Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dino De Laurentis

The movie producer Dino De Laurentis died at the age of 91. IMDB lists him as having produced 166 movies, some of them in Italian. Some of his movies have become cult classics. Others, like The Battle of the Bulge, regularly show up on TV decades after they were filmed.

Only a few of his movies are relevant to this blog - King Kong, Conan, and Flash Gordon.

De Laurentis movies emphasized spectacle over everything else. Sometimes the spectacle got in the way of the action. King Kong, for example, is a very ponderous movie compared with the original. It has not aged well. The movie was heavily updated for the 1970s and the emphasis of the love story. The original featured multiple fights between the prehistoric animals of Skull Island and the humans and/or Kong. The remake eliminated all but a fight with a snake. The original ended with a fight between Kong and airplanes. In the remake this turned into an execution. The original set the standard for stop-motion animation. The remake used a man in a monkey suit (plus a very poor robot that is only seen for a couple of seconds). Regardless, the remake was popular when it came up and launched a year-long King Kong craze. The Peter Jackson remake was better (although it had its own problems) but failed to generate the same level of buzz. There was a sequel but the critics hated it and I never bothered seeing it.

De Laurentis's two Conan movies were better but they were also ponderous. Fights tended to be over in seconds in Conan the barbarian, the first movie. The second movie, Conan the Destroyer, is only slightly better. This is ironic since Conan was one of Arnold
Schwarzenegger's first movies. The first Conan movie threw every memorable scene from the stories together. Most of them lost their impact and the plot didn't resemble anything that Robert E. Howard ever wrote. The movie also stole a bit from The Empire Strikes Back with a villain, voiced by James Earl Jones, told the hero "I am your father." It didn't make much sense in Conan. The Conan movies were better than the King Kong ones and were gorgeous to look at, as well.

I don't have a high opinion of these other movies but I think that Flash Gordon is underrated. While it has a lot of the spectacle of the other movies, it also mixes in a stylized, tongue-in-cheek humor. It never bogs down the way the others do and it has aged well. Flash Gordon was made in the wake of Star Wars and was a box office disappointment but since then it has become a cult classic. Of all of De Laurentis's movies, this one shows up on cable most often.  

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