47 FILMS: 54. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13

In our increasingly innumerate series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams, we present John Carpenter’s urban western: Assault on Precinct 13.

People are always trying to remake John Carpenter’s films. There’s been a bunch of Halloween sequels, a The Thing remake and an Assault on Precinct 13 remake. It’s probably his own fault. His The Thing was after all a remake that managed to surpass the original Howard Hawks picture The Thing from Outer Space. Even Assault on Precinct 13 is a kind of remake. It’s basically Rio Bravo – again Howard Hawks – remade as urban nightmare.

Austin Stoker plays Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, a cop whose first command is a deserted station house in the middle of a rough ghetto in Los Angeles. The police station is being mothballed and Bishop just needs to sit out the night, but unbeknownst to him a criminal gang with a large cache of weapons have sworn a blood oath against the LAPD, a child is about to be murdered and a bus transporting a high profile prisoner is about to stop off. Before you can say – Night of the Living Dead – the criminal hoards are descending on the Alamo style holdout and the cop and criminal and civilian must work together to survive.

Carpenter crafts his low budget thriller with amazing style and discipline. A sequence involving a murderous gang and an ice cream van is an exercise in building tension. And then with a pay off that to this day packs a horrific punch. Although the script was the work of a mere 8 days, it has some genuinely witty dialogue, especially with the character of the infamous prisoner Napoleon Wilson and his wise-assery. A similarly cheap and cheerful approach went with the soundtrack but it’s one of Carpenter’s best.

The tension and violence begins to dissipate rather than escalate as the lack of budget begins to show. But such sniping is unworthy. This is a brilliant genre exercise in less is more.

For more of our 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF THE THING

HOLLYWOOD – In our ‘The Making of…  Series’ we turn our attention to the classic science fiction/ horror remake: John Carpenter’s The Thing.

The Idea

John Carpenter had wanted to make another Science Fiction film following his debut Dark Star in 1974. He made Escape from New York in 1981 and then immediately started work on The Thing I Like About You, a musical comedy written by Burt Lancaster’s son Bill Lancaster. Kurt Russell, who had just finished working with Carpenter playing Snake Pilsen in Escape, was immediately cast as the shoes salesman who becomes hopeless involved with a millionairess and a Sheik. It was obvious to Russell that Carpenter wasn’t inspired by the story:

To begin with, he immediately had us move the production from New England to British Columbia. Before we knew it all the women and the musicians got fired and the script was changing every day. It soon became obvious  that John had an old Science Fiction film in mind but everything was on the hoof. The funny thing was – if you’ll excuse the pun – the title didn’t change. And in fact the first full cut of the film still had the title card the The Thing I Like About You. It was actually a note from a Universal Exec that had us abbreviate it.

Production

Filming in sub-zero temperatures was a challenge for the cast and crew as John Carpenter revealed in his autobiography ‘Everything Looks Like a Nail’:

We would film from seven in the morning and go into the night. But the next morning I would find Kurt Russell had frozen solid. At first we rushed him to hospital but the doctors assured me that he was perfectly preserved and no damage had happened. Apparently it happens all the time in Canada. So it became a thing. We’d send a guy to Kurt’s room an hour early so he could defrost Kurt. Then we’d film and that night Kurt would freeze again. Someone suggested we should move him to room with heating, but what with the freezing and unfreezing Kurt didn’t have to eat for the whole shoot and we saved a lot of money on rice and beans.

The special effects to create the monster were particularly difficult. Stan Winston was called in to do some work:

Most of the work was done before I even got there but there was one particular creature they couldn’t get right. And they were very pushed for time. This was described in the script as a dog. Now I assumed the dog had been taken over by the alien, so that’s what I created, but when I showed John he said no it has to look more like a dog. I went away, had a think and then did it again. By the third or fourth time, I decided as a joke just to show him a real dog. He said that was perfect and in the end that’s what appears in the film. Just a dog!

The ending of the film proved particularly difficult and John Carpenter was forced by the studio to shoot an alternative ending which has Kurt Russell waking up and realizing the whole thing was a dream.

Reception

The film was released in a double bill with E.T. and proved to be both a financial and critical failure. Vincent Canby in the New York Times complained that his seat wasn’t comfy and the popcorn he was given was slightly stale, whereas Roger Ebert wrote: ‘Watching John Carpenter’s The Thing, I had this air current on my neck. I don’t know if it was the air-conditioning or what but by the time I came out I had this really sore neck. It was irritating.’

Now the film is a cult classic and the air-conditioning has been fixed.

The Thing was released in 1982.

For more of The Making of… CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF ALIEN

HOLLYWOOD – In the latest in our celebrated Making of… series, we look at the behind the scenes drama that went into the making of Ridley Scott’s Science Fiction Horror film “Alien”.

The Idea

Dan O’Bannon had been writing Science Fiction scripts for some time. He had scripted and had a small part in John Carpenter’s debut movie “Dark Star”, but O’Bannon wanted to branch out and make a realistic drama about truckers driving across America with a cargo of coal. He wrote to his agent John Stutter:

Dear John,

Please find enclosed the treatment for the new screenplay “Alan”. The story is simple. A trucker called Alan is taking a cargo of coal across America. I see this as very much “Convoy”, but with coal and not as escapist as that film. Let me know what you think.

However, Sutter had not properly read the treatment and his note to O’Bannon was apologetic.

Dan,

Sorry to tell you this but I just glanced at the title of your treatment and got straight onto the phone with Fox. I thought the title was “Alien”. I think it was an ink smudge. Bad news, when I read the treatment I thought it deadly dull. Good news, Fox are sold on having a script from Dark Star writer Dan O’Bannon entitled “Alien”!

A disgruntled O’Bannon got to work and he re-used several characters from his coal convoy story along with the grungy feel he had been aspiring to but he resolutely refused to add an Alien which saw the script taken out of his hands and given to Ronald Shusett who added the Alien. Walter Hill’s production company got involved and a British commercials director who had just made an atmospheric Napoleonic drama called “The Duellists” was also interested.

Pre-Production

The key to the film was thought to be the creature of the title and Jim Henson, the puppet master who created the Muppets, was called in. Following Ridley Scott’s instructions to ‘go dark’, Henson produced the face-hugger, the fetus and the final creature in one 48 hour bout of creativity. However, fearing for his child friendly reputation he hired Swiss artist H.R. Giger to present the work as his own, a decision Henson would bitterly regret for the rest of his life.

Production

Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright,Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto were all cast after Ridley Scott got stuck in a lift with them in a Casino in Las Vegas and was impressed by the way they reacted diversely to the claustrophobic emergency. In keeping with the sense of immediacy Scott attempted to maintain a sense of spontaneity throughout the fourteen week shoot which took place between July 5 and October 21, 1978. Scott gave the actors only selective pages of script and would frequently spring surprises on them. The chest-burster scene was so disturbing that Yaphey Kotto pissed himself with fear. Harry Dean Stanton recalls:

The urine was everywhere and we were skidding around on it and almost falling on our asses, but Ian and John came from the British theater tradition and so they carried right on. And that was the take that Ridley used. Some of the looks of disgust on Veronica’s face for example, are because of the urine on the floor as much as the special effects.

Later filming the final sequence, Sigourney Weaver would shit her pants, though this was later revealed to be a prank she played on the rest of the cast and crew.

Reception

The advertising campaign for Alien was widely seen as one of the most successful of the late 70s although there is some controversy about who came up with the final tag line. Salman Rushdie claimed that he was the author and Gabriel Garcia Marquez said the line was his own. Scott settled the argument when it was revealed that Julian Lennon, son of Beatle John Lennon used to say to his father every night before he went to bed, ‘Remember dad, in space no one can hear you scream’ which would cause some of John Lennon’s most violent ‘bad trips’. The film was deemed a success and in 1987 the library of congress hired a video cassette of it and forgot to take it back the next day, which is considered by some to be the highest mark of honor.

Alien was released in 1979.

For more of The Making of… CLICK HERE.

FIRST POSTER FOR BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA REMAKE

HOLLYWOOD – The first poster for Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson’s remake of Big Trouble in Little China hit the internet today along with an official statement from the star.

The remake of John Carpenter’s 1986 cult classic Big Trouble in Little China is set to star Dwayne Johnson as hard boiled truck driver Jack Burton, who gets caught up with supernatural goings on in the eponymous Chinatown. The original starred Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall and was a bit of a flop for Carpenter, who was seeking to cash in on the Romancing the Stone and Indiana Jones action fare of the day. The new version will be written by X-Men: First Class scribes Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz and the approach according to Dwayne Johnson’s statement looks to be reverential:

All too often a remake of this kind of property is too keen to reinvent what doesn’t need reinventing and in the process we lose what was genuinely good about the original. So in this version, I am going to be digitally inserted into the original on top of Kurt Russell’s image and will simply take his place. We’ve hired Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz to update some of the dialogue but as much as we can we’ll leave alone. We want to see Gracie and fight Lo Pan (James Wong). The only casting change is perhaps to get Emma Stone to play Miao Yin.

How fans will react to this is yet to be seen, but Swiss cinema expert Xavier Poulis believes that Dwayne Johnson might have gone one remake too far.

Johnson is a likable personality and he obviously attracts audiences, as the success of San Andreas has proven. But he is finding himself attached to too many sequels and remakes. We’ve already seen him in the Furious films, the Voyage films, and there’s a Baywatch film coming up. And yet there is still no word as to when we will see Southland Tales 2, the film everyone is waiting for.

Dwayne Johnson’s Big Trouble in Little China will be released in 2017.

Image courtesy of @ThePixelFactor.

FILM SCHOLAR IRRITATED BY HOW MUCH HE ENJOYED THE LEGO MOVIE

HOLLYWOOD – Intellectual film critic Mordant Aziz found himself irritated earlier today following a screening he attended of Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s The Lego Movie.

Prof. Aziz fully expected to hate the film and find within it ‘the glib vacuous commercialism endemic in post-millennial Hollywood’ which he has contrasted on many previous occasions with the zesty experiments of the nouvelle vague and the beautiful ambiguities of Golden Age Seventies cinema.

Prof. Aziz – author of The Instability of Nicholas Cage – told the Studio Exec and several confidants:  

Throughout the film I chuckled, other times I laughed out loud. I enjoyed the film thoroughly and even believe that it had a coherent view of the world, which it also managed to problematize in a way which few other films bother with. In fact the film is the most interesting critique of ideology since John Carpenter’s They Live.

And yet you are irritated?

Absolutely. The pleasure I derived from watching the film and even the nourishment (intellectually speaking) is completely at odds with my thesis on the moral bankruptcy of product placement and the creative death of tent pole toy based franchises à la Bay.

So your thesis will need revising?

Fortunately, no. You see this is the beauty of  academia and post-modernism more generally. The Lego Movie is post-ironic irony. 

Come again?

It means I can enjoy it while knowing that my detachment and annoyance are wholly intended and therefore intellectually justified while still retaining my ability to look down on the popular audience who are enjoying the film wrongly.

Incorrectly you mean.

Fuck you.

The Lego Movie 2: The Piece You Stand On will be released in 2016.