Mixed Up Movie Mash Ups
Cowboys & Aliens? I guess there is something new under the sun. Certainly this peculiar genre mash up earns points for originality, although now that I put my thinking cap on, I do recall aliens terrorizing (modern) cowboys in Tremors and its sequels, and I think Alan Rudolph made a movie about aliens molesting cows back in the early 80s (Endangered Species, with Robert Urich, god bless him).
Still, fair to say that we haven’t seen too many sci-fi westerns… Nobody saw Wild Wild West, right? I know I didn’t.
Of course, if we think about sci-fi movies influenced by westerns it’s a very different story: Star Wars borrows scenes and images from The Searchers. Outland, with Sean Connery, is High Noon in space. Battle Beyond the Stars (with Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, Sybil Danning and George Peppard) is The Magnificent Seven. But those movies just switch staple stories to new settings, they don’t try to merge the iconography of two genres the way that Cowboys & Aliens does.
Filmmakers have tried that trick before of course, and the results… Well, as you can see below, they’ve been as mixed as you would expect.
Our Top Mixed Up Movie Mash Ups
Surfer Thriller: Point Break
Kathryn Bigelow, the director who brought us the vampire western (Near Dark) and the Iraq psycho-drama (The Hurt Locker), came up with this testosterone-charged zen action movie about a surfer/sky diving gang who rob banks to finance their thrill junkie lifestyle. Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reaves compare abs.
High School Film Noir: Brick
The words "film noir" usually spell tough guys like Humphrey Bogart getting wrapped around the slinky fingers of deadly females like Lauren Bacall… We think of fedoras, Venetian blinds, cigarette smoke and all that jazz (or maybe just Jeff Bridges and rugs). But we definitely don’t think of teenagers, or high school, or Lukas Haas. At least, not until Brick we didn’t. But make no mistake, this is the full Chandler, as hard boiled as a dinosaur egg.
Horror Family Film: Gremlins
Horror is an elastic genre that can inflect almost any genre, but a Spielbergian Christmas family film? That’s just wrong! My kids weren’t just shocked when cute Mogwai begat those punk riot critters, they were practically traumatized. In our house, Christmas has never been the same.
Vampire Caper Movie From Dusk Till Dawn
Okay, now we know that any genre can handle a toothy vampire tweak (see Buffy, Twilight, Underworld etc etc), but back in the more innocent days of the early 90s we didn’t know that yet. And when Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney hit the road as a pair of desperado bank robbers, it was more likely that they’d start sky-diving than run into a vampire stripper bar.
Teen Art Movie: Rumble Fish
Francis Coppola mashed the gangster film with the family saga in The Godfather; he gave us a psychedelic war movie (Apocalypse Now) and a musical without singing (One from the Heart); a gangster tap jazz extravaganza (The Cotton Club) and he gave us this existential black and white art flick, starring then teen heartthrob Matt Dillon and his nephew, Nicolas Cage. Stewart Copeland from The Police contributed the memorable percussive score.
Documentary Thriller: The Thin Blue Line
The only filmmaker to have saved a man from death row, Errol Morris didn’t just ridicule the conviction of Randall Adams by highlighting the gaping holes in the evidence, he also recorded a confession from the actual killer. By drawing on the techniques of thrillers, including staged recreations of the crime, stylized lighting and a pulsing score by Phillip Glass, Morris redrew the lines of what a documentary could be.
Serious Superhero Switcheroo: Hancock
We all thought we knew where we were with Will Smith as a homeless dude with superhero powers. Frankly, superheroes come in all shapes and sizes these days, and with Will around, well, at least we knew we could expect glib laughs. Which Hancock duly delivered in the first half. Then it pulled one of the more outrageous dramatic stunts in recent memories and lost at least half the audience in the process. But see it and make up your own mind...
Meta Costume Drama: A Cock and Bull Story
Admittedly Laurence Sterne got there first, but for anyone who hasn’t read him (a show of hands please… Yes, that’s what I thought) Michael Winterbottom’s post-modern gloss on a film adaptation of Tristram Shandy came as a quite a delicious surprise. We Brits know how to do a heritage film, and this definitely wasn’t it. Steve Coogan, Winterbottom and Rob Bryden reteamed for last year’s pseudo travelogue, The Trip, with equally inventive results.
Hip Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet
Directors of stage and screen have pulled Shakespeare this way and that: there have been high school tragedies (O), gangster Macbeths, samurai Lears (Ran)… But nothing quite like Baz Luhrmann’s florid, OTT, modern day Mexican gangta teen romantic tragedy. The script is by Bill of course, but I have a hunch that for once, the Bard would have been speechless.
Musical Tragedy: Dancer in the Dark
Musicals can be sad, but they don’t usually involve characters like Selma, the single mother/factory worker played by pop star Bjork in this typically ambitious effort from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier. Selma is going blind from a hereditary disease, and as if that’s not enough, in one scene she is raped. In short, it’s not the sort of role you would have found Julie Andrews playing. Trier shot the whole thing on hundreds of digital cameras, and came away with the Palme d’Or for his pains.
Zom-Rom-Com: Shaun of the Dead
Actually that catchy description (I don’t remember if it was Simon Pegg who coined it?) isn’t entirely accurate, Shaun of the Dead isn’t a romantic comedy in anyway that Working Title would recognise, but still, it’s a perfect example of the horror comedy done right. It’s a very savvy and affectionate zombie movie in the George Romero tradition, but with better jokes.