Monday, August 29, 2011
Director Essentials: Robert Zemeckis
1. I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) - Robert Zemeckis' first movie as a director (writing with frequent collaborator Bob Gale) already showcases a number of the elements that would show up over and over in the filmmakers' work: slapstick, a fetish for nostalgia and the way we interact with pop culture and a steady interplay between actual historical events and a fictional narrative. It's a little overly busy (several of his early movies as a writer or director are), but sweet and fun.
3. Romancing the Stone (1984) -Though this may seem like a minor work from Zemeckis, it's one of his most important movies for a couple of reasons: 1) it demonstrated that he was capable of directing a commercial hit after his first two films flopped, 2) it focuses purely on characters and story, and, as such, is one of the only Zemeckis movies to do so, and 3) its success led directly to Back to the Future getting made.
5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) - And already the cracks begin to show. Zemeckis deserves all kinds of credit for pushing the envelope of special effects and technical filmmaking beginning with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but at the expense of story. So much effort went into creating the cartoon-meets-real world effects of Roger Rabbit (and, as an animation fan, there is a crazy amount of stuff to like; just the "dueling pianos" scene alone makes the movie worthwhile) that it comes up short as a narrative. Don't believe me? Sit down and watch it.
Forrest Gump (1994) - A few BttF sequels (and a Death Becomes Her) later and the dog has begun eating its own tail. Do the special effects in Forrest Gump exist to serve the story? Or does Forrest Gump exists to show off special effects? The Best Picture winner about the adventures of a sweetly retarded man (we know our own) has a terrible reputation for being sentimental crappy pap, but the film is more satirical than it gets credit for. It's not an inspiring story about how anyone can succeed in America. It's about how anyone can succeed in America.
7. Contact (1997) - This is the movie you get to make when Forrest Gump wins a bunch of Oscars. There is a lot to like about Contact: it's ambitious and thoughtful and Jodie Foster is a very good actress. It's a mess, though, with nonsensical plot twists and a pretty terrible third act, plus a lot of on-the-nose "religion vs. science" dialogue courtesy of Matthew McConaughey's shirtless preacher man. It's a curiously cold movie, too, as the blood continues to drain out of Zemeckis's movies on his way towards total digital control.
9. Cast Away (2000) - Zemeckis's most human movie since Back to the Future, and possibly his last one ever. Plus, Tom Hanks' drastic physical transformation is a better special effect than Zemeckis ever achieved with all his digital trickery.