#354. Gigantic!

How often do we catch ourselves staring upward at an object, in awe of its immense size? When tourists first experience the towering heights of the skyscrapers of New York, they come to grips with the scale of such structures. Sometimes, even the most mundane things in life can be awe-inspiring (or at least attention-grabbing) when reimagined as larger versions of their smaller counterparts. While some of this fascination with gigantic items stems from the art world, there have been many films that have delved into the idea that size matters. In the past, this required building sets to make the actors on the screen seem much larger than they were. Today, CGI can accomplish this task. Even so, some amount of visual trickery is needed to make the actors appear larger than life. This week’s two films examine what it means to be gigantic!

The Iron GiantThe Iron Giant
Year: 1999
Rating: PG
Length: 86 minutes / 1.43 hours

Giant robots are usually a sub-genre of science fiction often promulgated through Japanese manga and anime. While they cornered the market on giant monsters and the giant robots built to fight them (a la Godzilla (1954) and Power Rangers (2017), respectively) America is finally starting to catch up with such films as Pacific Rim (2013) and its sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). Granted, most of the American giant monsters and robots before this point were in the form of enormous apes or alien invaders, like the eponymous King Kong (1933) or Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). All these giant robots and monsters were created in a variety of methods to make the audience think they are enormous, but there’s been at least one true giant to grace the big screen. In his best-known film role, Andre the Giant played the part of Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987).

Upon the cusp of the start of the cold war, tensions are high between the United States and the Soviet Union. When a giant alien robot falls out of the sky and lands near a small town in Maine, the United States government is obviously suspicious of Communist involvement. However, what young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) learns upon finding this Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) is that the robot is a calm and docile being with no understanding of the world he now inhabits. The robot does not want to be seen as an enemy, but his automatic defense mechanisms are activated to protect him from the assault of the United States military. Despite Hogarth showing everyone that the robot is harmless, a trigger-happy government agent launches a nuclear missile against the robot that would likely wipe out the small town. It’s up to the Iron Giant to save the day and show he’s a hero, not a villain.

Honey, I Shrunk the KidsHoney, I Shrunk the Kids
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Size is all about perspective. While humans think anything larger than they are is gigantic, an ant would find humans to be tremendously enormous. Plenty of films explore this shift in perspective. From the superhero comedy of Ant-Man (2015) to the social commentary of Downsizing (2017), being shrunk down makes the entire world seem bigger in comparison. Some family-friendly films explore this idea as well, including Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Epic (2013). Despite knowing how to interact with our human-sized world, like The Borrowers (1997) or The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), sometimes the humans shrunk down to these sizes have difficulty adapting. When toy cars are large enough to be real ones, and building blocks can be used as a shelter, it takes some problem solving to fashion the tools needed to survive.

Eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) is having trouble with his shrink ray. Every time he tries to shrink something, it explodes, thus making the ray gun too dangerous to use on humans. His children, Amy (Amy O’Neill) and Nick (Robert Oliveri) are tasked with cleaning up the house before their mother comes home. Meanwhile, the Szalinski’s neighbors, the Thompsons, are preparing for a fishing trip. Ron Thompson (Jared Rushton) accidentally hits a baseball through the Szalinski’s attic window and is caught by his brother, Russ (Thomas Wilson Brown), and forced to apologize to the Szalinskis. However, when the kids go up to find the baseball, the laser shrinks them down. After Wayne accidentally takes the kids out with the trash, they have to find their way back home in the wilderness that is their backyard. If they can gain Wayne’s attention, they just might be returned to normal size.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 enormously entertaining movies

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#253. Roland Emmerich

Some directors want to make us think. Some directors want to create art. Some directors are in it for the money. When it comes right down to it, Roland Emmerich wants to make movies that entertain us. While certain parallels might be drawn between him and Michael Bay (another “explosion director”), most people can recognize an Emmerich film just based on the scale of destruction alone. With Roland Emmerich at the helm, cities explode, nations fall, and even the entire earth is destroyed. Even though he has directed many other films of varying subject and genre, everyone knows Emmerich is famous for one thing and one thing only: blowing up historic and culturally significant landmarks. This week’s two films highlight some of these explosive films that Roland Emmerich is best known for.

Independence DayIndependence Day
Year: 1996
Rating: PG-13
Length: 145 minutes / 2.42 hours

Since 1992, Emmerich has been directing films regularly, with a movie being released about every 2 years (somewhat akin to Christopher Nolan’s release schedule). Early on, he made a name for himself directing the science fiction classic, Stargate (1994). While it didn’t have quite the destructive flair of his later films, it did show that he had an eye for settings with recognizable landmarks (notably, the Pyramids of Giza). It wasn’t until Independence Day (1996) when Emmerich finally found his catastrophic niche. Sure, he would eventually go on to direct some more historical films, such as The Patriot (2000), Anonymous (2011), and Stonewall (2015), but his fame would always originate with blowing up the White House (so much so, he did it again with White House Down (2013)). But with Independence Day: Resurgence having come out this year, it’s clear this was his best franchise.

A few days before July 4th, alien ships arrive at Earth and position themselves above strategic cities across the world. In New York, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) notices that the corrupted television signals contain a countdown for all the ships to attack the Earth at once. Fortunately, he is able to contact just the right people to get the President of the United States (Bill Pullman) out of harm’s way just as the attack commences. As the military commences with counterattacks, very few are left alive. One exception is Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), a pilot who shot down one of the enemy craft and brought the alien to Area 51 to be examined. By the time July 4th rolls around, David has arrived at a plan to take down the alien shields so that Earth’s militaries can damage the spaceships. With Capt. Hiller at the helm of an alien craft, he and David fly into the mothership to upload a computer virus and save the world.

The Day After TomorrowThe Day After Tomorrow
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours

Sometimes directors want to get a message across to their audience. While it might be lost in the art of an overly abstract director, or hidden deeply underneath the explosions of an action film, the message still remains. For Roland Emmerich, his message is that, if we don’t do anything to stop it, humans will destroy the earth. If aliens from Independence Day (1996) and monsters from Godzilla (1998) weren’t enough, the earth itself is trying to kill us. His latest message of global destruction, 2012 (2009), merely takes his earlier work, The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and expands it out to cover the entire Earth by including volcano eruptions, earthquakes, and enormous floods. Still, despite his films’ scientific (and historic) inaccuracies, they are based at least loosely on actual ideas extrapolated out to their catastrophic end.

Even though many scientists across the world, including paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), are presenting findings on global warming and its potential weather effects, most people ignore them. Meanwhile, the weather around the world turns violent. An enormous storm system starts building in the Northern Hemisphere, in part due to an unusually large polar vortex. In Manhattan, the weather starts to have a detrimental effect on Jack’s son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) as the streets begin to flood and the icy cold polar vortex freezes everything in sight. While many survivors gather in the New York Public Library, they struggle to remain warm, treat wounds, and survive against wild animals. While Jack makes an arctic expedition into the city, the storm’s eye drops the temperatures even further below zero Celsius. After the storm clears, the process of recovery begins.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 epic Emmerich disasters

Bacon #: 3 (Die 120 Tage von Bottrop / Margit Carstensen -> Manila / Elizabeth McGovern -> She’s Having a Baby / Kevin Bacon)