The Films of Robert Zemeckis
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Romancing the Stone
Back to the Future
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Back to the Future: Part II
Back to the Future: Part III
Death Becomes Her (November 24/16)
Death Becomes Her follows friends/rivals Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) and Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) as their lifelong feud escalates after they both ingest an immortality potion, with the narrative detailing the violent battle that ensues between the pair and the impact it has on the man (Bruce Willis' Ernest Menville) caught in the middle. It's a decidedly larger-than-life premise that's employed to watchable yet consistently erratic effect by Robert Zemeckis, as the movie, written by David Koepp and Martin Donovan, contains an uneven structure that generally alternates between almost unreasonable freneticism and talky, stage-play-like shenanigans. (In terms of the latter, there's a long stretch that seems to transpire entirely within the expansive foyer of an enormous mansion.) Zemeckis' penchant for over-the-top instances of special effects remains an integral piece of Death Becomes Her's mild success, certainly, while the entertainingly broad performances prove effective, for the most part, at smoothing over the movie's periodic lulls. (And as good as Streep and Hawn are here, Willis' frequently hilarious turn as the frazzled Ernest confirms his place as the film's M.V.P.) The impressively dark conclusion ensures that the movie ends on a somewhat memorable note, although Death Becomes Her is, by and large, one of the least engaging endeavors contained within Zemeckis' early filmography.
What Lies Beneath (August 15/16)
Robert Zemeckis' first foray into thriller territory, What Lies Beneath follows Michelle Pfeiffer's Claire Spencer as she becomes increasingly convinced that her home is haunted by a ghost - much to the consternation of her patient, disbelieving husband (Harrison Ford's Norman). It's a solid premise that's employed to surprisingly middling effect by Zemeckis, as the movie, which runs a ludicrously overlong 130 minutes, progresses at an excessively deliberate pace that prevents the viewer from connecting to the material on an ongoing basis. The lackadaisical vibe, in a far more problematic development, ensures that What Lies Beneath suffers from in an overwhelming lack of tension or momentum, which is certainly an insurmountable obstacle given that Zemeckis and scripter Clark Gregg are striving for feel and tone of an atmospheric, Hitchcockian chiller. And while the movie remains fairly uninvolving for much of its running time, What Lies Beneath, at the very least, boasts a number of positive attributes that prevent it from becoming an all-out disaster - with, especially, Zemeckis' predictably strong visuals going a long way towards elevating one's interest on a regular basis. It's worth noting, too, that the film improves substantially as it progresses into its comparatively enthralling third act, as Zemeckis transforms What Lies Beneath into a full-on horror movie complete with suspenseful interludes and quasi-effective jump scares. (There is, in terms of the former, a very engrossing bit of business involving a bathtub.) It's ultimately impossible not to label What Lies Beneath as a missed opportunity that could and should have been much, much better, with Zemeckis' refusal (or inability) to deliver a tight, taut narrative playing a key role in confirming the movie's relative downfall.
The Polar Express
Beowulf (January 4/08)
Despite the ballyhoo surrounding filmmaker Robert Zemeckis' use of 3D technology on Beowulf (as well as on his last effort, 2004's The Polar Express), it remains exceedingly clear that the format simply isn't appropriate for use within the context of full-length, fictional endeavors. While there are a number of admittedly eye-popping sequences within Beowulf, the overall effect is one of needlessness - as the combination of the uncomfortable glasses and the relentless effect of things jutting out of the screen ensures that the initially impressive visuals are ultimately negated by the annoyance of the technology. That being said, there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of the movie itself - as Zemeckis has concocted a thrilling piece of work that's rife with some of the most exciting action set-pieces of this new century. The relatively simple story - which follows legendary warrior Beowulf as he sets out to defeat a feared monster named Grendel - moves at a surprisingly brisk pace, though the emphasis on expository (and downright uneventful) matters within the midsection does lend the proceedings a distinctly uneven vibe (the thrilling finale ensures that the film ends on a high note, however). Zemeckis' use of motion-capture technology to animate the film does take a while to get used to, yet there's little doubt that the uniformly strong performances play a significant role in breathing life into these glassy-eyed characters (Ray Winstone and particularly John Malkovich are Oscar-worthy here). In the end, Beowulf is clearly the movie that 300 was trying so desperately to be - ensuring that, despite its various flaws, Zemeckis has deftly regained his footing following The Polar Express (which was entertaining but inconsequential) and proven once again that he remains a master storyteller.
Disney's A Christmas Carol
Robert Zemeckis' infatuation with the motion-capture animation process has officially gone too far with Disney's A Christmas Carol, as the film, which marks the first out-and-out failure of Zemeckis' career, boasts a consistently (and distractingly) artificial visual sensibility that inevitably exacerbates the familiarity of the storyline. There's consequently never a point wherein the viewer is drawn into the main character's plight, which, given that the narrative revolves solely around Scrooge's transformation from cold-hearted miser to joyful humanitarian, is especially problematic and ultimately ensures that the movie remains woefully uninvolving virtually from start to finish. And although Zemeckis' expectedly over-the-top directorial choices initially prove effective at compensating for the stale atmosphere (ie an eye-popping flight through Victorian England), the inherently low-rent animation style becomes more and more difficult to overlook as the film progresses - with the shot-on-the-cheap appearance of the supporting figures belying the movie's almost absurdly inflated budget (ie did all the money go into creating the admittedly striking protagonist?) It's a shame, really, as Zemeckis has lined up an undeniably impressive roster of periphery performers (including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Bob Hoskins), though it's clear right from the get-go that this is Jim Carrey's show through and through - yet there's little doubt that the actor's larger-than-life take on his four characters rarely meshes with the antiquated nature of Charles Dickens' story. The uneven and pervasively tedious atmosphere ensures that the uplifting finale is hardly able to pack the emotional impact that one might've anticipated, thus cementing the film's place as a woefully misguided endeavor that hopefully marks the end of Zemeckis' mocap experiment.
Flight casts Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline pilot who miraculously manages to avert disaster after his plane undergoes a mechanical malfunction - with Whip's subsequent efforts at quitting booze (and cocaine) thwarted on a consistent basis by a number of outside factors. Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, working in the live-action arena for the first time since 2000's Cast Away, does a fantastic job of immediately drawing the viewer into the proceedings, with the inclusion of several impossible-to-resist elements - eg the spellbinding plane crash, Washington's riveting performance, etc - establishing an impressively promising atmosphere that does, unfortunately, prove to be short lived. The film, which admittedly remains quite watchable from start to finish, begins to demonstrably fizzle out at around the one-hour mark, with the progressively meandering nature of John Gatins' screenplay compounded by an almost impossibly overlong running time (ie the movie's subdued character-study vibe virtually demands a much more brisk sensibility). The overstuffed narrative - which is never more evident than in its emphasis on Kelly Reilly's intriguing yet superfluous Nicole - inevitably lessens the impact of the film's overtly positive elements, and it's ultimately impossible not to lament Zemeckis' decision to place such a simple story within the context of an epic framework. Flight is, in the end, a tremendously erratic endeavor from an otherwise flawless filmmaker (within the live-action realm, that is), with, one can only hope, the movie standing as a stepping stone back to bigger and better things for Zemeckis.
Allied (November 22/16)
Set against the backdrop of WWII, Allied follows Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and French resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) as they fall in love during a top-secret mission and subsequently attempt to start their lives in England. Director Robert Zemeckis, working from Steven Knight's screenplay, has infused Allied with an almost excessively deliberate sensibility that is, to put it mildly, off-putting, as the filmmaker delivers a first half that moves at a glacial pace and dwells far too often on less-than-engrossing elements (ie there's a heavy emphasis on Max and Marianne's efforts at acclimatizing themselves to their mission and to each other). The underwhelming atmosphere is compounded by a palpable lack of chemistry between the two leads, and it is, as such, virtually impossible to work up any real interest in or enthusiasm for the characters' ongoing exploits. (There's little doubt, too, that Pitt's incongruously stiff performance doesn't help matters.) Allied remains pitched at a level of uninvolving mediocrity right up until around the halfway mark, with the inclusion of an admittedly effective (and surprising) plot twist paving the way for a second half that is, at the very least, watchable (although Zemeckis' inexplicably muted approach to the material results in a distinct absence of thrills). And while the movie closes with a somewhat tense final stretch, particularly when compared to the listlessness of everything preceding it, Allied ultimately comes off as a barely-passable wartime drama that's a far cry from the urgent, exciting endeavors of Zemeckis' early career.