Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday Morning Cult TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Phantom Force" (November 10, 1979)


In “Phantom Force,” Jason (Craig Littler) escapes a trap in another dimension via the alien star gate and warns Commander Stone (John Russell) that Dragos (Sid Haig) is planning to use an alien power source on the planet Stygion to aid his coming invasion of "the universe."  Star Command travels at “warp speed”(!) to intercept the alien power source on Jason’s information, but both Stone and Samantha (Tamara Dobson) are upset with Jason because his source of information is a former enemy, Adron (Rod Loomis).

After Samantha rescues a young buy, Carius (David Comfort) from a deadly ion storm, the tensions between Jason and Samantha escalate.  Jason suspects something is not right with the boy, but Samantha is baffled by her friend’s suspicious behavior.  When Star Command undergoes a series of “accidents,” Jason’s worst fears  are proved correct, and Carius is revealed to be…Dragos, or rather an “illusion” of Dragos.

In fact, the “Phantom Force” of the episode’s title refers to Drago’s apparently-new found ability to create hallucinations such as spaceship armadas and even phantom planets.  In the episode’s final scene, Jason re-establishes his trust for Samantha by allowing her to choose which of five phantom planets is actually Stygion, Drago’s HQ.  She picks correctly, and – drats – Drago’s latest scheme is foiled again.  Star Command destroys the entire planet.

This episode of Jason of Star Command delves more into character fireworks then some installments of the Saturday morning program, but here the frissons between main characters feel forced and manufactured.  Suddenly, Jason and Samantha are at odds, and Jason and the Commander are at odds, and there are no good reasons for their behavior.  Everyone starts spontaneously acting shitty, and that’s about as much depth as the story provides.  Again, this is where – speaking as an adult in 2012Jason of Star Command begins to fail.  The straightforward episodes are designed for children and thus many of the plots just can’t really hold your attention as a grown-up.   I’m sure I would have loved “Phantom Force” when I was eight, and I don’t mean that sarcastically or as a put down.  The show was designed for kids, after all.

However, I must note that all Saturday morning programs are not created equal in this regard.  Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977) and to some degree Space Academy (1977) both manage to remain interesting to adults even today because their storylines involve more than mere action.  There’s subtext to many Land of the Lost stories about the environment, and environmental stewardship, for instance.   Perhaps owing to the success of Star Wars, Jason of Star Command is so straightforward that it often plays as…flat.

That established, the special effects of Jason of Star Command remain astounding.  A highlight of “Phantom Force” is Samantha’s rescue of Carius’s pod from the ion storm.  The visual effects here are really terrific, as usual, a more-than-satisfying blend of live action, spaceship miniatures and glowing opticals (in the form of the charged ions…).  If you’re watching Jason just to enjoy the accomplished special effects, there’s nothing disappointing whatsoever about this segment.

Storywise, however, you can just detect how the ball is kind of being dropped in terms of the larger narratives.  Dragos goes from one hopeless scheme to the next, doomed to failure.  And now even the star gate (still in Star Command’s landing bay…) looks as though it is going to be dropped as an instigator for new stories and new mysteries.   Other elements of "Phantom Force" also raise questions.  Star Command -- like the Death Star! -- boasts the power to destroy planets?  Are only Dragos' forces living on Stygion?  Nobody even checks before obliterating the planet.  And if Carius is a phantom -- an illusion -- does that mean that Samantha never touches him, even while tucking him into bed?  

Anyway, three episodes left before the end of season two and the end of the series.

Next Week: “Little Girl Lost.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cult Movie Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)


Each time I pen a review of a sequel that doesn’t quite measure up to the original film, I am reminded of critic Roger Ebert’s brilliant opening line from his review of Halloween II (1981): “It’s a little sad to witness a fall from greatness.”

And a fall from greatness is exactly what we witness in the 1997 cinematic sequel to Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Fortunately for audiences and fans of the franchise, it’s not a colossal drop.  Rather, this first sequel dips from the realm of “classic” (like the original) to merely “good.”  Bottom line: it could have been worse, perhaps even a lot worse. 

Although marred by a disastrous final act that seems utterly disconnected from the body of the film proper, The Lost World remains enormously entertaining.  The film plays like a tense roller-coaster ride and one crafted with uncommon technical skill to boot.  In particular, an incredibly complex, nail-biting set-piece involving a double trailer on a precipice – in a rain storm, no less – reveals Steven Spielberg’s killer instinct and directorial legerdemain. 

Perhaps the most significant difference between Jurassic Park and its sequel is that The Lost World feels a whole lot, well, meaner.  While some fans and critics may consider this shift in tone lamentable, there was probably little choice.  You can only play the “wonder” card once, and Jurassic Park did so superbly.  Now the franchise gets down to some brutal, bloody business…

Technically astounding, and with protagonists constantly in “the company of death,” The Lost World represents an above-average sequel to Jurassic Park, but in both coloration and thematic tenor, the film feels very dark and even devoid of joy.   There’s nothing wrong with existing on that plateau, but after watching this film you feel more throttled than you do enthralled.

And while beautifully rendered, the final image of the film -- a fantasyland of diverse dinosaurs dwelling together in peace within a literal stones-throw of one another -- feels piped in from another franchise all together.  Given what we know of man, and particularly of man as depicted in the film itself, there’s no reason to believe a paradise like this would be permitted to thrive. 

Even worse, given what we’ve seen of the dinosaurs, there’s no reason to believe they would inhabit this world either, living peaceably in such close proximity to one another.

“Our last chance at redemption…”

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) summons mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to his home to inform him of some startling news.  A Jurassic Park “Site B” exists on an island eighty miles south of Isla Nublar, called Isla Sorna.  There, dinosaurs have lived in isolation for four years.  In fact, they are thriving.

However, all that is about to change. The new head of InGen, Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Howard) believes that the way to raise his company out of bankruptcy is to exploit the dinosaurs.  Specifically, his plan is to capture the dinosaurs at Site B and bring them back to San Diego as a stadium attraction.

Having learned from his own unique mistakes regarding the dinosaurs, Hammond understands the folly of this course, and believes that the dinosaurs should be left alone to live in peace without the specter of human interference.  But to rally the public to support his cause, he has sent paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) to the island to document life on Isla Sorna. 

Because Sarah is his girlfriend, Ian heads to the island on a rescue mission, along with videographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and tech-guy Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff).  They are joined by a stowaway, Ian’s daughter, Cathy (Beller).

In short order, a squad of hunters arrive on the island too, and commence a vicious dinosaur safari at Ludlow’s behest.  When one of the hunters, Roland Tembo (Peter Postlethwaite) captures a T-Rex infant, it’s worried parents come looking for it, and the dance of death begins anew…

“An extinct animal come back to life has no rights…we made it…we own it.”

Along with director Spielberg, David Koepp returned to scripting duties for this sequel, The Lost World.  Accordingly, the film feels like a legitimate continuation of the first film, right down to the feisty, occasionally corny sense of humor. 

In terms of narrative depth, however, The Lost World offers something a lot scarier than science run amok, the chosen terrain of the first film.  In short, the follow-up concerns capitalism or big business run amok, and in that regard is indeed frightening.  Specifically, the film revives the axiom that the free market becomes ethical only when the cost of unethical behavior becomes too great a cost for the market to bear.   Here, Ludlow has no time for ethics until he is on the line for murder and property damage.  And even then, he’s still trying to figure out a way to make money…  

Another way to parse the difference between first and second film in the JP series: If Jurassic Park concerned the wonder of dinosaurs brought to life via the auspices of science then The Lost World dramatizes the crass, inhuman exploitation of these DNA-created animals…for profit.  In fact, all of The Lost World is suffused -- at least thematically -- with a tremendous sense of…responsibility. 

Because modern, technological man created the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna in the first place, the argument goes that man is responsible for what ultimately happens to them, and must treat them with respect and dignity.  We see this idea reinforced and mirrored throughout the film, in both a subplot about reluctant, absentee father Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and his daughter, Cathy (Camilla Beller), and even in the story involving parent Tyrannosaurs and their infant offspring.

Warm-blooded or cold-blooded, we all struggle to be good parents, and preserve the future for our children.  We can’t abandon our children, or we risk turning them into monsters.

Given this leitmotif, the film’s villains come under the camp of vulture capitalists like Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Arliss Howard) and irresponsible, merciless hunter, Dieter (Peter Stormare), a man who views every new dinosaur as a thing to bully, hurt, or beat down.     

Metaphorically bad parents both, Ludlow and Dieter are concerned only how they can “strip mine” the island for profit, or for personal gratification.  It’s one thing to create new life, to play Frankenstein, but The Lost World travels further down the road and asks, how does Frankenstein treat his monster once it is here, for good? 

With humanity and grace?  Or as something to be controlled and used up?

The downside of this storytelling approach is plain.  John Hammond was certainly misguided in Jurassic Park, but not a villain or a terrible person.  But The Lost World requires old-fashioned, mustache-twirling human villains to maintain its momentum, and they aren’t exactly portrayed in three-dimensional terms. 

The up-side of featuring such cruel, villainous human antagonists, however, is that audience members experience a vicarious sense of justice meted out when the dinosaurs strike back and kill them.  Ludlow’s fate – to be the plaything of a T-Rex child just learning to hunt – is absolutely “just” given his cavalier treatment of the dinosaurs.  He believes that because his company created them, he “owns” them.  In the end – at least before he gets ripped apart – Ludlow gets to experience what it feels like to be owned by someone else.  And Dieter, after bullying tiny dinosaurs with a cattle prod, learns there is strength in numbers when the diminutive lizards team up to overwhelm him.

In terms of the “sequel effect,” The Lost World features more gadgetry, more guns, more victims and more leaping lizards than its processor did, so it’s carnage candy galore.  Even better, Spielberg seems to be in a nastier mood than usual and dispenses with his characteristic sense of sentimentality.  The film’s opening sequence reveals dinosaurs surrounding and attacking a cute-as-a-button little girl, for instance.  Later, one of the film’s most likable characters, Eddie, gets viciously ripped apart by two angry Tyrannosaurs.  And this comes after after working his ass off to save Malcolm, Sarah and Van Owen!

Overall, the impression is that this sequel absolutely means business, and isn’t pulling any punches.  So obsessed is Spielberg, it seems, with the film’s action, that he stages an impressive (but also strangely obsessive…) action scene set in a trailer dangling over a high-cliff.  This scene builds and builds, layering on new elements and becoming ever more intense, as if Spielberg is testing the limits of audience endurance, and also his ability to play us like a piano. 

And…I like it. 

At one point during the scene, Sarah falls directly towards Spielberg’s camera through the body of a vertically-tilted trailer, and her body strikes a glass barrier, a window.  Soon, tiny cracks in the glass begin to spread and multiply, line by line, and the progression of the shattering glass -- perhaps better than anything we saw in Jurassic Park -- hints at the true nature of Ian’s Chaos Theory.  Incident piles upon incident, action upon action, effect upon effect, with surprising results.  Pretty soon, we’re putty in Spielberg’s hands, swept up by the progression of terror.

Again, this scene is gloriously nail-biting, and literally the last word in cliffhanging action.  Through cross-cutting, fast-cuts and an unmatched sense of visual placement and geography, Spielberg transforms what might have been a short or perfunctory  moment into an extended dance with terror as man grapples with nature, technology and monsters too.  I’d give this sequence the nod as the best (and most technically complicated…) action sequence in the entire JP trilogy.

Another great scene in the film involves Velociraptors lurking in tall grass, waiting to strike a group of human passersby.  Spielberg’s camera adopts an extreme high-angle, so we see only Velociraptor paths – like contrails -- moving stealthily through the grass on a trajectory towards the unlucky human pedestrians.  And then the dinosaurs strike and Spielberg cannily shifts to eye level with the top of the high grass, so it looks as though the men are being pulled beneath the surface of a roiling sea.  In some ways, it’s the Jaws approach all over again, but once more, I must say I really like Spielberg when he’s in “mean” mode.  When we wants to, this director can match Hitchcock or De Palma shot-for-shot in terms of visual aplomb and wicked gallows humors.  As a viewer and critic, I appreciate it when Spielberg indulges that side of his personality.

The last act of The Lost World is the one that, as a critic, I have trouble with.  The tyrannosaurus looks small and inconsequential compared to the gas stations, high-rise skyscrapers and suburbs of San Diego, and so the final urban scenes don’t quite work as they should. 

Furthermore, Nick Van Owen – the daring “Earth First” crusader of the film – disappears completely from this final act.  Wouldn’t he have agreed to help Ian and Sarah recover the infant T-Rex?  Nick’s total disappearance makes the ending feel tacked on after the fact, like it was a second thought, or the result of a focus-group preference. 

And finally, after the T-Rex rampage in San Diego, The Lost World culminates with that fairy tale shot.  Now quarantined from the human world, the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna become literally one happy family.  By showcasing all the dinosaurs (T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Pterodactyl) within one frame (during a pan, left to right), the impression is of a Kumbaya paradise that, simply put, could never be.  It’s an unwelcome return to Steven Spielberg in his most sentimental, schmaltzy mode. 

Make no mistake, the valedictory shot of The Lost World is absolutely gorgeous and brilliantly rendered, but would carnivores and vegetarians really mill about peaceably together for a Sunday afternoon in the park?  Not likely…

I know a lot of critics hated The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  I’m not one of them.  In Horror Films of the 1990s I rated it 3 stars out of 4, and I stick by that assessment.  The film entertains…almost relentlessly, and there is a subtext here about protecting the lives we bring into the world, through science or nature.  The grueling, edge-of-your set action scenes work like gangbusters as well.  But the script takes a few wrong turns in the end, and closes on a note of such utter fantasy, that you’re left, finally, with a sense that you have witnessed, if not a fall from greatness, then at least a small stumble from the path of greatness.

Next Week: Jurassic Park III (2001).

Movie Trailer: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week



"So you went from capitalist to naturalist in just 4 years. That's something."

- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Five Most Savage Episodes in Cult-TV History

As I wrote in my book, Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), I'm a committed proponent of the early-to-mid 1970s "Savage Cinema," a span which gave the world such films as Straw Dogs (1971), Deliverance (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and later The Hills Have Eyes (1977).  I connect with these movies so deeply and thoroughly, I suspect, because the filmmakers took the so-called "New Freedom" of the epoch (in terms of screen standards) and then systematically disconnected the horror genre from its exotic roots.  The films I name-checked above don't take place in Transylvanian castles, upon the misty moors, or in the pyramids of Egypt.  They don't take occur on the Amazon River, in the Arctic, or in other foreign locales.  Instead, the savage horror films of the 1970s dramatically re-positioned horror as something that could happen in the here and now, in our time, in our place.  It was terror...brought home.

The Savage Cinema of the 1970s also showcased for audiences absolutely horrible human behavior.  Gone were the familiar but supernatural monsters like Dracula, the Werewolf, the Mummy or Frankenstein's creation.  Instead, "mad" men -- all mortals -- were presented as brutal, violent, uncontrollable dangers in the efforts of Craven, Hooper, Peckinpah and Boorman, among others.  It was an entirely new paradigm, and one that changed the trajectory of horror cinema. The Savage Cinema eschewed romance, tragedy and other artificial or theatrical qualities too.  It shattered existing Hollywood conventions and decorum.  In short, the Savage Cinema showcased the full ugliness of man at point-blank range, with not only cut-throat bluntness, but with a total understanding of how film grammar could be manipulated to impact audiences on an almost subconscious level.

As unlikely as it seems given that TV is widely "homogenized" to appeal to all people all the time, some genre TV programs have really gone all out -- guns blazing -- to create the barbarous, fierce atmosphere we might commonly associate with The Savage Cinema.   The following five episode titles represent my list for the most "savage episodes" in cult-TV history, although I readily admit that these selections are personal ones, and that people of good conscience can disagree, or provide alternate titles of comparable value.  

But the first time I watched each of the following programs, I was rocked back on my heels at the violence portrayed, and more than that, by the brutal vision of humanity showcased by the various programs.  These are the five titles guaranteed to trouble your peaceful slumber.

The programs are listed in ascending order, from #5 to #1.

5. The Evil Touch: "The Trial."

Airing on local stations in 1973 and 1974, The Evil Touch was an Australian-made anthology of limited means, namely an extremely low-budget.  Accordingly, each week the series, hosted by Anthony Quayle, felt like a jewel-in-the-rough and a "discovered" horror movie.  Many episodes generate fear an a nearly primal level, but none more so than "The Trial," first aired in New York City on February 3, 1974.  Written by Michael Fisher and directed by Mende Brown, the episode involved a nasty millionaire, Lon Zachary (Ray Walston) who had for twenty years scorned the friends -- carnies -- who took him in and had raised him from childhood.

Now, Lon intends to destroy the carnival fairgrounds (to make room for condominiums), but his carnie peers put him on trial for his misdeeds, and concoct a punishment that will bring Lon -- formerly Elmo the Geek -- back into the fold.  The group's tattoo artist, you see, was once a brain surgeon...

I don't want to reveal more than necessary here, especially because the series is not yet available on DVD, but the episode's final moments generate a throat-tightening sense of panic as Ray Walston's character realizes that there is no escape, and that he is bound for a grisly, life-altering fate.  A hard-hitting, just desserts story, "The Trial" is one savage humdinger of a half-hour.

4. Rod Serling's Night Gallery: "The Other Way Out."

This remarkably effective third season entry from Rod Serling's second TV anthology is similar, in some fashion to "The Trial."  Written and directed by Gene Kearney, this tale originally aired on November 19, 1972.  "The Other Way Out involves Bradley Meredith (Ross Martin), a man who believes he can get away scot-free with the murder of a go-go girl.   However, a blackmailer soon contacts Meredith and gives him instructions for a drop off of 10,000 dollars at an isolated location.  In a twist worthy of The Virgin Spring (the basis for Last House on the Left), Meredith ends up at the rural home of his blackmailer, a creepy, cold-blooded Burl Ives.

The Ives character goes on and on recounting to Meredith about how he'll receive his comeuppance for murder from his grandson, "Sonny."  These stories provoke such fear in Meredith that he attempts to escape the house and is attacked by murderous dogs.  He returns to the house, and learns from Ives that there is one "other way" out of the house.  Meredith believes he finds it too: a passageway behind a fireplace in the living room, and then a hatchway down deep into the Earth...

Frenetic and frantic, "The Other Way Out" culminates with a surprise revelation about "Sonny," and then another twist about Meredith's "other way out."   Again, I don't want to reveal the episode's startling finale, but it's bleak as hell, and a statement about man's cruelty to his fellow man.  It all comes down to how you define a way "out," I suppose. 

The element most recognizable from the Savage Cinema in "The Other Way Out" is the culture clash.  Here a slick businessman -- a creature of the city -- encounters a country, redneck family.  Meredith believes he can buy his way out of trouble, perhaps because money has always solved his problems in the past.  But the Burl Ives character is having none of it, and decides to hold Meredith accountable to HIS version of God's law.


3. Torchwood: "Countrycide"

I reviewed this startling, grotesque 2006 episode of the British sci-fi series last week.   But in "Countrycide" by Chris Chibnall and directed by Andy Goddard,  a top-secret British agency investigating aliens learns that all existentialist threats don't come from the heavens above.  In fact, man himself is, perhaps, the ultimate "monster."  This idea would become a common theme as the series wore on, especially in season three's "Children of Earth."  In "Countrycide," however Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and the other team members run afoul of vicious cannibals in the English countryside.  One team member realizes -- after gazing into a refrigerator filled with body parts -- that they are to be "food."

Harrowing, bloody and gory as hell, "Countrycide" works as Savage Cinema in part because of its philosophically provocative ending, which finds Gwen interrogating the leader of the cannibals.  She demands answers.  Why has he done this?  Why has he treated people like this, as...food?  She needs answers, so she can preserve her view of the world and carry on as moral crusader.  But the cannibal's answer to her interrogative was and remains chilling.  To hurt other human beings -- to treat them as nothing but ingredients -- makes the killer "happy."  It's a chilling response, and one that sends Gwen into a moral tailspin. 

This ties in to the reckoning seen quite often in Craven films: that man can be roused to bloody violence (Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes) but that after the veneer of civilization is  ripped off, it's difficult to put the pieces back together.


2. Millennium: "The Fourth Horseman"

The episodes featured on this list thus far have involved vengeance/punishment ("The Trial" and "The Other Way Out") and the sometimes inexplicable depths of human hatred and inhumanity ("Countrycide").  Millennium's (1996 - 1999) "The Fourth Horseman" is a somewhat different animal.   Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by Dwight Little, this second season episode of Millennium saw Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) contending with a new, man-made disease that was to be intentionally unleashed upon America.

That doesn't sound like Savage Cinema in terms of premise, but certainly the presentation fits the bill.  In one of the most horrifying scenes I've ever witnessed on American broadcast television, an average, WASP-y American family is utterly and grotesquely destroyed before our eyes.  The occasion is middle-class family's Sunday dinner (Mother's Day, if memory serves.)  The family members don't realize it, but they are actually eating chicken contaminated with the fatal disease.

After first showcasing trademark images of "Americana" (a backyard grill and the ubiquitous football game on the TV), the scene turns sour rather dramatically.  The mother grows ill first, and blood starts to pour from her neck.  Then, blood-filled lesions begin to form on the other family members, and they cough and bleed out -- they literally sweat out blood -- in a matter of seconds.  In one especially horrific shot, a family member reaches for the telephone to dial 911, but as a finger hits the dial blood explodes from the digit and splatters the device.

What should be sacrosanct -- the safe, secure, American middle-class hearth -- is instead corrupted and destroyed in "The Fourth Horseman."  If that isn't indicative of a savage, tradition-shattering modus operandi, I don't know what is.  And once more, horror is brought home to us in a palpable, graphic way, and nobody is spared.  Not even the kids.

and finally...

1. The X-Files: "Home."

This notorious X-Files episode, also written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, was directed by Kim Manners and aired only once in prime time  -- on October 11, 1996 -- before Fox banned it.   Here, Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny investigate the quiet town of Home, PA, where a dead baby has been unearthed in a baseball field near the Peacock home.

The Peacocks are no ordinary American family, however.  The three adults brothers are horribly deformed, and their crazy old mother -- a quadruple amputee -- lives under her bed on a little, make-shift scooter.  The boys pull her out occasionally, chew her food for her, and even -- yikes -- impregnate her to add numbers to the disfigured brood.

After the Peacocks murder Home's Sheriff Andy Taylor and his wife with baseball bats, Mulder and Scully lay siege to the homestead, only to be faced with a vile interior lined with deadly booby traps...

Okay, I love "Home."  I absolutely love it.  Along with "Bad Blood"  and "The Host," I consider it one of the best episodes of the long-lived Chris Carter series.  In  terms of setting, the Peacock's wrecked farmhouse recalls Leatherface's house in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the savage family's finely-honed survival instincts plays like something from The Hills Have Eyes (1977).  What makes the episode so remarkable, and the quality that lands the episode into the heralded savage cinematic territory of social critique (like Last House on the Left), however,  is the manner in which the story sets up the main conflict, a dueling views of "civilization."  The police and "normal" people of Home live by one code, and the Peacocks -- as we learn in bloody fashion -- live by another code.    Yet the Peacocks clearly cherish family, right?  And they "stand their ground" when attacked by the government on their own land.  How different from us are they, really?  

One of the most terrifying sequences I've ever seen on television arrives in this episode of The X-Files.  The Taylors realize they have left their front door unlocked, and the Peacocks pull up to their house...for bloody vengeance.  Sheriff Taylor's wife cowers under the bed as her husband is bludgeoned to death nearby, and then -- boom -- she is up for the same treatment next.  It's a blood bath that plays on the universal fear of home invasion.

I'd wager that anybody who saw "Home" in 1996 -- in prime time, no less -- never forgot this particular episode, a grotesque exercise in sheer horror, and in my estimation the most savage episode in cult-TV history.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Purple Rain: Music on Film Excerpted at Movieline

My latest film book, Purple Rain: Music on Film, is currently being excerpted over at Movieline.  If you want to get a taste of this book in Limelight's ongoing Music on Film Series before purchasing it, you might want to check this excerpt out.  In particular, the section featured at Movieline involves director Albert Magnoli's first meeting with Prince in Minneapolis, in an introduction that might have gone...badly.


And don't forget, Purple Rain: Music on Film is now available at Amazon.com and other online retailers.

From the Archive: Titanic (1997)


As you know from my blog's posts this week, April 14, 2012 marks the century point since the Titanic disaster.  That incident on the seas -- on that long-ago April night -- has been the inspiration for film and television for decades, but it was the 1997 film from director James Cameron that remains, perhaps, the definitive version of that tale.  

As you may recall, Titanic was far-and-away the biggest movie event of the 1990s.  It was the highest grossing film of all time until beaten out by Cameron's Avatar in 2009, and it remained at the number one slot at the American box office for a whopping fifteen weeks. 

In the end, Titanic grossed nearly two billion dollars on a budget of two-hundred million. The film also earned Best Director and Best Picture Academy Awards for Cameron, plus ten more Oscars (including for composer James Horner).   The film currently ranks on AFI's top 100 movies of all-time list as well.  Impressively, Titanic elevated leads Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet to the ranks of super-stardom, and even gave singer Celine Dion a career renaissance.

In terms of Cameron's films, we've seen time and time again how this director adroitly crafts these giant, technically-accomplished, extremely emotional films, and Titanic is no exception.  In fact, Titanic may be Cameron's most "naked" film in terms of its effective and manipulative plucking of the heart strings.  

Specifically, he depicts a tale of first love between two enormously likable, star-crossed lovers, and then tears that young duo asunder so that viewers will connect meaningfully with the tragic events of April 15, 1912, the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic

One character in the film, considering the Titanic disaster from the vantage point of the 1990s, observes that he never before really let "it in," and that's a big clue about Cameron's modus operandi here. 

He wants us to let it in, to let it wash over us in visceral, heart-pounding terms.  In this way, viewers can recognize and reckon with the human aspects of the disaster.

Titanic certainly took the world by storm in December of 1997, but as always when a film proves this big and popular some people find it fashionable to participate in a "backlash" against it.  Once more, it's the Woody Allen critique I delineated in regards to Avatar.  Some people simply won't be part of any club that has them for a member; and believe they can distinguish themselves by mocking/protesting/boycotting a popular film.   Again, this approach is different from disliking a film on artistic grounds. This is merely contrariness for the sake of it.

And yet the pull of James Cameron's Titanic -- like the ocean itself -- remains utterly irresistible.  The film immerses you in a very specific time period and a very specific place, and in the details of Rose and Jack's love story.  And then the movie puts you through the torments of Hell itself as the Titanic struggles to take its final breath before going under.  You'd have to be a stone to remain unmoved after the climax of this thrilling, heart-breaking film.

Before this week, I had not seen Titanic in over ten years.  I'd forgotten how powerfully it tugs at the audience's emotions.  There are some moments here as absolutely throat-tightening and uncomfortable as the drowning scene in Cameron's The Abyss (1989), and some moments that -- despite the girding of your heart against such sentimental manipulation -- prove absolutely affecting.

This is one of those big, entertaining Hollywood blockbusters where you can either play curmudgeon and stubbornly attempt to resist the tide, or let yourself be swept along into a compelling story, beautifully rendered. 

I recommend the latter approach.

A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets

When 101 year old Titanic survivor Rose (Gloria Stuart) learns that scavenger Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) has uncovered an eighty-four year old sketch from a safe aboard the sunken Titanic, she travels with her grand-daughter to sea, to the site of the sinking,  to learn more about the find. 

Meanwhile, Brock wishes to question Rose about the final disposition of a large diamond believed to be on the Titanic: the Heart of the Ocean.

As Rose soon reveals, she is the (nude) woman drawn in that sketch; the woman wearing the Heart of the Ocean. 

She then recounts the tale of Titanic's maiden voyage: Rose (Winslet) and her mother traveled aboard "the ship of dreams" with Rose's fiancee, the rich but cruel Cal Hockley (Billy Zane).   Rose felt trapped in her relationship with Cal and attempted suicide, but was saved from jumping into the sea by a third-class passenger and "tumbleweed blowing in the wind," Jack Dawson (Leonardo Di Caprio).

Jack and Rose fell deeply in love, even as Cal presented his betrothed with the diamond as an engagement gift. 

But Cal did not like to lose, and set his manservant, Lovejoy (David Warner) to frame Jack for larceny. 

But then everything changed when the speeding Titanic struck an iceberg at night, and the ship -- short on life boats -- began to sink.

Jack and Rose remained together through those harrowing final hours, rescuing and supporting one another, until the grand ship went down.  Because of Jack's final sacrifice, Rose survived.  And at his explicit urging, she went on to experience life fully in his absence.

Now, unbeknownst to Lovett, old Rose returns the Heart of the Ocean to the sea...a final gift to Jack, the man who helped set the course of her life.

It is unsinkable. God himself could not sink this ship.


The key to James Cameron's humanistic approach to the film's material can best be detected by comparing two vastly different "versions" of Titanic's sinking featured in the film.

The first such scene involves a computer-generated "simulation" of the disaster. Animated simply, and without much flourish beyond the technical requirements, this diagram reveals the "hows" and "whys" of the unsinkable passenger ship's final, terrible moments. The characters in the book-end sections of the film watch the simulation, and it only lasts for a matter of seconds. The simulation preps the audience for what is to come later in the film, but in no way expresses the human dimension -- the utter terror -- of the disaster.

The second sinking in Titanic occurs through the auspices of older Rose's still vivid memories, and is messy, emotional, unpredictable, and horrifying...and it lasts for approximately an hour. Watching the entire process from start to finish, it's as though the audience is actually aboard the "unsinkable" vessel as it goes under the surface, inch-by-agonizing-inch, moment-by-agonizing-moment, and there's nothing clean, orderly, or technical about it. The rote, mechanical of the computer simulation has been replaced by an unbearably tense depiction.

In the gulf between these two presentations of the sinking, Cameron asks the viewer to consider the human toll of the tragedy, not just the horrendous details of how it occurred. It's one thing to know that one thousand, five hundred and thirteen people perished in the sea that cold night in April in 1912; it's another thing to register visually what those numbers actually mean.

Because this is Cameron we're talking about, he's absolutely thorough in depicting the horror. The final hour of Titanic is thus harrowing, and deeply upsetting. An older married couple waits to drown in their bed, clutching one another tightly as the water spills into their cabin. A working class mother (Jenette Goldetein) puts her two young children to bed in their bunks on Titanic, knowing they will never awaken. A guilt-ridden captain maintains his post on the bridge while all around him, the sea rises.

In all these moments, there's the feeling underneath the action of (alarming) destiny fulfilled; of the inexorable flow of the water throughout the Titanic.  Indeed, the sea is a real "villain" in the film.  The makers of the Titanic show great pride and even arrogance about their creation, but ultimately they are humbled before the powers of the sea.  Technological barriers and safeguards gives way to water again and again in the film, and all the talk of Titanic being unsinkable is revealed as simply talk. 

One incredible shot reflects this truth best.  In the midst of the sinking, Cameron cuts back -- high into the sky -- to view the Titanic from a great distance and tremendous height.  The ship looks absolutely tiny and inconsequential against the surrounding, ubiquitous ocean, and in the dark, impenetrable night time.  This expressive shot represents a direct inversion of Cameron's early approach, which focused on low-angle shots enhancing the size and grandeur of the vessel.  Truth has supplanted human fiction.

In much more gory terms, Titanic makes us see the sea's (unfortunate) impact on human beings.  Desperate men and women fall from great heights (onto colossal propeller blades...), and bodies are crushed beneath the weight of voluminous steam pipes. At the time (and remember, this was before 9/11), modern movie audiences had not witnessed such destruction like this, at least not on such a personal, human scale.

To wit, many disaster films trade on an epic scope, and over-sized threats to human civilization (floods, asteroids, earthquakes, fires, etc.) but few such films seem so damn intimate about it. As is the case in all his films, Cameron has pinpointed the emotional key for his viewers to respond viscerally to the story matter and characters. He puts his characters into a situation from which there is no escape, and there is no sanctuary, even, to look away.  We've all booked passage on the ship of the damned.

Indeed, everybody knows how the story of Titanic ends, and yet Cameron wrings maximum suspense from the film's last hour, as Rose and Jack struggle -- seemingly endlessly - to survive a very, very bad day on the sea. There's great tension here between what the audience wants to see happen, and what the audience knows will happen.  Cameron exploits this gulf brilliantly, causing the audience to meditate about the ways human beings face (or deny to face...) death. 

Consider the Titanic's band, for instance, remaining together to perform on deck, despite the fact that the end is nigh.   By showcasing such odd, uniquely human moments, Cameron forces the audience to confront its own mortality.  What would you do with your last minutes of life?  How would you, as Jack might say, "make every moment count?"

Beyond this meditation on facing imminent death, Titanic is a love story about two people from vastly different worlds.  As we have seen in several Cameron films, the director appears to boast an affinity for blue collar characters, and here he dramatically showcases the differences between Jack's third class world and Rose and Cal's first class one.

The largest steam passenger ship in the world, Titanic is where these two worlds collide.  To the rich, Titanic is a "ship of dreams" and a world of complete luxury, down the presence of a private gym and private observation decks.  To the crew and third class passengers, however, Titanic is a veritable "slave ship," as workers toil "beneath decks" in an inhumanly-proportioned, bronze-hued engine room.  One population aboard Titanic  is thus dedicated to its own leisure; and one is dedicated to serving the rich.

Clearly, this dynamic rankles, and again, it's a way of generating passionate emotions in the audience.  No one like to see a system that is so patently unfair (though we should probably get used to it, given the direction of our country these days...).

Cameron does a fine, affecting job of delineating the differences between these two worlds and how, literally, these differences represent the difference between life and death.  One thousand and two-hundred and twenty-one of the approximately fifteen hundred deaths from Titanic came from the ranks of either third class passengers or the crew.  Less than three hundred came from the first class.  That figure tells a story, and Cameron aptly makes note of the inequity.  Clearly, some lives were cherished above others, and sadly that's often the story of America, even today, isn't it?  The rich few own most of the nation's treasure at this point, and also get the good seats on the life boat if there's a national crisis. 

Cal Hockley himself carries this view, noting of his first class brethren that "we are royalty."   And as Rose notes of this class of men: "they love money."  Yep.  A dozen years ago this moustache-twirling depiction of the uber-rich might have looked exaggerated or even two-dimensional.  Given the debate today about asking the rich to give up their Bush Tax cuts while we're involved in two wars and a Great Recession...not so much.  Cal is entirely believable.

In Titanic, Jack is afforded the opportunity to visit the first class dining room after rescuing Rose from danger, and he is warned "you're about to go into the snake pit."   That seems about right.

He is not readily accepted there, especially by Cal, and the others treat him as a source of entertainment or amusement -- the dinner guest flavor of the day

Then, after dinner, Jack invites Rose below decks for a "real" party, and she visits the third class world.  It is a place of emotions, laughter, dance, music and community.  Cameron reveals this distinction by cutting to an immediacy-provoking point-of-view perspective during Jack and Rose's dance.  This less formal shot; one that puts us literally inside "the eyes" of a character in the play, broadcasts the approachability of this class of people.  The staid dinner is usurped by a raucous party.  A world of sedentary manners and protocol superseded by one of constant movement and life.

As she is all too aware of, Rose lives in a gilded cage until Jack breaks her out of it.  But -- interestingly -- it is the third class Jack who ultimately gives his life for first-class Rose, when only one of them can survive.  This is not a comment on Rose's superiority as a fist class person, finally, but of Jack's. 

He is chivalrous and honorable and decent, and dies to save the woman he loves.  "Royalty," in the personage of Cal, tricks his way onto a lifeboat by grabbing an abandoned child and claiming to be his father, "all that he has left" in the world. 

The message is: when push comes to shove, you can't trust the first classers, whereas, by and large, you can rely on men like Jack.  They have already made some accommodation, it seems, with their fate and their destiny.  Therefore, Cal joins the ranks of Cameron villains such as Carter Burke: a man who puts himself above all other considerations, right up until the end.

Last week in the Cameron Curriculum, one of my wonderful readers and commenters here, DLR, noted the paternalistic quality of many Cameron films.  In other words, "virtually all of his female central characters are mostly passive or retiring until males affect their reality."  This is an interesting spin on the strong women characters in Cameron's work, and it strongly applies to Rose in Titanic

As Rose readily acknowledges of Jack, "he saved me... in every way that a person can be saved."  In other words, it was Rose's experience with Jack -- and her promise to Jack -- that shaped Rose into the strong person she became following the disaster at sea.    She is a woman trapped between two worlds, two men, and two paths, and her personal strength arises, I think, from her capacity to choose wisely.  So she is strong, yes, but her strength is also colored by her experience with Jack and his ability to "see her."  This very strongly echoes the Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese relationship in the original Terminator (1984).  In both situations, a man inspires a woman to fight-- and to change her life.  And in both cases, the man doesn't survive to see her do it.

Jack also fulfills Cameron's often-utilized "outsider" role, bursting into high society and puncturing the haughty atmosphere there. Old Rose, herself, is something of an outsider, alone among those on Lovett's ship to have been aboard Titanic, and to have seen the object of their quest: the Heart of the Ocean.  She also rejects the materialism of Lovett's quest (the search for the diamond) and gives up the jewelry as a gift to Jack, who she sees, quite rightly, as the Heart of the Sea.

We're just a few short months from the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, and a re-release of Cameron's film in 3-D.   This re-release will be a chance for a new generation to engage with a pop culture phenomenon from the 1990s, and I'll be curious to see how that generation thinks it stacks up to Avatar.  

And as I've indicated above, some of the class differences that we wrote off as being from a different time period in the 1990s have re-asserted themselves powerfully in this decade. It's very possible that Titanic will speak to a more welcoming audience now, even, than it did in 1997.   

In many ways, Titanic certainly represents a big leap for Cameron.  It is his first film outside of the sci-fi/horror groove he had established up to that point in his career, and Titanic doesn't feature much by way of his normal color or texture palette (usually hard, blue, steels and metals.) 

But by adhering to his own thematic obsessions (strong women, class warfare, outsiders, etc.) he crafted a film that appealed to his biggest audience yet, despite the requisite backlash I wrote of above.

Because Titanic was so popular, so big, some people loved it, and some people couldn't stand it.  Place me in the former camp, even all these years later, after having seen it twice. 

Basically, you can splash around about the manipulative, emotional, big-hearted  nature of Titanic all you want, but if you watch it again with an open mind and an innocent heart, the movie will surely pull you into its wake. 

Titanic (1997) Trailer

Cloned from a Mutual Zygote: Darth Sardor


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Horror Lexicon 9: Useless (Police) Authority



In real life, I boast tremendous respect for the police force, and for the men and women who patrol our streets and protect and serve.  

In my last home, I had reason to call upon the police from time-to-time -- like when we found a bag of crack cocaine in our flower beds -- and they always responded quickly and efficiently.  In fact, I'm truly grateful for the police because I remember one incident when I was editing The House Between in my old home office when I turned away from my computer -- headphones still on -- only to see a stranger's cackling face pressed hard against the studio window.   I totally freaked out and called 911, and the police were there quickly to apprehend the guy.  My blood pressure still ticks up even now when I think about that night (Joel was only two...), and the electric jolt I received at seeing a deranged person's absolutely insane face just inches away from me.

But if police in real life are worthy of our support, the same cannot always be stated for horror movie policemen, who tend to represent what I term "useless authority."  One of the core approaches of the horror genre involves making people feel alone and therefore vulnerable.  In the horror lexicon, the police force represents society, and society's attempt to enforce the law to keep people safe.  Therefore, in horror movies, the police are often dangerously ineffectual so that greater terror can be generated.

Going back as far as The Blob in 1958, the police always seemed slow on the uptake.  There, a gelatinous invader from another planet oozed its way through the population of a small American town, and the local police could only pin the blame on teenager Steve McQueen and his buddies.  One cop, in particular, held a grudge against teenagers because his wife had been killed by a teen driver, and so concocted all kinds of reasons why McQueen must by lying, or culpable.  The result was that by the time the town police marshaled a response to the Blob, many folks had already unnecessarily died.  In the end, it was up to McQueen's character, also named Steve, to save the day with some quick thinking regarding fire extinguishers.  In fact, he had to create a civil disturbance (by getting his teenage friends to honk their car horns...) to even get the police force's attention.

Over the years and decades, the face of useless (police) authority didn't much change.  In Gremlins (1984), for instance, the police were also slow to respond to Billy Peltzer's (Zach Galligans) warnings about the dangerous Mogwai.  Finally, even when faced with the monsters themselves, the police were unable to mount a meaningful defense against the critters. 

Policemen in horror films also regularly fail to recognize the dangers posed by vampires (Fright Night), serial killers (Halloween, Friday the 13th Part VI) and other monsters.  The idea underlining each of these examples is that the bad guy cannot be neutralized by the law.  That's the Final Girl's job, right?

Sometimes horror movies play wickedly with the tropes of the police and useless authority.  In Wrong Turn (2003), for instance, a trooper shows up just in time for the climax, and audience hopes are raised that he will save the day.  But the in-bred hill-billies quickly kill him in cold blood, dashing those hopes.  So much for law enforcement...

In other films, such as Cabin Fever (2002) and the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), the police not only fail to prove helpful, but are actually complicit in the evil that seems to be running amok in their districts.  Once more, the notion is that you must trust yourself, not the safeguards of society, if you hope to survive a horror film.

Many horror films of the police procedural variety have featured heroic policemen, it is true, including Se7en (1995), The Bone Collector (1999), and Resurrection (1999). Semi-heroic policemen (Dewey in the Scream films) also appear regularly, but in the slasher films in particular, you must reasonably expect that help is most decidedly not on the way.

My favorite hapless, useless policemen in the slasher milieu has to be Deputy Charlie (Troy Evans) in Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers.  Charlie has been tasked with protecting young Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) in the Myers House.  Sheriff Meeker and Dr. Loomis are using the child as bait, hoping that Michael will return to the original scene of the crime to go after his niece.   In a nice, well-shot scene, Deputy Charlie speaks encouragingly and lovingly to Jamie, telling her to stay strong.  He's there to protect her.  What could go wrong?  What a nice guy...

But when Michael Myers shows up at the door, Charlie proves utterly hapless with a gun.  With Michael bursting in, Charlie gets Jamie to safety (which is something, anyway...) but can't get a clean hit on the guy.  We actually see all the bullets go astray against the door-frame.  The explicit message: Charlie can't even shoot straight.    Jeez, we already know how hard it is to kill Michael when you actually hit him, but this guy is way out of his league.  Dirty Harry he ain't.

Accordingly, Michael offs poor deputy Charlie in short order...and the last we see of him he's swinging from the second floor of the Myers house on a rope.

If Charlie is my favorite example of useless authority, the most infuriating ones must come from Last House on the Left (1972).  In that violent but socially valuable Wes Craven classic, two policemen played by Martin Kove and Marshall Anker actually run out of gas on the way to the Collingwood house, where lives are in jeopardy.  After walking on a country road for a longtime, they must hitch a ride on a  slow-moving chicken truck...

By the time the police finally do arrive, some lives have been ended (brutally) and other lives have been permanently shattered.   The police in this film absolutely boil my blood because of their incompetence, and  indeed that's part of director Craven's point.  He builds-up an escalating sense of blood-lust in the film and then defuses it all at the end with the worthwhile realization that violence solves nothing.  The road leads to nowhere.  The castle stays the same...

But gee whiz, the accumulated message of all this useless authority is this: If you're living in a horror movie, you better not wait for the cavalry to ride in...

CULT TV FLASHBACK: Supernatural: "My Heart Will Go On." (April 15, 2011)


In “My Heart Will Go On,” a sixth season episode of the CW’s Supernatural, the Winchester boys learn that Fate Herself (Kate Walder) is out to kill them.  And even more bizarrely, they learn that events surrounding an obscure, century-old ship called Titanic are also playing a crucial role in a series of bizarre, modern-day murders in Pennsylvania and California.

Supernatural’s riff on the Final Destination film series, “My Heart Will Go On” showcases a number of horrific seemingly “accidental” deaths – in garage workshops and at copier machines – that actually represent the handiwork of Fate.   These deaths are eminently gory, and staged in distinctly Rube Goldberg fashion...very much in the same fashion as the FD franchise.  But here, Death is not the responsible party.  Instead, it’s Fate...dressed like a sexy librarian.

Fate is bummed, it seems, because Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) helped to avert a global apocalypse, and their allies – including the rambunctious Balthazar (Sebastian Roche)  -- have taken to changing the past, an act which is supposed to be forbidden.  Specifically, Balthazar went back in time to save the Titanic from its date with an iceberg by masquerading as a first mate aboard ship named, cheekily, "I.P. Freeley."  Why did Balthazar save the doomed ocean liner from its appointment with destiny?  Apparently, to spare himself from the James Cameron 1997 movie, the song by Celine Dion, and another Billy Zane movie…

Although sarcastic and silly, Supernatural’s “My Heart will Go On” does probe at least one interesting notion.  Specifically that people living a century later remember the Titanic because it sank.  If the ship had not sunk, it would remain an obscurity, just another ship from a century ago, and therefore nothing special.  And in this alternate universe-type story, that’s precisely what happens.  The Titanic is a ship not of dreams, but of history, forgotten by all because it did not sink on that April night. I enjoyed how the episode played with this idea, with Sam and Dean asking people if they'd ever heard of Titanic, and wondering what the big deal about a "boat" could be.  "Does the name Titanic ring a bell?" represents a common refrain.


I'm not a regular Supernatural watcher, but I also noticed that this episode played with the idea of alternate dimensions in other small, nuanced ways.  In particular, Sam and Dean don't drive an Impala in this reality.  That and other small touches make us aware we've slipped into another universe.  I appreciated the attention to detail, and I'm sure that for longtime watchers, the episode's meticulous attention to continuity paid off richly.

Beyond these nice ideas however, I found this episode of Supernatural to be pretty weak, both poorly written and poorly performed.  One egregiously bad scene finds "circus clowns" (as Fate calls them) Dean and Sam trying to avoid Fate's bulls eye.  To the tune of Blondie's "One Way or Another," the duo walks tenderly down a busy street and is faced, one-after-the-other, with every menace known to man, from fierce dogs...to knife throwers.  It's supposed to be funny, but it's so calculated to be funny that's actually just kind of...dumb.  I mean if Fate were actually after you, would you walk between two knife throwers, of find a way to, you know, go around them?

I have a number of friends who swear by Supernatural, but I’m never been a fan of the series  myself.  I’ve only seen about fifteen episodes in total so I cannot ably judge the totality of the program, but sadly “My Heart Will Go On” only reinforces my initial impressions of the program.  In short, this episode highlights a smug air of self-satisfaction, and isn't particularly scary or smart.   Worse, it seems to have an axe to grind.  Cameron’s Titanic sucked, we hear in the dialogue. Celine Dion sucked too.  Oh and Billy Zane sucked as well.  And the movie is only good because of “Winslet’s rack,” according to Dean. 

Charming.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion of Titanic, of course, but it remains one of the highest grossing 
films of all time, a multiple Academy Award winner, and an undisputed star in the pop culture firmament.  Supernatural is decidedly mean-spirited and self-righteous about Titanic, but actually provides no substantive argument why the film was was such a terrible thing that it deserves to be wiped from our collective history.  The whole episode represents a bizarre ad hominem attack on the 1997 film, and plays more like sour grapes than effective commentary.

In particular "My Heart Will Go On" eagerly gloms onto the idea -- shared by too many fanboys and girls, alas -- that it is somehow “cool” to hate something just because so many audiences actually love that very thing.  Somehow, that feeling of hatred makes these folks in the minority “special” or better than everyone else, I suppose.  They saw through Titanic after all, and that means they have good taste, right?


Also, isn't it a wee bit disingenuous for the writers here to go after Titanic tooth-and-nail, while crafting, essentially, a total knock-off of Final Destination?  There's a cognitive disconnect between a show that bashes Titanic as a bad movie while at the same time it so knowingly and enthusiastically rips off another popular movie.  If you want to prove that Titanic was creatively bankrupt, showcasing a creatively bankrupt rip-off doesn't exactly make the case that your production is better.  But anyway, according to Supernatural, Titanic really, really sucked.  By inference, I guess that means that Supernatural is totally awesome.

I’m sure there’s an alternate universe where that may be true.  But if this episode is any example, it certainly isn’t the one we’re all living in today.  Accordingly, Supernatural's cult-tv take on the Titanic trope is, with a few notable exceptions, dead in the water.