (include matte painting by Matthew Yuricich, who would go on to be associated with many state of the art science fiction films of the 1970s and 1980s).
A prophetic film in view of the recent happenings with the space station. The storyline: What if a contemporary space ship can’t fire the retro rockets. What if they fail? This is something that has never happened in our history, but it is highly plausible.
Gregory Peck, James Franciscus, Richard Crenna.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Screenplay by Stanley Kubric and
Stills stands as one of the most realistic films with some of the best special effects ever done (it won the Oscar for Kurbrick - his only one, even though Douglas Trumbull, Con Pederson and others actually did the special effects creations).
A highly non-narrative film cerebrally written by Kubrick and ace science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke from his short story “The Sentinel” about a monolith planted on the moon that sits and waits for someone to discover and uncover it, establishing that some race of beings has mastered space flight. The Sentinel was planted on the moon by another race of highly advanced aliens who seek out life forms around the universe.
In this movie, these aliens plant three “sentinels” which are large black objects termed a “monolith.” One on primitive, caveman ruled Earth. One on the moon buried in the crater Clavius and another out near Jupiter.
When caveman touches this object it has a profound (and probably direct) affect on the mind and soul After touching the object man learns to fight and kill using tools. Fight and kill beasts. Fight and kill other cavemen.
After more than 30 minutes of this primitive history lesson we are transported to the near future where a space shuttle that looks very close to our current vehicles travels up to a large space station. Such a station was planned, but budget cuts dropped the size considerably in real life. Kubrick’s view of all this was more than two decades before it actually happened!
The man travelling to the station is Dr. Floyd who is going to the moon for a top secret briefing. One on the moon Floyd is told about the discovery of the monolith buried a million years ago in the crater Clavius and he is taken for a visit where he, like caveman, touches the giant object. Once the sun rises on this object it emits a radio pulse towards Jupiter. To find out what’s up on Jupiter we send out a very big space craft with stars Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea.
These two are baby sitters and hands-on crew members for the flight that will take over a year to complete from the Earth to Jupiter, a very realistic point of view. The rest of the crew is placed in hibernation by cryogenics. Assisting the human crew is HAL 9000, a computer that talks, listens, sees and interacts with the crew and ship. HAL also has secret briefing information stored in memory that is to be played back to the crew once they reach Jupiter, however HAL, who is programmed to always tell the truth, has also been programmed not to reveal this information prematurely and to deny any existence of such material. This conflict of programming causes HAL to have a psychotic reaction and nervous breakdown. HAL tries to kill every member of the crew to prevent his own existence from ending with the two astronauts decide they might have to “pull the plug” on HAL. Keir Dullea survives and makes it to Jupiter where he discovers another monolith which transports him magically across time and space to a distance planet where he is cared for and nurtured into becoming a new incarnate known as the star child, who is sent back to Earth to watch over mankind.
People nurtured on Star Wars will find 2001 a bit too long-winded and boring, yet 2001 still stands as one of the greatest achievements in pure science fiction film work.
Directed by George Lucas.
This third film, made at a young age with acting provided by a carpenter who used to work with Lucas at Francis Ford Coppola’s San Francisco operation: Harrison Ford. He also picked two other young, more established actors, Mark Hamel and Carrie Fisher, plus seasoned veteran Alec Gunnies.
Star Wars is all action and special effects right from the gate. The first scene is a space ship in a galaxy far, far, away, long, long ago being shot at by another ship. We see the robots R2D3 and 3CPO. We have Royalty in the form of a Princess and the evil Emperor. We have the Royal Guard in the form of the Jedi Knights, we have the evil side kick in the form of Darth Vader, the handsome young pauper hero in the from of Luke Skywalker, the dashingly heroic cad in the form of Hans Solo and mystic magician in the form of Obie Canobie.
The story is simple: Rescue the fair princess, recover the plans for the evil weapon, fight the enemy and destroy the weapon before it destroys you!
George Lucas planned this as 12 episodes and most have already been made. Episode III comes out in the spring of 2005 and basically ends the series. This first movie was termed Episode IV. The saga runs like a serial from the Flash Gordon era of the 1940s.
Along with 2001 this film stands as truly excellent science fiction dealing with outer space. Solaris is a distant planet that seems to have profound affect on those to visit there. A scientist-astronaut is sent there by the powers that be to find out what is happening and why the crew in the station around Solaris are behaving so strange.
Solaris, it seems, has a planetary consciousness that provides those near the planet with a manifestation of whatever it is they truly want. In the case of our hero, it’s the return of his dead wife who comes to haunt him at the space station.
Directed by Ridley Scott
A truly terrifying film with great high tension. A deep space commercial towing vehicle the Nostromo on route back to Earth take a detour with its hibernating crew who are awakened early and soon realize this. They take a trip down to a very hostile planet with unbreathable atmosphere and find an alien ghost ship. Once inside one of them goes into a deep chamber where “eggs” of an alien creature attaches itself to his face. He is brought back to the ship where a young crewman (Sigourney Weaver, in her first film role) has determined that the signal which brought them there was not a distress call, but a warning. When they try to bring in the injured crewperson she refuses, but the ship’s Doctor (who is an android) opens the door and lets them inside.
After a while the “thing” attached to the face of one crewmember falls off and they think everything is fine, until dinner time when he convulses and something bursts out of his chest and runs away.
The captain, Dallas (played by veteran Tom Skerritt) orders them to track it down and kills it. It seems small enough at only a few inches tall, but eventually they find it has grown to over 8 foot tall and it is killing people and eating through the metal floors with acid blood.
Eventually only Weaver and the cat are left.
A new issue of the film from the original “Director’s Cut” made by Ridley Scott came out late in 2004.
This remains one of the scariest “monsters in space” movies ever made.
The sequel, Aliens, is even better!
Based on a story by Dr. Carl Sagan, a Cornell University Astronomer and Cosmologist
Starring Jody Foster as the head of a SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intellegence) project who discovers a signal from nearby in space and helps to decipher the encoded signal via support from a "Howard Hughes" type reclusive billionaire who has financed her operations in secret.
The message produces plans for some type of device. A ship or vehicle of some type to help them get into space?
Tom Skerritt (from the first Alien movie and TV's Sherrif in "Picket Fences"), the high ranking government functionary who pulls the plug on Foster's original project goes after a "seat" in the ship and get's it with the help of the Religious community (headed by a man of the cloth who once shared a bed with Foster's character in the movie).
The mission is sabotaged by a religious fanatic who blows up the ship and Skerritt.
Foster now gets a shot at the second ship build by her billionaire benefactor in secret. This becomes a cosmic pinball trip as her ship is dropped into a spinning and waving series of gyroscopic rings. She is sent down one worm hole, then another, still another to a very distant location where she meets up with her dead father on a beach. Her father's persona is taken on by the "alien" making first contact with her mind to help make it easy for her to "digest" the experience. They talk for a few moments, she is told they will take other trips at a future date and she is sent back home where it turns out she dropped straight down into the water and never left view.
The debrief her and disbelieve her saga about spending a hour or so in space on a beach talking with her dead father. One interesting point, however, is that her recording device came back with exactly that amount of time of static.
James Woods, who plays the skeptical government man, agrees with the President's appointee that was "interesting" and they agree to give Foster a big grant to continue work.
A long, credible and very cerebral movie that is worth seeing...
On the Small Screen
When television was very young and had no budget the powers that be gave us “Space Patrol” in which men in diving suits moved from ship to ship in space with CO2 fire extinguishers strapped to their backs! It was a real hoot, aimed at children in the audience at home.
With a better budget, slightly better writing and acting was “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” which features star Richard Crane in a white crew neck T-shirt (alright, maybe the budget wasn’t that much better) with an ornamental space badge insignia affixed.
Also aimed at children this show had a young boy in the cast, along with a side kick for Rocky Jones to boss around, a brilliant Doctor who gave them all the important scientific answers, a beautiful ingenue (the “young girl” character) and villains in the form of an evil wicket Queen of a space empire and her male Viceroy.
The first credible show was Men Into Space produced by Mr. Ziv.
Ziv Television was an independent company that came in to fill the void in television as the major studios were boycotting this new medium, which was eating away at their big screen attendance figures. Mr. Ziv saw an opportunity and he took it, bringing shows like “Highway Patrol,” “Sea Hunt,” “Science Fiction Theater” and “Ripcord” to prime-time television audiences. Some of these shows were even shot in color, although only black and white TV existed at that time.
Men in Space took place in a time frame when we (America) was already on the moon with a permanent base. The space ships looked surprisingly like our modern day Space Shuttles, although they had electric doors that opened by push button (we still largely use manual locks and turn cranks).
William Lundegan was the star of this show that ran only one season. He played Colonel McCaully, a big wig astronaut. The producers attempted to show some dramatic and real to life type of situations that might occur in space and on the moon. In one episode they even demonstrated how rocket fuels works by combining two liquids which burst into flames without the need for a spark. Quite impressive for television in the late 1950’s.
Science Fiction Theater was another Ziv masterpiece. This one ran for several seasons. It was an anthology show, which meant each week there was a drastically different topic with a totally new cast of actors. The scripts were far from meeting the name “Science Fiction” as by now sci-fi in books and magazines was quite sophisticated which this show was rather, well, television oriented.
The first true classic science show was the infamous Twilight Zone created by Rod Serling (who once rejected my story idea for his second show, Night Gallery).
The primary writer of the best episodes was Serling, himself, and noted author Richard Matheson (who would go on to write scripts for the movie “Somewhere in Time” and “”). Matheson’s great writing for this show included on episode starring Agnes Moorehead as an old woman alone in a house invaded by “space aliens” in their flying saucer. The episode was done without any dialog until the very end, after Moorehead smashed the ship with an axe and the last living crew man “phoned home” to warn his planet about the race of giants, telling them not to retaliate. As we move in close on the saucer we see a U.S. Air Force decal that informs us WE were the invading aliens! Wicked!
Matheson also gave us the classic “To Serve Man” about a tall alien who comes to Earth and proposes an exchange of “tourists” to and from his planet. He slaps down a book written in his language that we eventually interpret as the title “To Serve Man” - only in the end we find out it’s a cook book and the Earth tourist going up are the main course! Very wicked!
Not ever show was about space. Some Twilight Zone shows were about war, in the future.
The theme was always about the nature of man, which usually did not paint a very nice picture of mankind!
Following hot on the heels of “The Twilight Zone” was another anthology offering, this one from Joseph Stefano called The Outer Limits.
Stefano was not a fan of sci-fi nor did he intend this show to become sci-fi, but the “powers that be” at United Artists, who distributed the show, made it more sci-fi (and he parted ways with the show after the first season).
This show, like the Twilight Zone, featured a lot of fine, young actors and some great writers.
As with the Twilight Zone, this show was about the nature of man and mankind, and it too, was quite critical.
The first real “outer space” adventure show to have any impact came from a friend of Joseph Stefano and former writer for Mr. Ziv and his name was Gene Roddenberry. The show is know to everyone in the world as: Star Trek.
Originally starring Jeffrey Hunter, Leonard Nimoy as a pointy eared alien science officer and Majel Barrett (Mrs. Roddenberry) as first officer, NBC rejected the concept as being too liberal. Aliens and women holding important jobs on a space ship! Ha! What person in the year 1966 could buy into that radical concept!
NBC commissioned another pilot. This time the alien (Nimoy) got a second job: First Officer of the ship. Roddenberry, however, snuck in a Japanese man as one of the pilots and black woman as radio operator. Jeffrey Hunter was replaced with former Twilight Zone actors (he did two shows in that series) William Shatner. DeForrest Kelly took the place of the original Doctor in the first pilot. Kelly had worked for Roddenberry before on another failed pilot, so they were somewhat friendly. The rest, as they say, is history.
After the first 12 episodes of Star Trek (and Roddenberry snuck his wife, Majel Barrett, back in as a nurse) Gene Roddenberry moved to the executive seat (like his former boss and mentor Norman Felton who oversaw “The Lieutenant” which Roddenberry produced, plus “The Man From UNCLE” which Roddenberry’s good friend and former boss Sam Rolfe produced, in addition to “Dr. Kildare”). Roddenberry then hired successful “Wild, Wild, West” producer Gene Coon to take over the daily chores of writing and casting.
Coon and Roddenberry enticed a fantastic group of writers to work with the show, including sci-fi authors Harlan Ellison and Jerome Bixby, both of whom wrote some superb stories for the show. Ellison took us back into time with “Planet on the Edge of Forever” an episode which featured Joan Collins and the first use of the word “Hell” on network television as Captain Kirk would say at the end of the episode “Let’s get the hell out of here!”
Bixby wrote a story about a recreational planet that read your mind and turned your wishes and desires into reality. The crew didn’t realize this and found all sorts of strange things happened to them on the planet from World War II aircraft, to police pistols to Knights in Shinning Armor.
True sci-fi writers are a wiry bunch. In one episode the head librarian of an alien planet was named Mr. Atoz (if that went over your head, don’t worry a lot of people didn’t catch on to “A to Z” or AtoZ... Get it? Librarian? A to Z. Atoz. Mr. Atoz.).
Hot on the heels of Star Wars, producer Glenn A. Larson gave us “Battlestar Galactica” starring Lore Green and introducing Dirk Benedict (who would go on to a very nice career including a stint with the “A-Team”) and Laurette Spang (whom I know, she retired after the series ended to raise her family, doing an occasionally “Magnum PI” in Hawaii along with her actor husband).
The premise of the show goes back to tales of the “Ancient Astronauts” which states that the Pyramids and possibly some Egyptian concepts came from outer space travelers (this also inspired the move “Stargate”).
The show only lasted two seasons and Larson was sued by George Lucas over “look and feel” issues, especially since Larson employed Lucas special effects wizards John Dykstra as a producer and effects creator on show.
Few other science fictions shows other than Star Trek have endured on television. The only other one of significant merit is another Gene Roddenberry creation called “Andromeda.”
Star Trek was franchised off and turned into many theatrical features with the original cast, of which the best was the second and third offerings: “The Wrath Of Khan” based on characters from the TV series and “The Journey Home” in which they go back in time to present day Earth to pick up a few hump back whales in a story suggested by Leonard Nimoy.
Star Trek came back to TV with a new cast, set further in the future and that show lasted many years and spawned squeals including “Deep Space Nine” (with a black male lead), “Voyager” (with a white female lead) and the current venture “Enterprise” which is a retro show taking us back before the original to the early development of the “Federation” and “Star Fleet.”
Enterprise is still a very popular series on the UPN stations.
Space Special |
Rocketing Into Space |
India In Space |
Europeans In Space
Women Among The Stars | Cosmology and Astronomy | Reaching For The Stars
Antigravity (Fiction) | Not To Go Into Space (Opinion) | Telescopes
Night Skies January-February 2005 | Space in Film, TV, VHS and DVD
Astrology January-February | Cartoons Part 5 (Marvin The Martian) | Books (Space in Print) | Music (Space in Melody)