Length: 1Hr 48
Release date: 23rd October 1998 (interestingly, I saw it 24th December 1998. I’m not certain a film like this would survive that long at the cinemas today)
About: When teenager Alan (Gregory Smith) buys a set of Commando Elite action figures, he’s unaware that they have been programmed with military technology. The toys, including leader Chip (Tommy Lee Jones), spring to life and start taking their directives seriously, beginning by “killing” their enemies, the toy Gorgonites. But Archer (Frank Langella) and the Gorgonites won’t go down without a fight. Alan gets caught in the middle of the war, as does his neighbor and crush, Christy (Kirsten Dunst).
This was a film I saw with my brother Christmas Eve 1998. It sticks out in my memory as one of my favourite and best cinema experiences. Not to sat that the film is the best or my favourite, however over time it’s certainly been a go to movie.
- It’s got a solid good versus evil plot with the Commando Elite and the Gorgonites. I especially love the casting of actors from The Dirty Dozen and Spinal Tap to play the warring groups.
- The teens thrown into a world where they have to fend for themselves is a theme Joe Dante works well with. I don’t know if it’s because I was a teen myself when I first saw this, but I think I relate much more to this than Gremlins.
- I will always love the line about Spice Girls being used as psychological warfare. In 1998, the Spice Girls had not only saturated the market and tormented parents all around the world, but they were close to saying ‘goodbye, my friend.’ I think I was offended at the time, but I have a chuckle.
- I love the Geendy Doll revolt with Christina Ricci and Sarah Michelle Gellar torturing Kirsten Dunst. While in Toy Story, it’s disturbing here I just find it awesome.
- On the most part, the CGI is okay. You can sometimes tell between the puppetry and the graphics, but it’s still better than some of the shoddy CGI that is in place in today’s movies.
- Hi, I’m Phil Hartman. You may recognise me and my voice from films like Jingle All the Way and the tv show The Simpson’s. Yup, that’s right, Springfield’s own Troy McClure takes on the role of Christy’s self centred father. Sadly, Hartman was tragically killed shortly before the film’s release. While the character does seem like the ever present archetype from Dante’s back catalogue (Murray in Gremlins, Rumsfeld in The ‘Burbs) Hartman does make it so much his own that you will be forgiven for not making the connection the first time you watch.
As much as I think Gregory Smith does a fine job as Alan, and he certainly works well alongside the CGI leader of the Gorgonites… why would I want him if I could have had my favourite actor at the time (and now). Learning that the studio’s/Joe Dante’s first choice for Alan-Now-Shut-Up was Joe Mazzello is a little bittersweet.
Perhaps it’s the fact that it is a little too similar to Gremlins. It’s the Jurassic Park to Gremlins’ West World. It feels a little been there watched that. When you strip in down, all its parts are gained from previous work. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that but for it to work, it has to be better. For me, without Dante’s wild child Corey Feldman taking up some screen time, it will NEVER be better.
It’s a decent way to burn an hour or so. It’s not flawless, but it is fun and certain provides a case that Joe Dante is a main stream auteur or a one-trick pony. Something I’m hoping to explore in the upcoming weeks by having a Dante retrospective.
Do you know your Dante?
What’s your favourite creation of his?