Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Similar 90s movie showdown

Sometimes, two movies with the same basic plot come out within the same year. Whether one ripped off the other is uncertain, but it makes for interesting comparison. What lead me to this discovery was seeing Volcano in heavy rotation on AMC lately. It took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn't Dante's Peak (once I realized that Tommy Lee Jones looks nothing like Pierce Brosnan it became easy). Searching through Wikipedia I found three pairs of movies that were released within in the same year as its doppelganger. Using my movie-watching ability I hope to settle, once and for all, which of these films is better.

1999: The Haunting versus House on Haunted Hill

Strangely enough, both of these were remakes of older horror films. While the original films weren't competition for each other, these two remakes were released within the same year. Both films are about a group of people that stay within the walls of a haunted house (ironically the house in The Haunting was named Hill House). Each respective group try their best to deal with the houses and fall victim to them. However, while The Haunting was made as a serious thriller, House on Haunted Hill is more of a fun house. This leads to a much more enjoyable adventure than the too serious Haunting. The actors themselves seem to be having more fun in Haunted Hill, including the always welcomed Geoffrey Rush. The Haunting was nowhere near as fun. Even with the badassery of Liam Neeson and hotness of Catherine Zeta-Jones (who just became a household name the previous year with The Mask of Zorro), The Haunting was dead in the water.

Zeta-Jones at her best in Zorro.

House on Haunted Hill had semi-decent special effects, but the pace made up for it. The Haunting relied too much on it's CGI for the ghost and because of this it failed. It almost seems as if The Haunting was made solely to show off CGI ghost. This is disappointing due to the fact that the original Haunting was famous for its minimal use of apparitions. The Haunting went the complete opposite direction as it's source material and its a shame because the original Haunting was a very good film.

The only redeeming part of The Haunting was the gruesome death of a relatively unknown Owen Wilson (this scene gets cut on television which is a shame because it's awesome). House on Haunted Hill with it's cheap thrills makes for a better film. If I was forced to compare the originals than The Haunting would win hands down but House on Haunted Hill is the better of the remakes.

1997: Dante's Peak versus Volcano

In 1996 Twister became a huge success. The following year two new disaster movies came out, both involving volcanoes. I've always wondered why they decided to have two volcano movies in one year. There are plenty of ways that nature kills people, isn't two volcano movies in one year a bit much?

Dante's Peak came first and was, according to Wikipedia, more scientifically accurate than Volcano. Dante's Peak takes place in the Pacific Northwest where a town was ballsy enough to name a dormant volcano after an author synonymous with hell. Just like Chekhov's gun the volcano was bound to go off. James Bond and Sarah Conner than spend the rest of the movie escaping the lava. One scene of note is when they are crossing a lake of acid. Their boat stalls and the old lady in tow, realizing that she has lived far too long in this movie, sacrifices herself by jumping in the water and pushing the boat along. What should be a heartbreaking moment comes off as moderately hilarious thanks to the inept film-making.

Volcano made more money and was preferred by critics. Tommy Lee Jones must save Los Angeles from a newly erupted volcano. Although scientifically inaccurate, Volcano made for a more enjoyable movie and had less old-lady-acid-victims than Dante's Peak, making it a better movie.

1998: Deep Impact versus Armageddon

One was an interesting flick, the other was a phenomenon. Armageddon basically dwarfed Deep Impact in every way imaginable. Deep Impact may have been more accurate and predicted the arrival of a black president (enough has been said of Morgan Freeman's excellence) but Armageddon was the entertaining option. The problem with Deep Impact is that it wasn't about mankind kicking meteor ass but instead man's reaction to an end-of-the-world event. Nobody wants to watch people accepting death, they want to see America do what they do best: blow stuff up. That and the two romantic leads were a young Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski. The studios should of realized that nobody wants to watch two teenagers profess their love to each other while the world is ending.

Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler on the other hand? Audiences ate up Armageddon because it was what they wanted. Armageddon offered destruction and man's battle back against the huge space rock. Is the idea of sending a bunch of oil riggers into space stupid? Yes, but I doubt any astronaut looks like or is as fun to watch as Steve Buscemi.

I stand corrected, I guess astronauts can be goofy looking.

Armageddon has Bruce Willis doing what he does best, kicking ass against all odds for mankind. There is nothing to cheer for in Deep Impact. Armageddon isn't as depressing, even as Willis sacrifices himself to blow up the meteor (Willis hasn't faced an enemy this awesome since Hans Gruber). That meteor blowing up is for America. Armageddon gave audiences what they wanted. Deep Impact didn't have an Aerosmith song to slow dance to and that is why it loses. Plus, you don't see Deep Impact with a Criterion Collection DVD.

I slow danced the hell out of this song in middle school.

In summation, scientific accuracy and realism be damned. When audiences have the choice between two similar movies they will pick the fun one. Artistic quality is one thing but, to quote Eddie Izzard, "You can't eat popcorn to that."

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