Tag Archives: Sam Neill

In the Mouth of Madness (1994): The Power of the Storyteller

We begin Halloween Horror Week with “In the Mouth of Madness” one of the films in John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors with the “Escape” series, “Halloween” and “The Thing” being some of my favorite films. This film joins those as a favorite though it does not reach “Halloween” or “The Thing” level quality. This is really smart film and it was well written, what really only brings it down are how some of the characters are written and some of the cast performances.

The film was directed by John Carpenter, written by Michael De Luca and produced by Sandy King.

The story involves John Trent (Sam Neill) recounting how he ended up in an insane asylum, as his story begins he is an insurance investigator who is investigating the disappearance of a famous horror author named Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) who has gone missing and whose editors need in order to get his latest book, “In the Mouth of Madness,” released on time.

Spoilers ahead

Pros: The Lovecraft Themes – The main themes that are Lovecraftian that are done really well in this film are people being driven mad from beings from beyond (Sutter Cane’s books are warping reality because of being from beyond) body twisting (the people in Hobb’s End and those who come to Hobb’s end, a character in an insane asylum, people cut off from the world (Hobb’s End) and the pointlessness of man’s fight against the greater universe (John discovers that he is a character in one of Cane’s books so he never had Free Will. These are some of the many Lovecraftian themes in the film and easily what it does best.

What the Storyteller Does to the Characters – As someone who writes fiction as a hobby, authors are cruel to our characters. We create drama for them and have them suffer so that they go through arcs. The sad thing is they are entertainment to us to some degree as stories are entertainment and we may care about our characters but not in the same way we care about real life people. John Trent feels that in full as well as the horror of realizing he is just a character in a story.

The Power of Meta-Narrative – One of the things that works really well in this film is the meta-narrative. You have the narrative of Cane’s past books woven into Hobb’s End as well as “In the Mouth of Madness” weaved through the story as John comes to realize that this film is his story and he is trapped inside of it. These levels of narrative and meta-narrative lend the story power as the different levels of story inform one another and strengthen the themes.

What is Reality? – A major question the film asks is if we are just in a story that someone else is writing. That is John Trent’s arc and from there the question is asked whether his reality really was really warped by Cane or if it’d been warped all along. Is the only reality Sutter Cane’s and John Trent is trapped in a book? Or was reality really warped by being beyond and the world of the film was our world that was transformed? I believe the movie leaves this question open, which strengthens the narrative.

Okay: The Cast – The only great members of the cast is Sam Neill. I believed his terror and he felt fully realized, even though we didn’t necessarily get to know his character as well as we could have. The others are okay but I wouldn’t really consider their performances great. They felt like set pieces that fit within the narrative but not fully realized characters.

The Characters -This was a film with huge ambitions but the writing doesn’t fully realize the characters within. Even John Trent could have been better realized in regards to his motivations and what he was going through. All the characters are guilty of this. They aren’t bad but Cane doesn’t feel threatening, I never felt I was given the chance to care about Linda Styles, Cane’s editor and besides John Trent the rest of the characters feel like parts of a puzzle that work but not unique in and of themselves. Which is a pattern I’ve noticed in the Lovecraftian adaptations I’ve seen thus far.

If you are a fan of Lovecraft, John Carpenter or horror films you should really check this film out. This is a brilliant film and I love how it explores the nature of reality, the power of the storyteller in regards to the characters they create and the use of meta-narrative. It would have been perfect if the characters had been better written and the film had a better cast but for what it is, it is a really good film and one I’d highly recommend. This is a favorite, and I plan to watch it again in the future.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

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Jurassic Park (1993): The Power and Wonder of Nature and Finding What Matters

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       “Jurassic Park” deserves its place as a Classic. I think I was too harsh to it as a kid and enjoyed the fact that more people died in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” In this the stakes are much higher and because it is slower we get more time to know the characters, and unlike “Jurassic World” the characters feel real and everyone is active all the time, though kids of course are still the weakest part which is true of most Spielberg films. I think what helped this film was the author also writing the Screenplay, which sadly doesn’t happen all that much in Hollywood and arguably to the detriment of the scripts. Suffice to say, this film was great.

    “Jurassic Park” was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen and based off the book of the same name by Michael Crichton.

     The story involves John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) bringing two experts being Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) to Jurassic Park in order so that they will write it off and he can get funding but things soon go wrong when an unhappy employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) sabotages the Park’s security and attempts to sell the Dinsosaur embryos to a rival the same time a giant storm hits, putting Hammond’s grandchildren and the people at risk.

The Pros: The Premise – The Premise is really cool. A billionare obsessed with dinosaurs uses science to create them and is willing to do anything to make his dream a reality. It coming crashing down on him is expected too, and it’s fun to watch the setup and execution.

The Soundtrack – John Williams at one of his best. The soundtrack captures wonder and terror so well and I understand why this score is used in most John Williams salutes by orchestras.

Character Moments – There are some really good character moments in this…from Ellie and Hammond talking about the wonder and fear of Hammond’s creation, the nihilism of Ian and the idealism of Alan and any interaction Alan has with the kids.

The Characters – The main and supporting characters are compelling and interesting and there are more of them in this film than the others in the Franchise. In the end this is what makes the film succeed besides the brilliant theme and message.

Dennis Nedry – Wayne Knight is wonderful as this troll IT Guy who harasses Hammond relentlessly and actually had a point that he isn’t being paid that much or helped out at all. Hammond can’t see beyond himself (and neither can Nedry) and in the end Nedry ends up dead because of it when he tries delivering the Embryos to a rival company.

Ray Arnold – Samuel L. Jackson plays the chain smoking scientist who is pretty pessimistic but does his best in a very bad situation. In the end he comes through though and he isn’t anti-Hammond the way Nedry is.

John Hammond – Richard Attenborough is fantastic as the wizened old man who began as a creator of a flea circus and became a multi-billionaire. His dreams have driven him in all that he does and are really more important than people until he realizes that his dream has killed people and his selfishness created his fall. He learns from his mistakes though and I really enjoyed his character, he was my favorite.

Dr. Ellie Satler – Laura Dern is wonderful in this role as the character who is quick to take action and is always looking out for others. She also has the sense of wonder and idealism of Grant until all that comes crashing down when the storm hits. She is the one who reminds Hammond of what matters and brings him out of himself.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the Chaos Theory Mathematician and is a really fun character. He hits on everyone and has had a few marriages and kids, he fully lives a life of entropy and predicts the park falling apart. He still holds a sense of wonder though and he cares about the Grandchildren even going so far as risking his life and almost ending up killed by the T. Rex. He does end up injured.

Dr. Alan Grant – Sam Neill is great as the idealistic scientist who isn’t good with children who comes to show he can be a really good friend and mentor. He is the most courageous besides Ellie as he doesn’t think twice about taking action to protect others and he knows the Dinosaurs the best as he studied them as a paleontologist.

The Power of Nature – Nature’s power is front and center and the illusion of humanity’s control over it is shown when the storm makes it so the park is unsafe and Nedry turns on the Park and releases the cages. The dinosaurs reek havoc and are never really beaten in the end, they just beat one another.

The Tyrannosaurs Rex – The T. Rex is the main threat throughout the film, eating the lawyer and countless others, injuring the members who are visiting the park and in the end killing the Raptors. The T. Rex is the storm and it cannot be stopped, only avoided. None of the other films do that as well as this one.

The Raptors – Minus the introduction the Raptors are great. They are like the Aliens from “Alien” and “Aliens” and a force of nature that wherever they show up, someone will die. They also adapt to every situation and are only beat by a larger predator that surprises them.

Wonder in Science – The scientific wonder is fantastic! Even though the science doesn’t work that isn’t the point, the point is the celebration of the process of creation and wonder in discovering new things, which are important parts of science and being a scientist.

People Versus Dreams – Dreams are not more important than people and it is Hammond’s are to come to this realization as he wants the park to work up until he fears his Grandchildren dying. It is at that point he realizes people mattered all along.

Okay: The Kids – Kids are once again okay, didn’t believe the girl was a hacker or the boy had read Alan’s book, but that’s an issue I have with the kids in all these movies.

The Cons: The Introduction – The intro is so cheesy and bad. From the hunter’s mouth being really close to the Raptors having long enough arms to pull a heavy man into the cage…the only good part was the mist and trouble seeing things.

   “Jurassic Park” is truly a classic for a reason. It captures wonder, terror and respect for nature as well as giving us mostly complex characters and the characters who aren’t complex are a lot of fun. I’d recommend it for sure, this Spielberg and Crichton doing what they love with one of the best John Williams Soundtracks to date.

Final Score: 9.5 /10