Monday, November 29, 2010

Irvin Kershner (1923 - 2010)

The AP is now reporting the death of Irvin Kershner, one of the great genre directors of the 1970s and 1980s:

Kershner is indeed well-known for directing the film that many Star Wars fans argue is the strongest of the six-strong cycle: 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.  But Kershner also directed the still-impressive Never Say Never Again in 1983, Sean Connery's long-awaited and commercially-triumphant return to the screen as James Bond, 007.

In additions to those titles, Kershner directed the wickedly satirical and nihilistic Robocop 2 (1990), which met with negative reviews during its release, as well as the stylish American giallo, Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), written by a young John Carpenter and starring Faye Dunaway. 

Over the years, Kershner also helmed genre TV episodes for sci-fi series such as Spielberg's Amazing Stories (1985-1987) and SeaQuest DSV (1993-1996).  He retired from filmmaking in the mid-1990s.

Looking over just a few of Kershner's movie titles today, one can detect how superbly this director was able to marshal huge action scenes in his films and -- at the same time -- humanize familiar, iconic characters and their relationships. 

Never Say Never Again presented a more human, "aging" version of James Bond, and certainly The Empire Strikes Back deepened the famous Star Wars characters tremendously, so much so that Return of the Jedi (1983) felt somewhat juvenile and light-weight by comparison.

Irvin Kershner will be remembered for his superlative contributions to modern film franchises for years and decades to come, and I hope that fact brings his family some measure of comfort on this difficult day.  This man will be missed.


  1. Anonymous12:46 PM

    Personally I think he could have directed anything in any genre. What a varied carer he had. I'll miss him.

  2. David:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Mr. Kershner was able to focus intently upon and illuminate brilliantly the things that matter in drama; on the human equation...even in cosmic spectacle. Great director...


  3. Grayson5:51 PM

    First Kershner and then Leslie Nielsen the next day. Sad.

    I just read that Mr. Kershner was to direct Harlan Ellison's script of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot back in the 1970s. Now THAT would have been a film.


  4. A fine tribute to an underrated director, John. I agree with David, too, concerning his deft ability directing films from various genres. His work on RAID ON ENTEBBE and his effective sequels to highly popular films, like ROBOCOP 2 (as you spotlighted) and THE RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE, proves that. This has been one terrible year for losses of some highly creative people. Thanks.

  5. A quality filmmaker. Empire ranks as one of my two favorites in Star Wars along with the original. His Empire is to Star Wars what Aliens was to Alien. To create a film that stands shoulder to shoulder with the original is no small feat. That's incredible. How often does that happen?

    Robocop 2, for all its negative reviews, and for what it was, was another sequel I enjoyed quite a bit back in the day. I just watched it again recently. Brutal stuff.

    John, would you kindly confirm whether I should add Sequest to my watch list? I have it there and well maybe Irvin's passing is a great reason to check out some of his work I missed.

    Thank you.

  6. Hello, my friends,

    Grayson: I agree with you: what a terrible day: losing two enormous talents at once. I would have loved to see Kershner's I Robot, that you write about. Sounds like it had the makings of a genre great, with Ellison AND Kershner involved. Ugh.

    Hi Le0pard13: Kershner did a lot of sequels and franchise films, and always made each one special. He had a unique talent that way, as you insightfully point out. He never treated a sequel as a by-the-numbers opportunity to cash-in, but as a HUMAN story, and I so much respect that instinct and predilection. A great director, truly.

    SFF: I think I need to go back and see Robocop 2 again, it's been years. But I remember that I liked how gonzo it was; even if the mainstream critics seemed debauched by the level of violence. I totally agree with you about Empire as well. It isn't often that a sequel is so strong, and I have the feeling we owe it to Kershner's abilities.

    Now, regarding SeaQuest DSV: It sort of depends what you're looking for (and your interest). For me, I love submarine stories, and science stories set at the bottom of the sea. It's been a life-long love, ever since I first saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with James Mason. So I am pre-disposed to like SeaQuest. The cast is also extremely good, with the involvement of Roy Scheider, Stephanie Beacham (UFO) and others.

    That said -- because this series was a contemporary of ST:TNG -- there's a woeful amount of political correctness in some of the stories.

    The first season is hard science, with some action. The second season is fantasy (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea-style, replete with resident aliens and giant underwater monsters...) and the third season gets back on track with hard action.

    I haven't watched the show from start to finish in years, but I did enjoy it at the time, while occasionally wishing the stories were better. My memory - which can sometimes be not entirely accurate of course -- was that visually the show was rather dazzling. But in this case, the CGI may have aged the program to a point where this is no longer the case.

    How's that for a guarded recommendation? :)



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