Top Ten Creepy Kids from Horror Movies

Scary movies, especially the great ones, strive to push the audience to a point of unease and dread while they watch; and in a way that fulfills the audience’s desire to be taken on that emotional ride while watching a movie.  There are many tricks to creating a sense of horror within a movie, from jump scares to creepy atmosphere to all kinds of unnatural phenomena that delves into our deepest fears.  But there is one particular element in horror movies that really captures the attention of an audience looking to be scared, and that’s a loss of innocence seen when something that is young and pure of soul is corrupted into something dark and sinister.  This is what we know as the creepy kid trope in horror movies.  Regular horror enacted or involving adults can be frightening enough, but when there is a child involved, the sense of dread is even more elevated.  There’s just something so unnerving about a child at the center of a horror story, whether the target of some malevolent force or embodying the force of evil itself within a story.  Sometimes even in not so scary stories, just the image of a child devoid of life and joy can have an unnerving effect on an audience.  And this is why horror movies that center around or include a haunted or demented child usually become some of the most popular.  Dark and foreboding kids just have this aura that elevates the level of unease in a story.  And we’ve seen creepy kids in movies used any number of ways; from ghosts, to zombies, to witches and vampires, to mutated monsters, to serial killers, to evil the Devil incarnate.  What follows are some of the best and most famous examples of the creepy kid trope used in horror movies, ranked through my own view of their notoriety and effectiveness as representatives of the trope used throughout horror movie history.   Just regular old creepy kids are not going to make it here on this list; these are characters that are central to delivering the effectively foreboding tone of their selective movies.  And some are of course among the most famous horror movie characters of all time.  Fair warning, there are spoilers ahead.  So, prepare yourself because we are about to talk about some of cinema’s creepiest kids that have ever been put on the big screen.


ESTHER from ORPHAN (2009)

Played by Isabelle Fuhrman

One of the most noteworthy characteristics of a creepy child in horror movies is the revelation that they are not what they appear to be.  That’s definitely the case with the character of Esther from the movie Orphan, and then some.  Initially, when Esther is introduced, she appears to be a normal looking child with very old fashioned sensibilities.  Over the course of the movie, her cheerful childhood veneer is worn away to reveal a sinister side, which increasing grows more violent as the movie goes along.  Then towards the end of the movie, we get the big reveal that (spoilers) Esther is in fact not really a ten year old child, but is in fact a middle aged woman who has a rare condition that has stunted her growth and makes her appear to be a child.  With people seeing her as a child all the time, she has worked that to her advantage and scammed her way into multiple families as an orphan needing to be adopted, only for her to kill and steal her way out in order to repeat the cycle over again.  The unfortunate parents, played by Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard who had already lost a child and wanted to adopt to fill that empty void, slowly realize the sinister nature of Esther and her dubious plans, and it leads to a very creepy and harrowing confrontation.  The fact that Esther is revealed not to be a real child is what prevents her from being further up on this list, but she is still noteworthy as a character because that twist is so well executed in the movie and that is largely due to Isabelle Fuhrman’s remarkable performance.  She in fact was really 10 years of age when this movie was filmed, so the fact that she pulled off all the aspects of this character so perfectly really is quite the achievement.  She really is the only reason why the plot twist manages to land, because I don’t think the movie would have worked any other way.  On paper, it is a really silly concept, but with a young performer with the right amount of conviction, a character like Esther can really become something of a nightmarish reality.



Played by Haley Joel Osment

One of the most famous examples of the creepy kid tropes in movies is also one of the least scary.  Though Cole is a character that certainly shares a lot of the key characteristics we associate with creepy kids in horror movies, he’s also more of a character that is meant to react to all the scary stuff around him, rather than actually be the source of eerie activity himself.  Being a child with the ability to see and interact with the paranormal world, he lives in a constant state of unease which alienates him from other kids.  This is more of the driving force of the character, whose detachment carries it’s own sense of foreboding feeling.  He was a character that more than anything captured the imagination of audiences who first saw the movie when it came out and turned The Sixth Sense into a huge phenomenon, because of how well he could make us relate to his perpetual sense of dread.  A very young Haley Joel Osment perfectly captures all those aspects of the character, as his ability to “see dead people” becomes more of a curse than anything, and his hushed performance carries a lot of eerie qualities with it.  Considering that M. Night Shyamalan’s movie is  more concerned with atmosphere than scares to drive the eerie mood of his movie, and Cole as a character fits well within that kind of storytelling.  He’s the conduit for the supernatural activity in the movie, and most of it is not so much malevolent in nature, but more shocking in how it suddenly manifests in front of us.  Osment more than anything embodied the sense of dread that pervades the movie, with his genuinely terrified looking performance and world-weary tone of voice, but unlike many other spooky children on this list, he is a character that grows and strengthens as he learns to lift himself beyond fear and find a way to turn a curse into a gift.  It’s a movie about healing, even from beyond the grave, and Cole as a character fits within that mold and provides that rare creepy kid that becomes emboldened by movie’s end.



Played by  Milly Shapiro

The character of Charlie from Hereditary sadly does not get the same arc of fulfillment that Cole from The Sixth Sense does.  Again, not overtly established as a sinister force within the story, the character of Charlie nevertheless comes across a very creepy and bizarre presence in the early part of the story.  From here stand-off-ish personality to that weird clicking sound that she makes, you know that there is something very off about this child.  And yet, she is still sympathetic in nature.  She has a severe nut allergy that forces her into isolation while being around her fellow kids.  She is also grateful for the love of her family, and shares that love in return, which becomes a major element in the story later on.  But, like Cole in Sixth Sense, she also is a conduit for sinister things that befalls the family later on.  Interesting enough, she also shares the same actress playing her mother as Cole from Sixth Sense, the incredible Toni Colette.  Her presence definitely delivers on the creepy vibes typical of a child character like her in one of these horror movies, but what is surprising is that she isn’t a major presence in the story either.  Rather shockingly, and famously, she has a date with destiny with a particular roadside utility line pole that takes her out of the movie pretty early on.  Despite that, her brief scenes still leave an impact that carries on long after she is gone.  A lot of credit goes to actress Milly Shapiro for finding that creepy, quiet tone with the character.  It could have been far too easy to make Charlie’s weird appearance the crux of her creepiness, but Milly manages to delve deeper in her performance, to both make us sympathize with her and at the same time feel uneasy in her presence.  For this Ari Aster movie that emphasizes mood to drive the terror, mostly through the performances of the actors, Charlie’s weird eccentric presence provides and effective omen for things to come within the rest of the story.



Played by Martin Stephens and Others

The children in this classic British horror film in many ways were some of the early archetypes for the creepy kid trope.  Through some unexplained occurrence, the people of one quiet little English village fall into a deep sleep only to be awoken many days later not realizing what had happened.  Months later, the women of the village all give birth to children with unnaturally pale skin and hair.  The children grow up rapidly, and all behave the same in a creepy detached manner.  They also display unnatural powers like having glowing eyes as well as mind control and telepathy, which they are increasingly using in more sinister ways.  Whether it was done by magic or through extra-terrestrial invasion, the embodiment of a sinister through the guise of children was definitely a shocking thing for audiences to witness in these last days of the Production Code.  There is a specific sort of terror found in these children who lack individualism and carefreeness that you would normally see in a young child.  The cold, soullessness coming from these children in the Village of the Damned really is a nightmarish concept that makes them a standout presence in the horror movie pantheon.  Though defined as a group, the son of the lead characters in the movie (played by George Sanders and Barbara Shelley) named David Zellaby (played memorably by young Martin Stephens), stands out more than the others, because we see the realization of what’s going on with these children the most through how he is interacting with his increasingly terrified family.  You can really see the imprint of the children from the Village of the Damned in most other creepy kids throughout the years, including many on this list.  From the monotone tone of voice to the cold, deadly stares, to the lack of cheeriness that any normal child should have.  A lot of that comes from how effectively creepy the children in this movie proved to be.  It also might be the British accents that also contribute to the creepiness, as they give these possessed children a very old world kind of evil presence.  Regardless, these creepy kids are iconic in the whole of horror movie history and left an indelible mark that is still seen today.



Played by Yuya Ozeki

While western cinema has it’s long standing tradition of horror cinema, there is also a proud legacy of scary movies to come from the East as well.  Japan in particular has been responsible for some of the most terrifying movies that have ever been made, and it stems from their own cultural fascination with the supernatural and macabre.  Japanese traditions are very much centered around humanity’s connection with the spiritual plane, and how people must act in order to stave off malevolent spirits.  Ghost stories are heavily present in Japanese folklore, and those same stories have found their way into Japanese cinema, creating some of the creepiest films ever made.  One such ghost story that really captures the imagination is the one found in the Ju-on series, involving a very vengeful ghost at it’s center.  In The Grudge, a young woman buys a home not knowing of it’s dark past.  Over time, the ghostly presence inside reveals itself, which the woman realizes is part of a curse that leaves everyone who lives inside the house dead before long.  The scariest ghostly presence in the home is that of a malevolent spirit named Kayako, a vengeful ghost who we learn was once a woman who lived in the house and was brutally murdered by her husband.  But she is not the only ghost in the home, as our protagonist also comes across a ghost of a young boy named Toshio, who is Kayako’s son who was also brutally murdered.  With bleached white skin and black ringed eyes, Toshio is also a terrifying presence, though he’s not as dangerous as his homicidal ghost mother.  He’s more of a herald to warn of when his mother is about to wreck terror on the protagonist.  Nevertheless, he still leaves an eerie impression, as the sight of a ghost child devoid of humanity is still a creepy sight to see.  The movie was remade by Hollywood in 2004, but it retained it’s original creative team from Japan and even young Yuya Ozeki reprised his role as Toshio.  It shows that even though the western audience were getting their own taste of this modern horror classic, it was still maintaining it’s Japanese identity, including the memorable ghosts that were a major part of it’s draw in the first place.



Played by Jackson A. Dunn

Here we have an example of a creepy kid in a horror movie taking inspiration from another genre altogether.  For a long time, there had been a lingering What If? question in the comic book genre and that’s what would happen if the Man of Steel (Superman) were evil.  In the comics, Superman was and is a force for good, fighting for truth, justice and a better life for all.  But the reason he became this way was because he was set on the right path by his adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent, who instilled in him the important values that would help him become the hero that we all deserve.  But, what if the boy who would be Superman was not as fortunate to have that kind of level of parenting in his life?  That’s the question posed by Brightburn, which is not a direct adaptation of the Superman mythos flipped on it’s head, but the similarities are very clearly drawn.  In Brightburn, a boy named Brandon begins to exhibit the same kind of abilities that Superman has, including being indestructible, super strong, and capable of flight and shooting lasers from his eyes.  But, unlike Superman, he is shunned for being different and is bullied by his fellow kids.  His parents, ill-equipped to handle their son’s eccentricities, begin to isolate him even more, which only causes Brandon to grow more apathetic to humanity as a result, and more willing to use his powers to seek revenge against those who did him wrong.  When you look at Superman’s powers in general, it is kind of a terrifying concept to think of them being used for evil purposes, and that’s what this movie explores in terrifying detail.  It’s one thing for a child to have super powers; it’s another to have him become an unstoppable monster out to destroy.  It makes sense that this movie comes from a creative mind who has worked both in the worlds of comic books and horror; James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy).  In this movie, producer Gunn and his team explores the nature vs. nurture argument that is a key component of the characters that make up the comic book canon, and how the line between becoming a hero or a villain is incredibly thin.  And as a result, Brandon from Brightburn becomes a wholly different kind of creepy kid that provides an interesting meta commentary on humanity and the depictions of heroes, while at the same time keeping in that tradition of being a wholly terrifying presence through the eroding of his innocence.


SAMARA from THE RING (2002)

Played by Daveigh Chase

Another translation from East to West, this memorable scary child in some ways was improved upon from the Japanese original.  I believe that Samara’s terrifying presence came across as more effective here is because this studio budget film was better able to bring the concept of the spectral character to it’s full potential.  As we learn in the movie, anyone who watches a video of a young, black haired girl emerging from a well in a grainy, worn out VHS tape ends up dying a gruesome death seven days later.  A journalist looking into the mystery (played by Naomi Watts) investigates and learns that the girl in the tape was a deeply disturbed child named Samara, who was under psychiatric care until she mysteriously disappeared.  Watt’s character soon discovers that Samara was drowned in a well by her parents, who believed that she was possessed by some evil, and sought to seal her away.  After uncovering the truth about what happened to Samara, Watt’s Rachel believes that she has broken the curse surrounding the video tape, hopefully saving her and her son, after both had watched it days before.  Unfortunately, they learn that Samara was indeed supposed to be helped.  In the movie’s most terrifying and memorable moment, we see Samara leap off of the TV screen and become a fully realized and horrifying ghost.  What makes this version of the character superior to the Japanese original is because Samara still looks like a she’s made of video tape artifacts, even while she’s a fully dimensional specter, including creepy jump cut twitching and all.  Only with more a substantial special effects budget an image such as that could work, and thankfully director Gore Verbinski puts it to effective use.  Daveigh Chase (who in that same year also voiced Lilo in Disney’s Lilo and Stitch) also brilliantly brings Samara’s terrifying presence to life, with her unnatural way of walking and piercing vengeful grimace before she claims her victims.  She indeed set a new high bar for scary child characters with her iconic final revelation in this movie, and few have managed to even come close to evoking the same kind of terror that she brings within her movie.



Played by Louise and Lisa Burns

Stanley Kubrick’s reimagining of Stephen King’s The Shining has become one of the most monumental films ever in the horror genre.  It also set the bar high for everything that followed it, and rewrote much of the language of horror movies that we still see in practice today.  It’s also a perfect example of using the children in peril motif for creating a terrifying horror story.  At the center of the story, we have Danny Torrence (played memorably by Danny Lloyd) who has his own creepy eccentricities.  However, he’s not the scariest child found in this movie by a long shot.  That honor goes to the set of young girls known as the Grady Twins.  Victims of their own father’s demented possession within the haunted Overlook Hotel, the Grady Twins stalk the hallways of the hotel hand in hand and just give off this unsettling creepy presence.  I think that it’s the way that Kubrick first introduced the girls in the movie that sent shivers up the spines of so many people who’ve seen the movie.  We follow behind Danny Torrence as he rides his tricycle through the winding halls of the Hotel in a now iconic steadi-cam shot.  Once we turn a corner with him, punctuated by Wendy Carlos’ eerie score,  the Grady girls appear suddenly at the end of the hall.  Distant at first, the perfectly symmetrical image keeps zooming in, broken apart with quick cuts of the bloody corpses of the girls and Danny’s terrified face, with the girls repeating in eerie unison, “Come play with us Danny.  For ever, and ever, and ever.”  The Grady Twins don’t do much else in the movie, but that singular terrifying moment really struck a nerve with audiences, many whom I would bet have developed phobias about long hallways and turning corners in dark places.  What is interesting is that this moment was an addition made by Stanley Kubrick to the story, as Stephen King mentions but never shows the twins in his narrative.  Supposedly, Kubrick was inspired by an old photograph of similarly creepy looking twin girls holding hands while staring at the camera, and he believed it would be an image that lent itself well to the creepy atmosphere he needed for his movie.  He was certainly right, and the appearance of the Grady Twins has gone down as one of the most terrifying moments in cinema history.


DAMIEN from THE OMEN (1976)

Played by Harvey Stephens

In this iconic Richard Donner horror flick, the creepiness of the child in question is not so much embodied in his character, but more so in the aura that he represents.  There isn’t much to the character of Damien at first; he just seems like an average child.  But, as more and more darker events begin to occur around him, we soon learn of Damien’s terrifying nature; that he is the spawn of Satan, and will grow up one day to become the Anti-Christ.  The idea of the embodiment of all evil being presented in the guise of a young child is an especially unnerving one, and it gives the movie this genuine feeling of dread throughout.  As Damien’s adoptive Father (played by Gregory Peck) investigates further into the mysterious tragedies that have occurred in the presence of the child, the dreadful truth begins to dawn on him, and he’s confronted with the harsh truth that he may have to kill a child to save the world from unbearable evil.  Richard Donner masterfully raises the suspense in the movie to the point where you really feel the terror of what Damien may one day become.  The cold, dreariness of the English setting really gives the movie an extra layer of foreboding atmosphere.  It effectively spells out for the audience the way that Damien’s mere presence brings about emptiness of life around him, like the nanny who hangs herself, or violence erupting in his wake, like the scene with the monkeys at the zoo.  And all the while, Damien appears as a mere innocent child.  That is until the final image of the film, when Damien looks back at the camera with a seemingly devilish smile while attending the funeral of the parents who died after taking him in; almost like it was his plan all along.  The concept of the Anti-Christ extended beyond the scriptural prophecies that he’s been known for over the centuries, and was fully brought to scary modern life with this movie.  It was movies like this one that gave rise to Satanic panic in many pockets of the Western world, because through it’s story, we saw how an Anti-Christ could indeed emerge in our world today, despite the fact that this movie was meant to scare and not inspire Satanic influence in the world.  It’s with the memorable final note of the movie that Richard Donner perfectly established Damien as one of the most terrifying children ever put on screen.  Pure evil, wrapped up in a veneer of childhood innocence.



Played by Linda Blair

What seems to be the most terrifying presence of a scary child in any horror movie is one where a sweet, innocent kid is corrupted into a monster before our very eyes.  The most vivid case of this is Regan from The Exorcist.  We are introduced to her as a happy-go-lucky 12 year old living with her movie star mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) in Washington D.C.  As time goes on, Regan begins to go through a change of personality, loosing that sweetness that once defined her, and becoming more vulgar and violent.  Soon, she begins to become less herself and more demonic in nature.  And then the physical transformation begins.  A scratchy, otherworldly voice speaks through her, her body begins to transform into a ghoulish pallor, and she contorts into abnormal positions, including having her head spin completely around.  Eventually, it’s determined that she is possessed by the Devil and must be exorcised in order to save her life.  William Friedkin’s horror classic still manages to haunt so many years later, because of it’s frighteningly vivid portrayal of demonic possession.  The movie is devoid of all pretense and treats this supernatural story like it’s a true to life drama, which makes all the demonic elements feel more real as a result.  Linda Blair’s performance is especially memorable, because it’s her underneath the layers of make-up and flailing herself manically on the bed during the possession scenes.  It’s a lot to ask of for a young actress like her in that time, but she tackled it all in a remarkable and brave way.  The image of a possessed Regan, tied to her bed, spitting up green goo, and levitating in mid air are still the stuff of nightmares and they’ve firmly planted Regan and this movie into the stuff of horror legend.  Regan eventually has the demon expelled, but the ordeal is nothing short of a nightmare brought to life on screen, and Regan at the height of her demonic self is still one of the most terrifying images ever brought to cinema.  Through the complete corruption of an innocent soul and the creepy body horror that is inflicted on this young person, there really is no more creepy kid in cinema than a fully possessed Regan in The Exorcist.

So, there you have what I think are the most memorable and effectively creepy children ever to be brought to the silver screen.  There are of course many more notable examples out there, and it’s a trope that even isn’t limited to horror movies.  I’ve seen the creepy kid trope used in comedies sometimes to identify an eccentric outsider kid sometimes, which in some ways is a way of making fun of the at times overused cliché.  Though it can be oftentimes overused to the point of irrelevance, good horror movies have still managed to make the trope work.  Brandon in Brightburn and Charlie from Hereditary are good examples of fairly recent iterations of the trope used well, mainly due to the fact that they play around with some of the audience’s expectations with the commonly used trope.  And as we’ve seen, a creepy child is often part of some of the most iconic horror movies that have ever been made, including The Shining and The Exorcist, where a child is front and center within those stories.  I think that the effectiveness of the trope comes from the expectation of the genre, where having a child in the presence of danger and overwhelming evil just ups the suspense because it’s someplace that we all acknowledge a child should never be.  Going further and having the child be the source of evil itself, like The Omen’s Damien or The Ring’s Samara just increases the scary factor even more.  These horror movies have also helped to establish some very disturbing characteristics of creepy kids, including the joyless montone voice and the lifeless stare, that if done right can still send a chill down ones spine.  We all expect monsters and ghouls to come in terrifying, larger than life packages.  It just becomes more unsettling when something as adorable and innocent as a young child becomes that instrument of terror in a movie.  But, it’s a trope that in the end gives us the most memorable frights, and these ten creepy kids are perfect examples of that.  So, even though scares may be coming in a smaller than expected package, it nevertheless can deliver the biggest of frights at the movies.

Dune (2021) – Review

Arrakis.  Dune. Desert Planet.  Ever since it’s original publication in 1965, Frank Herbert’s seminal Sci-Fi epic Dune has been a siren call to filmmakers wanting to bring the author’s vision to full cinematic life.  Despite having all the grandeur in scope of a great biblical sized adventure, Herbert’s novel was also a dense and detailed tome, where worldbuilding is intricately to the story itself, something that would take a lot more time to adapt than what’s allowed for the average film.  This led the book Dune to develop a reputation over time as being “un-filmable.”  That’s not to say that there weren’t people who tried.  One of the most famous failed attempts was from advant garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) whose early development of his vision of the movie was so wild and fascinating that a documentary was made about it called Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013).  In that documentary, you see what may have been the greatest movie never made, as Jodorowsky details his bold vision for a space opera based on the novel that would rival the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  Of course, it was a dream un-fulfilled, and that’s a narrative that has long followed the history of Dune on film.  Dune did eventually get a big screen adaptation by, of all people, David Lynch, who definitely leaned far more into the weirder aspects of Herbert’s novel.  I talked about that adaptation more at length here, but to sum up, it’s a movie that leaves much to be deserved, especially if you’ve read the book.  Lynch’s Dune (1984) for one thing rushes through most of the novel, and never allows for the worldbuilding to take hold.  In the end it feels more like a Lynch movie than anything else, with only the bullet points of Herbert’s story.  When Universal tried to add more backstory to make it more understandable to casual audiences, it angered David so much that he refused to attach his name to the longer cut, making it the most expensive Alan Smithee movie ever made.  For decades afterwards, Lynch’s bizarre and compromised adaptation did garner a cult following, but long time fans of the novel continued to hope for a big screen adaptation that finally lived up to what was on the page.

After being passed around from studio to studio, the rights to Frank Herbert’s Dune eventually landed at Legendary Pictures, under their partnership with Warner Brothers.  After securing the rights, the search went out for a director who was not only capable of delivering on the promise of Frank Herbert’s vision, but one who was also passionate about the project as well.  The duty of such a daunting challenge eventually went to French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve.  Villeneuve had already made a name for himself with critically acclaimed dramas like Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), but more recently he’s been known for his celebrated work in Science Fiction, with movies like Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).  The match was ideal for the up and coming director, as this has long been a dream project of his, ever since he read the novel back when he was a teenager.  Once Villeneuve was given the greenlight, work began on bringing his long gestating vision to full life.  Warner Brothers granted him a sizable amount to work with, including having an all-star cast playing all the iconic characters.  Warner Brothers were hoping this would be the start of a new lucrative franchise for them, and the film was set up with a prime Holiday 2020 release.  Then, unfortunately, the bad fortunes that seem to follow this story around, came to disrupt those plans.  The Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for Dune to make it’s original release date like all the other films that year, and Warner Brothers made the tough decision to push the movie back to 2021.  As the pandemic waned, Dune settled into it’s new October release date, but another controversial decision followed with it.  Warner Brothers decided they were going to release their entire 2021 slate of movies day and date in theaters and on streaming through HBO Max, including Dune.  This led to friction with Denis Villeneuve who intended his film to be seen on the big screen.  With this release pattern, many like Villeneuve worry that it will minimize box office and hurt any chances of a continuation of the series in case the movie appears to be a flop.  Regardless, Warner Brothers stuck by their plan, and Dune is indeed receiving a hybrid release this week.  The only question is, does it finally live up to the promise of the novel and demand a big screen viewing, or was Warner right to hedge their bets.

Dune (2021) pretty much follows the novel down to the letter with it’s overall plot.  It is many millennia into the future.  The galaxy is ruled by the Imperium, a multi-planet galactic federation that is ruled by the Great Houses, overseen by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV.  Two of the Great Houses, the Harkonnens and the Atreides, are sworn enemies of each other, but still swear the same allegiance to the Imperium.  Upon the decree of the Emperor, House Atreides has been granted stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis, where the Spice Mélange is harvested.  The spice is the most valuable substance in the galaxy, granting those who consume it enhanced mental and physical capabilities, as well as enabling the process of interstellar flight.  The one who holds control over the production of the spice wields great power within the Imperium, which leads many to wonder why the Emperor is suddenly changing the stewardship of the planet from one house to another.  Until now, the Harkonnen’s, led by the fearsome Baron (Stellan Skarsgard) and his nephew Rabban (Dave Bautista), had been ruling the planet and it’s native people, the Fremen, with a tyrannical iron grip.  Now, the Atreides, a benevolent and well-loved Great House, are making the move to Arrakis.  Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) brings along with him is beloved Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son Paul (Timothee Chalamet).  Paul Atreides has garnered a lot of interest from a powerful collective of witches known as the Bene Gesserit, of whom Jessica has also belonged.  She is teaching Paul some of her special abilities, which are forbidden for men to learn, which the Bene Gesserit leader, Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), believes could prove problematic for the Emporer.  It is thought that Paul may be the prophesized Kwisatz Haderach, an all powerful Messiah like being that can transcend time and space.  Indeed, Paul’s dreams reveal a bit of his possible future, as he continues to see a mystery girl named Chani (Zendaya) within them.  Once at Arrakis, Duke Leto’s trusted men, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) do their best to train young Paul for a harsh new world.  But as Paul will see, Arrakis is a perilous place full of assassins acting on the Harkonnen’s orders, as well as home to the mighty Shai-hulud, the massive, mountain sized sand worms that scour across the planet.

What I just described is basically just the set-up to the story of Dune and not the actual plot itself, which shows you just how dense of a story Frank Herbert’s narrative really is.  It’s a daunting task to fit that kind of epic story into just one film, as David Lynch learned the hard way.  With Denis Villeneuve, the task was to convince Warner Brothers that one movie alone was not possible to capture the full breadth of the story.  His plan was to divide Dune into separate halves over the span of two movies.  It’s not an unusual feat; several studios have split books up into two movies before, but they had the benefit of built in franchises like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games to allow for that.  Denis was gambling with the studio here, but it’s what was necessary to carry out his full vision.  Warner Brothers granted him his wish, but with a caveat; that he could only start off with the first half.  Instead of filming back to back like other franchises have with multi-part movies before, Villeneuve had to do with filming only Part 1 of his adaptation of Dune, with the prospect of a Part 2 dependent on the performance of the first.  That seemed like a fair compromise in a time of stable box office a couple years ago, but now seems short sighted in the wake of a global pandemic.  Now, Denis Villeneuve’s chances of completing his vision are not so certain, as Warner Brother’s HBO Max gamble almost ensures that the movie is not going to perform up to it’s potential at the box office.  And that overall is a real tragedy, because this is a movie that demands to be seen on the biggest possible screen.  It has honestly been too long since I’ve seen a movie aim this high as a visual experience on the big screen, reaching for the heights of both the natural splendor of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and the surreal head trip of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  This is the kind of epic movie that I absolutely love, one that pushes cinema to the limit, and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is a masterful demonstration of that.  I was blown away seeing this on a massive IMAX screen for the first time.  Villeneuve, whose style is growing more and more ambitious with every new film, really holds nothing back in this movie.  But, David Lynch also attempted an audacious cinematic experience with his version of Dune.  What makes Villeneuve’s version vastly better is that he manages to solidify the tone throughout the movie, and treats it with the seriousness it deserves.  And more importantly, he devotes more time to pacing the story out and letting it flow naturally.

Even when it’s only the first half of the book, Villeneuve’s Dune still runs at a meaty 2 1/2 hours.  And a lot of that extra time gives us something that the David Lynch version never allowed before, a chance to immerse ourselves in this world that Frank Herbert envisioned.  With the help of Cinematographer Greig Fraser, whose work includes films like Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Rogue One (2016), Villeneuve creates an Arrakis that feels alive and tangible.  I found myself in awe of the way that movie captures the vistas of it’s locations.  Everything in this movie feels big, from the locations to even the machinery used by the characters.  The ships that the Atreides use to transport themselves and their forces from planet to planet are colossal structures in of themselves, towering hundreds of feet and reducing the human beings among them to mere specks within the wide shots.  And then there are the Sand Worms, which are probably the greatest creation of all from the mind of Frank Herbert.  They are not seen much in this movie, but their presence is felt throughout, much like the shark from Jaws (1975).  One of the most jaw-dropping visuals that I love from this movie is the way that we see the seas of sand dunes undulate as the Sand Worms move underneath.  And then a massive sand pit begins to start sinking and entrapping anything or anyone unfortunate to be caught up within it.  Around the center, hundreds of massive razor sharp teeth begin to rise up and engulf it’s prey, and then the gaping mouth of the beast closes in around it’s meal.  It’s a terrifying sight taken right out off the page, and is a clear example of how well Villeneuve’s own vision perfectly matches Herbert’s.  But apart from scale, I also admire how Denis also deals with simple, unspoken storytelling.  There is a scene early on where Paul walks along a lake shoreline on his home planet of Caladan and places his hand in a puddle of water.  Without words, he perfectly conveys the feeling of what is going through Paul’s mind at that moment.  He’s doing something that is mundane on his planet that will become almost impossible on Arrakis, where water is so scarce that people have created suits designed to recycle the body’s own water.  That’s a big, and valued change of approach for retelling this story.  David Lynch was forced to cram in a lot of underlying backstory through awkward internal monologues.  Here, Villeneuve says a lot more through visual storytelling, conveying emotion in his story rather than rigid adherence to a plot.

The movie also gets a lot out of it’s stellar cast, all of whom surprisingly fit well within this hyper-realized world.  For one thing, Denis Villeneuve was wise to cast a youngish actor this time in the role of Paul Atreides.  David Lynch’s Dune had Kyle McLauchlan in the pivotal role, but he was already in his mid-twenties when playing the part of the teenage protagonist, and he unfortunately looked it too.  Timothee Chalamet is also on the latter side of 20, but he looks far more believably younger and you buy him as the character Paul much more.  It’s a daunting part, no matter which way you look at it, because the role of Paul requires the actor to be in the mindset of being the so-called “Super” of the story; a sometimes overused cliché that has been used in many Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories, including many that Dune influenced.  What I like about what Timothee brings to the part is the quiet pain that he feels as the character.  You feel the world-weariness of the character, as he struggles with being at the center of all these political and supernatural machinations, all the while trying his best to be a normal, level-headed young kid.  And thankfully, Timothee also accomplishes this without turning Paul into an angsty, whiny privileged teen, which could’ve happened in the wrong hands of a different actor.  He’s also matched with an incredible performance by Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica.  She delivers so much emotion through her role, and it’s nice to see a maternal character treated like a powerful force within this adaptation.  Oscar Isaac makes his Duke Leto a man worthy of admiration, and the supporting roles Gurney and Duncan are filled perfectly by the always reliable and charming Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa respectively.  There’s one underwhelming part of the cast in the movie and that’s the villainous Harkonnens themselves.  Stellan Skarsgard and Dave Bautista are still excellent in their performances, but the movie doesn’t really utilize them to the fullest.  They are just there, and fulfill their part in the story, with no real insight into their character motivations.  It makes me wonder if Denis was saving that more for Part II, instead.  In any sense, even with all the extra time, it seems like the villains were treated like an afterthought in this film, but they are still well acted and creepily designed.  I do hope we are going to get more characterizations fleshed out in the future, but even still, the cast really delivers in their roles.  Like all the best films with a stacked cast of knowable faces, the best sign of the movie’s effectiveness is in seeing how the actors start to disappear throughout the movie, and we instead only see the character they are playing.  That’s the great trick that the Lord of the Rings movies pulled, and I’m glad to see that it works just as well here too.

There’s also a lot to say about the incredible aural experience that you’ll have watching this movie, especially in a theater retrofitted with a spectacular sound system.  For one thing, Hans Zimmer’s score is up there with the legendary composer’s best work.  With worldwide influences, Zimmer’s score gives an identity to the world of Arrakis, and captures through music the incredible wildness of that world.  Equally adept at capturing the big action moments with the quieter reflective ones, Zimmer’s score has a beautiful fluidity to it that perfectly matches the visual splendor that Denis Villeneuve puts on display.  The sound editing really utilizes the dynamic sound field very well.  It’s this specifically this that you will only get to hear at it’s fullest potential within a movie theater.  Home theater set-ups won’t rattle the ribcage and get the heart pumping like the sound systems of a multi-channel theater set-up can, especially one at an IMAX theater.  The rolling thunder of the oncoming Sand Worms especially have a foreboding sound to them.  There’s also a lot of brilliant work put into the art design of the movie and the special effects.  The David Lynch movie had it’s weirdness to be sure, but there are a few places and sights in this movie that also delve into the strange and bizarre.  I especially like the H.R. Geiger inspired look of the Harkonnen home world, which I think is a deliberate nod to Jodoworsky’s unfulfilled vision, as Alejandro did in fact commission Geiger to design the Baron’s palace for his movie, years before Geiger went on to famously design the iconic creature in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1978).  If this was the case, I applaud Denis for acknowledging the legacy of Jodoworsky’s imaginative but never made version, which only lives on as a collection of development art.  Another thing that I love about this movie is that it mixes practical and digital effects really well.  Since Denis Villeneuve is like Christopher Nolan in that he tries to do as much as he can in camera before adding digital enhancement, I’m happy to see so much in this movie that looks authentic and real.  The digital effects are subtly laid in, and there is quite a lot of use of physical miniature models to help make the mighty fortresses in this story feel real.  In a Marvel and DC world that has become too accustomed to blue screen and CGI enhancement, it’s great to see a movie fall back on some tried and true old tricks to help make Arrakis and all the other worlds of Dune feel as real as possible.

Of all the movies to have released in this re-building year at the box office, this is the one that makes the most passionate case yet for returning to the movie theater.  There really is no better way to appreciate the film and it’s massive scale.  Unfortunately, because of Warner Brothers not backing down from their year long gamble on HBO Max, there is a chance that too many people will end up staying home and not get the full experience of this movie.  I understand that it’s still too unsafe for some people to venture out as the pandemic still continues to exist and that streaming the movie at the same time it’s in theaters grants people who are not ready yet the chance to not miss out.  But, Warner Brothers is putting too much on the line with this one.  It’s foolish on their part to not consider having Denis Villeneuve shoot two movies back to back, so that even if the first movie underperforms, he’ll still have the second part to complete the story.  Here, the movie ends on an abrupt note, making it far more dependent on a continuation to follow.  If Warner Brothers doesn’t invest in a sequel right after this, it’s definitely going to come across as an incomplete vision.  I guess that it would put the movie in line with other past Dune projects, like Jodoworsky’s unmade film or David Lynch’s compromise, as they both reached far and came up short.  Frank Herbert’s masterpiece is a daunting challenge, but Denis Villeneuve’s visual feast is the best attempt yet at finally bringing the story to it’s full cinematic potential.  Sadly, I think Warner Brothers is going to leave a lot of money on the table with regards to this one, all in the pursuit of pushing for more subscribers to their streaming channel.  I hope that word of mouth helps this movie find it’s audience, and helps convince the WB team that they need to complete the full vision.  It’s all going to come down to dollars and cents at this point, and it only makes it more complicated when you know that, like Arrakis,  Warner is currently going through a leadership change of it’s own (from AT&T to Discovery) which could dampen Dune’s chances even more.  All I can say is this was absolutely the best theatrical experience I have had thus far this year, and after the last year that we’ve had, it’s a feeling that I have long wished would return.  Denis Villeneuve has done a masterful job of taming Frank Herbert’s “un-filmable” novel and giving us a movie worthy of it’s legacy.  if you can, I cannot recommend more highly enough that you should see it in a theater on the biggest possible screen.  It is the kind of movie that reminds us the power that cinema can have, and it does so with a world we have yet to fully see realized in a way that captures it’s true epic potential.  The grandfather of all modern science fiction now finally has a movie worthy of it’s legacy.  Now it’s up to us to help it become a hit so that it won’t remain an unfinished masterpiece.  The spice must flow.

Rating: 9/10

Evolution of Character – The Wolf Man

Extending from folklore, to literature, to cinema, there are many iconic monsters that make up the menagerie of Halloween time.  And while some of the icons of Halloween come from very distinctive literary origins like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, there are others whose presence in the culture extend much further back and have no real true origin.  Witches and zombies for example have haunted the imagination of generations through folklore, with many different cultures having their own unique take.  And one particular creature that especially carries a long history with it is the werewolf.  With a particularly strong folkloric history in Western Europe, tales of werewolves have been present for over the last millennia.  There is something particularly captivating about the idea of transforming between species to go from man to beast.  It’s not always a story about malevolence and savagery.   Celtic folklore talks about spirits that inhabit the both the bodies of men and wolves and are protectors of nature.  The tale of Beauty and the Beast likewise draws inspiration from old Gaelic folk tales.  But when the rise of Gothic horror became popularized in the 18th and 19th centuries, the tales of werewolves went through their own transformation into something more foreboding and scary.  Over time, canonical things began to be associated with werewolf beings, such as the transmissible nature of it’s curse through the act of attacking and infecting, as well as having a silver bullet being the one thing to end it’s life.  Over time, the werewolf became an amalgamation of many different creature legends from across Europe and eventually turned into the being that we know today.  Naturally, because of it’s popularity in pulp horror literature, the creature would make it’s way to the silver screen as well.  Dating back to the early days of cinema, the Werewolf of Wolf Man would often be depicted through a quick dissolve between a human being and a live wolf, due to the limitations of the medium at that time.  It wasn’t until cinema had developed more advanced visual effects during it’s Golden Age that we finally began to see the character fully realized on screen.  What follows are some of the more noteworthy examples in cinematic history, all stemming from the basic canonical interpretation of the Western European concept of the Wolf Man creature.


Here in this early British horror film do we find the first big cinematic representation of the werewolf legend.  In particular, it’s the movie that establishes the character within a late Victorian pastiche, which has helped to link it with other Victorian era monsters like Dracula, the Invisible Man, and so on.  One thing that helps to reinforce that era defining element in the character is that his origins here come from another literary inspiration, that of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The titular Werewolf is a London based doctor named Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) and he finds London haunted by an unexplained creature that turns out to be him after he transforms into the creature at night.  Like Jekyll and Hyde, Dr. Glendon has no memory of his altered self, but slowly the clues lead back to him, and he has to find a way to remove this curse before he ends up killing the things he loves.  For an early talky horror film, the movie does alright in conveying the atmosphere of a gloomy old London where creature stalk the shadows at night.  And for it’s time, the make-up effects on actor Henry Hull look pretty good; subtle, but still appropriately grotesque.  The unfortunate thing that plagues the movie though is presence of Charlie Chan actor Warner Oland once again playing another character in yellow face; an unfortunate practice that was sadly all too common in that time.  Here, he is werewolf hunter named Dr. Yogami, and Henry Hull ultimately makes a more convincing Wolf Man than Oland does an Asian.  Otherwise, the movie does a fair enough job in bringing the image of a half man/half wolf to the big screen in a mostly terrifying way.  That in the end ultimately helped to establish the standard on which most future interpretations would follow.


Picking up the legacy that his father left behind, Lon Cheney Jr. would make a career that likewise left him recognized as a man with a thousand faces.  Cheney Jr., like his father, did much of the make-up work himself for the many roles he took over the years, including some noteworthy appearances as monsters within the iconic Universal Pictures stable.  Of all the characters he played, however, none were as more intricately tied to Lon Cheney Jr.’s legacy than the Wolf Man.  And that distinction is well earned.  Cheney’s Wolf Man is undeniably the gold standard of the character, and it’s in large part due not just to the incredible make-up work that he did to himself for the film, but also the physicality that he brought to it as well.  In the movie, you can see subtle ways that Cheney tried to mimic the characteristics of a wolf into his performance, including the hunching of his back as well as walking around on the balls of his feet rather than the heel, which gives him a hind-leg look.  The make-up is also pretty incredible as well, with Cheney just outright disappearing underneath it all.  Though he still looks more man than beast, you can still see the effort Cheney put into creating a terrifying look for the character.  His film also did a few noteworthy things that changed the character’s overall story.  For one, it contemporized the tale, bringing it out of Victorian times and into the present day.  It also made the Wolf Man American, though the setting is still English bound, with the unfortunate traveler succumbing to the curse while on his trip to inherit an estate.  Cheney Jr.  would go on to star in many future sequels to this popular original, and he even played the role again in some Abbot and Costello comedies alongside some other iconic monsters.  Even though make-up effects and computer animation have advanced to a point where werewolves can look even more monstrous today, the original image that Lon Cheney Jr. presented here is still the one that defines the prototypical Hollywood werewolf.


Nearly 40 years would pass before we would get another Hollywood werewolf that stood up to Lon Cheney Jr.’s classic.  In between were a lot of low rent attempts at creating a captivating wolf man creature, often with unconvincing make-up and visual effects.  Then came along a make-up virtuoso that would revolutionize the artform on film.  His name is Rick Baker, and he would become one of the most prolific and groundbreaking effects artists of his generation.  In an over 50 year career, Baker has won 7 Academy Awards for his work in Make-up effects, and naturally, his first win came for creating one of the most incredible cinematic werewolves in movie history.  In John Landis’ horror/comedy, we find actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne playing a pair of American tourist on a walking tour of England.  Of course, things go awry when they are both attacked by a ravenous wolf.  Dunne’s Jack is savagely killed, but Naughton’s David survives and ends up succumbing to the after effects of the attack.  It what has to be one of the most iconic horror moments ever captured on screen, we see the full breadth of a werewolf transformation as David witnesses all of parts of his body warp and stretch into wolf form.  With some amazing prosthetic and animatronic work, the full transformation is shockingly lifelike, and to this day remains a benchmark in practical visual effects.  Even after the transformation, the Rick Baker make-up and mechanically enhanced final werewolf is still pretty impressive.  But it’s that unforgettable transformation scene that really set this movie apart at the time, and made it into a classic.  I think that it’s the fact that we are finally seeing the full breadth of a transformation between man and beast shown on screen that really captured the attention of the audience.  No more using dissolves or other editing tricks.  Here we see the whole grotesque procedure, which the looser Hollywood standards would finally allow after so many years.  For Rick Baker, it would launch him into a legendary career afterwards, and as we would see, it wouldn’t be the last time he would play around in the realm of werewolves either.


Released in the same year as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling again uses make-up and effects by Rick Baker, who had quite the year.  Though not as iconic as the Oscar-winning effects in the other film, The Howling’s own visual effects to bring it’s werewolves to life are still pretty impressive.  One of the things that makes these werewolves stand out is how the look much less like real wolves and more like the creations of nightmares.  With exaggerated, fang-filled jaws, extremely large pointy ears, and razor claw hands, these are monsters of a very different kind than what we’ve seen before with regards to werewolves.  Made by director Joe Dante from a John Sayles screenplay, the movie ups the ante from other Werewolf movies by establishing not one Werewolf within it’s story, but a whole community of them.  In the film, Dee Wallace plays an investigative reporter who finds herself in a secluded mountain resort after escaping a near death experience with a serial killer.  Unfortunately, she soon learns that the simple town is not what it seems to be, and the quiet residents within it are in fact werewolves.  The Colony, as they become known, defy many traits associated with the Werewolf myth, including being able to transform without the aid of a full moon.  And in the movie, we also get our first cinematic example of Wolf Women on the big screen, including Dee Wallace’s character as she falls victim to the curse, even after escaping the colony.  Considering the amount of work that it took to not just create a single werewolf for the movie but a whole town of them helps to make this an equally impressive feat for Rick Baker in addition to his work on London.  But, as we would see again, Mr. Baker was not done yet with Werewolves in his prolific career.


Taking the iconography of werewolves in a decidedly different direction than we’ve seen, we have this film which puts the wolf man curse into a 1980’s teen comedy.  What is interesting about this version of the werewolf story is that our main protagonist doesn’t gain his wolf form through the passing on of a curse through a wolf bite, but rather through genetics.  Michael J. Fox’s Scott begins to suddenly transform one day while at school, which leads to some awkward situations, and later finds out from his father that he inherited the curse from him, as they descend from a long line of werewolves.  Basically, the werewolf curse is equivalent to diabetes or other generationally inherited disease, and in some ways is shown here to be a metaphor for puberty, as Scott is growing up into his true adult form.  It’s a movie that more or less sticks with it’s 80’s teen comedy clichés and only stands out because of this gimmick.  The look of Michael J. Fox as a werewolf unfortunately is a far cry from the more transformational work done by Rick Baker in the previously mentioned movies, and looks more Sasquatch than Wolf Man as a result.  At the same time, this isn’t trying to be a scary version of a Wolf Man, and instead it’s trying to fit within the confines of a silly comedy.  Michael J. Fox’s natural charisma still shines through in the role, even when he looks ridiculous under all that hair.  What is interesting is that this silly comedy would inspire a darker reimagining many years later for television with the CW series of the same name.  That show followed the more idealized version of what a werewolf should look and act like, so in a way, this movie did eventually contribute to the continued legacy of Werewolves as a horror icon.  It’s far from what you’d expect for a cinematic werewolf movie, but it’s uniqueness within the genre and popularity has helped to keep the Wolf Man a relevant character within cinema as a whole.


Rick Baker strikes once again, but here we find him accomplishing something a little more subtle.  In this movie, the transformation never goes full wolf, and instead we see the actors more or less remain visible even after transitioning into their altered form.  Rick Baker accomplishes the look by focusing on the actor’s eyes, hair, and teeth to convey the transformation, rather than relying on complex prosthetics and animatronics like he utilized for An American Werewolf in London.  This was probably due to director Mike Nichols’ insistence on keeping things simple so that the actors performances could convey the transformation a lot more.  Now, of all the actors called upon to portray a man turning into a werewolf, it’s just natural that the job would fall on Jack Nicholson, who’s already wolf-like to begin with.  The movie is also a quite different re-telling of the classic story, putting the setting in modern day New England high society.  Despite that, it otherwise sticks pretty close to classic werewolf movies we’ve seen before; especially the Lon Cheney version.  Unfortunately, and maybe due to the lack of experience within the horror genre of all involved, the movie is a bit on the boring side.  It’s hard to believe that a Mike Nichols movie starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Plummer, and James Spader along with music by Ennio Morricone and make-up by the previously mentioned Baker would turn into something so dull.  Where the problem lies is that, despite the best efforts of the actors, you never fully buy them as werewolves because of the lack of the lack of heavy-duty make-up work that we’re accustomed to.  You bring in Rick Baker and just end up wasting his talent here.  The only entertainment value comes from how over the top Jack Nicholson goes with his performance at times, as well as with how poorly executed the visual effects can be.  Otherwise as Werewolf movies go, it falls flat.  What it shouldn’t have done was try to bring prestige into a genre that was designed for pulp.


Riding that fine line between prestige and pulp better than Wolf did, this Joe Johnston directed film makes a valiant attempt to bring the werewolf back it’s Victorian set origins, and do so with all the advances in visual effects that are at our disposal now.  Naturally, Rick Baker was called upon once again to bring this creature to imaginative life, and this time he was given much more reign to work his magic.  It helps that he has an actor of intensity like Benicio Del Toro to work with as a canvas.  Del Toro’s already rugged looks work well with what he ultimately will turn into.  Director Joe Johnston, who had to step in last minute after original director Mark Romanek left the project, expertly uses his experience with visual effects to make the transformations between Benicio’s human and wolf forms look believable on screen.  CGI is used effectively here, making the transitions far smoother than in years past, but once the transformation is complete, it’s all Rick Baker’s incredible prosthetic work and Del Toro’s ferocious performance from there.  Though the movie is perhaps too bombastic at times, it nevertheless showcases incredible visual effects work that once again reinvents the way werewolves are presented on the big screen.  The transformation moments in particular really reach for the grotesque in this film, with the character’s limbs and feature’s twisting and contorting in disturbing ways.  Bringing the story back to it’s period setting also really helps to give the character more of a classical identity, which helps to solidify it’s place in the pantheon of great cinematic monsters.  The one downside of the movie is that it never gets as scary as it seems to strive to be.  It probably has to do with the fact that the movie is trying to hit a more general audience, and therefore the movie pulls a few punches.  Del Toro still is intense enough to make for a good werewolf, but the movie around his performance feels more conventional than it needs to be.  Despite that, it does give us some R-Rated gore, and it helps that Rick Baker’s effects work do not disappoint.  It’s a fair example of an ideal werewolf in a not so ideal werewolf movie.

There have honestly been more werewolves in movies and television than any other classic movie monster.  Even more than vampires, since through some convenient cinematic cross-pollination, Werewolves and Vampires have canonically become mortal enemies of one another.  It’s probably because of it’s long legacy in folklore that the concept of werewolves has endured for as long as it has.  The connection between man and nature is a compelling one in storytelling, and the idea of a transformation between species like we see with werewolves is one that still grabs at the imagination.  Werewolves still are present in many forms of media today, including playing a big part in non horror franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight.  Even media directed at younger audiences feature werewolves prominently in them, like the animated Hotel Transylvania franchise.  For the most stand-out cinematic versions that I spotlighted here in this article, what they’ve often represented are benchmark achievements in movie visual effects.  It takes a lot of work to make a believable transformation between man and wolf come to life on the silver screen, and thanks to two wizards in particular named Lon Cheney Jr. and Rick Baker, we’ve had some amazing cinematic werewolves in our history.  You can still see the imprint of Lon Cheney’s Wolf Man in most modern day versions of werewolves, particularly in the body language that today’s actors try to incorporate into their performance.  And Rick Baker’s other-worldly prosthetics really help to make the actors disappear while at the same time giving them the ability to still perform underneath all those layers of make-up.  Even with all the advances made in digital effects, there’s still something satisfying in seeing a genuine effort to create a realistic cinematic werewolf with simple old make-up effects.  That ultimately has helped the Wolf Man and other werewolves of cinema stand out so well over time.  It’s a true expression of performance and effects working together that helps to bring this iconic creature to full life, making it a true cinematic original.

No Time to Die – Review

In the long, 50-plus year run of the James Bond franchise, there are few figures that will stand as tall within the pantheon of the series as Daniel Craig.  Sean Connery no doubt still remains the gold standard, but Craig’s tenure as 007 may be the best collection of films out of the whole franchise.  His time in James Bond’s fine leather shoes is unique in the franchise because it’s the only instance where there’s been a story arc that carried over from film to film.  Before now, James Bond movies were loosely connected adventures, all adhering to a formula rather than continuity.  It worked perfectly for decades to build a series like this, because it made it easier for different actors to step into the role once their predecessor’s time was done, without having to do too much rebooting.  After Sean Connery defined the character and turned him into an icon. actors such as George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan all had their turn as James Bond.  But, after the declining quality of the movies during the final years of Brosnan’s tenure, the team at Bond’s home studio, EON Productions, decided to take things in a different direction.  They decided to redefine the character once again, delving deeper into his psyche and opting for a grittier, less campy Bond.  And this required finding a different kind of actor to play him as well.  Initially, people were unsure of Daniel Craig as the iconic spy with a license to kill.  He was shorter than previous Bonds (the first under 6 feet at 5’10”), had more rugged good looks, and he was blonde.  He didn’t exactly fit what people thought James Bond should be.  But, when he made his debut in Casino Royale (a fitting start as it was a long overdue adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel) people soon realized that he was not only a perfect choice to play James Bond, but he was also the Bond that we sorely needed.

Daniel Craig was a 21st century spy; one whose skills in hand to hand combat were just as valuable as his ability to look dashing in a finely tailored suit.  With competition coming from the likes of Mission: Impossible and the Bourne series, James Bond needed to stand on his own and Daniel Craig fulfilled that role perfectly.  He was an accomplished fighter on screen, but could also display the same kind of charisma that we expect from 007.  And over the course of 5 films, Craig not only lived up to the role; he may have even set a new standard for the character.  Craig himself will still tell you that he is merely standing on the shoulders of those who came before him, with Connery being the especially strong foundation; but whoever takes on the role after Daniel Craig will have some very big shoes to fill.  Craig’s time in particular delved deeper into the character than ever before, and that is thanks to the fact that all his movies are connected to the same narrative thread.  Each movie builds on the one before, and for the first time, we saw Bond grow as a character.  In many ways, that makes Craig’s Bond the truest iteration of Ian Fleming’s original concept that we have ever seen.  And it’s remarkable that Craig played the character for the longest period of time of any actor: a staggering 15 years.  Following Casino Royale (2006) we got Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), and Spectre (2015).  Spectre in particular was a difficult film for Craig, and he began to voice his displeasure at the direction of the series; saying in one interview that he’s sooner cut his own wrists than make another Bond movie.  However, the team behind the Bond franchise managed to convince Craig to do one more film and that involved the choice of granting Daniel something that no actor in the series has been given before; a chance to say goodbye on his own terms.  With No Time to Die (2021) we get a swan song to Bond that feels more personal to the man playing the role, as Daniel Craig was more involved here on both a performance and story level.  The question is, across the 5 movies over 15 years, did Daniel Craig leave James Bond on a high note?

The movie picks up immediately after the events of Spectre.  James Bond (Daniel Craig) has retired from his position at MI-6, running away with the new love of his life Madeleine Snowe (Lea Seydoux) after putting his nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) behind bars.  However, while on their romantic honeymoon getaway, James and Madeleine are attacked by Spectre agents, who are somehow still being orchestrated by Blofeld from his prison cell.  This forces Bond to make the drastic choice to abandon Madeleine so that she won’t get hurt, because he knows that as long as Spectre is out there, they will keep hunting him, and she will always be in danger.  Five years later, Bond is contacted in Jamaica by his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to help out on a new mission.  A chemist from the MI-6 run bio-weapons laboratory in London has gone missing, and the CIA needs help from the now freelance Bond to find him before a top secret carcinogen named Heracles falls into the wrong hands.  However, as Bond is on the trail of his target, he soon discovers that someone else is on the chemist’s trail as well; a MI-6 agent named Nomi (Lashana Lynch), the new 007 that has taken Bond’s place.  Things go awry for both parties as Bond and Nomi witness the effects of the Heracles poison, as it ravages it’s way through an entire party of Spectre operatives.  As the stakes have been raised, Bond returns to London and seeks the help of MI-6 once again, including his old boss M (Ralph Fiennes), and co-workers Tanner (Rory Kinnear), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw).  Despite some early tension with the crew that he left behind, Team Bond does work together again to decipher what Heracles is and what it’s capable of, soon realizing that it has the ability to systematically wipe out large segments of the population.  A key factor of getting to the bottom of things falls on a mystery that shrouds Bond’s old flame Madeleine, who has been visited by a mysterious figure named Lyusifer Safin (Rami Malek); the one currently pulling all the strings.  The deeper the mystery goes, the more Bond begins to realize that this mission could very well be the one that decides his fate forever.

The road to get No Time to Die released was plagued by many problems during it’s development.  Craig’s reluctance initially did cause a bit of disruption, as EON Productions were already starting to look for a possible replacement.  Once Craig was set, the movie still stalled, as there were irreconcilable creative differences that couldn’t be resolved with the film’s original director, Danny Boyle.  After Boyle’s departure, the Bond team did something they’ve never done before and hired an American filmmaker for the first time; Beasts of No Nation’s Cary Joji Fukunaga.  After all these production troubles and delays, the movie finally got rolling, and had an April 2020 release date was set.  Unfortunately, that’s when the COVID-19 pandemic started to boom and ravage the theatrical market.  No Time to Die made headlines as the first high profile film to move off the calendar to avoid the loss of the box office, becoming something of a canary in the coal mine with regards to how bad the pandemic would be.  After moving to November 2020, and then again to April 2021, the movie moved once more to October 2021 where it finally found solid ground, more than 500 days after it was originally supposed to hit theaters.  Even in all that time, parent studio MGM sought a buy out with Amazon, which is still an ongoing deal in the making.  Thankfully, after all the production woes and pandemic delays, we finally have No Time to Die playing in theaters.  The question is did the movie stick the landing and was it worth all the wait?  I can gratefully say that it is indeed.  This is the kind of era defining franchise closure that both audience and filmmakers wish for; delivering on everything that was promised from previous installments while at the same time delivering some welcome surprises along the way that makes the road to the end worth it.  It’s certainly not the end of James Bond as a character, but it’s the end of this James Bond; one whose story we have grown close to for 15 years.  And it sends Daniel Craig off on the high note he deserves as one of the all time great 007’s.

The main reason this movie works as well as it does is Daniel Craig himself.  I found his performance in this movie in particular to be the best of the series in fact.  Skyfall may have had the best story, but No Time to Die has the best development of character here with regards to James Bond.  For the first time, you really see the vulnerability of the character on display, as Bond lets his guard down a bit more here than we’ve ever seen before.  He’s still the same old Bond, but you see how the years of fighting have taken their toll on him, and how this version of the character really is striving to find something meaningful in his life other than work.  Craig plays up this aspect perfectly throughout the movie.  It’s really interesting to see how he’s evolved the character from where he started in Casino Royale (2006), which showed him as a stone-cold killer.  Here, he has come to value the relationships he’s made along the way; with those who he shares his life with.  This is something that has carried over in the larger narrative since Skyfall, as we saw in that movie the cherished relationship he had with his first M (played magnificently by Dame Judi Dench), who was a bit of a mother figure in his life.  Since her departure, we’ve watched Bond grow closer to Moneypenny and Q than we’ve ever seen before in the movies, and Bond even found a place in his life to pursue meaningful love with Madeleine.  I can only think of one other Bond movie where we saw this vulnerable side of 007 come through at that was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969); the one and only Lazenby Bond, and the only movie where James ties the knot.  It’s fitting that No Time to Die focuses a lot more on Bond’s relationships with those around him, because this essentially is a movie where Bond has to reflect back on the lives he’s touched because it really is the end of his story.  I get the feeling that this is one of the important aspects that drew Daniel Craig back into the role for one final time.  In no other iteration of the character have we been able to see a character arc grow from one that was archetypal to one that is fully-dimensional in this series, and most importantly, it allows for the actor to give the character a proper ending.

Everything related to Bond in this movie has an air of magnitude because of that effect.  Other than that, it’s another standard Bond flick.  All the essential pieces are still there in place, from the stylish opening credits (which feel like a deliberate nod to the classic Maurice Binder designed titles of the early Bonds), to the globe-trotting set-pieces, to the white-knuckle action scenes.  But, even as the movie does a great job utilizing all these elements that we expect from the franchise, it also feels a bit too overwhelming as well.  At 2 hours and 44 minutes, this is far and away the longest movie in the franchise and it does at times feel it’s length.  It probably is due to the fact that this movie is a final chapter to an ongoing narrative, and the film tries really hard to tie up all the multiple plot threads.  But you get the feeling that the movie probably could have benefited from a bit more streamlining.  What particularly becomes troublesome is that the movie has far too many characters in it.  None of the characters are bad by any means, it’s just that the fact that they have to share so much screen time, even with the extra length, none of them really leave much of an impact.  This is especially true of Moneypenny, M, and Q.  What I appreciated in Skyfall and Spectre was that these characters didn’t just stand on the sidelines, but were actively helping Bond out along the way, even getting their own moments of glory.  Sadly, they spend most of No Time to Die returning back to their old ways; mainly sitting behind desks.  The movie’s villain is also a bit on a let down.  Safin is too much of a stock villain to leave much of an impact, and that’s especially disappointing given the magnitude of this movie as Craig’s final Bond.  A more iconic villain with a deep personal connection to James Bond like Javier Bardem’s Silva from Skyfall would have been better for this finale, but instead Safin here is treated more as an afterthought.  Rami Malek still gives it his all in the part, but he can’t overcome the villain’s innate blandness as written.  It doesn’t help that the movie also has Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld returning, who steals a bit of the thunder in his brief but memorable scene.

Apart from those flaws, the movie delivers on everything else we expect from a Bond movie.  The action scenes are once again shining examples of how to film action correctly for the movies.  One thing that I love most from the Daniel Craig Bonds is that it brought back the importance of practical, in camera stunt work and effects.  After the ridiculousness of the CGI heavy final Pierce Brosnan Bond films like The World is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002), the Craig Bonds helped to bring the series back to it’s earthbound roots, and that was because it dispensed with all the gimmickry and just made things simple again.  Sure there are moments in the series that still border-lined on the ridiculous during Craig’s time, but it was all done in a way that felt real and like it could actually happen in the real world.  In particular, the series turned James Bond into a more hands on secret agent, not afraid to get down and dirty with his adversaries.  His Q-made gadgets make a lot more sense here; no more invisible cars or exploding pens.  This carries all the way through the series and it’s great to see Cary Joji Fukunaga hold his own in directing the action sequences.  He’s following in the footsteps of some heavyweights, including series veteran Martin Campbell (who also launched Pierce Brosnan’s tenure with Goldeneye) and Oscar winner Sam Mendes.  Being the first American behind the camera in this long running series does carry some weight, and thankfully he delivers and makes this a worthy entry in the franchise.  In particular, he shows some great mastery over the big set pieces, including a spectacular opening sequence involving Bond’s iconic Aston Martin, as well as a beautifully shot chase scene in a mist shrouded Norwegian forest.  Above all, it’s great to see Daniel Craig still involve himself as much as he can given his age.  I’m certain that 15 years playing James Bond has taken it’s toll on his body and he was indeed sidelined for a brief moment while shooting this movie with an on set injury.  But, the personal involvement still shines through with the close-up fight scenes.  A great hand-held, one shot late in the movie shows you just how much Craig still threw himself into the roll, and it is inspiring to see.  As much as we’ve seen from the action scenes of this series throughout the years, No Time to  Die still proves that this is a franchise that still has many more tricks up it’s finely tailored sleeves.

It was a long treacherous road to this moment, but No Time to Die is finally here, and thankfully it’s on the big screen.  Surprisingly, the long haul wait might have actually been worth it in the end, because this last year has helped us to reflect on this era of James Bond and Daniel Craig’s place within it.  Looking at all the Daniel Craig Bonds together, where would I put No Time to Die you ask?  Pretty much right in the middle.  Skyfall is still the pinnacle in my opinion, with the best story, the best villain and the beautiful Roger Deakins cinematography defining it.  Casino Royale is also ahead, thanks to it’s absolutely pitch perfect tone setting for this era.  It is however much better than Spectre, which had amazing scenes (including the best opening) but a jumbled plot that couldn’t sustain itself, and better than Quantum of Solace, which was basically James Bond on auto-pilot.  Despite it’s flaws, No Time to Die performs it’s central role to perfection, and that’s to end the Daniel Craig era on a high note.  Not many James Bond actors can say that they had that; not even Sean Connery.  Here, with No Time to Die, Daniel Craig is able to say goodbye with grace and a sense of prideful accomplishment.  Here he knows that he gave his best right up to the end, and that he securely left the franchise on solid ground for the next guy once he takes over.  Whoever plays James Bond next is going to have enormous shoes to fill.  What I believe is the best new direction for the series to take with James Bond as a character is to do what I believe EON Productions has hinted at, which is have Bond played by an actor of color.  Daniel Craig’s era will definitely be defined by the five movie arc that helped to probe James Bond as a person.  A new era where James Bond is non-white could provide some very interesting new possibilities for plot-lines in the future, especially regarding having an agent of color on her majesty’s secret service given the United Kingdom’s ratter complicated history with race.  But, that’s up to the stewards of the franchise to figure out.  For now, we have an end to a magnificent era to celebrate, with Daniel Craig and company bringing things to a spectacular conclusion.  The best thing is that it helped to revitalize this franchise and modernize it for a new generation.  James Bond once again represents a high standard for action film-making, and hopefully the franchise will continue to push forward and take chances in the future.  Thank you for your service Daniel Craig; you have earned your retirement.  And if you can see No Time to Die in a theater (on the biggest possible screen) do so.  It’s good that you finally made it and we look forward to meeting again Mr. Bond… James Bond.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures – Film Exhibition Report

In it’s 90-plus years of existence, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has established the literal gold standard for preserving the arts and advancement of the cinematic medium.  They are the caretakers of so much of film history, as well as the makers of movie history themselves, being the creators of the Academy Awards.  But apart from the Oscars, what they have also done over the years is use their clout to advance the art and technology of film within the industry through Fellowships, Libraries and Venues for special Screenings and Presentations.  They have also amassed a varied collection of artifacts throughout the years related to the history of film ranging from documents, to props and costumes, to set pieces, and promotional pieces like posters and lobby cards.  However, despite having a robust collection at their disposal, the Academy hasn’t had a place to show it all off publicly.  There have been Academy run exhibitions throughout the years in various places, but there has never been a permanent home for the Academy to present it’s history to the world.  That is until now.  After sitting abandoned for several years on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire in Los Angeles, the iconic art deco May Co. Building was purchased by the Academy with the intent on turning it into the Academy’s first ever museum devoted entirely to the art of film.  The position of the new museum is an ideal one, right at the heart of Los Angeles’ famed Museum Row; across the street from the Petersen Automobile Museum and next door to the sprawling Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) complex, as well as a short distance from the famous La Brea Tar Pits.  With the ideal location set, the work was ready to begin on this expansive new remodel of the nearly 80 year old building.

Taking place over the course of several years, the Academy Museum slowly but surely began to take shape.  While much of the exterior of the iconic building remained unchanged, inside saw the whole structure gutted and rebuilt to fit the needs of the new museum as well as retrofit the building up to modern, earthquake ready standards.  But that’s not all that was planned for the project.  Taking up much of the projects time, money and effort was an add-on to the existing building that in itself became a new icon for the neighborhood.  Knowing that a movie museum would need a movie theater of it’s own, the construction plans included a massive theater complex unlike any other.  Free-standing behind the May Co. Building and connected via two glass enclosed bridges is the David Geffen Theater, a nearly 2,000 seat facility that is a structural wonder in of itself.  Inside is a state of the art theater with wall to wall opulence, but on the outside, the building is remarkably elevated off the ground via only a couple of sturdy columns.  Visitors to the museum can literally walk underneath the massive structure suspended above them, and a walkway on the top floor also allows for guests to walk on top of it, with a massive glass dome encasing the open air terrace.  Here guests are treated to an enviable view of the Hollywood Hills, that spans across from Beverly Hills all the way to the Griffith Observatory in a stunning panorama.  And this wonder is just the first thing you will see once you arrive at the museum.  After several delays, the project finally was set to open for the Holidays in 2020, but then the Covid pandemic hit, and the long wait continued.  Despite being practically done for over a year, the Academy Museum had to wait longer to welcome it’s first guests in, and that moment finally arrived last week on September 30.

Without hesitation, I got my tickets for the earliest possible opportunity to visit this new museum and see if all the hype was worth it, especially after waiting even longer through the pandemic.  I have visited the LACMA museum before for special movie related exhibits, specifically those dedicated to Stanley Kubrick and Guillermo Del Toro, but they were short term exhibitions in a wing of the sprawling museum.  This new museum is a permanent home for exhibitions related solely to the art of film, and it’s long overdue to find such a museum in the shadow of Hollywood itself; especially one run by the Academy itself.  I was lucky enough to get a place reserved for the opening weekend, which thankfully saw perfect So Cal weather for such a trip out into the city.  The museum of course was still operating under local Covid protocols and everyone was required to wear a mask indoors at all times and show proof of vaccination upon entry.  The entryway was on the backside of the main building, making everyone arrive in the courtyard that the massive David Geffen Theater looms over.  Here you get a real sense of the scale of this complex.  The Geffen Theater looms over the courtyard like a massive spaceship that has descended to the ground.  Some have jokingly referred to it as the Death Star, given it’s similar curvy shape and futuristic look.  Given the often common California heat, the museum also wisely set up benches underneath the Theater, where people can relax in the cool shade of the massive shadow the theater leaves on the ground.  Once pass the health and security checkpoints, it was into the main building’s first level that we enter.  The lobby is modest, bearing some of the characteristics of what had been there before, including the exposed concrete columns that support the building.  A gift shop is naturally found there, but there is also a full service restaurant found on this level.  Named Fanny’s, this eatery offers a full dining experience as well as cafe and lounge for casual diners, which includes an outdoor patio.  I was not hungry during my visit, so I passed on eating there at the museum.  Instead, I began my journey through the musueum by making my way to the first gallery there in the lobby.

Housed in the Spielberg Family Gallery on the first floor is the first room in what is meant to be the core exhibit of the entire complex.  In this room, there were large flat screen TVs playing a loop of great moments from movies throughout the history of film.  Here, we see the first part of the core Stories of Cinema exhibit.  It’s a simple but elegant introduction to give guests a reminder of the incredible art of film in it’s final form.  What I liked here is that the various clips shown are assembled in no particular fashion.  They are just images without context or theme.  Some are moments that are among the most iconic that have ever been put on film, while others are just random bits pulled from a variety of movies.  They also span across genre, nationality, and social level, showing how cinema in general is a singular art that affects everyone in the world and collectively is it’s own work of art.  The people in my vicinity took a lot of extra time to stick around and watch the different clips play out on the screens in front of them, having a little fun guessing which clip belongs to which movie, which was sometimes harder than many of us thought.  A lot of the clips play in silence but every now and then a clip would include audible sound or dialogue, which created it’s own kind of symphonic experience there in the room.  The dimly lit space gave a nice sense of visual stimuli to help remind us what film is in the simplest sense.  From this point onward, the remainder of the museum was going to show just why those moving images are so important and why they have become works of art on their own.

Ascending to the second level aboard a row of escalators, we arrive at the second part of the Stories of Cinema experience, which is also the single largest gallery of the museum.  One thing that I did notice on the way there is that to get to the next level of the gallery, you bypass an in-between level which is actually the entryway to the Geffen Theater; lined with a red carpet of course, which extends even across the glass walkway.  Past the front doors of the Stories of Cinema exhibit, guests are greeted by a massive projection wall.  Here we see a bigger version of the gallery downstairs, with projected images from various films creating a mural effect in front of you.  Unlike downstairs, however, the mural’s images follow a theme throughout the different montages.  Past this wall of movie images we finally arrive at the first true gallery of artifacts.  Here, the gallery separates into different aspects of the filmmaking profession, with different movies and individuals highlighted.  For screenwriting, the movie focused in the first section is Citizen Kane (1941).  Immediately, you eye will be drawn to the centerpiece item in this area, and that’s the famed Rosebud sled.  This actual movie used prop is the only surviving Rosebud from the film, and it’s great to see it preserved as well as it is.  From there, a section devoted to editing spotlights Thelma Schoonmaker, and it includes a model of an editing bay that she likely worked with in her early days piecing together movies like Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980).  Another section devoted to cinematography spotlights Emmanuel Lubezki, with many of his on set photographs displayed throughout.  A room devoted to movie stars next to it spotlights Bruce Lee, and contains both the outfit he wore in Enter the Dragon (1973) and his pair of num-chuks.

Beyond this section we arrive at an area that I’m sure was going to be especially important to the Academy when planning out the museum.  It’s a section devoted to the history of the Academy Awards.  You enter this section with a beautiful circular room draped in gold with display cases all along the wall each containing an Oscar from many different eras.  The Oscars span pretty much every decade that the Oscars have been held, going from the very first Oscars in 1927 to one from 2016.  The winners vary from legends like Clark Gable, Billy Wilder, and Sidney Poitier to more recent winners like Alfonso Cuaron and Barry Jenkins, who surprisingly lent out their Awards to be displayed here.  What struck me upon seeing all these real awards up close is how little the award has changed over the years.  The pedestals that the awards sit on has changed the most over the years, but it appears that the golden statue itself has used the same mold since the beginning.  I also thought it was neat that an empty case was left to acknowledge the award given to Hattie McDaniel, the first person of color to ever win the Award.  The whereabouts of Hattie’s award are unknown, hence the absence here, but it is nice that the Academy chose to spotlight the significance of it here, hoping that one day it might reappear and find it’s way into this very gallery.  In the room next to this, we get a large table-like structure that displays a full year-by-year timeline of the Oscars.  On top on this table are also a few artifacts, including Rita Moreno’s Oscar dress from the 1962 ceremony, and Cher’s infamous black showgirl outfit that she wore to the 1986 Oscars.  There’s also a menu from the first Oscar banquet, as well as the infamous envelope from the La La Land/Moonlight mix-up.  And along the walls, acceptance speeches throughout the years are presented.  Anyone, like me, who is fascinated by the history of the Academy Awards will definitely see this area as a highlight.

The next room spotlights the Director, and in particular, the one given focus here is Spike Lee.  The room is full of numerous artifacts from the director’s movies, as well as noteworthy memorabilia of the director’s own flamboyant persona.  It includes the tribute purple suit that he wore to the Oscars to honor both Prince one year and Kobe Bryant a couple years after.  There’s also Spike’s two Oscars on display.  But what I found most interesting was the fact that throughout the room were memorabilia and posters from Spike’s own collection that he’s had signed by many of his own creative idols.  This includes directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, movie stars like Kirk Douglas and Sidney Poitier, as well as sports icons like Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali.  It’s just an interesting insight into the man to see that he’s an autograph collector.  Beyond that is a room devoted to production design and spotlighted here is an all-time classic; The Wizard of Oz.  There are interesting artifacts to be found all over this area, including the Witches hat, some of Dorothy’s dresses, and the Tin Man’s oil can.  But what is clearly the centerpiece of this gallery, and what I am sure is going to be one of the most visited and photographed artifacts in the entire museum, is the Ruby Slippers; specifically the ones used in the film for close-ups.  They are still in remarkable condition over 80 years later, and I’m sure the museum knew just how valuable an addition to the gallery these shoes are.  Beyond that room we arrive at costuming and make-up, and this is another impressive collection that spans all eras.  In here, guests will find one of Shirley Temple’s dresses, as well as famous costumes that include Marilyn Monroe’s red dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1952), Jeff Bridges Big Lebowski (1998) bathrobe, Russell Crowe’s battle armor from Gladiator (2000) and the flower dress from Midsommar (2019).  The make-up display includes interesting artifacts as well like a fake chest of scars that Leonardo DiCaprio wore in The Revenant (2015) and facial prosthetics that Charlize Theron wore to look like Meghan Kelly in Bombshell (2019).  After this, it was on to part three of the museum.

On the third level, we arrive at the final part of the Stories of Cinema exhibit.  In the first room of this section, we are presented with a showcase of a particular director’s body of work.  In particular, this room was spotlighting the works of famed Spanish auteur Pedro Almadovar.  Throughout the room are projection walls that display select moment from his movies.  It’s an interesting experience walking across the room and seeing all the movies this man has made displayed in front of you.  It might even be a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with his work, but it could inspire to seek his movies out.  Along the outer walls are posters from all of his movies throughout the years, some from his native Spain as well as many international ones as well, and a few domestic American ones.  It’s a little different from the flow of the rest of the exhibit, and I feel like this is the section that is likely going to change very frequently over the years, probably spotlighting many more filmmakers along the way.  In the next room we are presented with an overview of animation history.  Along the walls you’ll see artwork from all the different areas of animation, from studios of all kinds.  There are early pioneers spotlighted here like Windsor McKay, independents, and big names like Disney, Warner Brothers, and Pixar too.  One of the most interesting artifacts here is a fully equipped animators desk; this one specifically belonging to one of Walt Disney’s treasured Nine Old Men, the legendary Frank Thomas.  Displayed in the middle of the room is a section devoted to stop motion animation.  Here they displayed the puppets from some of the most noteworthy stop-motion animated productions, including Jack Skellington head models from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Mr. and Mrs. Fox from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), a couple of Wallace and Gromit puppets from the famous Aardman shorts, and a puppet of Kubo from Laika Animation’s Kubo and the Two Strings (2016).  For animation fans, this is a great all-encompassing look at the history of the medium, and one that contains a lot of interesting items.

Up next is a room devoted to special effects.  And here is where you’ll find probably the most stunning collection of artifacts gathered in a single room.  Right away your eye will be drawn to R2-D2 and C-3PO, both the actual costumes worn in the movie by Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker.  But throughout you’ll also find a Xenomorph skull from Aliens (1986), the creature costume worn by Doug Jones in The Shape of Water (2017), an animatronic of E.T., some of the Jim Henson studio puppets used in The Dark Crystal (1982), an animatronic head of the T-800 used in The Terminator (1984), and many more interesting artifacts.  There also seemed to be a section devoted primarily to the effects from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992).  This includes large models used for the gothic mansions in the film; matte paintings on large panes of glass, and there’s even the prosthetic nose that Danny DeVito wore to become The Penguin in the movie.  It really shows you the incredible work that went into making a movie like that, as stylized as it is, feel real on screen.  Next to this expansive room is one of the most interesting experiences I found in the whole exhibit.  It’s a room devoted to music in film.  Instead of showing the guest something, the exhibit instead crafted an experience related to music.  You enter through a doorway and enter a pitch black room, illuminated solely with a faint red light bulb.  Visibility in this room is so faint that you can even see the walls.  In the center is a small bench underneath the red light and there you sit.  Unseen around you are Dolby certified speakers that create a haunting soundscape.  Oscar winning composer Hildur Guonadottir (Joker) composed a new piece just for this experience, and it is chilling but also a fascinating experiment.  It’s allowing the guest to experience the music free of visual distraction.  And after that, the Stories of Cinema experience comes to an end.  I should also note that in addition to the exhibits in the last two levels, there is a two level exhibit in between devoted to an artifact so big that it needed to span across two floors.  In this one, called Backdrop: An Invisible Art, it spotlights the long used filmmaking tool of creating a painted backdrop to create the illusion of the outdoors on an indoor soundstage.  For this exhibit in particular, the museum put on display an impressive two story tall backdrop of Mount Rushmore used in Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959).  It’s a neat addition, and I almost worry that many people may actually miss it as it’s located in between the main galleries,

Up one floor more, we arrive at the section of the museum devoted primarily to temporary exhibitions.  For this opening season, and continuing on to June of next year, this floor is going to be home to a celebration of the works of Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary Japanese animator.  The Miyazaki exhibit showcases artwork from throughout his illustrious career, and the exhibit itself takes on the aesthetic that is characteristic of his films as well as those of his home production company, Studio Ghibli.  The lighting and staging of this gallery is especially beautiful to look at, particularly if you are a Studio Ghibli fan.  Sadly, photography in this section of the museum was strictly prohibited, probably as a condition of displaying the artwork on loan to the museum.  So, I can only give you a glimpse of the outside signage of this gallery.  I can tell you that the outside only gives a mere hint as to what you’ll see inside.  And it includes numerous hand drawn artwork from Miyazaki and his team, spanning across all his film, including the ones he made in his early years for Japanese television.  Also shown throughout the exhibit are clips from the various movies, which gives a lot of nice context to the artwork that we are seeing displayed throughout.  It’s not as expansive as the other galleries, but still a treat for animation fans.  One nice treat immediately next door to this gallery is a contraption celebrating a studio that was heavily influenced by Miyazaki; Pixar.  Here, you’ll find a small, dark room housing the Toy Story Zoetrope.  The Zoetrope is a 3D sculpture featuring the characters from the Toy Story movies all displayed on a circular roundtable.  The sculpture will begin to spin rapidly and then a strobe light effect will recreate the effect of a film shutter.  As a result of the sculpture spinning and the strobe lighting effect, it makes the many sculptures appear to move just like they are animated, with all the little differences in each sculpture creating an almost stop-motion effect.  I’ve seen this Zoetrope on display before, at the California Adventure park next to Disneyland.  It was removed years ago, and I’m happy to see it has found a new home here at the Academy Museum.

Another small gallery found here also takes a look at the grandfathers of cinema.  Here we see the many inventions over the years that led to the invention of motion pictures.  This gallery called The Path to Cinema: Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection, has several neat artifacts that show the many different influences that preceded film, like shadowplay, peepshows, dioramas, magic lanterns, zoetropes, and praxinoscopes.  Eventually this little exhibit ends with the very beginnings of cinema itself, with a model of the original Lumiere Brothers camera that created some of the first moving pictures in history.  A screen also displays many of the first short pieces that both the Lumiere’s and their American contemporary Thomas Edison were making in those early days at the turn of the 20th Century; including so remarkable early film images of Paris, London, and New York that have survived a century later.  For a really good understanding of what led to art of film becoming a reality in the first place, this section is really worth checking out.  Also located in these upper levels is a separately ticketed section called The Oscar Experience.  I chose to not include this as a part of my trip, as I was more focused on the exhibits themselves, but from what I understand, this is a immersive experience that recreates for the guest the experience of accepting an Oscar on stage in front of the audience at the Dolby Theater.  I’m sure that this is a fun little experience for some people to enjoy, but for the $15 price, it might be a little too much for too little.  I’d rather not spend my money on living a fantasy, but that’s just me.  Still, I did see a fair amount of people lining up for this, so I guess it was a smart addition for the museum to add.  I just wonder how it’s done in there.  Is it accomplished with VR, or with projection effects?  How effective is the immersion?  Maybe curiosity might lead me to check it out, but I was fine with skipping it on this day.

After that, the tour of the museum is pretty much over with.  All that is left is ascending to the top level where you’ll find the final glass bridge across to the terrace atop the Geffen Theater.  If this is where your tour comes to a close, it is certainly a worthy finale.  The view from this terrace will really take your breath away.  At a height of over 100 feet, you get a pretty good, unobstructed view of the surroundings.  Immediately in front of you is the famous Farmers’ Market and adjoining Grove mall.  Behind that is CBS Television City, where many shows like The Price is Right are filmed.  To the left is West Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, and the eastern edge of Beverly Hills.  You’ll also see the Beverly Center mall in your view and the famous Cedar Sinai Hospital.  To the right, the heart of Hollywood itself.  Unfortunately, landmarks like the Chinese Theater and the Cinerama Dome can’t be viewed past the high rises in the area, but you do get a good look at the all important Hollywood sign, with which no view of Hollywood is complete without.  And your panoramic view can extend as far as the sight of the Griffith Observatory, made famous in movies like Rebel Without a Cause (1954) and La La Land (2016).  Outside of the terrace view, looking to the side of the building, you’ll see a large construction site currently going on, as LACMA is replacing it’s long standing structures with a new facility in it’s place; which includes a section that will span across Wilshire Boulevard itself.  After a long day on your feet within the galleries, there are benches set up on top here just like there are underneath the theater.  I imagine this terrace will host many events in the future such as parties and even concerts, and I’m sure that it was designed with that in mind.  Across from it in the main building, there is even more indoor event space, so I’m sure the Academy hopes to use this top level for special private events.  But when they aren’t, the terrace is open to the public and it gives every guest a nice place to relax and enjoy the majesty of Hollywood before them.

And that in a nutshell is what I saw on my first trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.  As a passionate cinephile living in Los Angeles, I have long wanted to see a large scale museum devoted entirely to the art of cinema, and thanks to the Academy, we finally have one.  It will be interesting to see how the exhibits change over the years.  For a start, this collection of exhibits did a fantastic job of launching this new museum onto the cultural stage of this city.  And even with the 5 1/2 hours that I spent in there, I still didn’t cover the whole thing.  For one thing, I still haven’t been inside either of the two theaters there; the large scale Geffen Theater that I’ve previously discussed, and the smaller 300 seat Ted Mann theater that is found in the main building’s basement.  I would love to come back soon just to watch a movie in wither one of those theaters, and thankfully I learned upon leaving that the Academy is going to have a continuous program of screenings throughout the year.  For this month, they are spotlighting horror movies for the Halloween season, and on the night I was there, The Bride of Frankenstein was the movie being shown.  Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead and the screening was already sold out.  So, one more reason to make a return there again.  Even if I’m not going to a screening, I can think of a dozen reasons to make a return visit.  It was really cool seeing all these different artifacts on display, the Oscars room, the Back Drop room, and the Animation room being particular highlights for me.  And after the Miyazaki exhibit has come to an end, I am really interested in seeing what the Academy Museum will replace it with in their rotation.  I’m sure that movie lovers from all over the world will definitely want to check this new museum out, and I strongly recommend that everyone does.  Even the most casual of movie fans will find something that will peak their interest in there.  It’s open every day of the week and each day of the year.  Admission for Adults is $25, $19 for senior, $15 for students, and free for guests under 17.  The Oscar experience is an extra $15 if that interests you.  Overall, it was worth the extra weight and I’m glad that it did live up to the hype.  It’s especially nice to see that they managed to repurpose an already iconic building and breathe new life into it; in a way reflecting the mission of the museum itself.  It’s there to honor the past while also getting us excited for the future of cinema.  Whether you already live in Los Angeles or are just passing through, definitely give the Academy Museum a visit, as it is a marvelous shrine to the glory that is the Art of Cinema.